With family joining us over the Christmas-New Year’s holiday period, we had to decide what to see and do with them. We chose some favorite things to repeat for their benefit, and selected some options we had not yet taken.
Even revisiting things, you rarely step into the same stream twice in New Zealand. Changing seasons and ever-changing weather conditions usually reveal new facets. For example, you could visit Mt. Taranaki on the North Island when the tracks around it are serene and sunlit. Or you could be there when clouds shroud the top, and rains or hail fall, even in summer days. The city of Wellington shifts from hot sunny days drying the landscape to cold rainy ones greening it up – at any time of the year. Its look and feel alter regularly.
And there are always new options. New Zealand may seem a small country, but it’s impossible to do everything here. Sure you can check off some major attractions on a checklist, but you would need a lifetime to experience all the country has to offer. Most citizens of New Zealand, we’ve found, have not done as much we have seen in just six months, but we feel we’ve left plenty of stones unturned.
So, here is some revisiting we did with the family, though each activity had a bit of discovery in it. In a second post, we’ll talk about the new things we did (Click here for that post).
Town Belt – Back in 1840, the founders of Wellington aimed to avoid the unhealthy, crowded conditions of industrializing English towns. To do this, they set aside a town “belt,” a ring of green space on the hills around the town dedicated to recreation and public well-being. Though city expansion has trimmed this space by about 30%, and threatens more, the parks and forests of the town belt have survived as a celebrated wreath atop the hills circling the harbor.
We have loved taking short hops and long hikes on the walkways that cut through it. Each time, we see the city anew and relish the easy escape into nature. We certainly didn’t want our visitors to miss it. So, this week, on an unusually blustery day, we again climbed Mt. Victoria (on the Southern Walkway) for its 360 degree viewpoint and scaled Tinakori Hill (on the Northern Walkway) for its ridgeline views onto the city, the nearby suburbs and the whole town belt itself.
Botanic Gardens– An oasis of cultivated flora and native bush, the Gardens are endlessly appealing. Over the last six months, we’ve watched tulips, camellias, magnolias, roses and rhododendrons appear at different times. No matter the season, you never spend fewer than a couple of hours there.
This visit, we wandered along the tree-lined walkways at the top, slowed at the succulent garden and the tree house above the canopy, strolled the colorful flower beds near the duck pond, admired the abundant herb and spice garden, then were captivated yet again by the abundant display of roses at the end. An extra attraction was a moody descent into the city through somewhat neglected cemeteries overgrown with bushes and trees – the residents united in death but still separated by religion.
Zealandia– We enjoyed this nature reserve so much that we became members, and we’ve been several times already. The whole place has been fenced around so caretakers could eliminate predators of the native species, while at the same time fostering native plant-life.
On any visit, you can fill three or four hours doing the various tracks through the preserve. You can see old friends endemic to New Zealand like the bellbird and hihis (who cavorted in front of us during this visit) or the endangered tuatara, but you never know what will show up. This visit we finally saw the takahe near the lake. For the family, the whole place was a grand sunlit treasure hunt in the wild.
Te Papa – No matter how often you go, you never see all of Te Papa – the museum of New Zealand’s historical, cultural, zoological, sociological and anthropological heritage. The place is huge; the sprawling exhibits change regularly. Special events come and go, like the Thai wedding extravaganza a few months ago or lute concerts last month. You just go again and again to learn something new about this incredible country. Or see your old favorites, like the giant squid, which proved a big hit for the family this time.
Farmers’ market shopping – This has been a mainstay of our Sundays since the day we arrived. Not the “yuppie” market over by the waterfront, but the “people’s” market at Willis and Vivian. For us, each month yields different offerings in the stalls, as the seasons shift. The family has shopped often in markets like this, but was still astonished by the quality and variety of the farm produce, as delighted to load up the bags here as we have been.
Walking the city – We’ve probably criss-crossed the city on foot hundreds of times. Despite this, we often find new alleyways hiding interesting shops or pubs. We notice buildings unseen before: rugged wood structures from the 19th century, art deco splendors, somewhat less appealing modern ones. You notice the people – the travelers with maps and cruise-boat passengers with shopping bags, the efficiently-dressed local students and natty government workers. You stroll the pedestrian-friendly Cuba Street at night, bypassing the partly-naked and the nearly-dead. This last week around town, we saw bunny costumes, spangled fancy dresses, sleek black lingerie, goth outfits, soccer uniforms and more, all spilling into or out of the lively pubs and restaurants.
The harbor and waterfront– This is the other natural jewel of the city, the place by which Wellingtonians love to wander and idle. We try to get there any time the weather conditions are especially appealing. This week we all joined the crowd for a few hours on an especially warm day and stopped at our favorite deck, the Foxglove.
We also enjoyed a few new things. One was a visit to the Sea Shepherd, the intrepid anti-whaling ship, preparing for another attempt to stop Japanese whalers in the Antarctic seas. There we were briefed by a Wellingtonian that serves on the ship.
Another was the Jump. The city had just installed a simple steel structure with a 5 and 10 meter platform above a sheltered slice of harbor. Several people were showing off their diving style, including a beefy and apparently drunk fellow known as the Beast who scared us all with several back flips from the top.
Still jet lagged from his flight, one of us stripped down to skivvies and made the high plunge. The rest then followed his lead into the harbor water, slowly drying our clothes in the sun and wind for the next hour.
South Island and the sounds– We had walked the beautiful Queen Charlotte Track on the South Island sounds during our last visit four years ago, and wanted to give the family a taste of their unusual character.
So we scheduled a day’s adventure there. It began with a short flight to Blenheim on a small prop plane in a morning fog, then a sunlit drive down the Kaikoura coast to a delightful black beach at The Store restaurant. In the afternoon, we drove the twisting Kenepuru Road deep into the sounds, stopping a while for grand overviews and indolent bays, and up to Portage where our tramp on the Queen Charlotte had ended.
We had gambled this day on good weather, but the mixed conditions were not ideal, filling all with a slightly foggy mood. None of it spoiled our enjoyment however, even the damp return to Wellington on the ferry. You could still feel the closeness of the hills despite the fog and just see the watery fingers sprawl into farther reaches of the sound. An hour before dusk the sky cleared for a thrilling coastline prospect at the mouth of the sound.
Later, in the dark, we delighted at our brightly-lit entry into Wellington harbor, just before the heavy rainfall took over.
Weather – Speaking of which, the family was able to experience almost all the conditions we’ve become accustomed to here: cloudy days, wind, misty rain, drenching downpours, morning fog, bright warmth adorned with puffy clouds, wind, blue sky, misty rain. Unusually, for the first few days, Wellington neared record heat (mid-80s Fahrenheit). As happens here, those summery days superseded days of persistent chilly fog that closed the airport just before Christmas. Boxing Day started beautifully and turned to drizzle. But so it goes here, and we were lucky that the occasionally inclement weather barely affected our plans or our mood.
Some things old, some things new; some days wet, some days blue – all made memorable by sharing them with family during the holiday season.
(Also, for more pictures from New Zealand, CLICK HERE to view the slideshow at the end of the New Zealand itinerary page.)