Whanganui … or is it Wanganui?… the debate continues …

Monday 19th February 2018

After a ‘marvellous’ sleep due to hot tub relaxation, and despite the soaring temperatures in this house with no air-conditioning, we were up and out sharpish to line up for the ferry trip back to the North Island. Decided to skip breakfast on board this time and tucked into yesterday’s leftover sandwiches and snacks instead. The 3 and a half hours passed easily, filled with admiring scenery, dolphin spotting, blogging, reading … and naturally some snoozing!!

Our destination for the next 3 nights was Whanganui (Wh is pronounced with an F sound) … but there seems to be some local debate over the city’s name … some signs indicate Wanganui and some locals insist on pronouncing it this way. Who knows!! Great drive there, back to more moderate green bumpy hillside – flat in comparison to the South Island … still stunning. Lots and lots of sheep and some really interesting cows with big white girdles – googled and think they’re probably Belted Galloway cows – beef cattle.

We arrived in the lovely city of Whanganui in good time – we would probably call it a town but it is known as a city … built along the Whanganui River. We checked into our historical villa, met by our very friendly host Lynn who showed us around the spacious rooms we were to use, it was like stepping back in time … but very luxurious.

We knew nothing about Whanganui so decided to make our first stop the i-site (local information centre) – we all decided that this was the best one we had been to – the lady was so helpful and informative … we left with loads to see and do … she even offered to give us a lift at any time if we were stuck! So off we trotted to get stuck into things straightaway. We crossed the river by bridge and walked along to the Durie Hill Tunnel – this is a 213 metre pedestrian tunnel that leads to an underground elevator (all my fears wrapped up in one … but I faced the challenge!). The elevator was built in 1919 to provide the wealthy residents of the garden suburb easier access to the city. So, as well as everything else, it was a pretty antiquated elevator – yikes!! 😟. So along the long tunnel we trudged, echoing as we went, and stepped into the old rickety wooden elevator, which for 2 dollars inched you up the 66 metres to the top. We stopped with a worrying shudder …. and I was out of that as soon as the cage doors were released!! Lovey lady operator – couldn’t think of any worse ways to spend my working day!

At the top we were able to walk up a little higher to a viewing point, via a wrought iron spiral staircase …. reminded me of the spiral staircase we had at my convent school – we used to scare each other with stories of how a nun had committed suicide by throwing herself down them – rumour had it that she haunted those very stairs!!! Anyway, I digress, the view over Whanganui River and city was fab – a little cloudy still but it gave us a glimpse of what the next few days had in store.

To make it even more impressive …. and to physically challenge ourselves even more, we decided to climb the Durie Hill War Memorial tower – all 176 winding steps … and we viewed Whanganui from an even higher point.

We crossed back over the river into the busy little town area – lots of vintage style shops and op shops (as they call charity shops in this part of the world) … but we headed mostly for the pub … The Rutland Arms … delicious drinks and delicious food – pleasant service, overall a great pub. Stopped off on the way home to our ‘historical villa’ at nearby Virginia Lake – fascinated by the mix of birdlife at the viewing spot we chose. Particularly fascinated by some blue sleeping ducks who didn’t budge, must have been sound!

Tuesday 20th February 2018

We fancied starting the day with a walk so we returned to Virginia Lake and immediately solved the mystery of the blue sleeping ducks – they were in fact decoy ducks …. and there were several of them dotted around the lake (seems obvious when you see real ducks perched on top of them!). We have absolutely no idea why they have them … there are plenty of birds there … and they follow you everywhere!

We enjoyed the lake walk and then visited the aviary and the Winter Gardens before heading to the Funky Duck cafe for lunch.

Now, there was lots of talk about a cyclone possibly hitting the area, so we ventured around the streets with caution, respecting the increasingly forceful winds – I had read somewhere that if you’re caught unawares in a cyclone you should lie flat out on the ground … so I was fully prepared!! We visited some local places of interest including the glassworks, a ceramics gallery and local museum (mostly focusing on the old paddle steamer that was recovered from the bottom of the river after 40 years and restored to full working use).

Despite the high winds we continued with our exploration of the area, continuing on by car to the botanical gardens – funnily enough we were the only ones in the gardens!! Huge gusts by this time, felt like the trees might uproot at any minute (think I’ve watched too many films!). Some particularly interesting varieties of fir trees – some to support the hair growth!!

… and on we continued … and on the winds blew … but we headed to the beach for a quick look. An interesting amount of driftwood – obviously not many wood carvers in the area!

While Kaye and I walked and admired the beach, the boys discovered the ‘children’s’ park and proceeded to hog the zip line!!

We were close to being blown off our feet by this time … so we thought it best to get back in the car and drive back to safety … as we were leaving the car park we spotted this sign …

A quick freshen up and out again for the evening … the taxi driver thought we were very brave going out in these conditions – she said everyone else had boarded up for the night … in case Cyclone Rita hit town!! We live life on the edge!! Another of my beautiful sisters’ namesakes tonight – we ate in a restaurant called Carolines – lovely meal but unfortunately we were plagued by flies – the waitress had an interesting response to Steve’s mention of it … “Oh, I know ….”

Wednesday 21st February 2018

We ‘survived the storm’ – Cyclone Rita hit the South Island and some of the east coast of the North Island … but missed our little city. So this morning’s plan was a cruise aboard the Waimarie Paddle Steamer which was built in 1899 and had an incredible history. In 1952 she sunk to the bottom of the river and was salvaged some 40 years later, using local skills, knowledge and dedication – a real community project. She is beautiful. On 1st January 2000 she was relaunched and spent the whole day taking the local community in batches up and down the Whanganui River in true party style. She is run now mostly by volunteers and the pride shines through them.

So, up and down the river we went in ‘old style’ – listening to the Captain’s old-fashioned instructions to his crew, watching the poor chap in the engine room, feeding the coal into the furnace and listening to the friendly tones of ‘Norm’ as he provided commentary.

Dodged around town the rest of the day – lunching, walking, war memorials, sports grounds, a bit of shopping …. dodging rain storms ☔️ .

So, this was our last stop in New Zealand, back to Auckland airport tomorrow and flying back to Melbourne. It has been an amazing country to visit – I would HIGHLY recommend it. Happy to offer any advice on where to go and how long to go for … what to miss and what not to miss … please everybody add it to your list!! 😊

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