January 11 -- New Plymouth

written by bryan on January 17th, 2009 @ 01:55 AM

Bethany from New Plymouth

I believe I’ve already mentioned that part of my desire to travel to New Zealand came from my parents. While I was growing up, they often mentioned that maybe one day they would go and visit “Kiwi” – a New Zealander who worked with my dad in the 1970s. I only recently learned that “Kiwi’s” real name is Bruce. So in tribute to my parent’s dream and to my own curiosity, Bryan and I set off today to meet Bruce in New Plymouth.

First thing, though, is that we had to experience the Te Papa, Museum of New Zealand in Wellington. This is a fabulous museum something akin to the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau. Unfortunately knowing we had a distance to drive today, we only spent a couple of hours there. Just long enough for a quick introduction tour and some rumination.

As we have travelled around New Zealand, we have been aware of “exotic” plants and animals. And I don’t mean exotic like tigers and elephants but non-native. New Zealand is such a contained ecosystem that foreigness and now protection is evident: from arrival at Auckland airport and their “biosecurity checks”, to Dydimos (an algae) check signs near waterways, to numerous complaints regarding possums and stoats. Colonials and the Maori’s introduced many things – some for a good reason which went bad. The possum was introduced from Australia and is now considered a menace to native plant populations. There are currently 20 possums for each New Zealander and there is a very contraversial poisoning program underway. I’ve been taught to run possums over with the car if given a chance as this would benefit New Zealand.

Admidst all the very strange and dinosaur-era looking vegetation, Bryan and I have notice a few familiar trees, particularly willows, white pines and Douglas firs. Both of which flourish even better in the New Zealand climate. But seeing familiar things in a foreign landscape, really does make me wonder about what was introduced by mankind and what is native both here and at home. Anyway, Te Papa was a great place for discovery and we left it to discover New Zealand from the “wrong”-side of the road.

For those who do not know this, they drive on the left-side of the road in New Zealand. Generally, it wasn’t that hard to adjust. Although when I first start out, I do need to consciously think about where the car should be. We did rent an automatic as I didn’t want to be shifting with my left hand and driving left simultaneously. The driver’s cockpit in this particular car (Ford Focus) is otherwise the same as a right-drive car. Even the turn signal is “where it should be” although it can often be on the right-side of thed steering wheel.

From Wellington to New Plymouth it is about 360 km and it took us almost 4-1/2 hours given the windy nature of the road. New Zealand drivers may be fond of tailgating but they don’t seem to speed excessively. Road safety seems to be a government priority as there are numerous billboards reminding people not to drive if tired and not to speed. Running-lights are not mandatory which surprised me.

New Plymouth is in the district of Taranaki so named after the volcanic Mount Taranaki/Egmont which stands impressively alone. There is a Maori tale which explains that Taranaki stands by himself because of an argument with his brothers.

Bruce lives across from the sea in an efficiently modern apartment with a location which allows him to easily indulge in his passion of surfing. The location is fabulous and Bryan and I will be able to fall asleep to the crashing of waves tonight.

Bruce barbequed us some steaks for dinner and we caught up on our lives. Bruce’s ex Barb also came for dinner and it was a pleasure to meet her. After dinner, we experienced some of the Sunday night life of New Plymouth – in the form of a park planted with native trees and lit up with colourful light and glowworms. It was beautiful.

My dad remembers “Kiwi” as being energetic and on-the-go. Well 30-some years later, he still seems the same. It is a pleasure to be able to meet Bruce and Barb and stay at Bruce’s place. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to stay long enough for Bruce to attempt to teach me to surf.

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