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.

Wellington

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