Travel Tales #15: Windy Wellington

I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…and I hope you enjoy my travel tales.

Wellington, New Zealand, April 2006

After a few days staying with Charlotte in Lower Hutt, I made my way into Wellington to stay at the YHA Wellington City, which was a very large, clean and modern place, although I was learning that this tended to mean less friendly – there were so many people there that it was hard to make those connections that you tend to find in smaller, more homely places.  I nevertheless decided to become a YHA member as I liked the feel of them in general, and signing up entitled me to cheaper stays for the duration of my travels.

I found Wellington to be a lovely city, although after spending some time off the beaten track on the ‘East As’ trip and in smaller towns like Rotorua and Taupo, it felt a bit of a culture shock to be in the capital, and I remember realising that I was not a city girl at heart.

On my first afternoon in Wellington, I visited the famous Te Papa Museum, something that everyone I met recommended as a ‘must do’.  It certainly didn’t disappoint – it is an enormous building with brilliant exhibitions, and best of all it was free entry (there nothing more appealing to a gap year traveler than a freebie).

The following day, I took the cable car up to the Wellington Botanic Gardens and, neatly bypassing the Observatory and Cable Car Museum, I took a walk through the peaceful gardens, including the extremely pretty Lady Norwood Rose Garden.  On the way down, I walked past government building that is known as ‘The Beehive’ on account of its design.

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View of Wellington from the cable car

Wellington is referred to by many Kiwis as ‘Windy Welly’ on account of the strong winds that blast up the Cook Strait (which separates the North and South Islands) and into the city.  Apparently the wind has been known to knock people off their feet, and I certainly experienced some strong blasts during my stay.

I was starting to feeling a little lonesome on my own in the big city so was grateful to receive an invitation from Charlotte to join her, some friends and her brother Alex (who had arrived from the UK the previous day for a visit). We went out for the evening to some bars in Petone, where I rediscovered my love for NZ sauvignon blanc.  At the final bar we went to, I was told that we were sitting at a table next to Tana Umanga…a fact that was rather lost on me, but the cause of great excitement to the rest of the group since he was the captain of the All Blacks at the time!

The following day involved a much needed NZ brunch to soak up the excesses of the previous night, and then a drive up to a wind turbine on the top of a mountain just outside of the city (Kiwis would probably call it a hill, but it was a mountain to me!). There were amazing views from the top, and I was told that on a clear day you could see the South Island, some 90 plus kilometers away.

I was a little sad that the time had come to leave the North Island, and for a leg of my journey to be over already.  Additionally, I felt a little trepidatious about crossing the Cook Strait to the South Island (with my non-existent sea legs), but I also left feeling very grateful to have experienced all that the North Island had to offer – from bubbling mud pools and geysers, to homestays, farmstays, exhilarating horse rides and everything in between.

Previous travel tales:
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka
#7: Bays, bravery & the meeting of oceans
#8: Dolphins & premieres
#9: Glow-worms & geysers
#10: Thermal baths & wonderlands
#11: Prisons, earthquakes & wineries
#12: Surf and scenery
#13: Farms & galloping horses
#14: Homestays & Wellington suburbs

 

Travel tales #14: Homestays and Wellington suburbs

I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…and I hope you enjoy my travel tales.

Te Kaha and Wellington, New Zealand, April 2006

Our final leg of the ‘East As’ trip with Kiwi Experience took us to Te Kaha, where we had a ‘homestay’ with a Maori family in their extended house overlooking the beach. It rained the whole time we were there, but we did some exploring (and some of the group decided to go for a chilly dip in the ocean) and when the rain got too much we cozied up in the living room watching films and playing board games.  In the evening our host, Reena, cooked a lovely three course meal for 17.  We devoured pumpkin soup followed by a delicious hot buffet, then peach crumble and trifle.  It was lovely to have a home cooked meal and be made to feel so welcome, comfortable and at home.

After dinner we chilled out together and had some drinks, and one of the girls on the bus, Kerrie, was a medium so she gave some of us readings for $10 (about £3 at the time).  She told me I had a lot of ‘energy’…

Ten of us stayed in a big room that night, which was set out as I would imagine a boarding school dormitory to be, with single beds lining the walls (rather than the bunks that we had become used to).  It was great fun, and we sat in our beds chatting until we fell asleep one by one.  I felt like I really bonded with the group over the week and it was a real wrench to say goodbye to them all when we were dropped off in our different hostels the following afternoon.

