It was the day that our holiday started. The plan was to drive to Hastings which is in Hawkes Bay on the East coast of the North Island. There we would spend three days in a holiday home, together with several friends.
The area is known as Hawkes Bay, but the actual bay from which the district takes its name is called Hawke Bay. This is not untypical of New Zealand geography.
It was the work of but several hours for us to pack our cases and and arrange them carefully in the car. Nevertheless, as we quickly learned through the magic of text messaging, Robin and I were still the first of the group to leave Wellington. Traffic was light and the drive was pleasant but, as with so many journeys in New Zealand, it tended towards the surreal.
The ladies public toilet in Greytown had a toy soldier painted on the outside. He was standing firmly to attention with his weapon shouldered.
A huge sign in the middle of absolutely nowhere said:
but it gave no clues as to who (or what) was being realigned.
The town of Woodville had a signpost pointing to an:
Antique Organ Museum
Perhaps you could donate yours, suggested Robin. It is very old now and you dont use it much any more. Its quite out of tune.
Ill send them a selfie of me playing on my organ I said, and see if they are interested.
Dannevirke, a tiny town originally settled by immigrants from Denmark, had a large billboard on its outskirts which displayed a picture of a fierce Viking warrior wielding a double-headed axe at best an ambiguous welcome to the town. Dannevirke also had an:
International Police Museum
which was housed in a minuscule building. Possibly, like the Tardis, it is much larger inside. There was an old New Zealand Highway Patrol car parked outside the museum. The car was longer than the building...
I havent seen one of those patrol cars for more than 20 years, which was when the Highway Patrol merged with the police and the cars disappeared overnight. I came over all nostalgic, but then I blinked and Dannevirke was suddenly many miles behind us.
In a town with no name, right in the middle of deepest farming country, a store offered:
Tractors, Lawnmowers and Chainsaws
On a long, straight stretch of road, I was overtaken by six cars all of which had number plates that started with G. Why do all the cars that are overtaking me have number plates starting with G? I asked Robin.
Coincidence? she suggested.
No, its a rule, I said. You will notice that the car behind me whose number plate does not start with G is making no attempt whatsoever to overtake me. So it must be a rule.
Perhaps G is todays letter of the day on Sesame Street, suggested Robin. I was happy with that. It explained everything. Nevertheless, for the rest of our holiday, I couldnt help noticing that all the cars that overtook me had number plates starting with G, except for the ones that didnt and these last were very few and far between. Clearly they were statistical anomalies, together with the occasional cheater. My favourite overtaker had the number plate APP947. I was of the opinion that he had every right to zoom past me and I felt no resentment at all. Clearly he knew that there was an app for that.
Despite the fact that all of us left Wellington at very different times, we each arrived at the holiday house in Hastings within three minutes of each other in our three different cars. One was an Audi A4, one was a Subaru B4 and one was a CitroŽn C4. ABC4 it became imperative to park them in alphabetical order.
We explored the house and did a baggies for the bedroom we desired. You cant break a baggies.
Once that was sorted out we investigated the other rooms. There was a huge kitchen, a dining area, a lounge and a breakfast nook. The bathroom was frighteningly modern and elaborate. There was a laminated A4 sheet of paper stuck to the wall with instructions on how to use the shower. It all looked quite scary and much more complicated than the instructions for the zero-G toilet in the movie 2001.
There was a control panel in the shower with buttons to press and a digital display window for error messages and the like. Perhaps Id be able to send and receive email while rinsing my beard. Maybe I could post real time movies of my ablutions to YouTube...
Some of the buttons on the control panel turned on and tuned in the radio. One button activated the telephone presumably the numeric keypad was for dialling phone numbers. One button controlled the light and a particularly complicated looking chorded keyboard controlled the sauna. The instructions on the wall were full of dire warnings about careful placement of the feet when turning the sauna on, so as to avoid terminal scalding of the extremities. Since there were no birch twigs, Alan for the thrashing of, and no snowdrifts, Alan for the jumping into, I resolved not to try the sauna. I wasnt all that certain of my ability to turn the radio on or to make telephone calls either. I could clearly see that all my available brain power would be needed just for coaxing water from one of the many nozzles that poked out of every curve and crevice of the shower cabinet.
