Monday, March 28, 2011

Day Trips

After a busy few weeks working during the week and spending the whole weekend active and away,  Trish and the kids were in the mood to chill out at home for a few weekends.

My parents were still visiting, so we compromised that we would do day trips on the Saturdays. This blog is about our trips to Wanganui & the River Road and Wairarapa & the Martinborough Fair.

Wanganui & the River Road
On February 26, under overcast skies, we made the 1 hour trip west to the riverside town of Wanganui. After the iSite, the first stop was the Saturday morning farmers' market for a crepe

Mom obviously enjoying her crepe
We set out along Victoria Street,  Wanganui's main shopping drag, only to be reminded that unlike North America, many small shop merchants close their doors on a Saturday afternoon.

Roundabout at Victoria & Guyton Streets
So we did some window shopping, and after a pretty lousy Subway sandwich, decided to get on the road to explore New Zealand's Whanganui River Road. This is a 75.5 km road that takes 3-4 hours to drive which tells you how many hairpin turns there were and how narrow it was. This should also give you a good idea about how much time Trish actually spent with her eyes shut. She was only too happy to sit in the 3rd row of seats (the very back) in our Honda Odyssey, leaving the passenger seat to my Dad.

Whanganui River from Aramoana Summit at km 6
As the kilometers swept by, the landscape became wilder and wilder and signs of civilization became less and less frequent. My Mom & Dad and I remained enthralled with the panorama while Trish and the kids quickly became bored and fell asleep. Greenery is just not their thing.

Koriniti Wharenui
At km 45, we turned off the road to visit deserted Koriniti featuring a fenced-off marae (Maori for 'Meeting Place') and 2 wharenui (carved meeting houses). There were cattle all over the road leading up to the small village and while I remarked at the intricacy of the carvings on the wharenui, the crowd-pleaser for the under twelves was obviously the projectile diarrhea coming from one of the cows that almost hit my Dad through his open car door window. Mackenzie still can't keep a straight face at the memory.

Roadside wild flowers
At km 64, we stopped to visit the stark 1890s convent and beautiful Maori church at Hiruhama (Jerusalem). We could have stayed the night for $5 each, but the site had served as a commune for New Zealand poet James K. Baxter & his disciples and was utterly deserted, so yeah ... none of us were even tempted.

But the church was cool. Mackenzie seized the opportunity to ring the church bell over and over and over and over and over again. Check out the carved altar where the faces have glittering blue Paua shell eyes.

By this time, we were almost at the end of the road and other than stopping in the middle of the road to offend an eagle feasting on a captured possum, we made a bee-line back to Palmerston North.

My parents & I had enjoyed the experience, but Trish and the kids were unimpressed and the deep sighs of boredom became progressively more poignant as the iPod batteries flickered out and the car seats refused to offer up any more comfortable positions. To appease the masses, our next stop was the kids' favorite, the Lone Star in the square in Palmerston North.

No one was unhappy after a few raspberry lemonades (or Syrah's for Trish) and heavily sauced BBQ ribs.

Wairarapa & the Martinborough Fair
The locally famous Martinborough Fair which attracts 15000 people each year was held on March 5, 2011. Once again, our day trip started with lousy weather. The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa or the 'Land of the Long White Cloud'. New Zealand is rich in cloud and, as summer moves to fall, it showers a lot, particularly in the morning. We were close to calling the trip off and it poured down the entire one hour journey east to Martinborough.

So we thought that we would be wading through the fair, but as luck would have it, it stopped raining for the 3 hours that it took us to roam around the fair. Overall, it was a so-so experience. The Wairarapa is one of NZ's premier wine regions and Martinborough is the crown grape, so I was expecting more of a fine food market with cheeses and breads and sauces and wines and ... tons of delicious things to sample and buy. This was more of a crafts fair with people selling sheet metal sculptures and soaps that looked like slices of delicious cake. I have an unrefined taste in anything except single malt whiskey, but everything was kind of kitschy. Enough stalls to keep 15 000 people coming back year after year and none of us found anything to buy. I did however find a stall that sold "lamburgers". Not bad, although mint jelly on a hamburger bun was a new taste for me.

So to salvage the day, we turned to wine. First stop was Te Kairanga, where for $5, we were expected to sample all of the roughly 15 wines on offering. Acidic reds, but delicious whites! Finally, our wallets made an appearance as we made our way back to the car toting a few liquid souvenirs.

Palliser Estate
Our next stop was the more-widely renowned Palliser Estate where Allan Johnson, the chief winemaker was schooling student chefs on a field trip. We got to eavesdrop for free. The 2008 Pinot Noir was delectable! My Dad bought the bubbly.

Mackenzie with Russian Jack
The rain had been held at bay long enough and there were now several excellent reasons to get home lying in our trunk, so we left Martinborough to drive back to Palmerston North. However, I couldn't resist making a few quick detours. A mini-Stonehenge looked cheesy and couldn't tempt us to get out of the car. A brief stop in Masterton also failed to impress other than visiting a statue of Russian Jack and the local McDonalds.

The Wairarapa was disappointing as a destination. Without the fair, Martinborough looked like it would have made for a pleasant preppy wine getaway for young couples looking for a gourmet experience, but didn't offer that much for the hard-core tourist or a family. It did offer up some fantastic wines though. We're still enjoying them.

These two weekend day trips under cloudy skies were somewhat disappointing but were perhaps our ante for the next two weekends when we would have beautiful beach weather in both New Plymouth and Queenstown.


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