Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Plymouth & the Taranaki

My parents left to return home on March 9th. Although there more than enough beds, our Palmerston North "cottage" has only 1 bathroom and we had to borrow an extra chair so that we could all squeeze around the dining room table.

Despite the cozy accommodations, their stay with us was delightful. My Dad walked the kids to school in the morning and then took advantage of the fleeting days of the NZ summer to do an hour of exploring around our neighborhood. My Mom would supervise Cassandra's knitting projects as she created stylized scarves for her American Doll. The seven of us would spend the evenings playing cards and laughing.

Farewell Dinner at Izakaya
I anticipated that a good wave of homesickness would overtake us if we stayed at home the weekend after after my parents left, so to cover the short term, we made plans to visit New Plymouth and the Taranaki region on the North Island's west coast that weekend. To cover the long term, I confirmed the booking of a trip to the Outrigger Resort in Fiji in late May.

Mt Taranaki
I got off work early on Friday, March 11 and Trish had everything all packed up, so we were able to cover most of the 3 hour drive to the southwest corner of the North Island before the sunset. And the fabulous Mt. Taranaki (aka Mt. Egmont, the stunt double for Mt. Fuji in Tom Cruise's movie "The Last Samurai") was willing to pose for a few snapshots. Despite brilliant sunshine the whole rest of the weekend, the peak was almost always shrouded in cloud cover to the point that it was difficult to determine if there was actually a mountain close to New Plymouth.

We arrived at our hotel, the Waterfront, around 8:15pm and checked in. The concierge suggested that we check out The Garlic Press on Devon St. for supper. The prices were pretty high, so we shopped around but eventually ended back at The Garlic Press because the kids were starving and it was closing in on 9:00pm.

We walked through the door and asked for a table for 5.

We'd seen the look on the waiters & waitresses faces before. "Oh shit, a family with small children that will convince all our customers to not buy that second or third or fourth bottle of wine."

There were obviously tables available and two waiters began to pull some smaller tables together to accommodate us.

A waitress appeared before us to announce "We're sorry. We don't have a children's menu." Trish replied that this was fine; we would order the kids' meals off the adult menu. A look of hesitation. She said "One moment please" as she backed away to confer with another waitress who seemed to be in charge. Some vigorous head-shaking to indicate "NO" and the first waitress made her way back to us. The next line floored us.

"I'm sorry. Children are not permitted in the restaurant at this time." It was 8:45pm. It was a restaurant, not a bar, and the noise level was like the Cage Aux Sports on a game night.

I was too stunned for words. Trish called her bluff and told her that she was full of **it. But the waitress stood firm and shrugged her shoulders with a saccharine smile on her face that meant to cowardly stand behind the wordless message "I'm sorry. This is the manager's policy. I'm just the poor sap that has to deliver the bad news and pretend to sympathize with you about such an asinine rule."

Many of you will come up with suggestions on what we should have done, but we staggered out of the restaurant and asked others on busy Devon St. where we could find a kid-friendly restaurant. Harrison took to screaming "The Garlic Press has RATS! The Garlic Press has RATS!" to anyone who would listen. When we had decided on an alternative choice, the Lone Star (surprise, surprise!), Trish and I walked in silence away from Devon Street. It took about 5 minutes for the pot to boil over. I began to draft a nasty complaint letter in my head. Trish planned to go confront the manager the next day.

Len Lye's Wind Wand
After a couple of drinks, we were still pretty hot under the collar, but no longer frothing at the mouth. On the other hand, the gift of a free Lone Star T-shirt and some competitive coloring ("Oooh! You went out of the lines!) was enough to completely wipe the slate clean as far as the kids were concerned. We closed out the evening with a stroll across the grounds of New Plymouth's cultural center, Puke Ariki and a glance at Len Lye's bobbing "Wind Wand", a 900kg sculpture composed of red glass fibers 45m high and 20cm across that can bend in the wind. As sculptures go, it's kind of lame, so yeah, it was a just a glance.

