Leaving the Able Tasman, I found I had somehow neglected to pack my camera battery charger. Crisis! This meant for the rest of the trip I was jealously guarding power, choosing my shots with much more care. I always travel with two batteries, and kept the last reserves of my first to shoot our last glorious stop in Fiji (so you have that to look forward to). Until then, I scrimped and saved, with some help from Jacob’s cell phone camera…
A brief stop in Queen Charlotte Sound, and then it was off to the North Island.
We took the ferry from Picton into the charming city of Wellington, where we scored a few thrift store finds and had the second best Indian food I’ve ever had (this being the best).
We then made our first and only stop related to The Lord of the Rings (if you don’t already know, I am a devotee of the books rather than the movies), camping at a charming site near where the filmmakers shot scenes for Rivendell.
Hilariously, the area they used was about 20 square feet (so unphotogenic, it wasn’t worth my battery) of what was an absolutely breathtaking larger forest. We walked two of the beautiful trails, enjoying the calm after several days in the city, and reveling in the lack of sandflies after the infestated South Island.
The forest was lusciously verdant, with great gnarled trees worthy of Entish animation.
Back at camp, we continued our love affair with New Zealand’s delicious wines. The North Island’s Pinot Noirs were particularly drinkable.
This enjoyment continued through the village of Martinborough and on into the Hawkes Bay town of Napier. The unhappy history of earthquake followed by fire, enabled the town to rise like a phoenix, rebuilding almost its entirety in the 1930s. This silver lining crowned Napier the art deco capital of NZ. The city has a riviera feel to it, sporting a seaside promenade and dozens of touristy boutiques. We enjoyed a particularly scrumptious meal at “Mister D,” gorging ourselves into giggling oblivion. In fairness, the appetizer we ordered was listed as gnocchi, but these towering potato popsicles are what emerged from the kitchens:
Which made the Roquefort-stuffed figs wrapped in prosciutto slightly gratuitous…
My braised duck risotto was highly edible.
And the nectarine dessert didn’t even survive long enough to be properly photographed.
Somehow Jacob ended up also getting a freshly made donut to take back with us. It came with a syringe pre-loaded with injectable custard. The humanity!
Oh holidays. The next morning we continued the debauchery with a few wine tastings. Hawkes Bay has some of the best wine in the country, and there are dozens of tasting rooms to choose from.
Our favorite was the imposing Craggy Range Winery. I say imposing because the winery is a stone behemoth of, to my eye, somewhat questionable taste, brooding beneath the rocky scarp of Te Mata Peak. The wine, however, was neither questionable nor imposing, but refreshing, intriguing and poured by a young woman whose reassuring French accent made her nearly incomprehensible.
After Napier, we headed West across the island, stopping for an afternoon and night in the sulfurous steam bath that is Rotorua.
We did our geothermal sightseeing at Wai-O-Tapu Wonderland Park, which would have been far more impressive had I not been to the far more wondrous Yellowstone National Park…whose geysers do not need to be induced to erupt with the assiduous daily addition of soap flakes. Still, there is an undeniable intrigue to colorful, gaseous, and bubbling pools, and though the entry fee was rather steep for the size of the park, we enjoyed the primordial feel of the place.
Incidentally, if anyone can tell me what this strange floating ball of evergreen is, I would be grateful for a mystery solved:
After a night at a charming B&B, mercifully tucked up above the noxious smell of the rest of Rotorua, we headed on for an adventure I’d been thrilling over since we first began our planning. Surf lessons in Raglan!
For you surf buffs, Raglan needs no introduction, but for the rest of us, you may have seen it featured in The Endless Summer. Famous or not, I can recommend it wholeheartedly not only as a legendary surf destination, but as a charming seaside town.
We booked a lodging and lesson package with Raglan Surf School, which is worth every penny if you don’t mind basic accommodations. The deal includes a full day’s lesson, overnight stay, and equipment rentals for the following day. The lessons were wonderful: low stress and high fun. We adored both of our instructors who helped make the mechanics accessible and understood the balance between assistance and leaving students to discover their own power. (By the way, don’t worry, the haggard boards below were for the indoor portion of the lesson.)
After the first day, it became clear that I missed my calling in life. I was meant to be a surf bum. Evidence: I love the beach, water of all kinds, generally think everyone should just relax, and if given the choice would happily live out my days on ceviche and mangoes.
I got up on my very first run, and was immediately hooked. The feeling of a wave nipping at your toes, and the rush as it surges you forward whether you’re ready or no is unparalleled. They had to pry me out of the water. The second day meant we were solo, which was somewhat daunting since it was the “biggest” day they’d had all summer. By that I mean, large, hungry waves.
Here is a photo of what the water looked like on our first day:
And here’s the surf on our second:
After waiting out the biggest of it in the morning, we got in about 3 hours of muscle aching, head pounding fun, which left me feeling tired but triumphant, with a personal best of riding out fives waves in a row. Once again Jacob had to forcibly remove me from my board. It’s decided, surfing is my absolute favorite.
To be continued…