Monday, March 31, 2008

The Final Leg

As the seven weeks (my, has it been that long and gone that fast) have passed it seems impossible that we are flying to Tahiti in less than 24 hours. In the evening in Wanganui we explored a very pleasant and non-tourist community. Beautiful parks, boys’ colleges, river walks and exceptional public buildings such as the Serjeant Gallery, museums and memorials. Victoria Street, the main shopping venue has 150 year old buildings which are full of shops and restaurants. The street is shaded with huge trees and flower baskets everywhere.

This region of the island does not seem to be overwhelmed by tourists (like Queenstown) and the drive on to New Plymouth was with little traffic, going along the surfing areas of the Tasman Sea, and in the shadow of Mount Taranaki. The mountain is quite stunning in the same way that Mount Rainer is. Everything around it on the western promontory of the island is sea level, while the mountain rises nearly straight up from the plain. We fortunately took a photo early on as the mountain soon became covered by clouds and we had a rare occasion of rain.

New Plymouth, although apparently growing a lot, seems to be a pretty much ordinary city and has not had the advantages of old buildings, harbor (although it faces the sea), or historical significance. A very workman like place which is aspiring to be the stepping off place for mountain climbs. Our final drive after the night in New Plymouth was to the Auckland airport.

We knew it was time to end the vacation as our luck was running out. At dinner I was reading a local tourist magazine and realized that today, just an hour north of New Plymouth was the “running of the sheep” as a part of The Great New Zealand Muster in Te Kuiti. The Running of the Sheep is described as thousands of wooly sheep scurrying and making their way through a crowd of 6,000 on the main street of Te Kuiti. It is their version of “the running of the bulls.” To top it off there is a large cash prize for a correct number of the total sheep in the run (1733 last year). How could we have missed this icon of the festival in the self proclaimed “Sheep Capital of the World?” And we were only an hour away on the day of the run!

We were glad that the mm made it all the way to Auckland Airport, struggling up the hills as she did. When we turned her in to Ace Rentals I was a bit concerned because on about the second day of the trip I had lost a hubcap. How much was that going to cost? The girl at the car rental said it happens all the time and I was charged only $10 NZ for the replacement. Whew! All in all we put 5900 kilometers (3540 miles) on the car.

Quirky Living Note: With the recent death of Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Mt. Everest, and New Zealand’s favorite son, the Hillary Foundation for Youth is using this time as an opportunity to raise money for the foundation, focus on exercise, and honor Sir Edmund. On March 25 a nationwide tour of summits for ed started at the bottom of the South Island and will visit 30 cities throughout the country, ending at the northern tip of the North Island on April 19 with an event attended by Lady Hillary and members of the family. For a lot of interesting information about the project and its goals you should pay a visit to Now, go climb a summit in your local area.

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