It was time to get back to the original plan of heading south. After a vibrant 2 months spent in Hobbiton I was ready to start travelling to explore more of this amazing country. It is quite the drive down to Wellington so the pit stop along the way would be Mount Ruapehu, to explore some caves and a good chance to catch up with Steven who I’d met a few months prior, on my last visit to Wellington. We met at Skotel Alpine resort (think of The Shining) in some..curious weather, it was incredibly overcast and windy, enough to close off the nearby Tongariro Alpine Crossing for the weekend. It was exciting anticipating seeing Steven again as we’d only met for 4 hours previously but had managed to stay in touch despite life going on. It wasn’t long before the first bottle of wine was opened and we had chance to get used to each others company in a small wooden room. The ‘guest room’ had a wide selection of…VHS tapes, complete with annoying shaky lines and reluctance to play, we managed to dig out Jason and the Argonauts, I thought this may be fitting given Steven’s job role at Weta Workshop-we both decided it still looked pretty good for its age. Talking of age, the room also housed the saddest looking coin operated funfair game with around 10 out of date chocolate bars ready to be won, Wahooo!
The Okupatu caves situated in the Tongariro Forest were our main destination for the weekend. We took some crazy ‘roads’ until we finally made it to the entrance (thankfully Steve had a 4×4, my automatic would have had a hissy fit). The entrances seemed pretty log-jammed at first but with a bit of careful manoeuvring thankfully we were able to enter. It was quite a network and we didn’t even discover all of it. It was rather beautiful, we had a glow worm display just for us. Steve was very mindful to create markers along the way so as not to get lost, I couldn’t help thinking of the Father Ted episode with the wool from Dougal’s jumper ‘guiding’ them.
We continued our journey to Mount Ruapehu as the sun began to set and cast beautiful long shadows across the unusually piled rocks. The short walk began at the bottom of the Centennial Chairlift and then on up to Meads Wall. This was one of the Lord of the Rings filming locations for around 5 weeks for a few different scenes. Think steep sheer cliffs, impressive views, and time to sit on a rock and feel small and insignificant in the landscape.
The Tangiwai disaster on 24 December 1953 happened when the Whangaehu River bridge collapsed beneath a Wellington to Auckland express passenger train at Tangiwai, in the central North Island of New Zealand. The locomotive and first six carriages derailed into the river, killing 151 people. The disaster remains New Zealand’s worst rail accident. It was at this memorial we decided to part ways (on a nice cheery note!) However, it was only to be for one night…
To break up the 6 hour drive down to Wellington I decided to stop over in Featherston and stayed with a kind man who very much enjoyed talking about the Hobbit and listening to my tales of Hobbiton (that made me sound like I lived there didn’t it?). The following day I took the coast road all the way down to Cape Palliser lighthouse . The road to Cape Palliser is dramatically scenic. This area of New Zealand has a rich history of early Maori occupation and heritage sites are part of the fascinating landscape. For the final part of the journey, the road clings to the edge of the coast, providing unstoppable views of Palliser Bay. I climbed the lighthouse and enjoyed the sun and wind on my face as I sat there with not a person (or seal for that matter) in sight.
Taking the state highway through busy Wellington across to Miramar I arrived at Steve’s small and quirky home later that day, nestled in bush up a hill- the view from the deck was inspiring. I started to gain a better appreciation of just how many films and incredible creations he has made along the way, it really is quite positively intimidating and thoroughly fascinating. Although work was to swallow him up for the week, it was my time to settle and have a few days of exploring –the places I didn’t get to see the first time around. One of these was Zealandia, a protected natural area in Wellington, a real sanctuary full of incredible birds that I enjoyed spending the day hanging out with.
One weekday evening Steve took us around some creepy WWII army bunkers, and took great pleasure in creeping me out (it was a fun week of usual mocking of my height and accents- his was a South African/Kiwi/Irish hybrid). We also enjoyed PS4 Star Wars action, maybe more than we should’ve..
Wellington was also home to some other great friends to meet up with. One night I spent with Dana (Auckland/Raglan chum) and Lauren (Auckland/Welly chum). We drank some tasty cocktails in an interesting bar named Motel in Courtney Place while Dana told us her best Tinder experiences ever. The following evening, along with Steve this time, we headed out to Goldings with it’s Sci-Fi colourful décor to meet a good friend of my brother’s wife, Dan. What a lovely guy! We chatted, drank and ate ‘the best pizza in New Zealand’. I was really beginning to love spending time in Wellington, everything was buzzing and so creative and I felt a great connection with Steve, much more so than I anticipated.
Ultimately, it’s all very fleeting, these amazing moments are there to be enjoyed and then they’re gone. It’s a strange mind-set when everything is so temporary, but it does make me appreciate even the smallest moments. I felt quite emotional discussing my love of music discussing Dead Can Dance, Lisa Gerrard, Kate Bush and I hope some of my passion for music has rubbed off. Our response to certain kinds of noise is something so profound in us that we can’t switch it off. I have found myself in a strange headspace unable to distinguish quite what it is I am doing here, heavy I know, but true. Most of the time I am riding the waves, but I do touch down every so often and feel a little lost, I am trying to get used to this and embrace it as part of the process of growth.
After locking ourselves out on the coldest and windiest night of the week we finally got inside (thanks weary locksmith!) ready to enjoy the weekend together. The Putangirua Pinnacles or The Paths of the Dead to the Lord of the Rings fans out there was our next location. A gentle walk led us to the viewing platform of this strangely wonderful rock formation. Our walk following the river out led us to an incredible find. Perched on the edge overlooking the sea, a house had lost itself to the cliff. Like a scene from Lemony Snickets- A Series of Unfortunate Events, myself and Steve were excited to go and explore! (Ok so he was braver/crazier than me) it really did mess with my senses, seeing that state of undoing holding on by its last threads. Exploring the abandoned was soon becoming a theme …and it’s intriguing and addictive.
On our last day we had a super breakfast, visited a terrible craft fair, and took a walk around some impressive graffiti laden bunkers-that made for some great photographs. I have an excellent signed Gandalf miniature and Neanderthal skull for keepsakes and a reminder of a truly great week with an gifted artist.
After a change of heart I have decided to catch the ferry to the south island tomorrow, I was tempted to explore a few niggling desires pulling me back north but no, it’s time to go now. See you on the other side…
Soundtrack: R.E.M.- What If We Give It Away, Canned Heat- On The Road Again, Bulgarian State Choir – Mir Stanke Le