|After breakfast with Annette we hit the road around 9am, it’s a nice morning and we follow the lake edge stopping for some pictures as the light is photogenic this morning. We ride out on the desert road and it lives up to it’s name, It’s amazing how dry it is out here considering we are not that far away from a huge lake. It goes on for mile after mile, the roads are lined with stunted scrubby plants struggling to survive in the dusty soil, it’s quite mountainous out into the distance though it all looks shades of the same dusty colours. It’s quite beautiful in a barren way and another reminder of how diverse New Zealand’s countryside is.
After a while we pass through a military training area the first we have seen here. I guess they can do what they like out here there’s no one about to upset, good desert training too.
Then it’s time to turn off on Gentle Annie, this is the old road to Napier and dips and rolls around the hills. It has been superceded by a highway now but this is much more fun, there was a gravel section in the middle but several people have told us that it will probably all be sealed by now. How wrong they were as we start to climb the clouds roll in and it starts to rain, this is about the same time that all the roadworks start and there are lots of new deep gravel sections and detours to negotiate. It’s quite challenging riding at times as gentle annie is not so gentle at the moment but we make it through okay. Once we get past all the protracted road works the ride resumes it’s swoopy switchback style and civilisation starts to appear by about 2pm. We are in Napier town centre by 3pm so we head for the i site initially to see if we can get some maps.
Napier is the art deco capital of New Zealand and possibly the entire Southern Hemisphere. There were two enormous earthquakes here on 3rd Feb 1931 estimated magnitude 7.8 which caused Napier to rise 2 metres from the seabed. Also fires broke out in three chemist shops which had bunsen burners on permanently to melt the wax used to seal prescriptions and were full of flammable substances. The fire station was badly damaged in the earthquake preventing the engines being used and water mains were ruptured so when the fires broke out there was little they could do to fight them. The fires raged for 36 hours and 256 people were killed making it New Zealand’s worst natural disaster until the rencent Christchurch earthquakes.
As a result most of the town was rebuilt in the 1930′s hence the art deco style for which it is now so famous.
We cause a bit of a stir around the i site and lots of people take pictures and come and talk to us even once we are inside. Another lady walks over and says I thought it would be easy to spot you two it takes us a minute to realise its not another tourist but Debbie our couchsurfing friend who we are going to stay with tonight. She saw the bike parked outside and realised it was us so popped in to say hi. It’s great to finally meet her at last there are hugs all round, she was one of the first people to contact us in NZ and has been really helpful ever since.
We arrange a time to meet at her place and decide to have a look around town as we have a couple of hours. Debbie recomends riding up to to Bluff’s hill lookout for a view out across the harbour so we do that first before parking up in town and going for a wander. Napier is beautiful and has a great atmosphere, of course some things have been modernised but it’s been done sympathetically so as not to spoil it’s charm. This weekend is the art deco festival weekend so people are starting to come into town for that, there are a few period cars driving around which we are lucky enough to photograph as well as the shops and facades. Most of the original 1930′s buildings are on the seafront and the streets around it so we can easily take them in on foot. One exception is the tobacco importers building which is on the wharf so we ride to Debbie’s via this to get some pictures.
Back at Deb’s we are shown our bed for the night. She opens the garage door to reveal a carpeted floor with a double mattress “go on, ride in” she says. Kev says I can’t put the bike on the carpet, well my car goes in normally she replies! she lives in a 2 bed bungalow and she used to give couchsurfers the second bedroom but she now rents that out so rather than turn people away she converted the end of her built in garage into a bedsit which is where we are now. This means of course that we are on a double mattress on the floor next to the bike. After reading all the travel books about south america and having the bike in a hotel room with you I have been secretly longing for a chance to do this.
A good evening ensues as Debbie invites Miles over another couchsurfing buddy of hers. He has recently ridden Africa top to bottom on a DR650 so we have plenty in common to talk about.
Next morning after breakfast we discuss our options we have been invited to the 50th birthday party of Rocky a Guzzi rider who is a bit of a name in the south island and as well as being a cracking good party most guzzi riders from the south will be attending so it is a good chance to meet people. The only fly in the ointment is that it is on the 19th February in the south island near Christchurch. So we have to leave here by lunchtime, undaunted Debbie is as cheerful as ever and bundles us in her car for the whistlestop tour of what we have missed, we head to the Mission winery which is a spectaculary elegant building. Wineries are quite popular venues for big concerts out here and this is no exception having hosted the likes of Rod Stewart, The Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick, The B52′s etc etc.
Debbie also does a tour of the town showing us the wharf, good little cafes and telling us a little history of the town, we stop at the cone shaped “sound shell” building. It is a real shame we can’t stay longer, one because Debbie is an absolute sweetheart and we would love to get to know her better and two judging by the looks of the few cars that are turning up already the art deco weekend is one not to be missed. Debbie says everyone will be dressed up, after heading back and having lunch we say a fond farewell to Debbie it has been too short but we crammed a lot in and Debbie was great, we will miss her but the south island awaits.