Travelogue New Zealand 1: Wellington

WELLINGTON
1-2 Feb 2016

The decision to go to Wellington was Christian’s, with his logic being that we’d recently been to the world’s most Northerly capital, on our visit to Reykjavic, so it made sense to counter with the world’s most Southerly. I hadn’t even known that Wellington is New Zealand’s capital, assuming it to be Auckland!

It was just a quick pop-in-pop-out pitstop and, much to my delight, cousin Lucy confirmed that she’d be hopping across from Christchurch in South Island to join us. It was only a 30 minute hop for her, but not so bad for us either with a manageable 3 hour flight over the Tasman Sea from Sydney.

It’s always weird to gain or lose time by crossing time zones when travelling and I was again reminded that it feels like you’re being robbed when you lose time during a holiday. This time we lost 2 hours, having left Sydney 09h30, travelling for 3 hours and arriving in Wellington at 14h30. Felt like we’d spent the whole day travelling since we’d been up and out early for the 2-hour before international flight (which feels like it shouldn’t be, as a Saffa lumping Oceania together as close cousins) deadline. Imagine the converse: sleep in, get to the airport in Wellington by 09h30 for an 11h30 flight and land in Sydney at 12h30. Far more sensible. Mental note to self to plan for intra-itinerary time gain to make holidays as long as possible!

Lucy’s plans had her arriving in Wellington in the morning, so our arrangement was for her to get a lay of the land and meet us at our hotel at 6pm. We’d factored a whole wedge of time for the airport/city commute which, much like Sydney, was completely unnecessary since the bus stopped right outside the Arrivals terminal, happened to be there when we got there and took all of 10 minutes for the full journey. Our earlier-than-planned check-in allowed us an earlier meeting time… and soon it was all hello’s and hugs for the long-lost cousins.

We started our Wellington experience with the quayside, taking a walk along its full length before stopping at one of the many bars and cafés on the waterfront. Lucy and I were already chatting away like old friends, so Christian must’ve been quite relieved to have a cold beer for company!

Although we had originally factored an early dinner into the quayside excursion, nothing appealed so we chalked it up as sundowners and shifted to sharing jugs of beer with midi glasses so that we could enjoy a few more of the numerous places, all humming with activity and many with very relaxed beanbag and blanket mats on the riverbank.

Hunger always outs with us though and so, since it was getting chilly with the sun having disappeared behind the tall CBD buildings across from the waterfront and a too-cool breeze coming in from the water, we walked back up Willis Street intending to go past the hotel and on to the Courtenay Street which is famed for its entertainment options.

We didn’t make it that far. Just before our hotel we spotted Capital Market, a sort of food court of restaurants and take aways. Once we were inside, we were hooked. There was every possible type of food and it was tricky deciding what to have.

As usual, curry won. This time the tie-break being Lucy’s admission that she too is curry mad. It also helped that the shop had a canteen-style display, so we could see what we were going to be buying… and it was impossible to walk away once we were close enough to see and smell the delicious food. To top it all off, the special – 2 curries, rice and naan – for $12 made it a no-brainer. We’d been paying way more than that in Aussie Dollars, so had an all-new definition of “bargain”!

Fuelled and ready to rumble, we turned the corner (literally) and began our Courtenay Street adventure. It was about 8-ish by this point and an impressive collection (it was Monday night, after all) of patrons were out to play. Most of the road is bars and restaurants, vying for their slice of the entertainment pie with offers of $10 jugs and meal options. Clearly a university town.

We ended up at a place called Mish Mash… until way later than intended because you don’t get the ambient sense that it’s home time when nobody else is leaving.

En route back to our hotel we stopped in at a Fix 24-hour store. Christian had drank himself peckish and had a hankering for a cheese and ham roll. I was going to be social and use the opportunity to sample an NZ pie – which seem to be as popular and as accessible as at home – but there was something in the warmer that distracted my attention. Deep-fried crumbed lasagne! Oh. My. Word. Complete genius! (And, oddly, half the price of a pie)

Tuesday’s open of play was set for a generous 10am following the antics of the previous night and not wanting to repeat the oversleep episode so soon after Saturday. Our thinking was that we’d take the cable car to the top of the mountain that provided Wellington’s backdrop and walk down through the Botanical Gardens, which would deposit us at the top end of the Quayside; we’d walk the length of the waterfront (again) which would get us to Oriental Bay where we’d lunch and sloth before trekking up Mount Victoria to the look-out point and then return to the city down the other side which conveniently leaves you at the bottom end of Courtenay Street and all its options for whatever we wanted to do next.

We managed all of that, sort of.

The cable car offered quite a few surprises. Firstly, its station was right in the middle of town and not at the base of the mountain where I just assumed it to be since most of them are really, aren’t they? Secondly, it was a public transport vehicle so it was mostly normal people doing normal things,  going up and down and stopping at their normal stops in normal ways. Thirdly, it was much shorter than I expected, so we didn’t chug up a steep face like Hong Kong and weren’t deposited in the clouds like Table Mountain.

We did have a very sedate walk down through the gardens… which was quite cathartic after our late night the night before.

