Wellington, New Zealand (16th Mar 2008)
Nelson to Wellington via Picton
Driver: KaraDistance Travelled: 167.8 + 103 Km / 104.3 + 64.0 Miles
Accumulative Distance: 3367.5 Km / 2092.9 Miles
Our final day on the south island started relatively late since we didn't really need to rush for the ferry, which was leaving Picton in the early afternoon (2pm) and we hadn't planned on stopping to do or see anything on the way. Although we only had to drive a hundred or so kilometres to get us to Picton, we thought it was best we didn't just lie in bed all day, so shortly after 10am we got up and made a move. The drive to Picton was a real mixed bag of sights, mountains, rolling hills, rivers, lakes, cows, sheep and of course 1000 more dead rabbits and possums all over the road. One of the things that we found strange that was on the way we passed a huge amount of dry rivers and lakes that had dried up and it wasn't until we got a radio station, Farm FM, that we understood why. Apparently NZ has had the two worst years of back to back droughts on record and were all facing bankruptcy and having to give cows and horses away to stay afloat… Most of the drive was quite leisurely and we spent most of the time on long straight roads, except for one, painful, 15Km section of winding roads; we ended up getting stuck behind the Tour de New Zealand who were happily gliding along at a casual 40K's and we had no opportunity to pass them.
Getting to Picton was no real surprise, and the town was based around one main street, which catered pretty well for the people who are passing through and catching the ferry. We grabbed some lunch and killed a bit of time in an internet café, where we booked our hostel in Hawaii which unusually worked out cheaper for us to get a double room, rather than share a dormitory, which we thought was a real bonus. When the time finally arrived for us to get on the boat, we made our way to the terminal, where Kara was really nervous about driving the van onto the boat, but when it came to actually doing it, there were no dramas and we got packed in like sardines by the staff, it was literally bumper to bumper. The ferry across sails through some beautiful locations, down Sounds and into and out of picturesque harbours, not that we noticed as we made a beeline for the film area and set up the laptop and camera batteries to charge up and plus in our defence we have seen all of the best sounds on our trip to Milford.
Our boat was due to make it in at 5.30pm, but as is our luck, it was nearly an hour late, so as soon as we arrived, we got out the maps and looked for our fastest way out of the city centre so we could find somewhere camp for the night as it was too late to do anything by this time. Luckily even though we were in the capital city, only a few Km's out of town we managed to find a great little spot right on the side of the bay, which looked back over to the city, it was perfect, great views, free and even had a public toilet just opposite. We were pretty hungry by the time we parked up, so we made some quick tea and then we had had enough of travelling for the day so we set up the back and went to bed.
Wellington, the nation's capital and our first stop in the North Island and we have got to say we were both pretty sad to have left the south island having had some good times there (except for the odd spot of rain) and especially because everyone we spoke to before setting off said that the north island wasn't as good as the south, so already our trip appeared to be on a downwards slope? That said we both really liked Wellington straight away and it is probably the best or a close second to Dunedin for our favourite city so far in NZ.
The first thing you notice about Wellington is that it is in fact a real city, by that we mean that it isn't one of the tin pot little towns with a population of 25 people, all with the same name and haircuts (nothing like a bit of cheap stereotyping is there) which passes for a city in NZ. In fact it seems so much more of a city than Christchurch which is only a bit smaller in terms of population. There is a definite buzz about Wellington and people seem to be going places and doing things instead of just ambling along in a world of their own. Oh and the second thing you notice is that there is no statue of the Duke of Wellington after whom I assume the place was named or a statue of a Wellington Boot which I think would look great in the harbour and would be New Zealand's answer to the Sydney Opera House. Finally, Wellington is known as windy Wellington and it definitely lived up to its name, not cold but just very windy.
Speaking of Sydney the harbour in Wellington is reminiscent of Sydney but without the bridge and opera house. The sun was shining when we arrived which always makes a place look better but nevertheless it was impressive with the sun glinting off the water and a mass of boats moored just off dry land. Probably best to ignore the industrial bit where the ferry's dock as it's bit ugly. There are loads of bars and restaurants along the shore which we didn't actually stop in but they all looked really nice as we walked past! Sharing the harbour walkway with us was a parade of cyclists, joggers and roller-bladers all looking sickeningly fit and athletic.
