Roddy’s Road Trip Part II

We got on the ferry from Picton, up through the Marlborough Sounds to Wellington. The cruise is just a commute really, the only way to traverse the Cook Straight apart from flying, but being New Zealand, it’s more beautiful than any boat ride you’ve ever been on. Well, nearly.

My old mate Rosie has a café in Wellington – Rinski’s. She’s selling it now if anyone’s interested?! So seeing her and her café were the priorities of the Wellington visit. However, we managed to squeeze in a lot more.

At the National Gallery was an exhibition called Demented Architecture, which was basically a huge table with thousands of white Lego bricks on it. Visitors were encouraged to play with the Lego and add to the already impressive collection of skyscrapers stretching towards the ceiling. Catriona built a perfectly symmetrical structure, with arches and a combed roof that would have made the Mayans proud. I went for a spiral staircase that soon became a fire escape for one of the tallest buildings – about 6 feet high – alas, I lack an engineering background or even a modicum of common sense. As a child I used to get Andrew Spinks to come round and build my Lego for me as I couldn’t understand the instructions. Therefore my stairway to heaven toppled back to earth, crashing amongst the sturdier fortifications, raining white 2-by-4s on my fellow builders below. I remained standing, holding the one white brick that was to form the top step, the angel on the Christmas tree. Some eight year-olds rolled their eyes disdainfully and returned to their own projects. I briefly considered doing a Godzilla and going into a full metropolis-destroying rage, but realised security would have me encircled like King Kong on the Empire State Building. “Drop the Lego ya egg!”

I soon cheered up as we got a tour of the Weta special effects studio, Weta being the people responsible for all the orcs, armour and make-believe in Lord of the Rings. Basically, I had the best kids day out imaginable. I held a gun from District 9 and later we watched a man trying to take his massive dog home after a long walk. The dog was having none of it. The poor man kept coaxing it up his drive only to be dragged back down again. Myself and the rest of the café across the road from him had a great laugh. There’s lots to do in Wellington.

Rosie looked after us magnificently, considering she was running a café that doesn’t appear to close. During one fleeting window of opportunity she did take us to a series of gigs that were taking place in someone’s house. The entire house was given up to this impromptu festival, the living room cleared of furniture and bedecked with disco lights while sound technicians fought for space with punters who were even clinging to the roof. Rosie’s boyfriend’s in a band called Glass Vaults (listen to this) and a member of said band by the name of Benny stole the show. He was somewhere between Prince and Mika (Mince? Paprika?) and couldn’t have been more charismatic if he was made of feather boas. I was beginning to feel quite trendy until I needed the toilet. Being a house, there was only one toilet and being a gig, there were a lot of people needing it. I found myself asking teenagers if they knew of any alternative facilities and being dismissed like a lost pensioner. I ended up peeing into an Avis forecourt.

Elsewhere in Wellington they had the Scale of our War Exhibition at the national museum. Weta had installed a series of giant models of soldiers that were so gobsmackingly lifelike you’d find yourself staring at them for ages, waiting for one of them to flinch. On a different note I also spotted Jermaine from Flight of the Concords, eating a burger! His clear advancement of years since appearing in that show made me feel consequentially, pretty old.

Overall, Wellington is somewhere between Melbourne and 1987. It’s all the better for it.   Sad as it was to leave, we had a merry jaunt back to Lyttelton (and a plane to Melbourne to catch!) to get on with, via a stop over in a hostel in Picton that was called the Tombstone Backpackers. It was next to a graveyard and the door was shaped like a coffin. On the window it said, ‘Rest in Peace.’ It’s hard to argue with a place that really embraces a theme, regardless of bad taste.

So, Roddy made it home, without a scratch. In fact the only things damaged were our bank accounts, but I don’t think either of us regret a single penny. New Zealand is magic.

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Roddy’s Road Trip Part 1

So we were in Christchurch and looking to explore the country…

We booked our Nissan Bluebird for 13 days. The car looked liked something a Japanese middle-manager might drive in the mid-90s, a sultry grey colour with pointless gadgets like electronic wing-mirrors that whirred in and out whenever you turned the engine on or off. It would do this so slowly and loudly, everyone in the car park would turn expectantly, anxious to see who was putting the roof down on their Porsche, only to be confronted with the automotive equivalent of John Major re-arranging his specs. We called it Roddy.

