Wellington is New Zealand's capital city, but only the third largest in the country, behind Auckland and Christchurch. We arrived in the morning and luckily could check in early to our Airbnb. It was in the middle of town a few blocks from Cuba Street and the harbor. We grabbed a quick breakfast then went to the Te Papa museum. One of the best things about New Zealand is that the museums, parks, and gardens are all FREE! The museum was really interesting with exhibits on the formation of New Zealand, earthquakes and volcanoes, wildlife, immigration and a special exhibit on New Zealand's role in the WW1 battle at Gallipoli where they lost 2779 soldiers. It was an important battle in New Zealand's history that created a national identity apart from Great Britain and influenced their involvement in future wars. ANZAC Day, a day to remember all Australians and New Zealanders that served and died, also takes place on the anniversary of troops landing in Gallipoli, April 25th.
After the museum, we went on the Weta Cave tour. Weta is a special effects and props company founded by Richard Taylor and Peter Jackson. They make movie props, sets, costumes, models, and have a digital production team to work on visual effects. While on the tour we saw the guns used in District 9, swords and armor used in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, models of King Kong, and more. It was our first time seeing what goes into making a movie, and we were impressed! It brought out the imaginative little kids inside of us. The talents at the Weta Workshop also contribute to sculptures around town and donate works to their community, including incredible displays at the Te Papa museum. (Wetas are a big bug native to NZ by the way!)
After the tour, we grabbed dinner at the Saturday Night Market on Cuba Street before heading to a pub to watch a rugby game between Wellington and Christchurch. Unfortunately, the game was in Christchurch so we couldn't go to it, but the pubs were all packed with people watching the game so we could still get a feel for how much they love rugby here!
The next morning, we went to the Harbourside Market. One part of it is a huge farmers market with all sorts of produce, then the other half is full of food trucks. After grabbing some breakfast and coffee we walked up to Mount Victoria. It's on the edge of town and has a ton of walking trails and mountain biking paths. At the top is an overlook where you can see all of Wellington, the harbor, Hutt Valley across the harbor, and Miramar Peninsula. Wellington is known as the Windy City of NZ, but we hit it on a gorgeous day that had low wind and tons of people were out enjoying the weather. Wellington reminded us a bit of San Francisco, but on a smaller scale. Mount Victoria was used to film parts of Lord of the Rings so on the way back down to town we stopped where they shot the scene when Frodo and the Hobbits get off the road and hide under the tree root. We then walked across town to take the cable car up to the top of botanical gardens. The cable car only takes about 6 minutes to get to the top but rises about 400 feet. From the top you can walk down through the botanical gardens. The gardens were established in 1868 and are very pretty. We especially liked the fragrance and rose gardens.
Wellington is known as the craft beer capital of New Zealand and starting to gain reputation as a foodie town. We found some really neat dive bars and delicious restaurants during our 48 hour stay. We wish we would have had time to explore more!
Palmerston North, NZ
We rented a camper van in Wellington to use over the next week while we travel up the North Island. It screams tourist with its ridiculous bright purple and green paint, but it had a bed, kitchenette and can get us where we need to go. We drove two hours north of Wellington to Palmerston North to stay with my friend Leanne and her partner Brittany for the night. I became friends with Leanne six years ago when I worked in Queenstown. We both worked at the same hotel and became fast friends. She is originally from England, but after working in New Zealand she loved it so much she moved and has applied for residency. It was exciting to see her for a few hours. She took us to her favorite café in the area, Bridge Cafe. It was a quaint cafe in little valley out in the country. It was not very busy because the road it is on is currently closed due to a mudslide, but Leanne said on a nice day it is usually busy. It had great food, coffee and a very relaxed atmosphere so it was easy to image it being packed on a nice day! We also stopped by a gorgeous lookout at a wind farm. Because of where Palmerston North is on the island, it creates a wind tunnel that makes it a perfect location for turbines. From the view point we could see hundreds of turbines. Sitting on top of the hills, we could see all around us. That evening Leanne asked us to attend a workout class Brittany and her teach on Monday nights. It’s a free class that they offer to the community to try and target people who are short on time and won’t commit to a gym membership. There are 7 instructors that switch off teaching classes and they have roughly 20 people that attend. We used it as an opportunity to meet some Kiwis! The class is only 45 minutes, but it’s a workout. They had us using muscles that had been on vacation for quite a while!! Not sure if it was the best idea since we were doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing the next day, but it was a lot of fun! After the class we went back to their house for some picky bits (British for a variety of snacking foods) and caught up on life. We said goodbye that night since we needed to leave at 5:30 AM the next day. It was sad to go so quickly, but hopefully they will come visit us soon (hint hint).
Chris & Taylor
Read our travel blog as we visit three continents in 2017.