The first thing we had planned was to pick up one offree, daily, one-hour guided tours of Parliament which we could go on, our started promptly on the hour (11am) at the Visitor Centre in the foyer of the Beehive (Executive Wing). We had arrived 20 minutes early because we knew that you would have to go through all the security scanners etc and they say to be there early so you can watch the introductory DVD too. It was an excellent tour, taking us through the council chambers, the parliament library and House of Representatives; the furnishings are fantastic to see, most of which have had to be rebuilt due to a huge fire some with immense Maori carvings and large sails depicting the realistic and mythical history of NZ which gave it a bit of a twist and made things seem a little less formal. We got taken into the basement of one of the buildings and were shown how they have engineered the building to be earthquake proof up to 7.5 on the Richter scale, because the building is only 400M for a major fault line. It was quite impressive and we were shown a DVD of the building process and a simulation of how the so called, shock absorbers worked to stop the building feeling any movement, as they have separated the original foundations from the building and placed in 417 of the shock absorbers which now hold the 19th century building up. Back on the main floor and we were shown intone of the eleven separate meeting rooms in which they discuss different issues, i.e. a foreign affairs room, security, economy… we got taken into the Maori Issues room, which is the most decorative and is obviously covered in Maori art; we were invited to take a seat on the head table and we got to sit the two most senior representatives chairs right at the head of the table! As the guide took us through the rest of the buildings we also learned quite a lot about the NZ parliamentary processes which are totally different to our and Mark decided that it was a stupid way of doing things, for example at present they had a coalition government made up of four parties, how can that work?
Following the Parliament tour we had a short walk around the city to get our bearings and as we were walking around Wellington we both thought that it was a really nice city but didn't think it was anything spectacular compared to some places we have been, however it probably would be the only in city in NZ (so far) that we think we would be able to live in.
Second on our agenda for the day was to catch the cable car up to the botanic gardens which are amazing, it's hard to believe you are slap bang in the city centre. From the top of the hill we got some great views of the city and harbour area; from the top of the hill you can walk back down to the city, so we then we strolled through the different gardens looking at the huge variety of plants and sculptures by famous artists such as Henry Moore and then we spent about 20 minutes relaxing halfway down in the amazing rose garden with a lemon ice lolly each. By this time we were a bit lost we checked the map and realized that we had only managed to get half way down and were closer to getting the cable car back down than we would be to kept walking, and by now the midday sun was out and getting pretty intense so we opted for the easy option and walked back to the start to catch the cable car down to the city. Wellington seemed to be full of sporty people and good sporting facilities; it was really quite annoying as we wheezed our way up a short hill around the gardens when a group of old ladies sprinted past us. There were so many joggers and people on bikes in and around the botanic gardens it was unbelievable; there must have been literally 10 every minute and they left us feeling quite lazy as walking is the closest we get to exercising at the moment. On the way back up we saw what was possibly the biggest tree stump in the world, it was massive 8 foot in diameter easy, and it was down a steep hill behind a fence, which Mark of course had to climb (fall and slide) down to get a closer look at.
The afternoon was spent in Te Papa museum (NZ national museum) which is a massive museum built on the banks of the harbour around the turn of the millennium; it is in a stylishly modern building and we were really impressed with how interesting, modern and innovative the whole site was. Inside everything is designed to be easy to understand and contains loads of stuff about the history of New Zealand from how the Maoris got there through to the English arriving and causing problems and right through to now - when Mark and Kara turned up (a future exhibit no doubt). We strolled around most of the different sections, finding the natural history part the most interesting; there is an exhibit about the many earthquakes that strike the country including approximately one a month hitting Wellington in which you can stand in a house and experience what it was like the day the last big one struck in 1931 in Napier and levelled the city. They, like, most of the other museums we have been to, had a whole range of skeletons hanging from beams and between the levels, with a full whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling was amazing it was absolutely massive! All in all it was great but there was just so much to see and we left feeling mentally and physically drained (it's spread over 6 floors) before we saw it all.
Conveniently, just outside Te Papa in the harbour area we found the Mac's Brewery bar and restaurant which was a former harbour shed that has now been converted into a Über trendy brewery come bar with serves all the different flavours of one of NZ other biggest brewers. Mark had the Rock Hopper and Kara the Great White, both which were really nice and cheap since it was only coming from the actually brewery itself which sat behind the big glass screen which made up the back wall.
After our beers we walked into the Civic Square which has a huge suspended sphere of metal silver fern leaves hanging above it as a symbol of NZ heritage, but since by now it was closing time for most of the shops and attractions we casually headed back in the general direction of the van along the main road towards the Westpac Stadium where we had parked! The night was spent in pretty much the same way to every other we have had in the van so far, park, eat, and sleep!