Friday, December 14, 2007

Mousetrap Backpackers, Paihia, NZ

The excitement in Napier is that back in the 1930’s it crumbled to the ground thanks to a giant earthquake. A bunch of money later the town (city?) was rebuilt in major art deco fashion.


The problem is that since most of the pertinent buildings are in the center of the business district, and most of them are two stories high, the storefronts have been ruined by becoming, well, modern storefronts.


So to get a sense of the way things were you have to keep your eyes up. It’s very touristy.

Like Oamaru, Napier seems stuck on the fact that their home is embodies a time period, and just hasn’t moved on from there. There are plenty of costume and antique shops where you can pick up classic clothing.


It made me covet a wool cloche hat something fierce.


Unlike Oamaru, people in Napier don’t walk around in period costume, but I like to think that they get together once a month and have a Roaring 40’s party, complete with Charleston dancing and cigarettes in long holders. There can’t be enough of a market for antique and costume shops otherwise, can there? Surely not.


One shop was even selling those spangly headbands with feathers on the side like flappers used to wear, and oh I wanted one! Never mind that I would never actually get up the courage to wear it, or that I could even necessarily get it home in one piece, I just wanted it. It didn’t matter.

I did manage to abstain, though. Because that's fun.

Another thing about New Zealand is that there have been a number of very large sculptures made from corrugated tin. I don’t know if this is a cultural thing or what, but it surprises me every time.


And I saw a guy bathing his dog in a fountain. Apparently the dog had found something rather smelly to roll in.


The real excitement about Napier, however, is something that most people don’t think to do. It’s in the Lonely Planet, but when I mentioned it to people they said that if they’d heard of it it’d never occurred to them to go.

It’s the Penguin Recovery Workshop at Marineland. It might sound a little boring in that educational kind of way (or educational in that boring kind of way), but it was fantastic. Marineland is part rehabilitation center for marine wildlife, part Sea World, but much smaller. Injured marine life is brought to them, and if they can rehabilitate and release, they do, but if the animal can be rehabilitated and can’t be returned to the wild then they keep them at Marineland where they either hang out in their pens (getting fresh sea water, which is filtered through the sea floor and pumped into their pools) or they get trained and put on performances.


The penguins don’t perform. I don’t think it’s their “thing,” regardless of what Mr. Popper would have you believe.


So. I was the only person doing the tour that day, and was met by two penguin wranglers who looked to be about sixteen, which made me feel old and weird, but whatever. They took me into the kitchen and showed me the various kinds of fish that all the animals get, pointing out which were the “McDonald’s” fish, which the penguins loved but if they got too much of it they wouldn’t eat anything else and would, of course, get fat. And perhaps make a documentary about it, I don’t know.


They grabbed a bucket of fish slices and invited me into the first penguin area. This is Twiggy:


Twiggy would hang around for the food.


I was told who each penguin was, and why he or she was there (one has a hunchback, one has a cricked neck). They weren’t terribly interested in coming over for food (they’re very shy, you see), but I got to feed one or two, and watch as they got tossed in the water to get some exercise.

Then we walked over to say hi to the gannets. They only have a few that belong at Marineland, and a bunch fly in and stay for the posh life.


They said something about this black one, but – heh – I don’t remember what it was, aside from the fact that it was a fair bit older than most, and also is very pretty.


We hopped into penguin enclosure number two, where there was another set of penguins waiting for food. Well, not really “waiting,” since they never got the nerve to come over to me on their own, but they ate when they were wrangled to my feet for a snack.

It's important to read signs

It’s important to read signs, you know.

This is Draco.

Me & Draco

Named, indeed, for the Harry Potter villain because he’s not so thrilled about being held, and has a tendency to poo on people. It was okay; I was thrilled enough for both of us. I fed him some fish, and he routinely mistook my fingers for food.

Draco eating my finger

That’s right, I’ve been nibbled by a penguin. It was awesome. AND he didn’t poo on me, so that’s pretty good too.

The next stop on the tour was the very incapacitated penguin pen. This held one penguin with a flipper missing, one with a flipper AND an eye missing, and Gonzo, who was without a lower beak, thanks to some errant fishing line. He really did look like Gonzo from the muppets.


They’d never make it in the wild, but they were doing just fine at Marineland. Gonzo took a while, but finally learned how to eat, by hooking his beak over someone’s finger and gulping down the fish offered with the other hand.

See how the pool behind me is round? Know why? It’s for the penguins with one flipper. Because they swim in circles. That made me laugh far more than is polite. And then the penguin pooed on me. I guess he didn’t think it was so funny.

I got to meet the quarantined penguins as well, and then wander the park. The animals there are hilarious. From hearing-impaired seals lazing about,


to seals with itchy noses,

Itchy itchy

to the princess seal who whines until she gets what she wants.


When the show started one of the seals would hang out by the door, watch the dolphins and seals perform, and bray. I’m not sure if it was jealousy or protest.

She was watching the show

Speaking of jealousy, I don’t think I wanted to work with animals more than when I saw this:


She’s a trainer and was great with them, showing how the huge male sea lions could talk, answer questions (pointing down was shaking their head no, pointing up was nodding), and do flips. I talked to her for while, and realized that if I was going to find myself stuck in anywhere in New Zealand it just might be there.

The reason I surely wouldn’t stay in Napier is that on Sundays the church bells start ringing at nine am and go on for a half hour. I would go some kinds of crazy.

Another charmer at Napier’s Marineland was a cockatoo who may actually just have a day cage there (a woman came by and took him away after a while). I was watching him and whistling, making due note of the “Bobby bites sometimes!” warning in the cage, when Bobby came over and said hello.

“Hi!,” I replied.

“Give us a scratch?” he said, cocking his head. “Oh ho ho ho,” I laughed, and braved that very large beak that parrots are wont to have, and skritched his neck. He tucked his head down and lifted some of his feathers to give me better access. Birds have very soft skin, I’ll have you know.

Some women saw me with my hands in the cage and came over. Bobby saw them and walked over. “Give us a scratch?” he charmed, offering his neck.

I’m in love with that bird.

Later I saw the women who had led me around take the quarantined penguins out for their daily exercise. There’s a waist-high pool in the middle of the walkway, filled with fish, and the penguins get tossed in one at a time. When they get to the edge they’re put right back into the middle again. After a few minutes they’re pulled out and toweled off gently, then put back into their pens.

My hostel, the Criterion Art Deco Backpackers, was mediocre. The living room looked rather spectacular, with very high ceilings, stylish (well, by 1930’s-1940’s standards) fireplaces, and pool table. My bedroom was small and packed tight with two bunk beds. Luckily enough I was the only one in there. I don’t know where anyone else would’ve put their luggage. I only stayed one night, and for the life of me now can’t remember why. I moved to Wally’s Backpackers, which may or may not have been a good idea.

Me & Draco

It had just been purchased not a month before I showed up, and some of the transitions were a little sticky yet. Even so, for a supposedly established place it seemed pretty devoid of decoration. And it needed new carpeting something fierce. Oop, apparently it just opened it 2003. I wouldn’t have guessed that.

I didn’t get a great feeling from the owner, but that may have just been a reaction to his constant socks-and-sandals fashion abomination. Lonely Planet calls it “slick urban hostelling.” Clearly our definitions differ.

1 comment:

grace said...

Melting. from. penguin. cuteness!!!!!!

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