Wednesday, February 07, 2007

New Car - Time for a Road Trip

While I was travelling, it was on my mind that Webster might well have outlived his usefulness: the last time I went for a warrant, while there was nothing major required, what was required was tricky (i.e. expensive) to accomplish. And so, in my last week away, I was building a list of possibilities on trademe. Last Friday, a deal was struck: I bought a low mileage Opel Kadett, without seeing it simply on the strength of the fellow selling it saying nice things about it. Since the price was cheap ($656) expectations were not high! The car was in Rangiora, so I had to make a hurried bus trip up to collect it. One day I might come up with a name for it, but after a week’s ownership and throwing a number of names at it, such as Alfonso and Franz, nothing has stuck. In fact, I find myself most commonly just referring to it as "car": it has its blemishes, and when one manifests itself, I feel like reproaching car.

Coming home was a comedy of errors: I hadn’t even left Rangiora and I was wanting the AA to fix the first problem! Luckily I decided it would be quicker to drive to Christchurch and call them from there, otherwise I might have been embarrassed: I had no idea how to remove the petrol cap and the young fellow in the service station I consulted was convinced it was defective. An older fellow in a different stattion showed me how it was done, and I was off (via a compulsory stop at Borders and dinner at Happy). The further I drove, the more things stopped working - first it was the sunroof, then it was the electric aerial. The entire dash stopped working whenever I put the brakes or headlights on. Then in a Temuka caravan park where I had tried to stay, it simply refused to start - not a problem, as I knew of this fault and how to fix it should it show up. What I hadn’t been shown was how to open the bonnet!

Never mind, I did arrive home and had all of the problems fixed (just weird wiring, basically): since Waitangi Day was on a Tuesday, I thought I’d take Monday off and have a long weekend, just long enough to get up to the West Coast. My plan was to spend Friday in Roxburgh - last time I was there was on a bus, which had only stopped there for about ten minutes. I’m so glad I did, as there is much to like about this place, starting with its setting in the Teviot Valley.

Thanks to lots of sun, the water in all the rivers I saw were a glorious shade of green-blue.

In fact, the further I drove, the more I felt that this country has as much to offer, scenically, as any of the countries I have recently been through: when the weather is glorious as it was over the weekend, driving through it is a treat. Anyway, back in Roxburgh, Villa Rose Backpackers was warm and inviting, all youngsters staying: they went off to the pub but the guy running it and I had quite a chat. The coffee was good at Succulents and even better at Caffeine. I had decided to dine at Succulents, but after walking back and forth for more than half an hour with no seat coming free, I went for fish and chips. By the time I received this, I was regretting my order, as I saw the burgers they make here - they look magnificent. But I was happy with what I did get, a gorgeous golden crisp battered blue cod. Supper was lemon and cream cheese cake from Succulents:: in addition to the cream, they’d drizzled passionfruit sauce over the plate. So good that I went back for lunch - corn fritters.

The tentative plan was to then head straight for Greymouth, but Saturday didn’t quite go to plan. Once I’d wandered around Alex (I went into the Warehouse there for something innocuous, I don't remember what, but it most certainly wasn't the deepfrier I came out with!) and bought an enormous ice cream in Wanaka, it was already mid afternoon. So, when I hit Haast, I started looking around for somewhere to stay: pretty much everywhere was full, except for the very ordinary World Heritage Hotel, which wanted a fortune to stay there. Halfway out to Jackson Bay, I finally found a motel; it was only half full (mind you, it only had two units) and very nice. Much nicer than the dinner I had at the hotel - my lamb shanks were tasty, but who would ever mix the salad in with the (lumpy) potato mash? Cucumber and potato doesn’t really mix.

Jackson Bay was kind of average, and so full of sandflies it put paid to any idea I had of waiting for the food cart to open, but has an interesting history. Way back in the 1870's, the Government decided to create a community there, with a town as big as Hokitika, so they assisted all sorts of migrants to take up plots of land there. Unfortunately, they didn’t think things through very well: the land was far too wet for crops, so everything rotted in the ground. Those who farmed or fished had no way of getting their produce to market, as there was no road or jetty: these didn’t arrive until the 1930's, by which time pretty much everyone had left. There is still hardly anyone there.

I didn’t exactly have an early start from Haast - partly because my car needed emergency repairs. The exhaust pipe had become dislodged. Strangely, the service station couldn’t sell me anything to re-attach it, but wandering around their yard, I found some old wire and could make a kind of hook. I still thought I left in plenty of time, yet only made it as far as Fox Glacier - this was partly because I played a silly game with myself, saying that if I could stay in the Fox Glacier Hotel (an elegant old wooden building) for less than I paid the night before, I would. What I didn’t know was that they had a backpacker wing.

Ah well, I wandered out to the glacier (without falling in to the Fox River this time (in my defence, I was still a child when that happened) and watched a couple of guys walk in with their canoes:

And then come out again:

I also went to Lake Matheson: I simply don’t believe it is the most photographed lake in the country - the lack of road access means that far fewer people will see it than, say, Wakitipu. Funnily enough, it reminded me of the lake at the back of the farm on which I grew up where we would go duck-shooting (not these contented looking fellows):the colours of the water, the plant life around its periphery and the size were pretty much the same.

We didn't have the mountains, however.

People have a lot of trouble telling Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph townships apart, I did too until I stayed in one. Now I know that Franz Joseph is the more northerly of the two, and has an actual bookshop (but it did not have, as its sandwich board proclaimed, the "best selection in the world"!)

It also has higher surrounding mountains, so you're more likely to see snow:

Lunch was in Hokitika: a salad the way I like salads - very little vegetable, and loads of sauteed chicken dowsed in chili sauce at the Cafe de Paris, which followed a rather good coffee at the tin shed - wonderful decor, and the soundtract featured jazz-influenced blues music. I could have simply lingered there all day but (a) I only had one more day to get home and (b) I really wanted to get to Greymouth so I could have some more professional repairs to my car than the piece of nylon chord I had installed to hold the exhaust in place. Unusually for me, I didn't really fancy lingering in Greymouth, which is unlike any previous trip there. Plus they have the most dangerous Warehouse in the country - I went in for a pair of socks and came out with a set of garden furniture! I had read that the Station House cafe in Moana was the best on the West Coast: when I heard I could stay at the Moana Hotel, that's what I decided to do. It offers marvellous views right from your bedroom window:

It is my fourth visit to Lake Moana and it still rates as one of my favourates:

As for the cafe, it was nice, but I certainly wouldn't say it is the best I have been in, I'd even say there are better on the West Coast - the Tin Shed in Hokitika had a more interesting decor and menu (although I don't know how well executed) and the runner up (Westport's Bayhouse) is in a more spectacular location. Mind you, I think the Station House is one of the few cafes around which can boast a train (and I mean a real train, with 20+ carriages full of coal) in its garden! Foolishly, I simply gawped at the train and failed to take a photo, even when another came through a wee while later.

The food here was good - a nice pork steak on a cheesy risotto with smoked roast veges followed by a pavalova (sic) with passionfruit sauce and brilliant coffee. The one let down was that the scallops were a bit overdone.

It was then a quick trip home on Tuesday - leaving Moana not long before noon, I was up and over Arthur's Pass and into Geraldine for coffee. As I entered Geraldine, I had a slight problem with my eyes: they were telling me that some people had their car in the river:

I don't think I'll be giving my car to these guys to wash! But I do think my new car did me proud: in the ten days I have had it, I've done a couple of thousand kilometres as a post sale test drive, with the repairs required in Greymouth costing the huge sum of $4 to effect.

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