Alex & Julia attempt to explore the North Island!

On the last day or so of our bus trip, new friend Alex & I realized that we wanted to do more or less the same things on the North Island.  Rather than doing this alone, we of course decided to do a few days together, between Wellington & Auckland.  I was in charge of getting the rental car in Wellington & therefore driving, as she would actually be in a small town a couple of hours north of town with some old friends.  Now, Alex is English, and therefore well-versed on driving on the other side of the road, while I am (was) decidedly not.  However, she's been a Londoner for many years now, and therefore really hasn't driven at all lately.  Add that to the fact that we knew a rental starting in Wellington rather than some teeny place would be easier, and volia - I was in charge of the car and had to bite the bullet to drive.  I had some tense moments while reserving the rental, as apparently it was an incredibly busy weekend, and there were really hardly any cars available.  I apparently got one of the last ones available for a one-way rental out of Wellington.  PHEW. 

So, after my whirlwind tour of Windy Welly, I picked up the car at the friendly neighborhood Avis, and spent a fair amount of time trying to orientate myself to being on the right-hand side of the car.  It was SO STRANGE to reach for the gear shift with my left hand and the seat belt with the right, instead of vice-versa.  Luckily, navigating to the freeway to get out of town was fairly simple, so mostly I got to get used to being on the wrong side of the car and the road on a nice, wide, un-crowded freeway. Stressful, sure, but luckily no insane traffic or directions to add to my nerves.  The road slowly got smaller, and therefore slightly scarier as I was positive the cars hurtling down to my immediate right were going to clip me.  Either that, or I was going to run off the shoulder on the left.  Many deep breaths got me to the town for my designated meet-up with Alex, and after a few twists I found her.  Funnily enough, we were both so excited to see each other, even though it had only been a couple of days since we'd said farewell back in Picton.  After catching up what we'd each been up to, we focused on our route up to Napier (a coastal town famous for art deco architecture), which of course included a fairly harrowing trip through a dramatic canyon, with the ravine part being on our left, of course.  I terrified poor Alex a bit with my left-shoulder-hugging driving, but we survived. 

Once we'd finally relaxed and were nearing Napier, we were discussing the possibility of hitting up some wineries when BAM.  All of a sudden the ride got really loud, and the car started pulling to the left.  I pulled off onto the shoulder and sure enough - the front left tire had basically exploded.  We made a half-hearted attempt to find the spare & a jack, but honestly, it was a small but busy two-lane road 20km from anywhere, and it was hot, and there was just no way we were going to get that thing changed ourselves.  So sorry, but I'm just a smidge too wimpy for that.  We found an emergency number on the rental receipt, and luckily Alex had working NZ cell service, so soon enough they were sending a service on out to us, assuming we had accurately described where we were.  There was a single sign for a school that we could see, and the maps we had weren't all that detailed, but we did the best we could do and huddled off the road in the shade of some trees to wait. And boy did we wait.  After about an hour, we finally were rescued by the nicest tow-truck driver ever.  He quickly changed the ruined tire, re-assured us that it wasn't anything we'd done, and then gave us incredibly precise directions to the closest AVIS (fortunately for us, it was at the airport just past Napier).   

After a quick car swap at the cute little airport, we navigated ourselves into the center of town, which really is a cute little gem filled with art deco buildings.  Alex had chosen a cool, historical hotel right in the center of everything, though our room was hilariously un-renovated.  The bathroom was a picture of 70's plastic-chic - I wish I had thought to take a picture.  Speaking of, as we were getting ready to head out to start exploring town, Alex became frantic looking for her wallet & camera.  Now, She had already lost/forgotten things a time or two during our tour of the South Island, so I was giving her all kinds of crap, but after looking everywhere, we decided the missing stuff could only be in the old car.  So- off we went back to the airport, hoping & praying that we'd find the stuff AND that people would still be around to help us (it was nearing 5pm at this point).  Once again, we got incredibly lucky and there were still people around to open the car, which hadn't been touched yet, and Alex got her camera (including the thousands of pics she'd taken on her travels) and her wallet.  PHEW, again.

At this point, it had been a bit of a harrowing day for both of us, so rather than explore, we hit up the restaurant of our hotel for some drinks.  They were fabulous, and plus I finally had some of the famous green-lipped mussels.  YUMMY! 
One yummy martini turned into several glasses of wine, and soon enough we were a bit tipsy.  We wandered around a bit, but frankly, it's was a bit of a dead town as far as nightlife, and we were exhausted, so it was off to bed.  In the morning, feeling a bit worse for the wear, we made a half-hearted attempt to take a serious self-guided walking tour of all the cool architecture, but in the end we decided to hit the road in order to have extra time in our next stop: Rotorua.

Here are a few of the ok pics from Napier, but the beach was also quite lovely too!