Yes, that’s the name of a real place!
After Wellington, I arrived the the university town of Palmerston North. It is a smaller, but very university-like town. Think a rural Kansas town gets a big university dropped in it. The city square was covered with little shops that nostalgically reminded me of Ben Franklin’s and other dime stores you run into in mid-century rural America. Yet the city was clearly trying to embrace a nouveau bourgeois bohemian style of the local university. An old 50’s theater had been turned into a art play house. It was an interesting blend. Overall a nice place, but nothing of tremendous note – other than it had the biggest town square I’d ever seen. Almost 2x-4x the size of a normal city block. I stopped in the university library and picked up a few computer science journals to see what the Kiwi’s were up to. Ahhhh, analysis of different dynamic memory allocation strategies – fun.
In the morning, I started my drive early to get out to a place I’d longed to go – the location of the worlds longest place name: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu. Yes, it’s a real place name, and yes, it beats Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch in North Wales. It was about a 3 hour drive east all the way to the coast. There was little along the way and the road turned quite windy and narrow for at least an hour. Surprisingly, it is well marked and easy to find. The place is a hill named by the indigenous Maori people. The name means:“The place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as ‘landeater,’ played his flute to his beloved one.” It refers to Tamatea, a famous Maori explorer, had to fight his way past a hostile tribe in his journeys. At the battle, his brother died, and Tamatea climbed the mountain each morning and played his flute for his lost brother each morning. I got a couple pictures in front of the monstrous sign and the hill, and then headed back north. I stopped and talked with some other farmers on the way, as the directions in my guide book pointed out there was another sign somewhere else. I found a farmer who said the old sign had been torn down and the one I saw erected instead since the old sign was on private land (and I’m guessing the farmer got tired of everyone trespassing).
On my way back to Palmerston North, I passed through a range of very high hills. At the top was a wind farm. I stopped by and watched two workers working on one of the 50-75 foot towers. While I was watching and enjoying the spectacular view, two really cranky old farmers came by. They were super friendly; but just think of the two guys on the movie Grumpy Old Men. They were real cordial, but cussed like sailors. I helped them move their cows, which was fun, and by that time the two wind farm guys climbed down and came over to chat. They were really friendly and they talked about the control shack just down the road. I drove a few kilometers to the wind farm control shack and there was an even friendlier guy there. It seemed these guys didn’t get too many visitors (it took 20 minutes up a really treacherous road to get there) and were happy to talk with you – or anyone. He took me into the tiny control room and he showed me the whole operation. How fast the mills were running, how much power each mill generated (one I watched was putting out a steady 400-500kW [instantaneous output] (500kW = the max) ), how the computer was controlling the pitch of each fans blades to maximize output, etc. I was amazed he took this total stranger from another country right into the primary control room, all alone, with the one little rack-mount machine that ran it all. I was wondering how completely unlikely that was to ever happened in the states considering how gun-shy we’ve gotten. I was kind of laughing to myself at one point that one or two well-placed kicks might just take down 5% of the New Zealand power grid. It was cool that New Zealand, being an island, really is an isolated power grid. They generate 5% of the countries total power from that one station of about 40 mills. It was one of the best wind farms in the world, and the wind was so good and so constant that they were slated to install mills 3 times the size of the ones they had starting next year.
It was getting late and my host bid me safe travels. I thanked him for the tour, excellent info, and the sights. I also got a good appreciation of how small New Zealand really was. I was standing on a 500m peak or so, but could almost see both east and west coasts. Mind boggling.
Onward north I drove until I hit the town of Ohakune late at night. I wandered into town and noticed a pub full of locals. I strolled in and they were watching a big national rivalry rugby tournament. It was cool because it was a bar but there were a number of 10-15 year old boys there watching with there dads and grandfathers. I just loved the homey feel and the fact the society could be so safe as to do that and not worry about drunken stupidity. It was a great game to watch, even though I didn’t understand all the rules. Still, a good game is a good game – and good people are wonderful to chat with anywhere.