Blowin' in the Wind

Friday, October 03, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 31:  Wellington to Napier
Following a night of drenching rain and howling Wellington winds, the sun broke through the clouds and gusts settled down to a mild breeze as we left our hotel around 8:30, pushing into the interior of the North Island on State Highway 2.  As we drove through the north Wellington suburbs on the divided highway, it seemed as if the rain and wind might be headed in our direction.  They were.

Choppy waves churned up the waters of Cook Strait on our left.  Wait—Cook Strait!?  We had blindly followed the GPS 15 miles north to the town of Porirua, failing to notice that the GPS had missed the memo about traveling today on State Highway-2, not SH-1.  A fortuitous place to realize our error, Porirua offered a Macca's (the one we call Mickey D in the US) for free senior coffee, a New World supermarket (our favorite), and SH-58, the east-west leg of an equilateral triangle and a direct 15-mile route back to SH-2 (picture above).
As SH-2 climbed through the Tararua Range into the Pakuratahi Forest, the wind picked up.  Warning signs along the highway had alerted us to gusty winds, but nothing prepared us for the unrelenting buffeting we endured when we pulled over at Rimutaka Summit (1,808 ft).  Like us, the people in other cars that stopped at the overlook were loath to exit their vehicles, which were convulsing from the force of the blasting wind.  Viewpoint be damned when there appeared to be a better than average chance of being swept off the summit to the valley below.  Like all the others we saw, we moved on.

Woodville town center
Of course, we survived the wind, and soon after we reached the valley, we entered the town of Featherton, the first link in a chain of small towns (pop. 2,000-4,000) spread 10 to 15 miles apart along SH-2.  The economies of these municipalities are anchored by rural services to the sheep and dairy farms surrounding the towns.

One of the pearls on this string was the legendary Eketahuna (pop. 442), New Zealand's equivalent of Timbuktu—the town that's not in the middle of nowhere; it's at the end of nowhere. Eketahuna may be small but it's memorable on a drive through—from the oversized kiwi bird to the ovine groundskeepers at the local golf course.

Sheep trimming the grass at the Eketahuna golf course
North of Eketahuna, rain continued falling, and the wind was battering again.  Maintaining one's lane on the road had become a form of wrestling.  Thanks to the occasional rogue headwind, the "Miles to Destination" indicator on our GPS seemed to be growing.

Just north of Pahiatua, where we paused to eat our picnic lunch and take a break from steering wheel wrenching, we finally saw what we had been expecting all morning—a wind farm high on top of nearby hills.  They had no shortage of raw material.

On we drove into the afternoon alternating between steady rain and gusting winds or steady wind and gusting rain.  The temperature, which was pushing 60° as the sun emerged in Wellington, had dropped to 44° by 2 p.m.  Though we had verified the route, once again, when the road diverged, our Garmin GPS chose the highway most traveled.  And once again, we had to retrace a bit to stay on the back roads we wanted to follow.

Twyford Gravels vineyard
As we approached the seaside city of Napier, our destination for the day, we entered the Hawkes Bay area, New Zealand's oldest wine region,  With a Mediterranean style climate similar to that of Bordeaux, the area is known for its full-bodied red wines.  Both the grapevines and the many Hawkes Bay apple orchards thrive on the area's long, hot summers and mild winters.

Napier newspaper building
With just four miles left to our destination, we marveled at a big wide rainbow arcing across the sky as patches of blue began peeking through the clouds.  Once we checked in at our hotel, we drove to the downtown area of Napier, the self-styled Art Deco Capital of the World.

In 1931, the city of Napier was devastated by a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9, about eight times stronger than the Christchurch quakes of 2010-11.  To this day, it remains New Zealand's deadliest natural disaster on record.  Nearly all the buildings in the central city were levelled, leading a Wellington newspaper to report that "Napier as a town has been wiped off the map."  Of the few buildings which had survived the quake, most were destroyed by the subsequent outbreak of fires.

Designers of the ASB bank building incorporated a Maori motif in its decoration.
With an almost clean slate in the downtown area, four Napier architectural firms banded together to rebuild the town.  Art Deco, with its decorative geometric motifs and curvilinear forms, was at the height of its popularity and proved to be a good fit for the city.  The style favored the use of reinforced concrete as the primary construction material, which would not only be more resistant to earthquakes and fire but would also be more economical in cost, a definite asset when there's an entire town to rebuild.  Stucco relief ornaments, a hallmark of Art Deco, also cost considerably less than more traditional forms of decoration.  One other consideration which solidified this decision was the fact that the handful of pre-1931 Art Deco buildings in the city all survived the quake.

A key to the city's tourism success, the plethora of Art Deco buildings draws thousands of architectural enthusiasts to Napier each year.  An annual Art Deco festival and local determination to preserve the city's unique architectural character support what has become an important local industry.

Tomorrow we'll turn inland and head northwest to Rotorua, New Zealand's thermal hotspot.

Road Noise
No Rash of Trash.  Unlike too many American roadsides, highways in New Zealand are not lined with discarded litter from passing cars.  But in a country that prides itself on its scenic beauty, which is also a tourist magnet, that's not a big surprise.
Ideas Worth Importing 

Public Toilets.  In both Australia and New Zealand, every town or village you drive through provides public toilets, well signed and diligently maintained.  The size and quality usually reflect the amplitude of the municipal budget.  How many times while traveling in the U.S. would we love to have found such facilities!
Public Toilets in Norsewood (pop. 330)
Bridge Identification Signs.  At both ends of every bridge we've seen in New Zealand are posted prominent signs designating the waterway, the highway and a specific bridge number.  One can only imagine how much easier it is for road crews to locate a particular bridge that needs attention, as well as for the public to report any issues with precision.

Bridge #535
Covered Sidewalks.  In the central business district of most Australian and New Zealand cities, most of the sidewalks are covered with awnings.  Thus a sudden downpour, as we saw in Napier this afternoon, does not interfere with shoppers.

Covered sidewalks...brilliant!
Daily Stats
  • Started in Wellington, ended in Napier
  • Mileage -  231    (Trip total: 15,334)
  • Weather - 46° to 57°, windy to very windy, rainy to very rainy
  • Art Deco buildings in Napier - 123
  • Grapevines - 142,913 
  • Raindrops - 987,154,032

The groundskeepers are honored on the golf course sign in Eketahuna.
Eketehuna's oversized kiwi bird
Don't have time to paint your house?  Just grow a hedge.  Love this great hedge near Eketahuna.
A bit of shopkeeper humor in Napier