Down Under: On the Road to Wellington

DRIVING SOUTH TO WELLINGTON

On Wednesday, we left Napier and drove south to Wellington. A distance of about 280 km and estimated to take 4 hours or so. The main routes here are practically all two-lane roads so you always have traffic coming toward you. The first hour of the trip was challenging for the driver, simply for the number of roundabouts where he had to always remember stay left and then choose the appropriate exit. Between Napier and Hastings and a few other towns around Hawke Bay, there was a fair amount of traffic added to the mix. The sky was mostly clear and then began the off and on heavy showers that plagued us all the way to Wellington. But when it wasn’t raining, I gazed out at the rolling hills and green grass and saw three separate rainbows, one complete at both ends!

I haven’t yet been to Ireland, but New Zealand is very green, layers of green of different shades (grass green to hunter, emerald, and yellow green) that intermix from ground level to the trees and then the hillsides and peaks.

We brought our own new GPS from home (loaded with New Zealand maps), and we rented a Kruse device. Mr. Kruse’s device can also be used for navigation, but mostly it’s intended to provide history and background about the towns and villages along the route. When he doesn’t have info to provide, you can set it for background music (after awhile we turned this off, not caring for his selection).

We went through several market towns, Masterton, Carterton, and Featherston, which provide services for the neighboring farms, mostly sheep farms. Masterton is famous for hosting an annual sheep-shearing contest that attracts shearers from all over the world. Downtown Masterton was a bit of a time warp feeling like the 1950’s. Dining options were limited to Food for Thought, a cafeteria; Chan’s, a Chinese takeout restaurant; a fried chicken fast food place; and the Ten o’ Clock Cookie, a bakery and café all in one. The cookie restaurant looked like the best option and was filled with mothers and children and a few grandparents with kids, it being spring break week.

We snagged one of the remaining tables and after ordering and getting our food at the counter, tucked into a beef and mushroom pie (very good!) and a Philly beef and cheese pie along with some fresh fruit and a couple of cute mini cupcakes which were irresistible at the checkout station. Both Carterton and Featherston looked a bit more prosperous and one had a center island on the main drag with some lovely old deciduous trees and then a stand of grand old palms.

The rain had stopped while we walked to lunch, but as soon as we began the last leg of the trip, it poured hard. And continued to do so all the way up and over the Rimutaka Range with its narrow twisting roads,  no shoulder to speak of, and very sharp turns. Higher and higher we climbed (views would have been fantastic on a clear day, but mostly it was mist) until we reached the peak at just over 3,000 feet, and then started down the other side.

Almost immediately, the weather was better and the mountainsides were bright with yellow gorse, lots of it. The final 20 km into Wellington was along a short span of motorway (divided road with real exits);  fortunately, the distance to Budget Rental to drop off the car upon exiting was fairly short. Even better, the young woman who dealt with the car kindly offered to drive us to our hotel in said rental car! This offer we quickly accepted.

Our hotel room is large and pleasant with a view of a garden below. But, it’s pouring again so we have not yet ventured outside. Soon we will, with our umbrellas!

We did head out for a short walk in the heavy rain and were mystified to see so many people on the street without umbrellas. A woman informed us that it’s so regularly windy here that people don’t bother carrying them. It wasn’t windy then, but very wet; we were very glad we had our umbrellas!

Note: All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved).  Header photo is part of a mural near the transit yard.

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