The next morning was the moment of truth. I approached the huge, plastic shower cabinet with some trepidation. I read the instructions one more time and then began some practical experimentation. It turned out that there were four separate showers built into the unit. There was an overhead shower in the ceiling, a detachable shower on a flexible hose for cleansing those hard to reach places, and two showers built into the walls on the left and right of the cabinet. The showers in the walls sprayed water horizontally rather than in the more conventional vertical direction. Small seats were moulded into the plastic below the wall showers and when you sat in them, high pressure jets of water pummelled you unmercifully on the back. A chromium plated control knob directed water through each of these shower heads in turn as you twisted it. My courage failed me at that point. I wimped out and showered conventionally. I decided to postpone my investigation of the shower seats perhaps they would be best experienced in company...
Show me how the shower works, demanded Robin, so that I dont have to read the manual.
Once our shower adventures were over, we decided to head out into the wild blue yonder. Havelock North beckoned so thats where we went. It proved to be a pretty place, full of foodie shops. I found myself tempted by a 2kg jar of capers, an ingredient that I use so rarely in my cooking that I would certainly be able to leave at least 1.98kg of capers to my great-grandchildren. I felt pleased about being able to make such a substantial bequest to my descendents. However Robin dissuaded me from purchasing it.
You have no children, she pointed out, so the likelihood of having great-grandchildren is small.
Convinced by this logic, I put the jar of capers back on the shelf.
Like all the towns in this holiday area, Havelock North was full of signposts telling you what you could and could not do on the streets of the town. The signposts were all pictorial. There were no words to be seen on any of them. Presumably this was for the sake of the tourist hordes. Even people who cannot read English can understand pictures. Everyone understands pictures; they are a universal language. Thats why graphical user interfaces on computers are so successful, so intuitive and so completely unambiguous.
As we walked along the footpath, I found myself puzzling over a distant sign that showed a stick figure standing legs akimbo on a horizontal black line. There was a firm diagonal drawn though the stick figure, suggesting that whatever action the figure was doing on the black line was strictly forbidden. The black line was clearly the footpath and the stick figure was clearly a person walking along it. Obviously there was only one possible explanation.
Oh look, I said, pedestrians are not allowed on the footpath. Perhaps wed better start walking in the road.
Everyone stopped and stared at the sign.
Dont be silly, Alan. It means no skateboarding.
As we got closer to the sign I realised that the black line the figure was standing on was indeed a stylised skateboard rather than the footpath I had initially assumed it to be. Oops! Nevertheless I was still completely correct. There was indeed only one possible explanation...
Obviously I was sorely in need of coffee and a cheesy muffin.
Over coffee, we discussed where to go next. We decided that the Te Mata Winery was in need of a visit, so thats where we went. Much wine bluffing was indulged in, together with lots of spitting and not a little swallowing. I was sorely tempted by a huge, multi-gallon bottle of red wine. I could not reach around its circumference, and while I could peek over the top of it, I had to stand on tip-toe to do it. The whole thing was a bargain at only $1,342.98.
It wont fit in our wine rack, said Robin firmly.
Damn! Yet again I was foiled in my quest to buy gigantic comestibles. Clearly it was time to drive to Napier for lunch. We parked on Wine Street, near The New Zealand Wine Centre which sold wines from all over the Hawkes Bay area and beyond. A sign outside the shop told us that this was a liquor ban area...
Napier has art deco everywhere you look. I embraced a statue of a 1920s flapper who was walking her dog and Robin took compromising photographs of us. The statue blushed and her dog peed streams of concrete on my leg.
Unfortunately there was no big food to be found in Napier and so, after indulging in a small lunch, we decided to drive back to Hastings.
Lets go the pretty way, said Robin.
I turned left onto the back country roads. We drove through lots of scenery, interspersed with tiny clusters of buildings which were closely followed by lots more scenery. Somewhere between Napier and Hastings we passed a large hospital which was directly across the road from a cemetary and crematorium. It was unclear whether this juxtaposition was a coincidence or a manifestation of efficient business management. I inclined towards the former on the grounds that there is no such thing as efficient business management.
Later, in the middle of nowhere, we passed a home-made billboard which proclaimed:
Leaving the mundane
We were home in time for tea.