A few of us ended up back in Taupo together so we met up for dinner that night, and afterwards found a local club to dance the night away in. I noted down the names of everyone on the bus, along with where they were from, and although I have seen none of them since I will remember that trip for the rest of my life.  So, thank you for the amazing memories and company: Jerry (driver, Taupo), Liz (Oxford), Ally (Yorkshire), Dominique (Bristol), Nikki, Naomi & Mandy (Hull), Luke (Cornwall), James (Somerset), Kerrie (Peterborough), Lisa (Kilkenny), Ruth (Thomastown), Leanne, Alma & Jane (Sheffield) and Seena (Denmark).

The following morning I was up early for the 8.00am bus to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand that sits near the North Island’s southernmost point on the Cook Strait. It was a long drive from Taupo so we didn’t stop much on the way, and on arrival I made my way out of the city to the suburb of Lower Hutt to stay with Charlotte, who had been friends with my old boss in London since they met at university.  I met her on my previous trip to Australia and we stayed in touch, and she had kindly invited me to stay with her.  Charlotte had set out from the UK on her own gap some years before and ended up stopping in New Zealand and not returning home.  I spent a lovely and relaxing few days at Charlotte’s, exploring the local area whilst she was out at work.  One of my trips took me to a small town called Petone, which is well-known for Jackson Street, a heritage-listed street of galleries, cafes, restaurants and shops filled with 1930s architecture. Petone is also known for it’s community characters who shape its atmosphere.  As 100% Pure New Zealand says:

In a walk down Jackson Street there is a good chance you will meet an Olympic champion, a Samoan chief, ex All Blacks, a politician, an international chef or people that simply just exude passion for the area

Flowing under the whole Hutt Valley is a natural artesian spring.  Te Puna Wai Ora, the spring of life, is a meeting place for people from around the region to get their free, untreated water straight from the ground, bubbling up through layers of rock and filtered naturally to the surface.

Wellington

‘Windy Wellington’

Previous travel tales:
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka
#7: Bays, bravery & the meeting of oceans
#8: Dolphins & premieres
#9: Glow-worms & geysers
#10: Thermal baths & wonderlands
#11: Prisons, earthquakes & wineries
#12: Surf and scenery
#13: Farms & galloping horses
 

Travel Tales #13: Farms and galloping horses

I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…and I hope you enjoy my travel tales.

Rangitukia, New Zealand, April 2006

Rangitukia is located about 10km from the East Cape, the most easterly point of New Zealand, and on the next leg of our Kiwi Experience ‘East As’ trip we stayed on a farm for the night called the ‘Eastender Farmstay’. Accommodation consisted of either a big dorm-type room or a little hut with two bunk beds in each, and I fortunately managed to bagsy a hut with my new friends Liz, Dominique and Ally.  Rangitukia feels like it is out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded as far as the eye can see by lush green fields and pretty farmland.  On our way into the settlement we saw small children riding their horses bareback on their way home from school.  Apparently, they get them riding from as young as two years old in the area.

Our guide, Jerry, explained that Rangitukia is a Rastafarian-Maori area, and we were greeted on arrival by Reg, who was an outgoing character with long dreadlocks piled on top of his head, a few gold teeth, and a metal hook for a hand.  His story (and I’m to this day still unsure as to whether I am inclined to believe it) was that he once caught a large shark when he was fishing, which he tried to kill, and it flipped round and bit his hand off!  Whatever the reason, it certainly didn’t hinder him in any way.  Jerry described him as a ‘demon’ on a horse, and told us a tale of when they had been galloping horses along the beach when Reg sped past him, holding onto the reins with his hook, and smoking a cigarette with his spare hand!

In the afternoon, ten of us decided to join Reg and Jerry on a two and a half hour horse ride.  We were told that this was not a horse ‘trek’, where the horses walk or perhaps trot around a set course, but an actual ‘ride’.  Now, I had never been on a horse before, and in hindsight perhaps should have seen these words as a warning, but easily singling me out as the novice of the group, Reg allocated me to Tip Top – a small horse who was apparently the oldest and slowest of the bunch.  I was more than happy to dawdle at the back of the group and take in the beautiful woodland scenery, and did so for a while, but when we reached the long driftwood-scattered beach Reg was having none of mine and Tip Top’s dilly-dallying.  He instructed me on how to ride standing up in the stirrups (apparently better when you’re learning as it’s easier on the derriere) and as the more experienced riders set off at a pace along the beach, I thought why not?  At this point, Tip Top decided to come out of his sleep-like state and canter at full speed along the length of the beach, whilst I did as I was told – stood up and held on for dear life!  It was really quite scary at the time.  Tip Top turned out to be strong and powerful and I feared a few times that I was going to come off him, but I could hear Reg shouting behind me in apparent delight, “Look at her go! Go Sharon!” and I was determined not to let him down.

