As the capital of NZ, there is quite a bit to see and do in Wellington– half of which I still didn’t fit in. It’s known for quite a few things: art, music, and film; craft coffee brewing and roasting (yay!); the famous (and mostly free!) Te Papa museum as well as several other museums; a wide variety of NZ’s craft brews; nearly all water activities– sailing, in particular, as it’s pretty consistently windy there (it’s also known as “the windy city”; apparently it just funnels straight through the Cook Strait up into Wellington). With runners & cyclists galore, it’s also clearly a great place to be active.
Wellington sits right on the southern tip of the North Island, and from the higher areas of the city you can get some awesome views of the shoreline, surrounding peninsulas & a couple of small islands. My first morning there was also the first day of decent weather following a multi-day rain-spell, so by 9am I was off trekking straight up the hill to the top of Mt. Victoria to take advantage of the sunny & clear panoramic view (great exercise, too, might I add).
Situated amongst the shoreline, a maze of a neighborhood, and a couple of parks, there are a multitude of paths leading up to & around Mt. Vic; enough to potentially occupy (and lose) oneself for the majority of a day. I, however, was on a mission to cover most of the city in a short span of time, so I didn’t quite explore the parks as much as I would’ve liked (more for later!), but instead headed off to check out the highly-acclaimed coffee scene, the botanical gardens, and the downtown cable car (which, actually, was the least impressive tourist attraction; I believe it only takes you up 600m or so, and I found the views less striking than those from Mt Vic.). Though most of the flowers were out of season, there were still some pretty cool sculptures around the botanical gardens, one of particular interest was a giant funnel made from coiled copper tubing that, in theory, is supposed to focus all of the sounds from the city into its center (especially on windy days).
So… naturally, I tested it out.
Turns out it also acts like a gong, in case you were wondering.
As mentioned in the previous post, the Jazz Fest was going on the entire weekend, so I made it to at least one show each day I was there– and consequently found some pretty cool venues & pubs, such as Meow, Hotel Bristol, and Mighty Mighty. A few bands also played randomly along Cuba Street (a smaller version of Boulder’s Pearl Street, for my Colorado peeps), so that was fun both for people watching and just a guaranteed bit of entertainment between sight-seeing activities.
I stumbled upon a pretty sweet little craft coffee cafe which served all single-origin coffee in nearly any brew-method one could fancy (i.e., plunger, chemex, pour-over, siphon). I must say, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the consistently well-made coffee I’ve had while in NZ– not just limited to Wellington. Refreshingly, they don’t serve drip-coffee anywhere, nor do most even know what you are referring to if you ask about it; instead, long & short blacks, americanos, cappuccinos, lattes, & mochas are the main staples (goodbye floofy Starbucks drinks). Plungers (french presses) are standard in most homes, though I have also noticed a fair amount of instant coffee drinkers (but even the freeze-dried stuff tastes better than what I’ve previously tried back home… placebo effect??).
As far as being the “craft brew capital” of NZ, I didn’t particularly find Wellington to be so. There are only two breweries in the city, neither of which have licensed tasting rooms & are basically open just for rigger refills (basically two-liter plastic bottles) or by-the-bottle sales. The guys at the Garage Project Brewery were friendly enough to let us taste a bit of the only few brews they had left on tap, however. Still a small operation, their range is creative and brewed in small batches; once the tap is out, it’s gone for good. Kinda cool.
The Te Papa museum is one of the more popular attractions in Wellington. A massive six-story building, the museum hosts a wide variety of exhibits interactive & interesting enough to keep even the most ADD visitors– such as myself– engaged and keen to spend the greater part of a day there. Apparently, though, I did miss a really epic Andy Warhol exhibit… (Way to be cheap, Jenn! Fail). Some of the more interesting exhibits I did see (though I still haven’t covered them all) included: an extensive earthquake exhibit with a simulation house; another equally large volcano exhibit with pictures & artifacts from the most recent eruptions; a basketball-sized display of three different minerals which make up layers of the earth core that you can (attempt to) pick up and compare the weights between (quite heavy!). There was also an entire floor dedicated to Maori history & culture, which was quite interesting.
