Te Araroa, Days 71-74: Wellington and the Kapiti Coast
Well, here I am in another of New Zealand’s handy and well-appointed public libraries, letting my festering feet air out while I catch up on some computer time. As you’ve no doubt noticed if you’ve been keeping an eye on this blog, I’m a wee bit behind on updates – in fact, I’m so far behind that I’m going to try to write three whole posts while I’m here in the city of Palmerston North to get caught up! You don’t have to read them all, but as per my strong drive toward completism I feel compelled to write them.
OK! So I finished the South Island – cue fireworks, leaping kittens, and money falling from the sky! No, JK – actually, cue vague feelings of anxiety and the apparently constant gale-force winds of Wellington. The wind was actually so bad that my and Scott’s ferry to the North Island was cancelled and we had to take a tiny 12-seater plane. Which, given the excessively exciting experience of being tossed sideways through the air while the pilot gamely tries to aim for the runway, perhaps should have been cancelled as well. This plane was so small that when the pilot did his “welcome aboard” spiel at the beginning, he just turned around in his seat to chat with the passengers. I could have reached forward past him to turn the windshield wipers on. Also kinda amazing was the airport experience itself. Evidently, intra-NZ flights don’t merit a great deal of security. We didn’t have to show ID, our bags weren’t scanned, nobody had to walk through any metal detectors… Shall I go on? Our boarding passes were little pink laminated rectangles that the airline handed out, that just had “Boarding Pass” typed on them in Times New Roman. The flight attendant collected them from us at the gate and presumably returned them to their little stack at the check-in desk so they could be used for the next flight. It was sort of like getting on a bus, but possibly more low-key.
So from Wellington, Scott flew back to the US, and I continued north on the trail. The section of the Te Araroa from Wellington to Waikanae, along the Kapiti Coast, handily lies near one of Wellington’s passenger rail routes, meaning that it’s possible to do some train-assisted hiking instead of carrying all your stuff along with you every day. You basically set yourself up in Wellington – or another town along the rail line – and use the train to get to your starting point or back to home base from your end point each day. I decided to camp out in the town of Paekakariki, which turned out to be a cute seaside village with a great local scene, a ton of sweet gardens, and a delightfully wacky vibe. It actually kind of reminded me of my town, Millheim, if Millheim had a beach and central PA didn’t have winter. OK, so marginally similar. ANYWAY, I took the train to Paekakariki and immediately had a great conversation with the owner of the local coffee shop, who let me hang out all afternoon and use the wifi. When she was closing up, she pointed across the street to the courtyard of the town pub, where it looked like a band was setting up. “Jeff and Boggs are going to play – they’re local legends. Everyone in town is over there – you should go over!” Who passes up a chance to see LEGENDS? Not me, friends. I was over there in however much time it takes to jaywalk diagonally across a tiny street.
It turns out that Jeff and Boggs are performing as the musical ensemble Crash and Burn, which Jeff explains is what’s going to happen to each of the songs they play, since tonight they’ve decided to only play covers of songs they barely know. Also they’re taking requests for songs they don’t know at all. Everyone in the audience seems to be friends, and a bunch of them are musicians – people keep hopping on stage to sing or grab an instrument and help Jeff and Boggs muddle through another song. General hilarity ensues. At one point some non-locals wander over, enticed by the music, and then politely edge away and back inside the pub to escape. But the funniest thing that happens is definitely The Underwear Incident. The pub rents out hotel rooms on its second floor, and the window of one of the rooms opens onto the courtyard where Crash and Burn are… doing whatever it is they’re doing. The window opens, I can see a hand placing a couple of items on the sill, and then a gust of wind blows and knocks what ends up being a big ol’ pair of men’s tighty whities out of the window and down onto the patio right in front of the band. (I should back up a sec and say that they’re not into window screens in New Zealand. I don’t know why this is, because they definitely have bugs here. Maybe it has something to do with the cost of international shipping for mesh? Anyway, if you come over here just watch your knickers.) So then the undie-owner looks out the window, and I can see him registering the number of people who just watched his briefs flutter to the ground, and everyone is shouting about how the band is so good that people are throwing their UNDERWEAR on stage, and this dude has to come down and get his drawers while Crash and Burn are brutally mangling the Bee Gees’ “Love So Right.”
As if this isn’t fun enough, I also have a delightful conversation with this guy who’s the guitarist for another local band. He tells me that he grew up on Kapiti Island, the little island right off the coast from here. He’s been living on the mainland for the past 20 years or so, and I ask him how many people live full-time on Kapiti. I can see him literally counting them in his head. “Fifteen,” he says, “They’re all my relations!”
Paekakariki is my new favorite town.
I did hike while I was there – the best part of the trail was the Escarpment Track, which is a 6-mile trail high on the cliffs above the railway line between Porirua and Paekakariki. It’s chock full of excitement – steps, ropes, TWO swing bridges, views of the trains going in and out of tunnels below. Evidently these cliffs are falling away at a faster-than-customary pace, because the railroad tunnels have had to be re-dug multiple times due to cave-ins. There are actually a lot of places like this in New Zealand, where geology seems to be on fast-forward. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides – it’s all very action-packed. I talked to one woman in Wellington who told me that her entire neighborhood is on land that was underwater until an earthquake in 1855 brought it above sea level.
I should also say that Wellington is a fantastic city and I really hope I get a chance to go back there before I leave the country. The botanic gardens were great – they have a planetarium right in the gardens! – and there’s a surprising amount of bird life in town due to a major amount of habitat restoration and pest control work. I went to a farmer’s market, I had coffee with a wonderful woman named Ally at a super-cool coffee shop called Midnight Espresso, I got bulk quinoa at an organic grocery store. I saw kaka! (Those are another species of NZ-native parrot. They’re cool. When I saw them I think I must have freaked out like a groupie spotting a celebrity, because people were side-eyeing me like, “Get a grip, they’re parrots.” I KNOW. THAT’S WHY I’M SO EXCITED.)
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