New Zealand: Napier – The Art Deco Capital

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napierpano

“Like vanilla icecream coated in deep chocolate sauce

they towered over the scraggy scrubby shrubs….”


We tried for an early start, but trying to coax a 4 year old to eat his breakfast in a hurry is out of the question.  My sister tried to hurry him along but he wanted to finish watching “Cats & Dogs” for the 40th time before we returned it to the front counter.  With our bikes packed up, we backed them down the drive and checked out.  The day was again glorious, cloudless and amazing.  The mountain looked like a faded oil painting, bleached out by the sun’s rays.

The mountain looked like a faded oil painting, bleached out by the sun’s rays.  We had many kilometers to admire its monstrosity as we circled it’s base to the east towards Waiouru where we stopped upon a grotty looking cafe at the side of the road.  With limited time and choice, we went with it and entered inside.  The strong stench of fried fish hit us like a wave through the open room.  Breathing through my mouth as to not gague, Joe order what he called “awesome coffee” from the friendly italian shop owner who would charge $2.00 for the use of the facilities to non patrons.  The toilet signs were cleverly marked “private” so you would have to go up and ask where they were located, thus either buying something or paying the $2.00.

Joe slowely sipped his cuppa, as we waited on our guests to meet us from filling up the car.  Once we were ready, we departed north on the “Desert Road” that again circled the base of the mountain.  The sights were amazing from this side.  Like vanilla icecream coated in deep chocolate sauce they towered over the scraggy scrubby shrubs clinging to eroded valley’s that seemed to undulate in waves from its epicenter.  The traffic was steady and the increasing sun began to seep the tar from the road, rising to the surface to create slippery pools of black goo oosing around the corners and in the vehicle tire tracks making corning increasingly difficult.

As we descended down towards lake Taupo, the Mountain began to slowly disappear.  Low scrub was replaced with towering farm pines, lined up in rows up to the motorway.  The lake began to come into full view now, a massive circular shape with a small island dotting the center, like a small indication of where it had come from.  Traffic slowed around the curving walls of the southern lakeside.  Transport trucks and cube vans struggled around the tight turns of the lakeside.  As the landscape opened up, we finally managed to pass most of the traffic just in time to head into Taupo, located at the north end of the lake.

Taupo is very much a reflection of where I grew up, lake side, with a elevated hot climate.  The ghostly reflection of the mountain loomed over the southern end, like a single marker beacon for travelers in this area.  We stopped in the over crowded town for lunch, weaving our way through party traffic and dawdling tourists.  Lunch was at Finn McCools, offering good pub food and a decent price with a massive outdoor patio to enjoy the summer rays.  Food was a bit slow to arrive and we rushed to commence the second leg of our journey, heading south east this time towards Napier.

It makes me laugh how the shortest distance between two point is not the easiest way to go in this country.  The mountains are notorius for making travel difficult and cutting the roads through them equally as so.  With such a small road budget I wonder how New Zealand gets improvements on any road at all.  We counted ourselves lucky that we had not run into any major road construction so far.  I spoke to soon.  The Taupo to Napier run was littered with resurfacing jobs, with pellet sized rocks bouncing around the top surface waiting for the slimy tar to hold them in place.  The tar machine oozed its sludge onto the surface, making a stinking hot day even more so, as we crawled by at 30km/h and occasionally stopped for single lane traffic.

Frustrated, we turned off for a break on a “Scenic Lookout” and were pleasantly surprised when we were rewarded with a massive waterfall below giving a bit of a cooling breeze as we baked in the midday sun.  After a few photos and a quick drink of luke warm water we returned to the bikes to finish the remainder of the journey.  I think the sun was beginning to effect me, draining any energy I had and sucking it through my skin.  I could feel sweat dripping off me soaking into the clothes I wore under my riding gear.  I begin to imagine how we will survive the heat in Australia, the outlook was not good.  I can manage the cold, as you can always add layers, but the heat you cannot escape.  It was our fault for leaving the bulk of the riding that late in the day.  The mountains were unbearable at this time, and there was not an ounce of shade along the way.

The last bit of the journey was a blur as we twisted and wound our way down into the wine country of Napier.  We approached corn fields and grape vines, twisting their rows along the roads, a sympathetic copycat of the curvatures.  I could feel my mouth drying up, but still we didn’t wish to stop even while we crawled behind calf loaded haulers and work utes.  We made our final turn towards the city along a massive bay where there was no land for some 8,000 kms.  The ocean felt different along this side of the island, like as you glance out, you sense the nothingness between where you were, and where another would be so far away.  It felt ominous and calming at the same time.  We manged to find our way through the historic streets of Napier, a city completely leveled in a earthquake in the 30’s then rebuilt almost intierly in the “art deco” style of architecure.  The pastel colours make it a cheery sight to look at and the continuity made it feel like a movie set.  Our journey concluded as we reached the hotel located along the main strip, hiking up three flights of stairs before collapsing to a hurried afternoon seabreeze.

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