Friday 7 July 2023

Plus ça change...

                                      With thanks to Destination Wairarapa for this famil

Brrr! It was -2°C this morning, and the ice was so thick on my windscreen that I had to scrape it off with a redundant credit card - it's been a long time since I've had to do that. Beforehand, though, I had my last yummy breakfast at Parehua Resort - which has been a lovely, quiet, rural place to stay. Almost 30 villas and cottages scattered around a pretty and very neat garden, with a pond, bushwalk, and lots of trees. That means birds too, and it was a sheer delight to be woken by the echoing musical notes of a magpie this morning. I shall miss being fussed over in the restaurant by host Dean - I haven't experienced such friendly but perfectionist service since my last Silversea cruise. That's high praise, you know.

I whipped into Martinborough for a quick squizz, and found it to be a classic country colonial town - ie, neatly-mown town square focused on its war memorial, deliberately impressive stately buildings, and, er, a rather smelly trailer of sheep passing by. Some nice shops, though, and apparently also a sweet shop that I missed, tch.

Then it was off through the crisp, frosty morning back to Greytown, for a proper look around. I started at Cobblestones Museum, which is a town within a town, comprising a good collection of historic buildings, most of them moved onto site. One of the originals is a cute little Cobb & Co stable, which would have been a busy place, back in the day. I wasn't such a fan of the basic hospital, though, especially its bed with raised stirrups for you-know-what. I was taken, though, with the display inside the main building about wheelbarrow races, and the story of poor Samuel Oates, who in 1858 pushed one loaded with saplings from Wellington right over the Remutakas. When he called into the local pub for a well-deserved refreshment, some low-life nicked three of his trees. Painful.

Right next door, also in a pretty cottage, is Schoc Chocolates, where they make a huge range of tablet and fancy temptations from Belgian chocolate. They even make colourful, and edible, bowls and shoes there. It's just one of a whole townful of quirky little boutiques, proudly individually owned, and each one determined to be as appealing and surprising as possible. So, at Mango Interiors, you can buy a shiny wooden motorbike or Vespa 90 from Bali; or in Blackwell & Sons a fantastic, traditional English Pashley bike, when I was there for a whole $1000 off the usual $4 thou-plus price. Books, clothes, antiques, crafts, food... and all beautifully displayed in pretty wooden shops. No wonder it was busy.

It was lunchtime by now, so I had to head back to Featherston's Royal Hotel to eat with three of the driving forces behind the town's Book Festival. 'Driving forces' is right - they are totally dedicated and infectiously enthusiastic book devotees. The town has seven bookshops, which is going some for a population of less than 3,000. The festival draws writers, illustrators and publishers in ever-growing numbers for all sorts of events over a weekend in May. The hotel plays a big part - opened in 1868 it is, naturally, a feature on the Featherston streetscape, and is plushly Victorian inside, including the accommodation which I got to see.

I was starting to fade a little now, but I got another injection of enthusiasm from Garrick, who drove me back out of town to the racecourse he runs, to see the campsite there. On the way, we passed the huge site where, in WWI, there were rows and rows of 90 huge wooden barracks at the military camp. It was resurrected in WW2 as a Japanese POW camp, where there was a riot in 1943 and almost 50 prisoners were killed. All rather grim, but the racecourse was a classic country set-up and had some interesting buildings too, including an octagonal hospital used during the 1918 flu pandemic, which originally had a hole in the roof for ventilation. In less than two months, flu killed 9,000 people in NZ - that's half of the 18,000 soldiers who died over the whole of WWI. Sounds familiar...

And then it was time to leave Wairarapa and drive back over the Remutaka Hill to Wellington, happily against the surge of traffic heading out of town for the weekend. I had lots more treats to look forward to - in Miramar.

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