Sunday 3 March 2019

Taranaki 2 - Cicadas, surf , shiny cars and cycles

With thanks to Venture Taranaki for hosting me
There's nothing like waking up halfway up a mountain with plains stretching out to the hazy horizon all around you, and the super-sharp peak of a volcano looming right above your head. So I set off before breakfast for a walk past, first of all, Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge's own little power station, which sits over a gushing mountain stream and provides the lodge with a literal source of super-cheap DC power. 
It's the oldest continuously-active power station in the country (when a superlative needs a conditional clause, it's hard to be as impressed as people would like you to be, I find). More impressive to my mind was the fact that at the lodge they use it for the 'under-bed heaters' which are apparently much more efficient than your common-or-garden electric blanket. But never plug your electronica into a DC power socket, people! Despair will result.
Anyway, it was a lovely walk through the goblin forest, as they like to call it here: trees stunted by the cold and wind, growing hunched and small, and hung with moss. It was busy with birds - and had been even busier with spiders, I discovered, as the cobwebs broke continuously across my face. Miss-Haversham-wedding-cake scenario, honest.
But the falls were pretty, and it was a lovely start to the day to be out there in nature and breathing that pure air. After breakfast I was back in the car for the winding road back down the mountain, heading for Hawera, a typical little country town with a sprawl of undistinguished suburbs around a neat centre featuring some officiously sturdy pedimented buildings - banks and their ilk - from early last century. Prime amongst them is the Water Tower, which was built in 1914 to stop the place from keeping on getting burnt down. It's concrete, but not ugly, and from the top of its 215 steps you get a grand view of, well, the mountain, of course.
My next visit was to be to an Elvis Presley Museum, run by an enthusiast in his home - but he was away at a sports event so, though it would have been useful story material, at least I was spared the effort of having to pretend to be a fan of The King. I'm too young!
Instead, I set off along SH45, the Surf Highway, along the coast and through a succession of little towns focused on their beaches - black sand affairs between high cliffs, with even today fairly big waves rolling in. The Surf Life Savers Clubs are very active here, and their red and yellow flags were easy to spot. As it's a Sunday, there were people everywhere, swimming and surfing, riding horses along the beach, fishing, playing with kids and dogs, and just chilling (actually, the opposite) on the hot sparkly sand. Ohawe, Manaia, Opunake, Oakura... all worth a little look.
The main thing on this drive though, was the looming presence of the mountain over my right shoulder - foregrounded by lumpy no doubt volcano-related little hills, or rolling green paddocks dotted with sheep and cows, or fields of maize almost ready to harvest, or artily framed by flax flower spikes. It was always there, a magnet, asking to be admired and photographed. Very distracting. I wonder if the locals ever get to the stage of ignoring it? But it always will look different, according to the snow, or cloud, or just the light generally.
I drove through New Plymouth to fill in a gap from yesterday, dutifully turning up to the Hillsborough Museum, which is a shrine to the Holden car. Inside a big shed are 44 different models, from the first 1949 car that looks just like a larger scale Morris 8, right through to the last one to come here from Australia, in 2017. That was a dark day, according to the museum's owner and obsessive, Steve. He owns all but 8 of them. Some of them - 8, again - have never been driven. Occasionally they get an outing to a show, where it's all about how pristine they are, but otherwise they're tucked behind their ropes inside the shed, safe from stone chips and (horrors!) even worse.
Honestly, I would have had more fun at the mini-golf course there, which looked inventive and challenging, but even I admit that would have appeared more than a bit eccentric, on my own. Instead, I headed off to Pukeiti Gardens, which I thought were in town and spent ages deeply mistrusting the GPS - but it turned out I was thinking of Pukekura. Pukeiti is a scenic reserve near the mountain with a garden in the middle: winding paths under big trees, lots of massive, and lesser, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, ferns, birds and cicadas, a tumbling mountain stream, and a fancy new Rainforest Centre with elevated metal walkways and lookouts. Nice.
Then I headed back into town, to stay at the King & Queen where they were expecting me, yay, and I had a very comfortable room. It's not far from the Coastal Walkway, where I went to catch the Golden Hour, the wet rocks shining in the low sun, Len Lye's 45m fibre glass Wind Wand waving gently in the breeze, and lots of people strolling, cycling and feeding little fish in a stream. All very Sunday evening. Again, nice.

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