With our five week stint on the South Island drawing to a close, we left Reefton bound and determined to sneak in a little bit more mountain biking in Nelson, a few more Raspberry Ciders from the Marlborough wine and cider making region, and of course, more Green Lipped Mussels. We camped one last night in the Queen Charlotte Sounds, enjoying the sound of a ukulele floating our way from a nearby tree.
We boarded the ferry, and waved goodbye to the beautiful South island. As we drew closer and closer to “Windy Wellington,” humans began zipping past a nearby window at an unnatural clip, hair billowing in every direction. Not to be left out, we headed on deck to find wind so strong that you physically had to “climb up-wind” to get to the bow of the ferry. Leaning forward, the wind was strong enough to support our bodies against gravity. Wind gusts pick up cold ocean water and plaster chilly salt drops on my face and head. The howl is deafening, and fellow passengers yell over the din to be heard.
We enjoy some rugged coastline with lamas who eat so many strawberries, they have a strawberry mustache, black sand beaches with so much wind, and a mountain bike ride in pine needles as deep as snow.
From here, we head Northwest to the little town of Stratford at the foot of another of New Zealand's steep volcanos, Mount Taranaki. In 1877, the founders of the town decided the nearby Patea River looked similar to the River Avon near Stratford, England. And so, Stratford, New Zealand was born. Stratford seems like another old New Zealand mining town that experienced its heyday in 1880, only to search for the last century for another raison d’etre. At some point, someone realized William Shakespeare was born in Stratford - not this Stratford, of course, but a Stratford. Good enough. They named 67 residential streets after Shakespearean characters and erected New Zealand’s first (and currently only) Glockenschpeil. I’m not sure what connection a Glockenschpeil has to Shakespeare, but this particular Glockenschpeil chimes at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. revealing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.
We were enjoying a guilty pleasure of a Subway sandwich with a Kiwi twist (beets on your Italian Sub), when we realized it was 12:55 and we were about to miss the Glockenschpeil performance. We gather a bag of leftover “crisps” (potato chips), our soda, and the last two bites of my sand which, then hustle out the door. Other tourists were speed walking, but trying to look casual in the direction of the giant clock tower, too. We all gather across the street from the tower, just as some gloriously grandiose music blares from a plastic megaphone shaped speaker. With the sprightliness of a sea slug, a plastic Romeo pushes open a panel in the “Glockenschpeil”. Romeo offers Juliet a rose with hesitant, robotic arm. A garbled recitation of snippets of Romeo and Juliet blares out onto the main street, difficult to understand echoing against the buildings.
The gathering of onlookers stay for the five minute show, snap a few obligatory tourist shots, then walk away maintaining a polite silence. We walk a block or two back toward the car, neither one of us saying anything until Andrew says, “I hope they didn’t pay much for that.” He continues staring straight ahead, hands in his pockets.
Mount Taranaki is buried in grey, but we drive up its steep slopes to pin ourselves against a ceiling of clouds. Speaking with locals, we learn that it is impossible to see past your hand on the peak in weather like this, it is cold, windy and downright unhospitable. So, we take our view from the parking lot and figure we will have to hike Mount Taranaki “the next time around.”
It’s “Take Your Chicken to Work Day” at camp, and the clucking will not stop for love nor money. These are a new kind of chicken I have never seen before. Their feather legs remind me of bow legged Cowboys, running in boots and chaps. Their chicks are just as cute as ever.
We enjoy cider and a rousing debate about the truth of of "Pizzagate", Chemtrails and The Deep State with our Danish camp host. We consider staying the night in a wine barrel, but opt to stick with Sister Mary Francis.
By the next morning, we realize the weather isn’t going to lift for at another week, so we carry on northward enjoying some incredibly beautiful scenery along the roads. We hike through what I will dub “The Magic Forest” and meet an 1800 year old tree wrapped in fencing with razor wire on the top. It’s probably for the best, to protect him, but I do feel like he is a bit lonely in there.
(check out these weird little orange mushrooms.)
With luck, we squeeze in a quick mountain bike ride passing through one of our favorite biking spots: Lake Taupo. When last we were here, we enjoyed one trail but there are three others deserving of our attention. With just enough light left in the evening and grey clouds misting, we pop the bikes out of the van, and spin off to enjoy a winding single track with just enough up, down and around. The only people on the trail, the dirt was fast and the views beautiful. Wish we could stay here and bike for another week!