Our last stop on the north island was the capital of New Zealand: Wellington. Even though Auckland is much bigger, Wellington was selected because is is much closer to the south island. We arrived there after a 3 hour bus journey from Palmerston North. Our plan was to couchsurf and all had fallen apart on the day of our arrival when our host did not feel well. Luckily, we had a back up plan and booked a hostel in the centre instead. The worst bit of our journey that day was carrying all our belongings (by now about 35kg between us) nearly 3km to the hostel. It was our first hostel in NZ and our first dorm room since Canberra. Thankfully the hostel was good and our roommates quiet.
The penguins have taken over this boat
With only an afternoon and one full day in the capital, we headed out immediately. The most obvious thing about Wellington is that it is full to the brim with bars, clubs, restaurants from countless countries as well as boutique shops. Our farm couchsurfing host described it as a shoppers paradise and they were bang on. The bars and Irish pubs as well as some restaurants are there for the backpackers, but the majority of the businesses cater for the better heeled tourist. The city certainly has a strong local beer scene and even we could and did not want to miss out. We ended up in a restaurant/bar in an old warehouse in the harbour which was pretty nice and the beer tasted really good. Not far away, we noticed two shipping containers in the pedestrian zone and were surprised to learn that one of them was a mobile sauna, with the second housing changing rooms and the office.
Part of Wellingtons harbour side
The next day we had some time to get ready because our main attraction of the day did not open until 10am. Te Papa, the National Museum sits in a huge six-floor building right next to the leisure boat harbour. Te Papa has a multitude of exhibitions, ranging from modern art to military and Maori art. After not spending too much time with the modernist exhibitions we focussed on the traditional Maori section. It was similar to the Auckland museum which we had seen on our first day in the country, but with the added bonus of being free (all of Te Papa is free, apart from special exhibitions). This floor featured a huge variety of jade, bone and wood carvings, objects of daily life and some reconstructed buildings. Unlike the museum further north, in Te Papa they focussed more on stories i.e. telling and explaining Maori legends or stories of people which made everything a lot more accessible and understandable. When we were exploring the ‘Fire and Earth’ section about the creation and development of the islands until the present day, a siren sounded and voice told us to evacuate the building. After learning that an earthquake warning had been issiued two days earlier that was clearly on our mind as we proceeded to the plaza outside. The atmosphere was very relaxed though. Nothing else happened and about 15-20min later we were allowed back inside. After the mandatory visit to the museum shop we collected our bag and lunched in the warm and bright spring sun.
The botanical garden is another sight that is quite rightly high on many visitors lists. It is located on the big hill in the city which proved to be quite a climb. Fortunately there is also a cable car ($7/person), but we were happy walking. We did however stop at the top station to admire the scenic views across the town and bay. Most parts of the gardens are covered with grassy fields and various types of forest, but there is also a very nice rocky garden, a rose garden and a herb garden. While we visited at the right time to see all the sprouting trees and lots of blossoming flowers, but, we were too early for any of the roses. It is a tranquil and pretty area to spend a few hours in and we did not feel like we were in a city at all.
View from the top of the cabel car station
On our way back to the hostel we could not help ourselves and had to stop at the ‘Kaffee Eis’. Their ice cream was delicious and very good value for money.
Spring is in full swing
After another good nights sleep we had to get up early to catch our ferry to the south island. We booked the trip with Interislander and (very conveniently) they offer a free shuttle bus from the train station to the ferry terminal 50min before departure. It is only a short ride and we had plenty of time to check in and board the vessel. Considering how windy the previous two afternoons had been and how often the ferry has to cancel because of the sea conditions, our crossing was a dream. It was windy, but the waves were small and we were treated to amazing views; especially in the Queen Charlotte Sound. We got the impression that morning sailings tend to be better as the wind and waves build up during the day. Our ship took about one of the three and a half hours to travel through the sound at the south island and sometimes we were a bit close to the hills, but this made only for even better views.
Watch out for the sharks!