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The beach we galloped along

 

I don’t know about Tip Top, but I was absolutely shattered by the end of our gallop. Jerry commented that he had never seen him go so fast, and couldn’t believe it when he noticed that he had broken a sweat!  No sooner had I calmed down from my eventful beach ride, we started on an incline to the top of a hill.  Once again, Reg instructed me to stand up in the stirrups and lean forward as the horse went up, and lean back as he went down.  We tiptoed down hills, splashed through rivers, and galloped up hills, with me hanging onto the Tip Top’s mane and reigns as if my life depended on it (which, to some extent, I suppose it did).  All was going well until my one of my feet slipped through the stirrup and I ended up literally hanging off the horse sideways and had to hoist myself back into the saddle…no mean feat, but I was determined once again not to hit the ground during a gallop.  Reg was quite impressed with me that day, announcing me as his star of the day when we stopped at the top of the hill for a much needed break.  At the time, I was just thankful to be alive, and my legs felt like jelly as the events of the last couple of hours started to sink in!  I will say now that the following morning on waking, I discovered that I had pulled, strained and bruised pretty much EVERY part of my body from my ‘horse ride’, but it was worth it for the unforgettable experience and beautiful views.

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Views of the surrounding farmland (farmstay on the left)

That evening we ate a hangi meal, a traditional Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven, and afterwards sat around a bonfire toasting and eating marshmallows. Some of the group had gone off into the night to do possum shooting, but hunting is very much not my thing, so the rest of us sat, drank wine, played with the farm puppies and chatted the night away under the stars.

The following morning I had a go at Maori bone carving, which provided me with a lovely pendant to remember my trip by.  To be honest, the guy who was demonstrating ended up doing most of my carving as I think he felt a bit sorry for me – every time I as much as lifted a finger I winced with the pain caused by my inexperience in horse riding!

All too soon, it was sadly time to say goodbye to Reg, the horses and puppies at the farm.  I’m sure I saw a mischievous glint in Tip Top’s eyes as we drove off, having successfully lulled everyone into a false sense of security that he was an old plodder.  The little tinker!

 

Links to previous Travel Tales
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka
#7: Bays, bravery & the meeting of oceans
#8: Dolphins & premieres
#9: Glow-worms & geysers
#10: Thermal baths & wonderlands
#11: Prisons, earthquakes & wineries
#12: Surf and scenery

 

Travel tales #12: Surf and Scenery

 I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…and I hope you enjoy my travel tales.

Gisborne, New Zealand, April 2006

On the way to our next destination on the ‘East As’ trip, Gisborne, the bus stopped off at a winery for a tour and tasting. Still struggling with a hangover from the previous evening, I sipped water at the back of the group and felt rather sorry for myself.  I couldn’t face food either so had to sit that out when we stopped as well!

It was a long drive out to Gisborne, we covered about 300km that day on the bus, but it was definitely worth the journey.  Gisborne is a popular place for surfing and is absolutely beautiful.  We stayed in a surf chalet right opposite a long, straight beach with huge rolling waves.  I was fortunate to be allocated to the only dorm at the front of the hostel along with a few other girls, where a huge window looked out over the ocean.  As we didn’t arrive until late afternoon, we popped over the road to watch the surfers for a while, returning for a massive portion of home-cooked spaghetti bolognaise that had been rustled up by our driver (Jerry) and some of the others on the bus.  We all sat around a long table so that we could get to know each other, and I found myself in a very friendly group.

Gisborne1

View at dusk from our dorm window

I had a relatively early night and, having successfully slept off my hangover, the next morning some of us went over to watch the surfers again and have a paddle in the cool sea.  Some of the group had got up very early to watch the sunrise, as Gisborne is one of the first places in the world to see it each day, being on the eastern tip of the north island of New Zealand.  Others had gone for surf lessons, but I decided to save my money and energy for later on in the trip.

Gisborne2

Surfers in Gisborne

I was tempted to stay on a couple of nights in Gisborne, as it was a very relaxed and laid back place, but as the others on the bus were so nice and we all seemed to have clicked as a group, I felt like I would have missed out had they all gone on without me.  We had been discussing the previous evening that it was usually the people you were with that shape your trip and your experiences, so I decided to stick with my newfound friends and continue on my journey of the east cape.

