Saturday, 8 October 2011

Takaka, home of the hippies and bad 3G connection

Telegraph Hotel. Or... the saloon.
Our final stop after leaving Motueka was Takaka, Golden Bay's largest settlement. Golden Bay/Takaka Valley is in the north-westernmost part of New Zealand's South Island and so far one of the most beautiful places I've seen.

The town's first impressions weren't what'd call good (Dominik went a bit further, saying that the town emanates strange vibrations) and we really didn't feel at ease after our arrival. Maybe it was due to the frequent hopping in and out of civilisation over the previous weeks (lively Nelson, then a week of utter isolation in Abel Tasman, followed by Motueka and by peering into a deep black hole in the middle of an elven forest, and finally Takaka - a sleepy hollow that could have dropped out of a Western movie.


Wild West of New Zealand?
Wild West towns is exactly what Takaka minds me of. The most characteristic building - the Telegraph Hotel - is a flawless copy of a saloon, and the one main street stretching through town is littered by old fashioned wooden houses you'd recognise in any western film. Not to mention the bank, a solid 1800's-style building with columns and everything. The only step from perfection is a prison and the sheriff sleeping on the porch with a shotgun in his lap.

Brighter morning, aka First and second impressions
Luckily, our negative first impressions couldn't have been farther from reality, as we found out the next morning. The blame probably falls on the campsite owner, a slow-witted redneck with a dodgy look, and unfortunately the first person we interacted with... before we went to the supermarket just before closing time... When I was laying in my tent later that evening, thoughts about Texas Chainsaw Massacre and similar B movies were crossing my mind...

Anyway, everything's brighter in the morning, or so the saying goes, and that's definitely true for Takaka. The town is actually a pretty little place with a laid back pace, plenty of little cafés and shops selling arts and crafts the local hippie community makes when they're not too busy with tourists.

Hippies with H.A.N.D.S.
The local hippie/artistic community is quite renowned and is one of Golden Bay's inherent characteristics. There are plenty of liberally oriented people with a hunch for arts and you can see all over town, recognisable by nice colourful clothes, long beards or cowboy outfits, all typical for this little community. They even have their own currency, called H.A.N.D.S. - How About a Non Dollar System - that you can use at the local market. One hand is worth one New Zealand dollar and if you join their community, you apparently get 500 Hands for free. Not bad, I wonder if they sell beer at the market.

Fancy a bit of culture? Go to the library
Like everywhere in New Zealand, there's a very nice modern library in Takaka. Libraries are one of NZ's strong points, the government must have invested lots of money in them, and you'll find one in every town, even in the most forgotten Armpit of the Butthole in The Middle of Nowhere. They're not the dark, ancient-looking libraries, though, and there's no threateningly looking old hag with the "be silent or I'll whip you" look. Quite the opposite - they're bright and lively places with a positive atmosphere, where people come to meet with friends, or simply to read a newspaper or relax with a good book on a soft comfy couch. The biggest attraction for backpackers is of course free internet.

Internet struggles, thumbs down for Vodafone
Internet, though, stressed me out for two days. I'm using mobile broadband from Vodafone with a monthly 4GB bundle and usually I got plenty of data left at the end of the month, so I just pop online and download something bigger. Unfortunately, 3G coverage is close to non-existent in Takaka.

I think there's only one cell, perhaps a few hundred metres wide, and the campsite I stayed at the first night is right in the middle of it. The library across town, however, is far out of reach and all you can get there is 5kb/s GPRS. Same thing at the Kiwiana hostel I'm staying at right now. Luckily, after half an hour of desperate searching I discovered that my bed, or rather, one corner of it, is exactly on the 3G cell's boundary. If I sit in one position without moving, I can connect with decent speed, so you don't get my unused data back Vodafone, yeah!

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