New Zealand Part The Fifth - Pram, Paprika, and other places

11/03/2003, TranzMetro train to Paraparaumu ('Pram')

Okay, this is officially the cheapest train I've ever been on. TEN Kiwi dollars for a day pass that spans the entire local train system within an hour of Wellington? I'm, once more, impressed. Taking a commuter train after rush hour is a good thing, as it brings me nearer the sea!

Well, Paraparaumu itself was a major disappointment - nowhere near the sea, and the station was surrounded by a giant American-style shopping mall. I promptly turned back and took the train back to Paekakariki ('Paprika'), which is so small that its one cafe doesn't even bother to open for lunch. Consequently I had the beach to myself, discounting for a moment the agitated class of miniature coastguards several miles off, and the very insistent black dog who would sit ashore patiently waiting for me to stop swimming while pretending to all the world he was guarding my stuff when in reality he was just gnawing his stick to bits!

Note: Priority must always be yielded to Maori lads on skateboards. In other words, zooooom.

Oh, yum. Blackberries are in season down here, and beautifully ripe. I guess it shows that this bit of the coast hasn't seen rain in quite a while... and I feel rather decadent eating blackberries off the bush only half a year after my last blackberrying adventure!

All right, I give in. Not only do they make fresh burgers at the stall outside the station in Wellington, the bloody railway station is situated on, wait for it, Bunny Street!! I wanna move here now.

The Maori for 'library' translates as 'the house of wisdom'.

11/03/2003, Sakura Japanese restaurant, Wellington

Well, the sushi menu certainly reads interestingly, as about half the names on it are not in Japanese (which I'm familiar with given my recently-acquired fondness for sushi) but in Maori. Which in turn makes sense as they're probably not exactly fish that have English names...

Just back from seeing The Whale Rider, after Witi Ihimaera's (and yes, that's the Maori transliteration of Ishmael. How much more ironic can it get?) novel, and yes, it was a great, old-style story. I'm still not sure whether the heroine dies in the end or whether the happy end is not her dream after all. But... here I was thinking hat this movie would never make it to Germany, and what do I find but the bloody thing is part-financed by the North Rhine Westphalian Film Board?

Had to get the book anyway, only to find out they'd renamed the heroine! Tss.

This was actually musk-flavoured ice cream. Um... ugh.

12/03/2003, Botanic (but not botanical) Gardens, Wellington

With the recent addition of the Cable Car, I have now exhausted all available Kiwi modes of transportation, with the exception of the horse and the bike. But I have been around by train, bus, coach, taxi, car, plane, canoe, on foot, swimming and by cable car, and damn do I like it.

The sundial behind me hasn't got a pointer - not since I stepped off it anyway, for the thing that casts the shadow is the person wanting to know the time. You stand on the date, delineated on a twisted figure-of-eight on the ground, and hold your hands above your head, together, and your shadow tells you the time. It is now twenty to 12, fairly accurately. And daylight saving time is achieved by moving he bronze plaques saying 7, 8, 9 et cetera, twice a year. Why yes, yes.

Three cheers to the literary rose garden for 'Jayne Austin' and 'William Shakesphere'. Shake 'em spheres, Bill!

Poem, inscribed on a black basalt staircase (or sculpture, depending on where you're standing):

Okay. Apparently chicken, cranberry and brie pizza is something normal over here. Normal it wasn't, but nice it was. And the chocolate fondue afterwards... and Frances burning miniature marshmallows on the candle flame... yes, it was quite a show. As was us playing with her mother's new Tantrix (not as naughty as it may sound) tile set. I believe we ended up at something like 'a crowd of taniwha [sea monsters] attacking a busload of disgruntled tourists who are making the bus fall over into a ditch because they're all rushing to the windows, while some cross-eyed fish look on with a marked lack of interest'. Or something.

13/03/2003, Auckland Airport

What is the queue that's stretching halfway around the terminal three hours before departure? Exactly. Qantas, apparently hopelessly overbooked. Well, we'll see if they offer me an upgrade or something a little later that shortens my terminally boring 10-hour layover at LAX while getting me a night in a real bed? I'd be all for it, you know.