On the way to our next destination we stopped off in Whangarai, which is the location of a famous Kiwi film called ‘The Whale Rider’.  Free from the bus, we climbed up a big hill to look down on the village. According to Jerry, residents weren’t too keen on tourists coming to gawp at them, so he found us (and them) a safe vantage point, which also treated us to stunning views of the ocean beyond the village.

Gisborne3

Whangarai

After a lunchtime stop at a pub by the beach, where we sat sunbathing on the lawn, it was time to head on to our farmstay, which was something that I was really looking forward to.

 

Links to previous Travel Tales
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka
#7: Bays, bravery & the meeting of oceans
#8: Dolphins & premieres
#9: Glow-worms & geysers
#10: Thermal baths & wonderlands
#11: Prisons, earthquakes & wineries

 

Travel tales #11: Prison, earthquakes and wineries

I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…I hope you enjoy my travel tales.

Napier, New Zealand, March 2006

I set off from Taupo with a small group of people on a minibus (instead of the usual coach) on a Kiwi Experience trip called ‘East As’, which was billed as an ‘off the beaten track’ tour around the East Cape of New Zealand.  I love seeing places that not everyone has the time or opportunity to see, and when I think back now to my travels, this trip was the highlight of my two and half months in New Zealand.

The route from Taupo to Napier was long and windy, through country roads and past mountains, and I really felt that I was leaving civilisation behind for a while. I wasn’t short on time so I decided to spend a bit of time exploring Napier, and then pick up the next bus coming through a couple of days later.  I had read in my Lonely Planet about a ‘stay in somewhere a bit different’ place, and duly booked in to Napier Prison Backpackers.  The prison was decommissioned in 1993 and turned into a hostel, and there were many original features throughout – big scary wooden doors that you needed a code to get through, barbed wire along the top of the walls, and you could even choose to stay in an old solitary confinement cell!  I stayed in a dorm called the ‘Remand House’, and I wasn’t feeling too bad until a young Scottish guy called Robbie, who was in the bunk next to me, told me that our dorm was right next to the old suicide watch cells, that the old Death Row was just outside, and to top it all off the prison was built on the site of an ancient Maori burial ground.  That was just what I needed to hear before I was about to go to sleep!  Earplugs firmly in and head under the covers, I actually managed to sleep better than I thought I would. (Incidentally, earplugs are a backpackers best friend and I got so used to them that I couldn’t sleep without them for some time when I returned home from my gap year!).

napier-prison-backpackers

The ‘welcoming’ Napier Prison Backpackers

The majority of people staying at NPB were working as fruit pickers so the place was virtually deserted during the day.  I went exploring on my own and joined an ‘Art Deco’ guided walk, which was really interesting.  A massive earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale destroyed the city of Napier in 1931, and they managed to rebuild everything in just two years.  Given it was the 1930s, many of the buildings in Napier were rebuilt in a beautiful art deco style – pastel colours and lots of geometric shapes such as sunbursts (representing new hope), zig zags, zuggarets and featuring the independent woman, as it was a time that women were seen as strong for helping the city get ‘back on its feet’.  The tour finished at the Art Deco shop where we watched a film about the period.  Napier is where my love and appreciation for the 1920s and 30s began – the fashion, the style, and the way of life really appealed to me.

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One of the many beautiful art deco buildings in Napier

I also had an enjoyable visit to the Napier Museum, which had a lot of displays and information about the big earthquake.  I was beginning to comprehend the devastation that the major fault lines running the length of New Zealand can cause.  Over 15,000 earthquakes are recorded in New Zealand each year by seismographs, with 100-150 of them large enough to be felt, and I was feeling a little apprehensive as to whether I would experience one during my time there.  To calm my nerves, I decided it was time for wine!  I booked through ‘Grape Escapes’ to do a tour of four wineries in the Hawke’s Bay area, and tasted many a grape as well as some delicious local cheeses.  To this day, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc is my favourite white wine.  I ended up staying up until 3am the next morning talking ghosts and earthquakes with my dorm buddy, Robbie, whilst sampling my bounty purchased from the wineries.  Unfortunately, my hangover and I had to get up at 6am to catch the next Kiwi Experience ‘East As’ tour coming through town…I dread to think what first impression I made on the those I joined on the minibus that day!

napier-nz-winery

Winery!

 

Links to previous Travel Tales
#1: Nerves
#2: Departure
#3: Tug boats, peaks & pandas
#4: Islands, animals & markets
#5: Sunshine & hostels
#6: Fun & feijoa flavoured vodka
#7: Bays, bravery & the meeting of oceans
#8: Dolphins & premieres
#9: Glow-worms & geysers
#10: Thermal baths & wonderlands