I think I have delayed in this last blog about New Zealand because it means that the trip is well and truly over. But, also because we covered a lot of ground in a couple of days 😉
We flew up to Wellington on a midday flight. It’s only about a half hour flight. It turned out that my Aunt and Uncle who live in Wellington were also on the same flight, so they ended up taking us into the city for a wee bite to eat. Wellington actually did a good job of the weather for once – I was worried it would be its usual overcast dreary self.
After my Aunt and Uncle dropped us at our hotel (the Copthorne Oriental Bay – which I picked out especially for its harbour views) we headed into the city. I showed Nick around the bohemian areas of Cuba Street and then we headed down Lambton Quay to the government houses. Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, so most of the high rises are filled up with Ministries, law firms and accounting firms, as well as a lot of company headquarters. At around lunchtime, Lambton Quay ends up swarmed with men and women in suits, hurrying about. That was me once upon a time, and I took great delight in going against the grain and walking slowly!
It’s really hard to explain the dynamic in Wellington. On the one hand, there are all the suits. On the other hand, there’s a darker underbelly. You can literally turn a corner, and suddenly there’s a different dynamic. Even Nick noticed it.
We spent the afternoon doing a New Zealand Parliament tour. The security men were all really jovial and the guy who took our tour loved picking me out since I was the only kiwi in the bunch. The Parliament building is called ‘the Beehive’ and is probably the most ugly building in the world. Australia has the Opera House – we have the Beehive 🙂 The tour guide took us around the inside and into lots of different rooms and buildings. Afterwards we were able to sit in on a Parliament sitting.
There is no upper and lower house in New Zealand – the House of Representatives is one single level. There’s also more than 2 parties in New Zealand that sit in the house as we have a Mixed Member Proportional system. A party generally needs a 5% vote or a win in an electorate to have a representative in Parliament. There are currently eight parties in Parliament. The centre-right are currently the government, with the main opposition being a centre-left party. The Green Party actually are gaining more and more support with the younger generation and now have a surprising amount of seats.
I won’t bore you with anymore political talk. Nick found it hilarious that we could sit in on question time with nothing between the politicians and ourselves. You could literally make a paper dart and have it sail down to the politicians. One Member of Parliament, Kate Wilkinson, was sound asleep. I’m pretty sure she needed a good wake up call.
After we left the government houses it was time to go to dinner with my Aunt, Uncle and cousin. My cousin works for the government, so he was able to walk from his office to the hotel buffet that we had dinner at. It was lovely, and it was nice having a view of the harbour as we were up on the 24th level of a hotel.
Unfortunately, I had been an idiot. I have 2 friends in Wellington that I was meant to meet up with when we were there. Somehow I gave both of them the wrong date, and neither of them could change their plans to see us. As luck would have it, we had earlier run into Aimee at the Auckland Airport, so she at least got to meet Nick. But, Nick didn’t get to meet Grace which was pretty upsetting. Hopefully we’ll all meet sometime soon! It definitely put a downer on things though. To make up for it we stopped by a supermarket on the way back to the hotel and grabbed some ciders and sat out on the balcony and enjoyed the harbour and city views. I’m still amazed Wellington put the weather on for us, it was so mild!
The harbour crossing
The next morning we were up bright and early to check out. We only had our backpacks, so we walked around the harbour front to the ferry port. The ferry takes about 3 ½ hours to get from Wellington back to the South Island. The port is called Picton on the South Island side, but it leaves right out of the Wellington CBD, so we had views of the horrendous beehive as we headed out.
As soon as we left the island and started crossing over the Cook Strait, we hit some incredible fog. The sun disappeared (but it was still mild weather) and suddenly we were in this thick cloud. I was suddenly terrified as we didn’t have time to stop and get Sea Legs (I get sea sick, and the Cook Strait can have extremely high swells with it being a wind tunnel). As it turned out, the fog rolled into Wellington later that day for a few days, closing the airport and all ferry routes! Talk about luck!
The fog lasted the entire ferry ride, but the crossing was like glass. I was able to sleep most of the way out on a picnic bench. The fog finally lifted right as we ended the Marlborough Sounds. We even had dolphins and sea lions following the boat as we headed through the Sounds. Coming out of the fog made them seem even more beautiful somehow.
