Tag Archives: Wellington

Kaikoura to Wellington

Saturday 8th November – Monday 10th November
Kaikoura to Wellington, New Zealand

Train journey, Kaikoura to Picton
On Saturday morning, we picked up the Coastal Pacific, travelling through to Picton in the north of the South Island.  The journey was stunning once more, and we we able to see some of the vineyards that New Zealand is rightly famous for.

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Ferry journey, Picton to Wellington
Saturday afternoon saw us on an Interislander ferry from Picton back to Wellington, on a journey that I (Joanna) am told was fairly calm – I cannot comment, as I was huddled below decks, studiously staring through the window at the horizon for the most part – I am a terrible sailor, which was not helped by the planned crew emergency drill that lasted for around an hour in the middle of the journey, culminating in a very bored “abandon ship, abandon ship” command from the captain…

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The first part of the journey takes you through calm blue waters, interspersed with beautiful green islands. You then leave the South Island to cross the Cook Strait, before heading into the harbour and towards Wellington. 

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Somewhat surprisingly, we didn’t actually travel north by any appreciable amount on our journey from the South to the North Island, as can be seen from the map below.

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Wellington Sky Show, Wellington Harbour
Another surprise on Saturday was discovering that Kiwis celebrate Guy Fawkes’ night, meaning that we were treated to an excellent pyrotechnic display in Wellington Harbour on Saturday evening.  As you may be able to hear from this video, the “oohs” and “aahs” that accompay fireworks are universal (although in fact, I think that the group standing behind us, who you can mainly hear, were actually British).

Walk to Mt Victoria lookout, Wellington
On Sunday we woke to a beautiful (and slightly less windy than usual) day in Wellington, so we took the opportunity to walk up Mount Victoria through a lovely park, to get 360 degree views of Wellington and its surrounding harbour/suburbs. Seeing the city in this context really gave a sense of the beautiful land and water that can the found in this part of the North Island.

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Another evening in Wellington also gave us an opportunity to return to The Email (see our previous post about Wellington) and find another restaurant to please our tastebuds. This time we went for Mexico which (unsurprisingly) served up some fantastic authentic Mexican food. Special mention is due for the dessert: fresh churros with xocolate sauce and crushed salted peanuts. 

Carter Observatory, Wellington
Monday was our last day in Wellington before heading back to see Doug, Julie, Sam and Joe for the evening. We had a couple of clear nights while on the South Island, but our knowledge of the Southern skies are limited (for which read: virtually non-existent). 

A trip on the Wellington Cable Car took us to Carter Observatory, where a visit to the planetarium gave us a crash course. A video about the search for life in space was followed by an excellent presentation by one of the Observatory’s astronomers about how to find your way around the Southern sky. It was slightly embarrassing that all the school children in our planetarium presentation knew more about the Southern Cross than we did, but at least we know now! 

Tradition of the day
The Carter Observatory also gave us a bit of background to some of the Maori myths and legends surrounding the night sky. We were particularly fascinated to learn about Matariki, known in the UK as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, and one of my (Simon’s) favourite things to look for in the night sky (it’s actually a cluster of young stars, so looks fantastic even through binoculars).

Matariki disappears below the horizon in the New Zealand night sky around the end of April/beginning of May each year. It reappears about four weeks later in the eastern dawn sky, just before the sun. This usually marks the end of the old year, and is a time of reflection. 

The next new moon after this occurs is the start of te Whetu o te tau, the Mauri New Year (around the time of the shortest day in the southern hemisphere). Celebrations vary, but often involve rising before dawn to greet Matariki rising, songs, and eating kumara (a sweet potato) cooked in embers. It also represents the time to start preparing for the planting of new crops.

Wonderful, Windy Wellington

Wednesday 29 October – Saturday 1 November
Wellington, North Island, New Zealand

Wellington has two nicknames: “Windy Wellington” and “The Coolest Little Capital in the World”, and the reasoning behind both was very much in evidence during our visit!

