Monday, December 14, 2009

NZ - Taranaki

I awoke in Wanganui, though days later it would also be correct to call it Whanganui thanks to several years of intensive deliberation only to agree that both are OK.  Democracy in action!  It’s kind of sad that with my experience in the public sector, I completely understand the bureaucracy behind spending years to sort this out, as trivial as it may sound.

My drive first brought me to the skateboard park, but it appeared to be undergoing intense work & I didn’t have the desire to approach too closely.  Hence my next destination was to find city’s elevator.  That is, a tunnel dug into a hill with an elevator going to the top – apparently it was initially intended to serve residential development up top or something like that.  Personally, I just thought it sounded like the elevator in Graz, Austria, which I remember thinking was neato in every imaginable way.

I seemed to have a bit of difficulty finding this elevator, as my first turn took me onto a street which drove up to the top, bypassing the elevator entirely.  The second turn took me onto some industrial cul-de-sac.  Then I noticed that signs pointing me into the very obvious little pull-off directly opposite the bridge over the river… so yeah I parked there & hopped out.  Then I saw a staircase right beside a sign for the elevator… I was a bit confused, but started up the stairs thinking it would take me to the elevator access.

Before I knew it, I’d ascended all the stairs and was at the top, and a few more stairs later I was on top of the elevator shaft admiring the views over the city.  Shrieking children in the adjacent water tower (or I assume it was once a water tower) kept me where I was for a bit, awaiting the clearing of the school field trip.  As the greater portion of wee ones began to pile out at the bottom, I made my way over & went up to the top of the water tower for even higher views.  The metal mesh at the top kind of made it feel like I was standing inside a Tesla coil.

I pondered whether I should take the elevator down or not, seeing as I’d already ascended the stairs & descending really didn’t pose much hassle.  I was thinking that I might as well just take the stairs since it’s easy to do & provides some exercise.  Then I remembered that I’m not here to go up and down stairs, I’m here to see the bloody elevator… so I quickly made my way over before maniacal children got there to join me.

One short ride with a less-than-enthused elevator operator later, I emerged into a long white tunnel.  At the end of the tunnel, around a few meters of pathway, I emerge back at the carpark.  How did I miss it the elevator before going up the stairs??  I look to my left, and right there is the sign, with the stairs just on the other side.  I step forward and look back, noting the gigantic touristy wooden structure I just emerged from with “elevator” written in bright letters overhead.  OK so perception wasn’t leaping hurdles this morning.

The greater part of my day was, once again, to be spent in the car.  From Wanganui I’d head around the west side of Mt. Taranaki and then onto Waitomo Caves.  First I need to complement Wanganui: this could very well be the first typical Kiwi town which actually looks nice.  I mean, it has all the same chain stores as every other town and for all intents and purposes appeared to function the same, but its tree-lined boulevards added a charm that all the other cities seemed to be lacking.  It kind of made me wish I could’ve spent another day.

Hawera was the next stop, really just so I could climb up its water tower.  It was indeed a nice water tower, making me a bit curious as to why a country younger than America has more historic-looking water towers than we do.  The town itself was ho-hum, once again just a cookie-cutter Kiwi town.  It made me think that I almost look forward to a town with a strip club or brothel, really just because they at least provide different-looking storefronts since not every city seems to have one.  Even if the storefront consists of scantily clad women or just a sheer black face, it at least seems an improvement over the cacophony of advertisements every other storefront wields.  So, um… bravo to New Zealand’s sex industry?

Looping around Taranaki was generally uneventful apart from some lovely views of the cloud-topped volcano.  The lighthouse at Cape Egmont was a particular treat, as it wasn’t some little stubby thing on top of a high bluff; but rather a taller tower on top of a shorter bluff.  Having grown up in the shadow of Barnegat Light – a more virile lighthouse rising from almost sea level – I personally prefer lighthouses that are actual towers, and Cape Egmont delivered with its cute red-doored, white-walled building.

My trip past New Plymouth included a quick diversion up Paritutu Hill.  While a short climb, I have to admit that it took a bit of oomph to make it up top.  It was really more a sprint than an endurance run, with some legitimate scrambling up nigh-vertical rockfaces to make it to the summit.  The views weren’t great, but I did like it because the views were different.  The lane around Taranaki itself is rather bland, apart from said volcano.  The industrial area around Paritutu, however, provided an alternate interest given my fascination with the underworkings of society – particularly industry.  A scrap yard & power plant were particular highlights to stare down upon.  Simple pleasures, I know.

The remainder of the drive up to Waitomo Caves was uneventful by every definition.  This stretch has little of interest with regards to scenery, but fortunately you move pretty quickly along the map.  I finally remembered to write about something I’d noticed in my very first couple days in New Zealand (unless I’ve already written about this, in which case I forgot that I succeeded at remembering).  That is, almost all freight trucks I see in New Zealand are pulling two trailers.

Most people reading this might think that’s a pretty boring observation, but the transportation-fan in me wonders whether it’s more efficient to pull one trailer faster as in America; or two trailers slower as is done here.  I’d probably put my money on the latter, but then again long-haul trucking in New Zealand certainly has a different definition than long-haul trucking in America.

The Lonely Planet Guide described the Waitomo Caves Hotel as a cross between “the hotel from The Shining and the Bates Motel”.  With a description like that and not-too-shabby prices, I just had to give it a shot.  My first impression upon laying eyes upon it was that the description was pretty spot-on.  Once I stepped into the entry I thought it was even truer.  When I entered my room I felt that the description was perfect.  Best night’s sleep I ever had.  Someday I’m going to open a lodging facility beside a lake named Crystal Lake, along a road named Elm Street, and I’m going to name it the Bates Overlook Lodge.  Every guest gets a complementary chainsaw.

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