The only thing I did learn was that Agapanthus is treated as a weed because it isn’t indigenous and self-propogates so easily. I should have used that as a justification in the whole “no Roses, Marigolds or Agapanthus for Pebbles” debacle with Mother in 2006/7!

The garden route deposited us more or less at the top end of the quayside, as planned. The walk in the morning was quite different to the previous evening thanks to the market of pop-up shops in shopping containers along the land side of the boardwalk, providing good conversation fodder as we joked about buying impractical momentoes like heavy statues and elaborate Maori feather skirts.

We bypassed the Te Papa Museum – noted as a premium tourist attraction in Wellington – thinking we’d do a visit later if there was time, and made our way to Oriental Bay.

The beach wasn’t what we expected. There wasn’t the waterfront of (seafood) restaurants that we’d intended to choose from for lunch. In fact, there was only one (expensive) restaurant on the beach side and one (expensive) gelateria/pizzeria take away on the right. We’d originally considered basing ourselves in Oriental Bay for the lush apartments and beautiful views… but I think we’d have been quite disappointed at the lack of action.

Wasn’t so bad as a walk-through excursion though and we enjoyed dipping toes in the ocean and admiring the view from “the other side”.

The downside was that we were 1,000 steps ahead and 1 lunch behind… and there was a literal mountain between us and mealtime. Valiantly, we stuck to our plan and took the high road up Mount Victoria.

It was a huff and puff of note and more than a few times I questioned our commitment to completing the climb. But we did. We trekked up the mostly steep sandy slopes, slops slip-sliding, brows sweating, conversation waning… expecting to summit as an intrepid explorer planting a flag in new ground, a bald patch in an otherwise untamed bushy apex.

Except, when we got there, we were not only not the only summitists but, worse still, we emerged onto a tarred parking lot with *cheaters* who had driven up to view from the very civilised concrete viewing deck, with printed info boards and whatnot. Very unrewarding after our blood, sweat(, sweat, sweat) and tears to get up there.

The one thing this civilisation did not deliver was a cart/kiosk/canteen of any sort with any form of edible. We were starving! And had to walk all the way down the other side to get fed!

Fortunately, the downside is also the downhillside so it was a much easier journey.

It was quite rewarding and inspiring to pass the landmarks that we’d admired on the way up so so so much quicker on the way down!

The path led us straight to the end of Courtenay Street where, after some hours of wishful thinking and craving sharing, we found what we’d already predetermined to be our destiny: a Mexican restaurant.

We feasted on burritos, nachos and quesadilla, which was equal parts quality and well-timed, making it The Best Mexican Meal Ever.

It’s amazing how a life-saving experience can re-inspire. Nourishment gave new motivation for cultural enrichment and we set off for Te Papa to see the much-spoken-of Gallipoli War exhibit.

It was such a good move. I have never seen such a quality production! Giant models that put Madame Tussaud’s to shame, artifacts and personal testimony that would clench the hardest heart. Maudlin as it was, it was a classic once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What a long day that was. Like, a 25 thousand step day!

We all needed a refresher so retreated to our hotels for a shower and change before communing on the rooftop bar at the top of our hotel for sundowners. It was lovely when we got there, if not a bit on the hot side (which they were obviously aware of, seeing as there were complimentary sun hats and lotion available).

As always, when the sun retreated behind the buildings and the breeze sets in, it gets nippy. That signalled the time to move to town.

We still had the Cuba Street box to tick. Perfect opportunity to double-bill with Murphy’s Irish Bar!

… which we propped up until closing.

… and then did a nightcap on Old Faithful, Courtenay Street.

Having not eaten since the Mexican fiesta in the arvie, all the walking and talking had driven us to midnight munchies.

The 24 hour food options are quite a business in such a vibrant party town, but are so disorganised that it takes some PT to check all the prospects if you find yourself hungry with no specific hankering.

It took a complete up and down the street to settle on butter chicken pies for me and Christian and a veggie toastie for Lucy. From different stores, obviously.

By this point it was 2am and time for teary goodbyes (read: mad dash to get Lucy back to her hotel safely and us back to our sanctum while there was still vague hope of 4 hours of sleep). It was surreal that it’d only been 32 hours since meeting Cousin Lucy… but boy had we made the most of our short time together! (And lots of promises to repeat the experience soon and repeatedly!)

Sooner than you can say “6.57 bus” it was 6am and time to get up, showered, packed and off to the airport.

We’d tracked the route the night before, sacrificing precious minutes of sleep to have an empirical idea of our flight plan for the morning… and yet still Christian was ready and waiting (impatiently) ahead of schedule, visibly agitated at me drying my hair (which I’d planned to do).

We left on time and rattled our trolley cases down the desolate early-morning Willis Street and rounded the corner into Dixon quite calmly, bus stop in sight ahead, until we heard the bus coming up behind us.

We BOLTED down the street with our cases and, fortunately, the bus got waylaid at a red traffic light. We pushed across the road on the pedestrian crossing in front of the bus and the driver was nice enough to not only open the doors for us, but also say that we could sort the fare at the bus stop that was still a hundred or so metres away.

Christian shot me the very meaningful “told you so” look at our nearly missing our bus.

I felt a bit sheepish until I spied the big digital clock above the bus driver. We’d nearly missed the 6.46 bus… not the 6.57 we’d planned on catching!