Not having seen hardly any of the North Island, I was off on a three-day mission in a hire car from Wellington up to Auckland, trying to fit in as much sight-seeing as possible. The west coast drive was gorgeous & much like the eastern coast of the South Island, with lush rolling hills plunging directly into a rocky border before meeting the sea.
First stop: Taupo, a town that sits on NZ’s largest freshwater lake created from a massive volcano crater.
Both Taupo & Rotorua (a city further north) are located inside a thermal volcanic region, which hosts many hot springs, thermal pools, and bubbling mud pools. I visited the Craters of the Moon area in Taupo and walked through an “active thermal area” full of steaming craters & bubbling mud. I was strongly cautioned about stepping off the walkways, as the area off the path was “unpredictable & potentially dangerous” (burns & such). Definitely interesting, but there are some more exciting thermal areas at which to stop between Taupo & Rotorua, such as Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. I didn’t go on that tour, but did stop at a pretty sweet mud pool (yay, free!). Time was kind of a constraint, but I’d definitely be keen to go back sometime and do a full tour.
Huka Falls is also a really impressive sight near Taupo and apparently one of NZ’s most visited natural attractions. A massive amount of water drains from Lake Taupo through a narrow section of the Waikato river (about 220,000 litres per second), creating an incredibly powerful–and loud– waterfall.
Rotorua is a city with tons of fun and hilariously entertaining ways of amusing yourself– or a great place to just enjoy watching others do so. Complete with a luge, a zorb (a massive plastic ball inside of another massive plastic ball that you roll down a hill in…. like a human-sized hamster ball), and other miscellaneous activities, it’s definitely a place for the adventure-seeker (so take a buddy because it’s less fun solo). Otherwise, there is a ton of Maori culture in the area; you can go to a traditional hangi feast & see a haka dance or you can visit the village in town where people continue to live today. Personally, I found the architecture & buildings to be pretty interesting, especially after learning a bit about the culture at the Te Papa museum in Wellington.
I stayed two days in Rotorua with Rich’s aunt, Mary (thank you again, if you’re reading this! I really had a blast getting to know you!), who graciously took me on a personal tour of the city. I didn’t even realize there was a Redwood forest so close and with so many other mountain bike trails…. apparently, the area is quite well-known for its mountain biking. On my second day there, I made a side-trip to see the famous glow worms in the Waitomo Caves. It’s only about a two-hour drive from Rotorua… but it took me more like three & a half… I took the scenic route (on purpose!) but got a bit lost. “Lost,” as in… ending up on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, listening to Mozart because it’s the only station that comes up on the radio, stopping quickly and randomly to snap photos of the gorgeous countryside, and finally pulling over to ask the only pedestrian for miles (who bore an ever-so-slight resemblance to Smigel) where the heck I was & how do I get to the caves?? (His response: “You don’t want to know, it’ll only stress you out & further confuse you.. just go all the way down the road til it T’s, then left and you’ll be back on the highway”). Right. Back on my merry way, and correct he was. Finally made it to Waitomo Caves and took the underground boat tour. And the glow worms were every bit as exciting as I hoped they would be (alas, no pictures allowed).
Took another scenic detour on my way back up north along the coast… on some more narrow winding, potholed dirt roads popping in and out of the forest… before making it to Raglan, a west-coast beach town known for great surfing and beautiful black sand. It’s a pretty sweet little town that obviously has quite a bit of character. Maybe I will go back another time & actually take surfing lessons. Unfortunately, my scenic detours had taken up more time than I’d planned for, so I only had about an hour’s worth of sunlight left to enjoy the town before heading back.
I took the direct route back to Rotorua…. and got stuck in Hamilton’s rush hour 😉