As we got into Picton, we picked up our rental car and decided what to do. We stopped and had lunch in Blenheim and then decided we would go on a bit of a road trip before heading south. We first headed through Marlborough through all of the famous vineyards whose bottles I have seen on the shelves everywhere we have been so far. The vineyards looked beautiful against the slightly burnt rolling hills of Blenheim in the background. It was decided we would head inland, and Nick enjoyed letting loose around the notoriously windy mountains!
One of my favourite places in New Zealand is Nelson. It’s where a lot of people go to raise young families, and also where a lot of people go to retire due to its mild climate. The area is full of beautiful beaches, but it is also kind of secluded which is its slight downfall.
We walked around the little town centre that was full of stylish young mums pushing prams, sipping coffees at quaint cafes. Funnily enough, there was a Starbucks in Nelson that didn’t seem to have much of a trade. Nelson is one of the organic capitals of New Zealand. I imagine they prefer to support locals rather than multinational companies.
The best part about Nelson was stopping off since it was such a nice day for a walk down the beach. We stopped at Tahunanui Beach (the locals call it simply Tahuna Beach). Nick tipped his toes in the water and couldn’t believe it. The water was like a tropical island – extremely warm, like bath water! We ended up walking up the beach for a good couple of hours. The water was so clear that you could see lots of little fish coming up with the tide and swimming back out. It really was stunning. We could definitely have spent all week there!
Alas, it was time for us to get back on the road as we had accommodation booked that night in another town. The road south heads along the East Coast once we had got back to the starting point that we left from in Blenheim. It’s there that Nick had his first incident at a roundabout – first he stalled the car, then he used the windscreen wipers instead of the indicator, then he missed the exit and we ended up having to go around it again. It was all good laughs though!
We arrived at Kaikoura in the early evening. The State Highway follows the coast the whole way but Nick didn’t realize that until we popped out at an area that was rocky. There were a ton of sea lions hanging out on the rocks, including some little teenage babies that were so adorable.
The motel that we stayed at ended up putting us up in a room that had a view out to the Pacific Ocean. It had a lovely huge balcony, so we headed out into the town, had a look around, then decided on fish n chips. We sat out and ate them with some local wine and listened to the serenity that is waves crashing. There were also some sheep in the paddock in front of us. The stars came out and were stunningly clear as there aren’t really many streetlights around that area. It was so beautiful! I can’t wait to go back and spend more than a night there.
Kaikoura is known as a nature area – there are whales that hang out there. It was also an ancient seafood spot, and in English the name is literally ‘meal of crayfish’ – another thing that Kaikoura is famous for! The seals are also only found in New Zealand and a small area of Australia – they’re called southern fur seals.
The next morning we got up and headed to what was supposed to be a seal pup waterfall called Ohau Stream. The mothers are meant to take their young up this extremely long stream (we couldn’t figure out how they did it!) – leave their pups by the waterfall and go out hunting for the day. Unfortunately we just missed the pup season, so there were no pups at the waterfall – but it was a pretty nature walk. We also went to the other seal colony, but there weren’t many seals there. We definitely saw way more the previous night along the coast. When we left and headed back to Christchurch, we saw a lot more seals just hanging out in the sea, swimming on their backs and chilling out. They are such funny creatures. Here is a youtube clip of what other lucky people have seen.
We had planned to get some pretty pictures of the Alps that morning too, but unfortunately the fog that we went through up North seemed to have been rolling down the island and had hit Kaikoura by the time we left. Next time!
It took a little under 2 hours to get back down to Christchurch from Kaikoura. We covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but it was all worth it.
Musings about our trip
We were in New Zealand for a little over 2 ½ weeks and I feel like we covered almost all the variety that there is in such a little island country. From the rainforest, to the sandy beaches. From the dry high country, to the rocky beaches. From the suburbs, to the city. From the lakes, to the vineyards. Let me leave you with this. New Zealand is inhabited by 4.5 million people. That’s about the same amount of people that live in the state of Kentucky. New Zealand has about the same landmass as the state of Colorado. We’re talking about a little South Pacific country with an extreme amount of scenic diversity. No place in New Zealand is more than 128km (80 miles) from the coast (read: beach).
I will never take for granted that I grew up with safe neighbourhoods, food which in other places is called organic, amazing scenery, a great education system, with a progressive government not afraid to rock the boat (and with no corruption – no really, it’s true, New Zealand is the least corrupt nation in the world). We were even the first to give women the vote. Sure, we have had our problems, but in the scheme of things, what we have is pretty darn great.
I hope you enjoyed my series of blogs about New Zealand.
Until next time,