Friday, January 14, 2011

Jessa's Visit, Part 2: The Road to Middle Earth (and the Wop-Wops)

Written Saturday, January 15th, 2011

Packing up camp in the Wairarapa

The first order of business on Wednesday morning was to drive back over the mountains to Kaitoke Regional Park, land of the elves:

The park is gorgeous, and this section of river and woods is where the set for Rivendell was built. We did run into a group of tourists who were on a veritable Lord of the Rings tour, but we were happy to check it all out on our own. The trees, hillsides, and the scenery in general were amazing, and it wasn't hard to imagine elves living in that forest.

We drove back up the coast to Wanganui, which is a gorgeous town on the banks of the Whanganui River. There is an interesting controversy going on, because Wanganui is the anglicized name, as many European settlers did not approve of the "wh" dipthong and so removed it from many names, going to a regular "w" sound. Most of that stemmed from names like Whakapapa and Whakatane, which can sound a bit lewd to an English ear, but I'm not sure why Wanganui got changed- probably just in an attempt to assert European control over the Maori. Anyway, there is a big movement to restore the H to the city's name, and while it hasn't officially been done yet, the news channels and some maps refer to it as Whanganui. Somehow, the river's name never got changed, and as always had the Wh in it.

The city of Wanganui is gorgeous, very well laid out, and home to lovely downtown streets and gorgeous parks, including the Most Epic of Playgrounds. (By the way, the playgrounds in New Zealand are incredible- I've never seen one here that didn't blow my mind with its complexity, attractiveness, and general awesomeness).

 Jessa and Matt in Wanganui

The main street of Wanganui

In the evening, we headed up the Whanganui River Road, a winding but paved (mostly) 1.5 lane road that wends its way up the Whanganui River Valley to the extremely remote settlement of Pipiriki. The whole valley has a lot of Maori history, and also a lot of missionary settlements, including settlements by the names of Athens (Maoricized to Atene), Corinth (Koriniti) and Jerusalem. The quality of the road felt downright luxurious to us after the roads we drove on the Coromandel, but was pretty curvy nonetheless, and we were happy to give Jessa a true New Zealand road experience! She had requested that we do some river rafting or some similar water adventure while she was here, and we were more than happy to oblige. After some research, I had booked us on a jetboating/canoeing adventure on the upper Whanganui, commencing from Pipiriki, 65 km up the River Road. The scenery all the way up was incredible:
 Jessa chasing loose sheep off the road

 First view of Jerusalem

Church at Jerusalem

Matt: "Look, it's a unicorn!"

The tour company provided free camping in the paddock beside their office, and we had gorgeous views of the valley, mountains, and an incredible sunset.

 Matt washing dishes in camp

It was such an amazing place to be, truly in the wop-wops, and the ultimate rural New Zealand setting- there are no stores, cafes, or petrol stations anywhere on the Whanganui River Road, and Pipiriki was the largest settlement up there, with about a dozen houses and two river tour companies. It was such a privilege to see that country.

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