Roddy was in for one hell of a journey. Five days into our road-trip round the South Island, we met up with my chum Ray in Wanaka, who suggested we visit Rob Roy glacier, “just a short dirt-track and a couple of fords away.” I forgot that Kiwis are pretty good at understatements. The couple of fords turned out to mean seven. Poor Roddy nearly drowned, the pristine glacial waters lapping at the windows as we ploughed nervously towards the other side. Mindful that we’d opted out of paying the insurance (an additional $15 a day you say? Never!) I did my best to avoid the pot-holes and the sheep, only to be greeted by a number of Renault Clios and other wee hatch-backs at the Rob-Roy glacier car-park. Suddenly Roddy’s exploits didn’t seem so special. I asked one of the eldery hikers coming off the track if they had any bug-spray as the sand-flies were out in force. “Bug spray!” She spat, “we’re Kiwis, we don’t need no bug spray!” They’re a hardy bunch too, Kiwis, but pretty rude when they want to be. I think Ray wanted to throttle her.

After the slight disappointments of Fox and Franz-Joseph Glaciers, that have receded to such a degree they’re almost out of sight, Rob Roy was a joy to behold. Looming over us threateningly, a great spout of waterfall shooting out its side while ice and snow shed from its face at irregular intervals, it was an epic reminder of New Zealand’s non-stop beauty.

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Faith in glaciers restored we painted Wanaka red, watching through our fingers as women at a 40th birthday party attempted gymnastics on a coffee table and then saw Scotland scrape a win against mighty Samoa, still viewed through our fingers. It was after this momentous day, at 4am that we decided to forego the bank balances and extend our kiwi road trip by a princely 9 days.

We now had time to walk around Mount Cook! (It rained so hard we never completed the hike, both our ‘waterproofs’ resolutely proven wrong). We could spend a day hiking Abel Tasman! (Insanely pretty, despite it’s obvious lure for tourists it still felt untouched).

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We could go for a bike tour of the vineyards in and around Blenheim! Actually that deserves more than brackets. Blenheim is a weird wee dump of a place, with a patio for a town square. The surrounding vineyards though were plentiful, beautiful and very generous indeed. At one tasting, we were treated to thirteen bottles! Only a nip from each of course, but they add up. By the seventh winery it was time for home, which required a 10 km cycle back along an almost completely straight, flat road. Catriona found it one of the most arduous cycles of her life. We made it back to exotic Blenheim and went for a curry. Not ones to cut a night short we dropped by the local hotspot for a beer (no more wine for a while) when the booze and Balti caught up with Catriona’s bowels and she had to make a mad dash for the ladies. I said I’d hold our table and wait for her to return. Suddenly, the doors to the pub were closed shut and I realised we had accidentally encroached on a private engagement party. Except now it was just me. The father of the bride got up and began an excruciating speech, where he began thanking everyone for coming. As the audience peered round to applaud the relevant parties, eyes began to fall on me, the rosy-cheeked Scot with korma-breath.   The speech didn’t look like ending any time soon so I had to wait for one of the grandma’s to nip to the loo so I could seamlessly follow in her wake out the door. I met Catriona on the other side, looking very relieved, and we made haste for home.

Lyttelton Revisited

Returning to Lyttelton, my home from 2008 to 2010, after 5 years was a bit surreal. We’d both changed a fair bit see. I had grown older, slightly hairier on my body and less hairy on my head, and had a girlfriend. Lyttelton had survived three major earthquakes, thousands of aftershocks and was deep into the rebuilding process, with old bars and businesses demolished and new ones rearing their heads. Like I said, we’d both changed.

We got picked up from the airport at midnight by dear old Rachel Morton, endearingly late and more endearingly, totally unchanged. She had arrived in Lyttelton with me and G back in ’08 and was the one that stayed around. Things have worked out quite well as she’s now a radio producer and a TV presenter. When I’d left her she was a barmaid. So on second thoughts, she has changed, well her job has, but 5 years on it was the same mental Rachel who disagrees with all my movie opinions and spends too much on novelty beers and ham. However, she did let me record an advert for her station, RDU, which veered nicely into Partridge territory.

Upon returning somewhere you used to call home you instinctively look for familiarity. Luckily for me, the grand old Coffee Company had recently reopened, it’s owner Steve very generously offering us breakfast on the house and then immediately regretting this when I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. The same faces were all there, peppered with new ones of course, and although the places I used to work were all resigned to dust, there were some genuinely great replacements. The Saturday market was absolutely mobbed (or “on wheels” as the cool kids or people from Yorkshire say) and I was most impressed with Cassels and Sons brewery, which was struggling to make ends meet when I left and now a bona fide hop empire. It felt like Lyttelton and Christchurch in general, were round the curve, beyond taking stock and getting by and moving on to better things. The sun was shining, the harbour looked splendid and I was a happy man indeed. We hired a car for the insanely cheap price of $21 a day and set off to see the South Island.

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Catriona tries to get Scout to enjoy the view.