Waikari to Taupo via Napier
Dec 8, 2004
|Mon 6th Dec 2004.
Days 61 to 63: Waikari to Napier.
The weather was much better after the storms of yesterday, as I said my sad farewells to Clare & John, who have given me a wonderfully relaxed stay, catching up on my writing and wine-tasting! I hope to be back one day to help John when he starts to build his own house. Don't know when that will be, nor how helpful I will be, but I'm hopeful that my offer of help will be accepted! I got to Christchurch airport after dropping off the trusty little hire car in town, only to find the place heaving with people. Yesterday, all afternoon flights to Wellington were cancelled because of the severity of the weather. The ferries from Picton were cancelled as well, and I heard that the sea was 6 to 8 metres (about 25 ft!), so it was hardly surprising there were cancellations. The trouble was, loads of people wanted to get to North Island, the flights to Wellington were full, and people were transferring to Napier to at least get onto the correct island. So, the noon flight left without me. The next one was at 7pm, I checked the loads and there was only one seat left, so I bit the bullet and bought another full-fare ticket. Stand-by tickets do have their draw-backs! My decision was justified when the next person in the queue after me asked for a ticket to Napier and was told the last one had just been sold. Phew!
The nice car-hire lady at Napier had come in to her office for something else (normally closes at 5:30pm being a one-man band), and waited for me to arrive at about 8:45pm. It was dark by the time I got into the city, so I only just saw the signs to get me to my B&B at the top of the Bluff over-looking the city. Cobden House Homestay is a beautiful late 1800's building set in it's own grounds with mature trees and sloping gardens. Phil and Rayma were particularly friendly and welcoming, treating me like a long-lost friend that they wanted to catch up on the news from. They literally share their home with their guests, and enjoy following all the activities of their charges. Their home is beautifully decorated and furnished in simple style, un-fussy and peaceful.
The next morning, hot and sunny (makes a change!) I went down to the information centre to join a walk around the city to see the best of the Art Deco buildings. Just as the guide started talking, my mobile rang and it was, guess who? Yes, Milly and Jen were in town. (If you haven't been following the saga so far, they are the 2 young English girls I kept running into around the South Island.) I thought they were around, but was saddened to hear that they were taking off from Napier there and then, and would be gone before the tour ended. What a shame, because they bring a ray of light into an old codger's heart, with their constant laughter and irreverence. Hopefully I will catch up with them again before we all leave NZ.
Now, why is Napier the best example of Art Deco architecture in the world? Because, at about 10:42 on the morning of Feb 2nd 1931 an earthquake measuring 7.8 struck the Hawkes Bay area of North Island. The epicentre was only about 10 miles north of Napier, very close to the surface, and the effect was immediate and devastating. It lasted some minutes, with eye-witness accounts describing how the ground was waving up and down, buildings shaking themselves to pieces, and passers-by being crushed to death by falling masonry. All this being accompanied by horrible grinding and groaning noises from the earth itself. After the first shocks, there was a small pause, giving people hope that the worst was over. Many people were killed at this point because as they left buildings having survived, they were struck by collapsing structures during the second series of shocks, which came after about a minute's respite. After several minutes of extreme seismic activity, the main shocks started to abate, although minor tremors continued for hours and days afterwards. Survivors reported chaos in the streets, which were piled with rubble from the buildings which had collapsed. Not all of them had gone, because timber is a standard building material in NZ, and most of the timber buildings had survived the earthquakes with only minor damage, because of their ability to flex. The brick buildings were the worst hit, but even some of these, that had been designed with earthquakes in mind, had survived reasonably well.