Although where I'd much rather be is not at the end of a queue mostly made up of 50something Korean wives who don't speak a word of English but under the mother of all pohutukawa [New Zealand Christmas tree, huge leafy thing with sprays of red flowers and branches that never got the hang of the branchishness as opposed to rootishness] trees with Padawan Kat who managed effortlessly to make this last day in NZ just as much fun as all the other ones if not more so. Even though we spectacularly failed to find the remnants of the One Tree on One Tree Hill (actually not there any more after being chopped down by a misguided Maori activist), we did find a bijou beach with wormhole-riddled clay cliffs (yes!) and sleepy seagulls - rather cute really. Well, 10 minutes in this queue has seen me move about one step forward... this could be interesting.

For lack of grey walls, Auckland sprayers leave their tags on hedges!

(two and a half hours later)

Made it - and got extremely lucky in that I got an aisle seat in row 38 too. So, at least a little space, and I'm seated in a place where the words 'chicken or pasta' actually mean a choice and nobody's run out of apple juice yet. Let's hope I'm not going to end up next to the screaming baby again now!

13/03/2003 second time round, LAX airport

Well, that was a nice little nap in the sun on he small patch of grass outside the international terminal, to the eternal lullaby of traffic and somebody repeating something about citing unaccompanied cars (just how do you do that?) and towing them away. As was to be expected, Immigration took nearly two hours, baggage included, and Customs could only be kept from chucking my NZ plant seeds on grounds of pure stubbornness ('it isn't prohibited but it doesn't have the right kind of paperwork with it' - well, call me when the harakeke grows with its own little certificate!) by a well-aimed mind trick.

Try citing this one, mate - scary Maori van in Rotorua!

And being at check-in a full 6 hours before the flight's departure ensured me a seat by the window and so far up front that I'm seriously wondering whether I'm actually cattle class still. Or possibly next to the crying baby - on the last flight, there were four merciful rows of bodies to absorb the noise!

On the downside though, it appears American paranoia has destroyed the first half of my holiday snaps as they do put baggage through hard x-rays at LAX these days, only nobody bothered to tell me on the outgoing flight!! This time round, I managed to at least salvage the second film, from Rotorua onwards *sniff*. Bastards.

Well, they survived! And one thing I am missing already are the NZ public toilets. Nearby whenever you needed one, clean, and advertised by these cute little signs.

And some of them are even labelled in Maori!

And funnily enough everyone felt compelled to completely mess up my clothes and books in the big bag (got searched twice already) but my explanation about the contents of the long tube being a traditional Maori weapon met with nothing but shrugs. Now what the world really needs is for someone to beat some sense into Mr Bush with a security-cleared taiaha! ;)

And the sadness will not come - despite the fact that I'm quite tired I'm not downtrodden as I usually am at the end of long and exciting journeys... maybe three weeks is about the time it takes to make home sound appealing again too? Or maybe I'm just so full of images and sounds and memories that there's no room in this poor little head of mine for post-holiday blues? Whichever it is, I'm certainly not complaining. I had the time of my life, and would recommend drifting around New Zealand on your own to anyone!

Okay, some crazy person just took a picture of me in my Jedis, for his photo collection. Takes all sorts I suppose. And who says Jedi aren't vain occasionally, rumpled though I look after days and days in the gear... but at least the hei matau [fishhook-shaped pendant carved from bone] around my neck matches the cream of the tunics!

14/03/2003, Heathrow airport

Well, my flight is late, but then so is my connecting flight. So no LHR dramas this time - I can hardly believe it! A talking yellow cone echoes the voice from LAX and keeps telling me the floor's been cleaned, caution! but frankly I don't think landing on my butt now is going to make much of a difference really.

Reset the clocks, and head home! And it feels like I've actually got a reasonable measure of sleep, so might even head out for decent food tonight, after getting out of my grubby robes and clearing the spam from my mailbox... ...and no textie from mother yet. At 30, I feel officially grown-up ;) Also, the stewardess is doing me the favour of looking sillier than me in her red rubber nose, complete with this year's model's tuft of spiky hair on it...!

It's Red Nose Day, and I'm going home.

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