Wet Windy Wellington and Wanganui

Last
week winter came to New Zealand with a vengeance, and storm conditions battered
the North Island for several days. We thought we understood about ‘Windy
Wellington’, but this exceeded our previous experience. We kept expecting to
see frozen penguins hurtling past, blasted off the Antarctic ice by the
fearsome gusts. Last week was also ‘Maori Language Awareness Week’, and to celebrate
this the Ministry held a ‘hangi’ on Wednesday – on occasion to sit about, eat Maori
food, and watch colleagues performing Maori songs and dances.

The
weekend’s excursion was to Wanganui, about 120 miles up the west coast. We
hired a car and drove up on Saturday morning, arriving in time for a trip on
the Waimarie, which is the only paddle steamer in NZ, and was restored after
being brought up from the bottom of the river. It cruises up the Wanganui River
for an hour to the little village of Upokongaro. It was quite cold, and we
spent most of the trip in the saloon, with a few forays on deck. At the other
end the jetty had to be swept clear of mud before we could go ashore. We
visited St Mary’s Church, with an interesting triangular spire on a square
base, but the highlight of the stay was drinks in the local pub in front of the
roaring fire. At 3.00 we got on the boat and headed back to Wanganui, with
another glass of wine on the way.

On
Sunday we drove up the Wanganui River Road. This is narrow and winding, and
took us steeply uphill to a great viewpoint over the river valley. We went down
the other side, and came to a place where the soft cliff had washed away, almost
blocking the road. We pressed on, and parked at a scenic reserve to do a walk
up the hill there. Not far up the track a tree had fallen over, completely
blocking the path. We had to turn back, and returned to Wanganui. Back in town,
we went through a tunnel to get an elevator up to the top of Durie Hill. On the
top is a tall view tower made of shell-rock, which we climbed to get the view
over the town and surroundings. It was pretty windy up there. On the way home
we stopped at the little town of Bulls, which is the punning centre of NZ.
Every shop has a sign up with a terri-bull pun.

Going
to Wanganui had two advantages – the hotel was nice and warm, and the town
escaped most of that weekend’s storm, which caused some havoc elsewhere in the
North Island. The town and the river valley seem like great places to visit in
the summer, and we fully intend to return then and explore further up the
valley, perhaps going as far as the Bridge to Nowhere and doing some canoeing –
watch this space! However, even in the depths of winter we enjoyed our little
excursion and got to see another part of the country.

A Beginner’s
Guide to Kiwi Culture – Part 1

Part
of an ongoing series of cultural differences between living in New Zealand and
the UK.

5.      5.  ‘Morning
tea’ is a wonderful habit, and seems endemic in the workplace. Everyone downs
tools at least one morning a week and sits and chats over cake, muffins and
other delicacies. A variant is known as ‘afternoon tea’, and can be used to
make meetings more bearable.

6.     
6.  Calling
‘thank you’ to the bus driver when you get off the bus is a Kiwi tradition.

7.     
7.  Obsession
with rugby – every news bulletin contains some reference to the game played by
large men will odd-shaped balls.

8.     
8.  The
use of first names is the norm here – even official phone lists are ordered by
first name.

9.     
9.  Muffins
are big here – in all senses. The variety is amazing, both sweet and savoury.
In Wanganui we had apple and rhubarb, as well as feta and spinach, and later
‘shiraz poached pear’ muffin.

10.  10.  Coffee is very
important, and taken quite seriously. We have been able to get cappuccino
everywhere, and there is something called ‘flat white’ which is a kind of less
frothy cappuccino. There is no equivalent of ‘white coffee’ as served in the
UK.

To
be continued.

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