Vern: Andrea, by now very confident in the righthand side driver's seat, headed us northwards up the North island and we occasionally recognised towns and roadside features which had whizzed past in the opposite direction just 23 days before. Outside of tiny Foxton we blew through the intersection with Puke Puke Road, which I presume connects the only residential suburb with the pub. In Sanson, the next town we passed through, Andrea pointed out a little stall with a sign advertising 'Hens for $10'. "That's cheap isn't it, " said Andrea, "and we could have eggs every day."
"Not really convenient though," I replied, looking over my shoulder at our cramped bedroom/lounge/kitchen/cupboard/backseat. At the next corner a man was selling border collies out of his stationwagon which sort of belittled my argument that we may not have space for a single chicken but Andrea let it go.
The first sight-seeing stop I had pencilled in for today was the Whanganui Riverboat Centre in Wanganui (the town name doesn't have an 'h' - that's not a typo). According to the guidebook the "crowds come for the Waimarie, the last of the Whanganui River's paddle steamers." It paddled on the river for fifty years, sank in 1952, was raised 41 years later, restored and put on display here. Interesting enough, except for a slight mistake in the guidebook: the crowds don't come here. At all. Ever.
"What the [duck] are we doing here?" asked Andrea when we walked (alone) into the large quiet boat-shed. The walls are dressed in sepia pictures and poster prints and there are a few information panels, not unlike a grade schooler's history project. In the middle of the room is a nondescript white wooden boat hull and a little ladder allowing one to climb up onto the equally unimpressive decking. Andrea was looking confused as to why we were there. "Look," I pointed, "there on the wall is a painting of the steamer in her glory da... uh... What's going on in the corner?!"
We got as close as we could and inspected the painting. "Is that bread?"
"Yep its bread." We were looking at an oil painting, not realistic but not impressionistic either, of a paddle steamer being captained down a choppy river by a uniformed skipper at the wheel and his first mate. White smoke plumes into a grey sky and two gentleman in olden times suits stand out on the deck and look out over the water. Oh and this boat is hurriedly steaming past... two giant bread rolls. Yup, the stern has almost cleared a laser printed photograph of one hamburger bun resting on another (like you see weekly in the bakery section of
a supermarket: '6 fresh rolls $1.40') which takes up about an eighth of the canvas. We were perplexed and then collapsed into a fit of laughter holding onto the rails of the restored boat for support. Looking away helped but everytime I looked back at the painting tears rolled out of my eyes and my body convulsed. We tried desperately to hush ourselves so as not to offend the people working there (one at the information desk, and the others offering a lunch cruise leaving from the back of the building). Andrea ran to the car to get the camera. Neither of us could compose ourselves sufficiently to ask at the info desk why real life bread rolls were sneaking up on a painted boat so we can offer up only two guesses. (1) in need of a canvas the artist asked for posterboard from his local supermarket and since all they had was this discarded bakery poster he decided that he'd just paint around the rolls. "They sort of look like rocks."
(2) the print-shop guy scanning the original oil painting into a print left his lunch on the scanner. And no one has noticed.
That's the best we've got. If anyone who reads this goes to Wanganui and remains calm and collected after seeing the sneaky bread rolls (perhaps this blog post prepared you sufficiently) please please PLEASE ask what on earth is happening in the bizarre artwork taking pride of place in the Riverboat Centre.
"That was totally worth it," said Andrea ready with a high-five after we were back in the camper. With my knee still paining from falling down in Wellington the best way to see the Whanganui National Park was to follow the river road along just a segment of New Zealand's longest navigable river. This was a beautiful drive - the road hugs the river closely and took us through broad leaf forest and many ferns. Unfortunately the road is mostly gravel and when we stopped for a photograph we realised that a sharp stone had punctured our rear left tyre. We already had a slow puncture in the front left tyre (later we found a nail in it) and the secondary battery no
longer charged while we drove rendering the DVD player and fridge useless: the Green Eyed Monster was falling apart! It took us five minutes to find the doughnut wheel and then another twenty to release the contraption which held it to the bottom of the car. After that, changing the wheel was relatively straightforward and I was pleased that the car tools all worked as expected. It was tricky to house the dirty flat tyre in the back amongst all our possessions but we made a plan and pushed on.
Andrea carefully eased us to the end of the stoney track and we were both very relieved to get back on to tarmac without further incident. There was no chance of getting the tyre patched on a Sunday evening at any of the towns round here so the doughnut would have to do. We drove the road skirting round the edge of Tongariro National Park, and I trained my eyes on the horizon to try and spot the volcano used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films but it was too cloudy. Just outside the town of Turangi we pulled into a free campsite and cooked a little dinner on the stove. Luckily that was still working fine.