New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 381 (191)
Thursday 24th March (2005)
We both slept relatively well in this soft bed last night, although a few new sand fly bites did seem like they were starting to form again, but an epiphany hit me as I was rousing from my slumber. When we collected our luggage at Christchurch’s International airport, we only collected two pieces – our main backpack each. It suddenly hit me that there was actually a third piece that we forgot to collect – the box containing my boomerang and the painted posters of our names that we had done on the street in Sydney. I have been nursing that boomerang all throughout our trip around Australia ever since I received it from the Aborigines in Cairns and I was not very impressed with the fact that I forgot to collect it from the belt in Christchurch. After my initial panic subsided, I called Qantas and they put me in touch with the baggage handling staff at Christchurch. I call them, explained what the box looked like and they went to check for it. To my utter surprise, they found it within seconds. They didn’t even need the baggage check number. I asked them if they could route it onto Auckland and they said they’d do so right away without any problems. What a relief. I would have been absolutely devastated if that was lost forever.
New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, was our main objective for today and even though we could have probably walked there in half an hour or more, according to the woman manning the front desk, I decided to get a taxi instead, much to Sandy’s relief. The short drive over there cost us around NZ$8 (€4,64). The museum is a rather odd shaped building and is clearly a very modern. It was to be much more impressive on the inside. Te Papa is a very large museum so we made the information desk our first stop to find out what we could about the place and to see how best to tackle it. Quite astonishingly, the cost of admission is completely free but they were offering a guided tour of the place for just NZ$10 (€5,80) each that would take in many of the museum’s highlights in addition to giving us a good overview of the whole space. We signed up for the one-hour tour and went off to amuse ourselves for the twenty minutes or so we had to wait for it to commence. The very informative woman that led the tour was clearly enthusiastic about the museum and all that it stands for. We spent well over an hour walking around from floor to floor and through all the various sections. Every now and then, we’d stop to get a more in-depth explanation about the Maori culture, some museum exhibit or attraction and I certainly thought that we got our money’s worth. Naturally, New Zealand’s heritage and environment along with the Maori culture is featured very heavily throughout the museum but there are also lots of other diverse sections on art, the oceans, times past, industry, history, geology and many more. They even have a complete library with just about every conceivable book or publication that is in any way, shape or form related to New Zealand. The place is super modern and everything is exhibited in a hands-on fashion. Te Papa is also tailored to visitors of every age group and we saw several groups of school children noisily, yet cheerful and enthusiastic, buzzing around between the numerous child-friendly Discovery Zones that are set up at various points throughout. These are areas set aside for children and are mini playgrounds of fun learning complete with computers, play areas and lots of kiddie hands-on things. Naturally, we spent much of our time in these zones too. I’d have to say that Te Papa is by far the best museum we’ve seen. Haven’t I said something very similar to this just recently? I thought the one in Christchurch was very good, which it is, but this one tops that one and every other that we’ve ever visited by a long shot. It was definitely worth detouring to Wellington after all.
There are a couple of very interesting things about the Te Papa museum. There is a separate section set aside for use by a specific country. Every two years, a new country gets to use this section, which is further overhauled every six months by that visiting country. Italy is currently playing host at the moment. Also, there is a separate section within the larger Maori section of the museum which is also occupied anew every couple of years but by a different Maori Iwi (tribe). There is a no holds barred policy as to how each Iwi gets to use the space and we saw running films of different Maori putting forward their side of the argument to various land disputes and cultural displacement issues from throughout New Zealand’s history. It was all very tactfully presented and you have to admire the museum’s policy of impartiality with regards to such emotive issues. It made me sit and think about all the strife and conflict that near enough every country on the planet has either dealt with in the past or is still grappling with in the here and now. It seems you never have to look too far into the eyes of any country before you find skeletons in the attic.
Not a single square metre of the museum’s space, be it floor space, wall space, ceiling space or otherwise, is unused. Even the outside has been fashioned into an exhibit with glow-worm caves, lava flows, dinosaur excavations, flora and fauna displays and so on. Not even the basement gets left out with even an exhibit down there of the earthquake proof design features of the building being proudly displayed. Just about everywhere you looked, there was something happening or going on that in some way was part of the whole, entertaining, museum experience. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously and would gladly go back for a second day, if we had the time, which here on the North Island is the one thing that we don’t have.
By about four o’clock, our legs had taken just about as much as we were prepared to throw at them and so we decided it was high time that we collected our rental car. With no public buses going anywhere near where we needed to be, we had to fork out a whopping NZ$15 (€8,70) for our second taxi ride of the day. When we arrived, we learned that this particular car rental agency provided free pickups from in town. Oh well.
Our newer, slightly higher, daily, rental rate of NZ$35 (€20,30) afforded us a slightly larger four-door car with automatic transmission. It will serve us well for the week that we have to move around the North Island and after all the formalities were out of the way with, we drove away in a white, Nissan Sunny. The first place we drove to was the Apple Centre store that is just around the corner from our hostel. Apple has brought out some newer versions of the software that I use on my laptop, such as my photo library management software, and I wanted to see if I could get it here. They had it in stock but it was quite pricey so we’ll wait until we get to Florida instead. Next up was a nearby supermarket to stock up on food for tonight and tomorrow. I vaguely remember reading something in the guidebook about Wellington’s dire parking problem but it wasn’t until we started driving around on our own that this was really brought home to us. Parking just about anywhere here is, indeed, a complete nightmare.
Not only is there a space problem with regards to parking the car but our hostel also seems to have just about enough space to comfortably deal with about half the number of guests that are actually here. There is a severe shortage of fridge and cupboard space and there was barely standing room in the packed kitchen. Still, I was ultimately able to rustle up a couple of nice, juicy T-bone steaks for dinner and, as an added bonus, we enjoyed a delicious chocolate éclair which, for the first time since we started this trip, actually contained real, fresh cream instead of that ghastly, yellow, custard rubbish we’ve been finding. I can just feel my arteries hardening already.
There was so much hubbub and activity in the cramped conditions of the kitchen and dining area that we decided to retreat to the quiet and sanctity of our room to sort out our game plan for how to tackle the North Island in a week or less. It’s a tall order and such a short space of time will barely allow us to cover the distance between Wellington and Auckland so we sifted through the guidebooks and brochures to choose just a small handful of destinations that we wanted to take in. We’re going to make the Waitomo Glow-Worm Caves our first destination for tomorrow, so with that in mind, we called around for a place to stay for tomorrow night. Everywhere I called was fully booked except the very last place I tried. It’s a twenty-minute drive from the caves but is on the way and the owners seem like really friendly people. They were quite happy to hold a nice, double room for us. They also pointed out that the reason why everywhere is fully booked was because it’s Easter weekend upcoming. With that in mind, I called ahead to all the backpacker hostels in Rotorua, our next destination after the glow-worm caves. Unfortunately, not a single hostel that I was able to get through to had any rooms available but there were plenty that I couldn’t get through to since it was outside of office hours so we’ll just have to try again tomorrow morning once we are on the road. I’ve a feeling things are going to be a little hectic for a while now.