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Having briefly toured the city with Doug on Tuesday, we had a pretty good idea about what to expect. In addition, we had the huge advantage of having received an email from Simon’s colleague, Jenni, who is a Kiwi with family still in Wellington. She asked her partner’s sister, who is apparently something of a foodie, for some restaurant recommendations for us, and boy, did she do us proud! We had some amazing meals during our time in the city, so please forgive me if this post is mainly about food…!

Ombra, Cuba Street
We caught a train from Doug’s place into Wellington on Wednesday evening, and, after checking in at our hotel, visited Ombra restaurant on Cuba Street, which is the city’s main destination for food and bars. The theme here was cicchetti (which is apparently Venetian tapas) and we shared a fantastic meal including broccoli and ricotta fritters, a rocket and pear salad and three (count ’em!) desserts between the two of us. We loved the menu here so much that we had to resist coming back another night, but we thought that we should trust in The Email (as we had come to know Jenni’s sister-in-law’s recommendations) and try some more places – and we were delighted that we did!

Sculpture Walk and Havana restaurant
The weather on Thursday was lovely, as you can see from the hotel room view that we woke to (below), so after a wonderful breakfast/brunch at Ti Kouka (thank you, Email!), we explored some of the “sculpture walk” around the harbour area.

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The photo below is from an installation dedicated to the memory of the New Zealand men who went off to fight in the First World War. 10,000 of them left New Zealand just over a century ago – in fact, Saturday 1 November was the 100th anniversary of the date on which they, along with the Australian troops who were also part of the ANZAC expeditionary force, left the Australian port of Albany, bound for Gallipolli and, later, the Western Front. In total, 100,000 Kiwi men fought in the First World War, which is incredible, given that the population of the country at the time was only around 1 million.

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On Thursday evening, we indulged in tapas once again, this time with a modern Spanish theme. Havana is a very cool bar and restaurant where we tucked into delicious food including Moroccan-inspired lamb and chickpeas and a fantastic salad of lentils, smoked beetroot and goat’s cheese.

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Sightseeing and Floridita’s
Friday was a somewhat busier day, as we had a lot of sightseeing to fit into our last day in Wellington!

We started with a tour of the Parliament buildings, which was very interesting. The round building, known as the Beehive, houses the executive functions, the NZ parliament sits next door, and the final building is the parliamentary library.

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The two older buildings had work done on them in the early 1990s, to retro-fit them with earthquake protection, using base isolation technology developed here in New Zealand.  Three hundred cylindrical rubber and steel “shock absorbers” (known as bearings) were installed under the buildings and then engineers cut away a horizontal section of the original foundations, so that the buildings now sit solely on the bearings.  In the event of a ‘quake, the bearings should allow for 30cm movement in any horizontal direction, without the building above being shaken too much.

A number of the traditional aspects of the Westminster parliament on which it is based remain, including such anachronisms as Black Rod and 2pm – 10pm sitting times, but NZ does have a history of being somewhat more progressive than its mother country: in 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote and there is no appointed upper house (the Kiwis abolished it in 1950 because it was undemocratic).

The other participants on our tour were mainly from France, Germany and Brazil, which meant that we did not get a chance to discuss one of the burning issues of the day with any locals: that morning, we had seen a newspaper article explaining that it is likely that New Zealand will vote next year on whether to change its flag. Currently, the flag consists of a dark blue background with the Union Flag in the upper left corner and four stars (representing the Southern Cross constellation) on the right – which may surprise rugby fans, who would be forgiven for believing that the flag is black with a silver fern! Various ideas are under consideration, including the simple removal of the Union Flag.

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During the afternoon, we visited Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, where I was particularly interested to learn more about how the Maori people had come here from various Pacific Islands some time between AD1000 and AD1200.

