Summer delights found at home

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 13:27 23/01/2013

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OPINION: What a relief it was to return home to summer.

The best part of a month's leave has included some travel, sandwiched between the highlights of being at home and basking in warmth.

Christmas was wonderful.

The discomfort of roasting a turkey while the temperature soared was eased by some seriously regressive activities with the big teens.

We toured the neighbourhood in a contraption that could only loosely be referred to as a vehicle, singing and waving to anyone who moved.

The wet-head toy was brought out of retirement. It's a helmet, filled with water, and people take turns at pulling out the spokes in a form of Russian roulette to see which one lets the water out.

And then we joined a small crowd, swimming off our local shingle beach in the somewhat maligned Manawatu River.

There have been summers when regular outings to paddle in the river were the norm, but it's hard to remember the time before last that we all got so thoroughly wet. No, we did not put our heads under, but despite that small inhibition, the experience was sheer luxury.

That was the start of my holiday.

And this is the end - and look at the conditions. Palmerston North is challenging to be the hottest spot in the country, and the river is looking flushed and fresh - you can actually see the bottom near the edges.

The city council has been making fine progress on the pathway from Sharon Place to Maxwells Line, encouraging more people to get close to the river, and the invitation has definitely been accepted.

The rest of the country, I have decided, I can take or leave.

There was a tentative dip in Lake Taupo on what turned out to be about the only good day the campers we were visiting had enjoyed during a 10-day stay.

And there was an encounter with the sea at Caroline Bay in Timaru, as we splashed among a considerable crowd enjoying a balmy afternoon. But earlier that morning, it was grey, cool and raining, and shortly afterwards a chill southerly blew through, and the next day was another drab one. I felt rather smug about grabbing that moment. There were no further opportunities for water play, nor need for sunscreen.

A drive up the South Island was climatically challenged.

Lunch was spent huddled inside a little out-of-the-way cafe watching the rain soak what might have been a charming outdoor courtyard. Stops at tourist traps involved dashes through the rain, while the rental car's temperature gauge told us it was 13 degrees Celsius and dropping.

It had been raining steadily for the best part of 24 hours by the time we made Hanmer Springs, but at least the thermal pools were still warm.

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The temperature plummeted further the next day as we made our way over the Lewis Pass and turned off toward Nelson, optimistic that the country's sunshine capital would provide ideal conditions for a summer getaway.

I've decided the city's reputation is built more on artistic flair and idiosyncrasy than anything real.

It is an appalling place to get into and out of by road. It's hard driving in either direction, and there were numerous washouts and repairs going on after heavier rain earlier in the month.

Given the difficult road access, most people fly in and out, using a flight path under which the locals have cunningly built most of the region's motels. "Quiet" accommodation is hard to find.

Tahunanui Beach is supposed to be a safe, natural family attraction.

But it was closed. There was sewage in the water, a result of some malfunction of stormwater and sewerage systems overloaded by rain earlier in the week.

The pleasure of dining at a wonderful cafe extending out over the water was diminished by the knowledge there could be poo floating underneath. I felt indignant that our own Manawatu River is so shunned and criticised when raw sewage is tolerated in an allegedly pure New Zealand tourist destination.

And then there's the weather.

Having deliberately chosen a motel with a swimming pool, my bathing things remained dry. There were intermittent deluges of rain, and my waterproof jacket turned out to be the most sensible item of clothing I had packed.

I was running seriously short of warm clothes for the ferry crossing. The swell was only light to moderate, and the wind was no more than bracing, but shorts and sandals were no match for the conditions.

I was well ready to get home and warm up.

The brief vacation was reminiscent of a previous year, when I turned my back on Palmerston North's hottest day in years to venture to Dunedin, where it was wet and 13C.

In future, I think I'll just stay at home and enjoy what we've got, and bank the change.

- Manawatu Standard

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