'Unseasonable rain' they called it as I headed south from Auckland towards Wellington, on the first leg my exploration of New Zealand. As I pulled in to Taupo for my first night sleeping in the back of Zed, the news reader on the radio said, 'There have been strong gales throughout the North Island, ripping roofs off buildings and bringing trees down on power lines. The worst area hit is between Taupo and Rotorua, but the whole of the north can expect very heavy rain and serious wind.' I didn't need to be told; when you're trying to get to sleep in the back of a Toyota Corona parked precariously close to the edge of a huge lake, you know when there's a bloody great storm chucking down more water than you've ever seen, while threatening to blow your car on its side. I swear that there was so much rain in the air that the fishes in the lake didn't know which side of the horizon they were supposed to be. New Zealand is known for being wet, but it seems a whole lot wetter when you're actually in it.
Luckily I still managed to get a good night's sleep, safely tucked up in the back of Zed, and the next day I headed down the west coast to Paekakariki, on the Kapiti Coast. On the way I stopped off at Otaki, home to a large beach that was being so battered and bashed by the raging sea that I cowered in the car, hiding from the flying sand and ocean spray. The Kapiti Coast itself was scary; foam kept blowing onto the road from the sea, which had turned a dirty brown from the violence, and I spent Tuesday night in a lay-by, where the wind ripped through the trees and made a hellish racket.
Normally I wouldn't travel so far in weather like that, but I had to get to Wellington for the Wednesday to give a presentation to the Wellington Acorn Users' Group. However, when I finally made it to Wellington at lunchtime, the sun came out, the sky cleared to a pure blue, and after the manic storms of the previous two days it felt like paradise. Walking round the city, which is a very pleasant little settlement on a calm harbour – though much smaller than one would expect from a capital city – I discovered the botanic gardens, a little beach, and buildings that defied description, like the Beehive, the home of New Zealand's parliament. I rather enjoyed Wellington, I have to say.
Though there is one genuinely annoying thing about Wellington, and that's the wind, which is beyond a joke. It's not just a quaint little oddity of life in the nation's capital; it's a daily struggle against ruined hairstyles and constant litter shooting across the street. It's a cliché, but Wellington is the windy city, and it takes some getting used to.
I spent most of the week working, first in Wellington, and then in Palmerston North, where I visited four schools, wrote four case studies, and stayed with Judy, the dealer in Palmerston. Judy is a bon viveur, no doubt about it, and if it hadn't been for my body feeling like it had been put through the ringer, I'd have risen to the challenge. Even so, we ate well and drank well, and generally had a ball, as one should always do when one is working. The schools we visited were interesting too, ranging from small schools in the middle of nowhere, to very rich public schools that made all the others look distinctly shabby. It's certainly a great way of getting to see a country from the inside.
On Saturday I left Palmerston for Otaki Forks, a DOC1 campsite in the heart of the Tararua Forest Park. The area was heavily forested and mountainous, and I went for a couple of little walks just to get myself going after my recent illness. It was pleasant to settle down without any work to do, but it would have been nicer if it hadn't been so cold and windy; if it isn't raining here, it's blowing. Summer had better hurry up and arrive: knowing that the weather is 'unseasonable' doesn't help much when I'm chattering away in my tent, warming my hands on a candle.
Luckily Monday saw the beautiful weather return, and as I drove through the Tararua Ranges back towards Wellington, down the windiest and narrowest road I've ever seen, the landscape really began to thrill. I spent the night in Eastbourne, a little beach town on the opposite side of the bay to Wellington, where I lounged on the beach, and even went for my first swim in the New Zealand sea – freezing isn't the word! Still, when you're living in the back of a car and sleeping where you park, you've got to get clean somehow. I took a tiring but enjoyable bush walk up the hills behind the village, and as the sun went down over Wellington and the lights began to twinkle, I felt, for the first time since leaving Auckland, really pleased to be on the road. Perhaps my cold was finally lifting with my mood.
1 DOC – the Department of Conservation – is in charge of National and Forest Parks, and runs a huge collection of out-of-the-way campsites that are very cheap and very picturesque. They're a highly recommended source of information on the outdoors.