We also saw a brand new display (only opened on the day that we visited) about Shrek the sheep, who apparently became quite famous  here in NZ a few years ago.  He was a merino sheep who escaped the “muster” several years running by hiding out in the mountains, living in a cave despite the freezing conditions.  By the time he was eventually captured and sheared, he looked more like a cauliflower than a sheep!  He then became something of a celebrity, travelling around the world raising money for sick children (although he didn’t like to talk about his charity work, according to the display…).  Shrek sadly passed away in 2011, by which time he had retired to a luxury shed, but he has now been stuffed so that he can be kept at Te Papa for posterity.

On Friday evening, we tried out one final recommendation from the Email, Floridita’s, which was, predictably, excellent. Wellington is definitely a foodie’s paradise!

Final impressions, Wellington
Everything about Wellington is cool, even the airport that we departed from. In addition to the amazing displays based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (below), the airport sign facing out onto the runway did not say “Wellington” but instead read “The Middle of Middle Earth”!

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Video of the day
In honour of our tour of the Parliament buildings (and also because it is one of our favourite YouTube videos of all time), this is the public gallery breaking into a Maori love song after the NZ parliament voted in 2013 to make gay marriage legal:

A ‘Peace’ of heaven in New Zealand

Sunday 26th October – Wednesday 29th October
Manakau, North Island, New Zealand

We arrived in Wellington airport very late at night, where we were met by our friend Doug (whose surname is Peace, in case you were wondering about the strange title for this post). We have known Doug for twenty years (he was the best man at our wedding too) and two years ago he moved to New Zealand. Since moving out here with his fiancee Julie and three month old Sam he’s got married, bought a house and added baby Joe to the family.

There was lots of catching up to do!

The family live near Manakau, about an hour out of Wellington.

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They have enough land for some cows and a couple of lambs (I was still standing on their land when I took this picture of the house!) and have a fantastic view of the countryside, with the sea in the distance. The house itself used to be the old stationmaster’s residence from Otaki, a few miles away, before it was moved to its current location. Apparently it’s quite common for New Zealand’s wooden houses to be picked up and moved on the back of a truck!

Foxton Spring Fair
On Sunday we visited nearby Foxton for a local fair, with local crafts, food and music.

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We were particularly impressed by an incredibly energetic performance of Japanese drumming.

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Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre
Monday was a bank holiday in New Zealand so – of course – it was wet and windy. We decided to take a trip to Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre, which gave us a fantastic close up view of some of New Zealand’s most famous and beautiful birds. Before settlers arrived in New Zealand there were only two species of mammals on the islands, which meant that a number of birds had evolved to behave much more like mammals in other parts of the world. Kiwis are a classic example – as well as being flightless, kiwis live in burrows and are nocturnal. Pukaha has a very rare white kiwi called Manukura, which became such a star that it even has its own Facebook page!

We also loved a beautiful bird called the Kokako and several Kaka, who are wild but still come back each day to be fed.

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Day out in Wellington
Doug had the day off on Tuesday, so the three of us took the train into Wellington for our first view of the city. The journey itself was beautiful, taking us along the coast (the island in the distance here was used in filming for Peter Jackson’s King Kong movie).

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A particular highlight of our day was a trip on the Wellington Cable Car, which opened in 1902. It starts in the city centre and finishes 120 metres up at Kelburn Lookout, providing beautiful views of the city and its harbour.

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We then walked through the Wellington Botanic Gardens back down the hill. A taste of a truly beautiful city.

Waikawa Beach
Wednesday was our last day in Manakau, so we took a drive to the nearest beach for a walk. Cars are allowed on the beach, so parking was quite easy…

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We finished with a lovely lunch at a cafe in Otaki.

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All in all, it was a really fantastic few days – great to catch up with old friends and to meet the rest of the family. It was also the perfect start to our visit to New Zealand.

Quote of the day
“Can you play trains?!”
Sam, Doug and Julie’s eldest, is a big fan of trains, and especially Thomas the Tank Engine – I’m sure he’d love our trip!

Fact of the day
New Zealand has three official languages: English, Maori and New Zealand sign language.