Cassandra thought this would make a great Christmas tree.
The next day we had breakfast on the terrace of our hotel overlooking the Tasman Sea. It was a gorgeous Saturday morning.  I picked up some brochures to form a plan of attack at the i-Site within Puke Ariki, right next to our hotel. We shopped our way along Devon St. The girls bought shoes. Trish bought me a print of Mt. Taranaki.

Coastal Walkway
We eventually ended up on the Coastal Walkway, a 10km paved path that goes all along the Tasman coast from one end of New Plymouth's city limit to the other. On this particular day, it was filled with cyclists and joggers and walkers.

No pedals in front - the boys doing the heavy lifting on this one!
We arrived at East End Beach and rented a Wind Wanderer to carry us over the 10km path. Only 4 seats? Trish seized the opportunity to squeeze in more shopping.

East End Beach
With the athletic part of the day finished, we returned the Wind Wanderer and went for a swim at East End Beach. Taranaki is renowned for it's surfing beaches and the attraction goes further as all the beaches are black sand beaches and have very gentle inclines. The water is only knee deep 100m into the water. But it's cold! All the locals wear wet-suits.

Black Sand!
Fitzroy Surf Beach
After a few hours of sun and surf, we met up with Trish for smoothies and sandwich melts at the Big Wave Cafe.

The kids posing on a statue of a mussel

After too much sun, we retreated to our hotel room for a nap and then off to Arborio for a fantastic sunset and evening meal.

Sunset over the Tasman

On Sunday, we checked out of our hotel and discovered that our car battery was dead! No lights left on. I suspected that the battery was finished. Luckily, I had bought an AA membership (Automobile Association, the New Zealand version of CAA, not Alcoholics Anonymous) before leaving Auckland at the beginning of our trip. What could have been a very long wait was only an hour or so before the AA guy put us back on our way.

Before leaving for New Plymouth, everyone at work had told me to make sure I visited Pukekura Park, so that was our first destination after getting our car fixed. We spent a few hours trying to figure out cricket, visiting the small Brooklands Zoo, cooling off beside waterfalls, visiting a Rhododendron dell, somersaulting down the Brooklands Concert Bowl (site of next weekends WOMAD festival) and replenishing at the lakeside Tea House.

Spotting the skinny one in the Tamarin enclosure
The TSB Brooklands Concert Bowl - perfect for runaway somersaults

It was now well into Sunday afternoon and it was time for us to consider heading back to Palmerston North. I wanted to go check out Mt. Taranaki, but was easily dissuaded by the considerable cloud cover around the peak and the kids request to hit another beach.

We took the long way home along Taranaki's Highway 45 - the Surf Highway - that hugs the coast and provides access to some of New Zealand's top surfing beaches. We picked Opunake Beach at random to spend a few more hours absorbing the late afternoon rays.

We finally made it home around 7:00pm after an excellent beach weekend in New Plymouth. All of our noses were a little singed and it took several days to finally dislodge all the fine black sand from just about everywhere and everything. Nevertheless, despite some of the challenges, New Plymouth was a tidy town with great beaches and well worth a visit.  Five thumbs up.

So, you're wondering what happened to the fiasco at The Garlic Press? A few days after our return home, I found the manager's e-mail address online somewhere and wrote him a very nasty message.

I reminded him that New Zealand is not famous for its gourmet restaurants but for the friendly welcoming manner of the people that live here. I pointed out that his locale had distinguished itself as the only restaurant among many we have visited in New Zealand (and the rest of the world for that matter) that felt compelled to refuse us entry on account of our children and this most un-Kiwi-like gesture would surely earn The Garlic Press scorn and ridicule among visitors to several popular tourist and restaurant-review web sites where I would post negative reviews.

He replied the next morning with a horrified e-mail that said that there was a children's menu and children were of course welcome in his restaurant at any time and the actions seemed to stem from one person who was working her last shift at the restaurant and was keen to close up to throw herself a party. He offered to send me a bottle of wine. I'm still waiting.

Next post: Incredible Queenstown & the Southern Alps.

No comments:

Post a Comment