The next day we went to the beach at Waimarama, as one does. We drove past Waimarama Heights which was at the bottom of a high cliff. Along the way we noticed a large paddock full of de-horned unicorns that were pretending to be white horses, but they didnt fool us for a minute.
The high spot of the trip was undoubtedly the road works that we came upon next. Large men driving large machines were busy laying steaming tarmac and grit. They had carefully obliterated most of the information on the road signs that set the speed limit in the area at 70kph, and now all that was left on the signs was an urgent instruction to travel carefully forward at 0kph. Frustratingly, further down the road I could clearly see a sign which allowed speeds of up to 30kph, once that point was reached. But if I obeyed the rules and travelled at 0kph up to the sign, our holiday would be infinitely extended no bad thing in itself, but I could envisage it causing problems on the day I was due back at work. Fortunately my car had a special Japanese gear setting that allowed it to travel slowly forward at very large values of zero kilometres an hour. Phew! Problem solved.
Once past the road works, we speeded up again and it wasnt long before we reached the coast. Large waves crashed against the yellow sand and marched in step up the beach.
Oooohhh!!! shrieked Robin in delight. She raced into the sea, caught a particularly powerful wave and body surfed elegantly back to land. Im an empowered woman, she yelled. Even after all these years, I can still body-surf. Ill show the young whippersnappers a thing or two.
And she did it again, and again and again to rapturous applause.
Since Robin was now empowered, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit Te Mata Peak. From a distance, the peak could be clearly seen as a dragon-spine ridge spanning the horizon. We drove slowly up a long and winding road. Signs urged us to take extreme care. The road got narrower and narrower and there was a sheer drop on each side. I drove more and more slowly, but eventually, no matter how hard I tried to stop it happening, we reached the top and parked the car. Way, way below us, Hawkes Bay stretched out as far as the eye could see and sometimes even further than that.
Look, theres the winery that we went to. It was a tiny dot far below us. We got out of the car and braced ourselves against the fearful wind that seemed intent on blowing us over the edge and tumbling us out into space. There was a sturdy fence all around the peak with firm rails to grasp on to, but nevertheless I was completely unable to force myself to go that close to the edge. I was particularly unnerved by the hang-glider launching pad that was cunningly placed over the sheerest drop of all.
said the sign on the hang-glider platform.
I felt that this was very good advice.
Robin, still empowered, overcame her usual vertigo and got right up to the fence, much closer than I could manage. She slowly turned around and around, soaking up the whole panorama.
On the way back home, we stopped and took photographs of the unicorns.
That evening we ate out at 1024, a very posh restaurant which is owned and operated by an old friend of one of our party. We had a reservation for 7.00pm and when we turned up we found, somewhat to our surprise, that we were the only patrons. That was when we discovered that 1024 is not normally open for dinner they only do lunches. But theyd opened the restaurant as a one off special, just for us. We felt suitably honoured.
The owner came and talked to us. Since I last saw you, he said proudly, Ive opened sixty-one restaurants.
There was a pause while we did the mental arithmetic. That averaged lots and lots of restaurants a year. We were suitably impressed.
The food was simply, but inventively, cooked from locally sourced ingredients and served with smooth local wines that matched the dishes perfectly.
I never know what will be on the menu until I see whats available that day, said the owner. And even then I often change my mind about how to prepare it once I get going.
The food was, of course, absolutely superb in every way and it wasnt long before we were all suitably stuffed and suitably satisfied.
In the car on the way back, Robin said, That was a wonderful meal and it still is. Every time I burp I get a different flavour.
We all tried her suggestion out, and she was right! What a bonus! We were suitably impressed by the meal all over again.
On the last day of our hols, we went to the museum in Napier. In the basement was a display detailing the hugely destructive earthquake that had devastated the region in 1931. There were photographs of the rubble strewn streets, quotes from survivors describing their ordeal, and a transcription of the messages that went backwards and forwards as the rescue effort was slowly put together. The rescue teams were overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that faced them. The citys infrastructure was completely destroyed. There was no water to fight the fires that broke out and what little was left of the city just burned away.
It was a distinctly moving display and, given recent events in the country, quite disturbing. In a very sombre frame of mind, we spent the rest of the day just looking at the sea. Theres something very soothing about the stately march of the waves upon the shore.
The beach had lots of stones. Robin sorted them all by size and by colour. Then she put the very best ones in a bag and brought them home.