The 6 hour drive from Auckland to Wellington is wracked with beauty and fraught with peril. Gandalf must have had balls of steel to make the ride such as he did, white steed notwithstanding.
The Middle section of New Zealand’s North Island while picturesque is pretty boring. Joe cut his teeth behind the wheel of our Holden Acclaim station wagon proving conclusively that driving on the wrong side of the road is a dangerous but surmountable test of mental strength. (NB: British cars mirror American cars exactly so here the turn signals are on the right of the steering wheel and the windshield wiper controls are on the left. Muscle memory has set so strong that out first several hundred kilometers of lane changes were accompanied by the dulcet tones of our wipers on a dry windshield)
Three hours and a quick lunch at Lake Taupo launched us into the second leg of our journey. Stalwart moron that I am, I volunteered to take over for Joe behind the wheel. The Southern half of New Zealand’s North Island is the natural majesty of the Southern Hemisphere incarnate (or inmundate? Latin scholars can laugh at that one). Our precious rolling hills gave way to glacieresque cliff drops and craggy rock formations as our two-lane superhighway subtly disappeared into Lake Taupo 30m below. To put things in perspective, the 1 Highway which runs from north to south of the country, is a road no wider than one side of the Merritt Parkway in CT (or any standard two-lane road in your hometown) upon which the better part of the country’s overland transport and shipping takes place. Take a single hair-pin turns at 100km/hr with a semi-truck bearing down on you at speed. Red Bull, Coffee, Cocaine and methamphetamines pale in comparison.
Below the lake the 1 opens up into the ominously named “Desert Road.” A 200km stretch of open road which has an unpalatable tendency to get shut down in inclement weather. As luck would have it, the Maori gods of travel saw fit to grant us passage. Louis said that he sacrificed a virgin before he left Providence. The Sci-Li is no Tarpeian Rock, but good luck is good luck so we patted him on the back and went on our way. These pictures will attest to the natural beauty of New Zealand’s lowlands, what they call the “central plateau.” Scrubland streching out to the horizon is majestically and surprisingly only broken by the sharp appearance of several picture-book snow capped mountains.
The sun went down by the time we had gotten out from below the central plateau, but not before we managed to snap several pics of the hills, dales (what is a dale anyway?), valleys, gorges and canyons that inexplicably dot the Kiwi country-side. Matt also convinced us to leave Louis by the side of the road where he had gone to answer one of his ::ahem:: natural imperatives. We just rolled the car forward a couple feet to hide it behind a tree, but the look on his face was priceless to say the least.
Our lengthy trip gave us time to ponder some of the following facts and figures from the Lonely Planet guidebook:
- The population of New Zealand is 3.88 Million. (compare that to New York City’s 8.1M, or the state of Massachusetts’ 6.3M)
- New Zealand’s Sheep population, however, is nearly 48 Million (12.5 per person), and it’s cattle population nearly 8M (around 2 per person)….maybe those lonely shepherds aren’t quite so lonely after all?
- Kiwi voter turn-out comes in at about 80%. Take that, moveon.org
- While Auckland is the coutry’s largest city at 1.2M people, it’s capital is the much smaller port city of Wellington. The home of il Patrone Nuovo Zealomundo, Peter Jackson. Director, Iconoclast, treeBeard lookalike himself.
This seems to be a fair amount of info and exposition for one day.
Special props to the lone computer geek upstairs in the hostel who helped me gerry-rig my laptop to leech off the front office’s wireless. You are truly a god among men.
EDIT: By some demonic pact or some dreary scientific embargo , the great nation of New Zealand seems IMMUNE to the coriolis effect, that delicious wonder of nature that makes our precious toilets flush clockwise around the bowl. Here, as if by horrible witchcraft, the water does not spin counter-clockwise as expected. Rather, it melts away down the drain, commanded by some unnatural invisible force. Fie, I say. Fie.