Wellington proved to be a compact and refreshing captial city, with not too much traffic and more greenery (or water) than concrete. With limited time (as usual), I visited the highly-recommended Te Papa National Museum (complete with earthquake simulator), the war memorial (there’s seemingly at least one in every New Zealand settlement) and, of course, Mount Victoria. This is purportedly a film location for The Lord of the Rings, but after much wandering around following signs I had yet to find anywhere I recognised – I will be scrutinising The Fellowship of the Ring closely next time I watch it.
Quickly moving north, I went as far as Lake Taupo and the small town of Turangi, springboard for the Tongariro National Park and the much-advertised New Zealand’s Best Day Walk. Due to winter weather, however, I had to be content with a low-level wander along the river (though more of the path was through forest) and a look at the inexplicably meat-smelling geothermal pools in nearby Tokaanu. Preparing to move on farther north, I hitched a lift on the local school bus (its arrival heralded by a convoy of 4x4s converging on the bus stop) and went up to Whakatane (in the Bay of Plenty) just in time for heavy rain to wash out any chance of going out to the White Island (an active marine volcano).
Not content with the geothermal offerings of Tokaanu, I made Rotorua my next stop – finding out in the process that it’s New Zealand’s tourism and migrant labour capital. A low-level stench of rotten eggs pervaded the place; more fitting for an active geothermal area and far more tolerable than my previous experience. As the rain eased off, I wandered around the many pools in Kuirau Park (unofficially The Bog of Eternal Stench) and the blasted expanses of the Sulphur Flats (or Sulfur if you follow IUPAC guidelines).
As a final farewell to New Zealand, I took another farm placement in a beautiful little place called Ahuroa, about an hour north of Auckland. It turned out to be a family-run smallholding, with the main house transported from Auckland by truck (a cheaper method of getting a house than building from scratch). My first, and principal, task was to move some trees – a peach from the field into the orchard, and lots of feijoas from the same field into the orchard boundary hedge. After some severe pruning and watering, the orchard is looking like it’ll be rather fruitful when the season comes around. Other activities included rounding up wayward cattle (who have the ability to jump six-foot fences) and doing some sheep duties. It’s lambing season, and I was a little too early to assist with the castration but did get to help grab the sheep for vaccinations (they’re heavier and more agile than you might think) and keep an eye on some triplets that were born on my last night there. The larger male lambs are getting their horns, and have a habit of sneaking up behind you and rubbing their head against your calves as they’re still too small to butt you over properly (sadly, rams are generally destined for meat).
I’m in Auckland right now, and, having checked out the museum, art gallery and parks, am all set to catch a flight to Singapore tomorrow. The following morning, it’s on to Korea to finally see Amy again; I may be there for some time.