Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NZ - Gisborne --> Wellington

I’d had a long drive the day before, and not breaking with this one-day-old tradition: another long drive today.  From Gisborne to Wellington I was on the road almost nonstop.  The drive was amazing, though, with the hills just before Wellington being a particularly fun drive of back-and-forth; back-and-forth.

It just feels great to actually drive, being engaged in one’s own maneuvering of the car.  That’s what I originally loved about driving back when I was 16, but the monotony of daily commuting quickly destroys that love.  It takes mountain and coastal roads to rekindle it.

Along the way I passed through several… interesting… destinations.  Two, almost right beside each other, are the towns of Napier and Hastings.  My impression of Napier was that it is essentially where old people go to die – New Zealand’s answer to Florida.  I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I can testify that every unbelievably slow-moving vehicle I was behind was driven by an elderly driver of a stereotypical degree; and all I’d see in each direction was a sea of silver hair.  In addition to going about 10 km/h, they would come to a complete stop at every speed hump and clearly seemed to have difficulty navigating roundabouts.  I was glad I was just passing through.

Then Hastings: I made a quick stop to grab some ice cream as per a recommendation by my Lonely Planet guide.  The ice cream itself wasn’t too outstanding, but the show I got whilst eating it sure was.  It was during this time when I came to realize that Kiwis cannot park.  Not at all.

First the perpendicular spaces: I am the only one that backs in.  Seriously: I have not seen a single car at all backed in, and I’m writing this on December 5th – a week into my trip.  I’m the only one that does it.  I suspect it’s related to how they park in angled spots…

Actually, more specifically, it’s not getting into the angle spots themselves; it’s getting out.  Every New Zealand town looks the exact same: one street of strip development, albeit at least with the storefronts right on the sidewalk.  It’s all on-street parking with a great turnover.  The only real difference between New Zealand towns, apart from differing mountains sticking up nearby, is that parking might be front-in angle or it might be parallel.

When kiwis pull out of the angle spots, however, they just go for it. Every such departing vehicle I came upon ended up being a near-hit: the just hit the accelerator and go.  It’s times like that when I’m glad I drive with both feet: sure I usually use my right foot for both brake and accelerator, but I also keep my left foot ready on brake.

Then there’s parallel parking; oh, my, the parallel parking.  This was the spectacle I was particularly enjoying in Hastings.  Everyone seems to try parallel parking by pulling in front-first, which as any other driver should know is not something you should do when trying to parallel park.  And as I was sitting in my car eating ice cream – in a middle spot of 3 spaces, so as to kindly leave the end spots in front & behind me available for those who can’t park.  Well… a van pulled in front of me, attempting to get into it front-end first; but when it didn’t work & he ended up in front of the space: he then just sat there.  And waited… and waited.  Then the guy in front of him came back & drove off, then the van pulled forward into that space.  There was nothing at all difficult about my space: it would’ve just required an easy back-up.

I watched in front of me and in my mirrors as others made attempts.  It was delightful to watch.  Then I also came to notice how pedestrians cross – something I’d pondered for awhile.  Specifically, there doesn’t seem to be any pedestrian-centric culture here, though I don’t know what exactly the laws are.  If you’re at a zebra crossing, motorists are like those in Britain: they’ll jam on their brakes to stop at all costs for you.  If you’re not in a zebra crossing, however, then all bets are off.

I watched as a group of young schoolchildren with a chaperone attempted to cross mid-block right in front of me.  Car after car didn’t yield (though even in America they wouldn’t be expected to).  Then the children started crossing, and even then an oncoming car didn’t seem to give the slightest hint of yielding… the kids ended up running across.  Again, even in America the pedestrians technically didn’t have the right-of-way, but I’d think that most motorists would at least slow down once the kids had started crossing.

While I’m on a roll with transportation, I’ll also note that no one uses daytime running lights.  It’s like where America was in the 90’s – a couple do, but by and large most don’t.  However, Kiwis don’t even really use headlights even when it’s raining… so I’m definitely on my own in much of that regard.

In Wellington, I once again fell victim to the awkward business hours of New Zealand.  My first issue was when I accidentally got off in Lower Hutt – the city just a couple kilometers before Wellington.  I was on the motorway, knew the city was coming up, and when I saw “City Center” on a sign I just turned without much more thought.  I’d have not even known the Hutt’s existed had I not made that mistake, including the subsequent peering a map as I tried to locate streets on a map of a city I wasn’t even in.

Then in Wellington, I first tried to find two places just off the motorway as you enter the city, but failed at both.  Well after I decided “I’m done with this & moving on”, I spotted one of the two places just as I made the left-turn out of there, but by then I’d already made up my mind.  My third stop was already closed for the night, even though it was only perhaps 8pm or so.  My fourth stop, toward the east side of the city, worked out.

Indeed, it worked out perfectly.  I asked the receptionist if he had any rooms, he right away said he did, and then realized he didn’t have any more of the cheaper $90 rooms.  He did have a $150 room available, but he felt bad that he just told me he did (particularly as I’d immediately gone into my description of the day thus far as well as my search for lodging the day before). So I got a gargantuan luxury room for $100/night… sweet deal, if I do say so myself.  A King-sized bed, even.

My mind was a bit awander that night, so I took a stroll around the city nearby only to come to realize that Wellington’s red light district seems to encompass its entire downtown.  In just a short walk from my hotel along busy streets, I must’ve been solicited for various “services” more than I think I’ve ever had legitimate girlfriends.  Bravo, New Zealand, for the legalization of prostitution!  Though to be fair, it actually didn’t feel unsafe or perverse or anything… just unique in its own way.  What did feel unsafe was when I kept walking down a couple other streets & the city just had this awkward silent feel to it.  Maybe it wasn’t coincidence that I felt this unsafe vibe that I couldn’t quite explain, as I’ll dabble upon with Thursday’s entry.

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