Sunday, January 15, 2012
Get Thee to a Cattery
New Zealand has much more to offer than amazing scenery, great food and wine and the All Blacks, the Rugby World Cup Champions of 2011. It also has catteries. We first saw a sign for a cattery when we were driving on the North Island out of Auckland on the Coramandel Peninsula. Some catteries are stand-alone businesses while others are paired with kennels, where people can board their dogs. We saw more signs for catteries as we drove south from Napier to Wellington, and then again when we crossed the Cook Channel making the trip to the South Island.
The three-hour trip across the Channel is made on the Interislander Ferry, which carries up to 1650 passengers and has three levels of parking for trucks, cars and motorcycles. We had done something of a test run the day before, driving into Wellington to go to the Te Papa museum. It was featuring an exhibit on two hundred years of Wedding Dress history, something that Annie and Marley had on their radar from the moment they saw a pamphlet on it when we were in Auckland. While the girls did that, Ben and I checked out some of the other displays in the impressive (free of charge) museum, enjoying the ones on earthquakes and volcanoes and on animals native to New Zealand, including the legendary and extinct Moa, which is one of Ben’s favorites because it’s featured in Halo.
Once we had seen all the wedding dresses and large species extinct or otherwise we felt we needed to see, we walked out onto the streets of Wellington and were met with what the forecasters had described in typical reserved New Zealander fashion as “strong westerlies.” The last time I had experienced winds of this strength, I was at a Bengals game, reading at a text from Annie saying that a tree had fallen onto our house thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Ike. These light, breezy conditions made exploring Downtown Wellington a rather difficult proposition, so we piled back into our Nissan Bluebird and made our way back to our rental house. We took advantage of the kitchen facilities there and enjoyed a home-cooked meal before settling into what’s become our routine of watching a movie at night with the kids.
Getting to the ferry in time for the 7:25am check-in meant a 5:30am wake up call for us at our rental house in Waikanae Beach, about a 50-minute drive from Wellington. We’ve gotten pretty good at executing transition days as travelers, and everyone was in the car by our desired 6:30am departure. I was happy to see very light traffic, and Annie helpfully reminded me that it was a Saturday. I’ve found myself losing track of what day it is on this trip, and this was another reminder of that. Once we got checked in at the port where the ferry departed, Ben and Marley gave us a good laugh as we waited in line to get on the massive ship. The rear portion of the Interislander was raised up into the air, as cars and trucks and motor homes made their way on board. Marley said “eat us ferry, eat us, nom nom nom!” and then Ben said, pretty randomly, “BELIEVE in the nom!” I’m telling you, there is something wrong with that child.
Once we got our car parked, we got our butts parked in some highly desired reclining seats on the 7th level of the ship in a so-called “quiet zone”. That was quickly shattered by a woman with a two-year old and her infant. The infant clearly couldn’t read as it cried for what seemed like an eternity. Marley and I escaped the cacophony and went up on the top deck, the 10th level, to take in the view as ship left the port of Wellington.
As the ferry turned out into the open sea between the two land masses, the wind picked up to the point where it was difficult the breathe, and my face was flapping in the wind like that famous clip of the pilot experiencing extreme G-forces from back in the 40s or whenever. Not wanting to get blown off the top deck, Marley and I retreated back inside and explored the ship a bit, while Annie and Ben nodded off thanks in part to the effects of the motion sickness medicine they had taken before we headed for the ferry.
About two hours into the voyage, the scenery surrounded us as the ship snaked its way through the islands on the north tip of the South Island. Dolphins swam by at one point on both sides of the ship, as passengers scurried to the windows and railings to catch a glimpse.
Shortly after that it was time to pull into the port of Picton and continue on southward by car toward the scenic west coast of the South Island. The drive in that direction featured even more stunning landscapes than we had seen on the North Island. The views went on for miles as we covered about 350 kilometers on a gray afternoon.
It reminded me of parts of the US Rocky Mountain region, but more accessible with broader valleys, with fields large enough for herds of sheep to have plenty of space to graze. Instead of hugging the contours of the mountains, the highway followed the bends in the Buller River, which cut a wide swath through the peaks and made for a very enjoyable drive.
When we got to Greymouth, the first city we hit on the west coast, the name of the town turned out to be very descriptive. It seemed to be cloaked in several shades of grey, and gave off the aura that you get when you’ve slept for a while with your mouth open. That made it easy to continue south on Highway Six, with the target now a town called Hokitika. On the drive through the mountains, Annie had scouted it out in a free guidebook that I picked up on the ferry, that gave brief descriptions of cities and accommodations along the way. We found a place called the Jade Motel that had some rooms big enough for a family of four, and also had two cats on the property. As a family missing their brood of a half dozen cats and a dog, that had a great deal of appeal.
Upon pulling into the parking lot and finding the office, we inquired about a vacancy. After some moderate-level negotiations, I managed to obtain a discount of a little more than ten percent and we made our way into the unit that featured a queen bed in the main living area and a bedroom with a pair of single beds. That suited the needs of a married couple with 11-year old twins, so we pulled up to our room in a driving rainstorm and hustled our luggage into the room. The possibility of a cat or two piqued our interest, and a check of the in-room information about the Jade Motel revealed that the name of the two cats on the property were Puddy-Cat and Abby. Puddy-Cat was a grey tabby with white boots and Abby was a black cat, just like our black cat back in Cincinnati. That brings to mind that we’ve been informed by our friend renting our house in Madiera that his 7-year old daughter has re-named five of the six members of our herd at home. Abby, our overweight black cat is now Bowling Ball, Romeo, the orange tabby is now Peanut Butter, Marvin, our well-fed tabby is Princess, Josie Rosie, our fluffy black cat is Smokey, Leon, the skinny tabby-white is Angel. Ellie, Annie’s personal feline is still Ellie, which is really the only name she could ever have.
A quick check of the grounds of the Jade Motel revealed that Puddy-Cat was hanging out across the parking lot near unit 8. We were in unit 10 and figured it had to be an upgrade from an inferior single-digit unit, and with the appropriate whistles and calls, Puddy-Cat responded to her name and scurried across the parking lot into our room.
It’s hard to say who was more delighted by this development. Puddy-Cat was out of the rain, being dried off by a warm towel provided by Marley, while we were all thrilled to have some kitty companionship for the first time since Fiji, about three weeks ago. Puddy-Cat settled in for the evening, spending the night purring away on the bed, happily snuggled in at what became, at least for the night, the Bangert Cattery. We hope to franchise it along the way.