The stunned survivors started to take stock of what had happened. The pretty and tidy town where they had been enjoying some idle shopping, or were busy at work, had been transformed in seconds into a shambles. But worse was to follow, because now fire broke out. It is believed to have started in the Chemist's dispensary, where there was always a flame burning to melt the wax to seal the bottles of medicine. Within a short space of time, a combination of the wind fanning the flames, and the water supply for the pumps having run out because of fractured pipes, the fire destroyed what had survived the quake. Fortuitously, the wind changed direction in the afternoon, saving the residential district of the city, so it was only the business district that saw the extreme destruction. Even so, about many blocks of buildings were virtually wiped out by the disaster. Huge offers of aid were received by the New Zealand government, but not all of them were accepted. At the time, there was an ethos of self-help, so the faceless bureaucrats decided that the people of Napier had to do a lot of the fund-raising and building themselves. That must have endeared them to the survivors!
About 170 people died in Napier, and a further 100 in the neighboroughing towns of Hasting and Havelock North. Thousands of hectares of land was lifted bodily about 2 metres (6 feet), which had the unexpected side-effect of creating more land around Napier. Prior to the quake, the city had almost been an island, surrounded by swampy land. Now this all drained, and the city was able to expand. One ship in the harbour felt and heard a giant bang as the sea bed rose to hit the bottom of the boat. They were only able to get to deeper water as the tide rose and allowed them to escape.
The first thing the survivors did was to create a huge permanent marquee type building, where some, at least, of the traders could resume business. In the meantime, work started to clear the rubble away. It was all placed along the sea-front, and now forms the foundations for a lovely sea-side park. They also formed a committee of local and Auckland architects, to oversee the task of rebuilding the city. Bear in mind that 1931 was the height of the depression, and that building work had virtually stopped everywhere in the world. At the time, this was just about the only building work going on. The style in favour at the time was Art Deco, which epitomized the fast new world, with streamlines and ornate decorations on the building's facades, to be continued throughout the interior as well. Spanish Mission style, and Chicago were influential, and the result is the most complete group of buildings of the period anywhere in the world. (Miami claims this title, but the buildings there are much more spread out.)
However, like a lot of things, locals took their town for granted, and it wasn't until the 80's, and a developer's attempt to bulldoze some excellent examples, that a group of citizens got together to form the Conservation Society that has been instrumental in saving the city intact. It is encouraging to see the pride that is now obviously felt by the locals, and very hopeful for the future, especially as it generates a lot of tourism for the area.
Hawkes Bay is also a very successful wine area, and I had lunch and a wine tour of the Mission Winery, one of the oldest in the country. Sadly, because I was driving myself, I couldn't take advantage of all the wine tasting available!
The next day I drove from Napier to Taupo. I had a choice of routes: either the main road, direct there, or along "Gentle Annie", a nickname given to a road through the back-country and ?????????? Forest Park, which is anything but gentle. Stunningly beautiful, exciting, alarming, yes. Gentle, No! It starts off gently enough, but as soon as the sealed tarmac road ends and the gravel road begins, the road behaves like a kite in a strong wind - curling from side to side and heaving up and down. It made me realise that I was glad not to be a passenger. It is one thing controlling the car yourself, but to be swung from side to side for hours, often with a precipitous drop outside your door must be incredibly uncomfortable. I have heard several people complain of car-sickness in NZ, where they haven't had a problem before!
After several hours of almost total solitude, I returned to civilisation, and a main road. In the distance, I started to get my first glimpses of Mount Ruapehu, a cone-shaped, active volcano. It's last major eruption was in 1996, so I was thinking that another one could occur any day now. Scary! I drove up the flanks of the mountain to the skiing village at about 5,500 feet. The view would have been spectacular, and bits were, but rain clouds had started to move in, and the valleys and plains below were obscured by columns of falling rain. The terrain is spectacular, with cooled lava creating tortured and weird shapes everywhere. Not a friendly place to be during an eruption.
I don't know whether it was the stone road I had been traveling during the morning, but just on the outskirts of Taupo, I got a puncture. Why does that always happen when your boot is full of luggage? Luckily, it was a very straightforward job to do, and I was on my way after about 15 minutes.