Oaonui to Whanganui (Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand)

Our stay with Andrew amd Suzie has been so relaxing. The past two nights have felt like we were staying with relatives, not strangers who opened their home and lives to us. We’ve played with their big boofy dog, petted their cats, shared meals, swapped storied and watched some tele.  I’m almost sad our stay has to end yet excited about what lies ahead.
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Andrew recommends Dawson Falls on the slopes of Mt Taronake. He also gives us a tip about where to park to reduce the distance to the falls given my injury and the wet weather.
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Te Rere o Noke (as the Maori refer to Dawson Falls) drop 18m off a cliff formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago. The path leads through an almosy fantasy like forest with gnarled trees, glossy green moss and black soil. I definitely must come back to New Zealand to hike some more. The falls are equally magnificent. They are loud and rough.
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We continue our drive through the farmlands between Mt Taranaki and the sea. There are odd mounds everywhere that look like the remnants of an eruption. I’ve never seen this kind of landscape before so it intrugues me.
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New Zealand is far more rural and isolated than I had anticipated. Red tin sheds and old houses dot the landscape.

Stratford appears as if from nowhere. There are no distance signs in New Zealand to announce the approach of towns. An art gallery is the main attraction for the town. It’s a groovy place with some gorgeous pieces. We buy two pottery monks.
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Eltham is a short drive away. The art gallery is closed when we arrive so we walk through a nearby garden.  There’s a wall of toys accompanied by a faerie chapel and castle. It’s adorable. The toy wall and garden was created after a local found a toy on her garden and placed it on a wall in the garden. The toy garden grew as more people placed toys there. Today, the founder’s ashes are housed in the faerie chapel. The art gallery is open after our walk. It’s a lovely collection and we buy some prints.

Our next stop is Hawera where there is another gallery and also an art school. The art world is in safe hands. We buy some paintings and the artist happens to be onsite. She signs the works.

It’s raining now and Cyclone Cook is racing towards Whanganui where we will stay tonight.  We’re not concerned though. Checking into Dolphin Townhouse we are greeted by our friendly Air BnB host. She has left us a wealth of local information, including the timetable for the local cinema. We have the townhouse to ourselves so can cook a meal, relax and sit out the storm.

Oaonui and New Plymouth  (Taranaki, New Zealand)

Mt Taranaki is hidden behind a thick layer of cloud. I guess we won’t be seeing the majestic volcano today. Mind you, with my hip still sore that’s probably a good thing because it reduces the temptation to go hiking.
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We drive back to New Plymouth instead while our hosts go to their respective work. New Plymouth is the largest town in this part of the Taranaki. It’s little more than a village but the distinction between city, town and village is broad here in New Zealand with its tiny national population. But an artistic village it is.
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Our first stop is an art gallery dedicated to Len Lys. He created the wind wand on the waterfront. It’s all modern art and I find it dull. Lots of empty space and random objects that someone has called art. I’m not sure that I agree that coloured rods scattered around the gallery is art. Each to their own. And the exterior of the building is worth visiting with it’s wave of mirror wall.
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Puke Ariki is nearby so I hop over there next while Paul walks. It’s drizzling so there’s no point staying outdoors. Puke Ariki is a large museum that covers local and natural history. We borrow a wheelchair so Paul can push me around and rest my hip. We learn about the natural history of Mt Taranaki, which developed and collapsed many times over thousands of years. The display of Maori history is respectful. I think about the stories we have heard from white people over the years about the relationships between Maori and European New Zealanders. There is much myth in the stories that Maori were not dispossessed, for the display we read at Puke Ariki clearly shows a tale of dispossession. Downstairs is a brilliant display about bugs. It’s aimed at children but we have fun there. We play a game about attracting bees to the garden and dress up in insect costumes.

The wind wand is at the end of the street visible from Puke Ariki. It’s just a big red pole with an orange light on the end that moves with the wind. I don’t even bother to take a photo.
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We drive back to Oaonui, stopping at all the beaches along the way. The black sand beaches are pretty. Sure, I’m not as likely to swim here as on a white sand beach but that’s just a trick of the brain. Funny how that happens. For surfers, though, this stretch of coast is a draw card with reliable waves. Every town has at least one surf shop and the beaches are all signed from the highway.
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We stop at Cape Egmont Lighthouse. The museum is only open during the weekend and today is Wednesday. But the drive along the coast road is eerie enough to keep us interested. Eerie because the beach is strewn with massive boulders that can only have come from a violent volcanic eruption. In the wind and drizzle it feels like this could happen again any time, even though the last eruption was in the 1750s. A dilapidated house just adds to the mystery.

It’s late afternoon when we return to our Couch Surfing hosts’ house. Andrew and Sue are fantastic hosts with the perfect Couch Surfing set up. We cook a meal to share, eat together and watch some television between conversation. It’s been mother brilliant day in New Zealand for us.

Morrinsville to Oaonui (Taranaki, New Zealand)

We have a long drive ahead of us today from Morrinsville to Oaonui where we are Couch Surfing for the next two nights. It’s probably a good thing because my hip is sore (most likely hip bursitis) and I am finding walking near impossible. A day in the car looking at scenery is a good way to force me to rest (we do stop in Cambridge though to pick up some strong pain killers and anti inflammatory mediation).
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The landscape of our drive is everything the New Zealand tourism board promises in their advertisements of this country. We start in the flat Waikato basin, passing dairy sheds, and black and white cows. It’s quite a contrast to our scruffy dry grasslands with brown beef castle at home. Almost imperceptibly we leave the Waikato basin behind at Awakino. We’re now on the rugged west coast with it’s sense of isolation.

We stop in Mokau. The town is tiny but has a museum (the lady there calls it a treasure trove). The museum houses a vast array of historic stories both Maori and European. My favourite display is definitely the pianola, which still works. I’ve never seen  one in action before.
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It’s a pity the weather is not great today and that my hip is so sore because there are many beaches to explore. There’s even a Three Sisters, which are reminiscent of th 12 Apostles on our own Great Ocean Road in Victoria. But we make do with what we have and tomorrow I’ll buy some crutches so I can get around more easily. Besides, the views from the road are magnificent.
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Our Couch Surfing hosts live on a farm in the middle of nowhere. It’s quiet and Mt Taranaki watches over the area witih authority. Even half hidden in the clouds the mountain is a strong energy. We chat over a roast lamb dinner. I enjoy hearing the stories of our hosts who are true locals to the area. That’s why we Couch Surf, to meet new people.