After reading the inscription, I realised that this local, north-east England lad made almost exactly the same journey as me - only he did it three times - and over 200 years ago!
I’m thinking about it a lot now. I’m sitting in a smart hotel in Victoria, on Vancouver Island - which is pretty astonishing in itself. Today I caught the ferry over here from beautiful Vancouver, where I spent a few gloriously busy days exploring, meandering, wandering and admiring. I was there and I did these things.
I’ve been suffering from serious ‘sensory overload’ since the moment the plane took off from Heathrow. The absence of regular blogpostings is a symptom of how difficult it is for me to explain or describe all the feelings I’ve had; all the thoughts I’ve wanted to scribble down; all the questions I’ve wanted to ask and the startlingly original observations I’ve wanted to make.
On my journey, I’ve found that, when my sense of curiosity and wonder overwhelm me like this, I automatically retreat into less challenging territory. I was in a state of visual shock when I first saw Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, for example, and can clearly remember wondering why Sydney apparently had no bus routes numbered under 300.
On my first evening in Queenstown, I sat on the foreshore gazing over Lake Wakatipu into a dreamlike sunset that was turning the endless mountain-tops all round me into a rainbow of oranges and reds - and wondering why all electric sockets and plugs aren’t the same all over the world.
It’s already difficult for me to accept that I’ve been to all these places, seen all these things and met all these people. I now know exactly what ‘the time of my life’ actually means. But what’s seriously beginning to bother me is that it’s going to be very difficult indeed to adjust when I’m back home again.
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Although it’s pretty and historic and eccentric and utterly lovable, England is - geologically, zoologically and meteorologically speaking - quite dull. We have no ferocious wild animals to intimidate and scare us - the wolves and the bears have all gone. With one notable exception, we have no hurricanes. We don’t need to run for cover from tornadoes or tsunamis or monsoons or cyclones or typhoons or erupting volcanoes.
And, setting aside the ticklish tremors which almost nobody is even aware of, we have no earthquakes, either.
A geologically ‘young’ country like New Zealand, on the other hand, is temperamental in the extreme in this regard. On my journey through South Island I had driven through the suburbs of Christchurch and had seen for myself the tumbled buildings and gashed roads still awaiting repair after the terrible earthquake of 2011.
But almost exactly 70 years before that, there’d been an even deadlier earthquake around the Hawke’s Bay area of North Island, centred on the city of Napier. It killed 258 people and almost the whole of the city was destroyed. I visited Napier as my next port-of-call in my campervan because I wanted to see for myself the amazing ‘phoenix from the ashes’ recovery which has made Napier famous.
And that’s because, at the time of its rebuilding, the fashionable architectural style was art-deco - so that was the style used by the restoration architects.
The result is an almost complete art-deco town centre - unique in the world. I wandered round it at sunset on a Sunday evening. Its streets were deserted and I was transported to the set of a 1930s Busby Berkeley or Astaire and Rogers film. Geometric designs, false perspective, pastel colours. My photos can’t possible do it justice but you can see many more professional ones online. Take a look.
I really like the 'pretty in pink' gate-posts to Tiffen Park!
Explanatory panels like this one are dotted all over the town - they make sobering reading
I loved this mural - 'The City Beautiful: 1933'
'A Wave In Time'
This sculpture is of the wife of the immensely wealthy businessman
who sponsored the reconstruction of Napier
Napier was a genuinely inspiring place for me - to look at and to think about.
Nowhere's perfect, though. The campsite I stayed at there was a bit too much like Maplin’s for comfort. Overpriced, a bit tatty and full of squealing kids. I almost wished for another, selective, earthquake to strike....
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