Tag Archives: nature

Travel Guide: Wellington

After a weekend in Auckland and a few days on the road, my friend Sharon and I spent a couple nights in Wellington to conclude the North Island part of our trip to New Zealand. As in Auckland, the waterfront is a huge part of life in New Zealand’s capital.

We’d also read that we were supposed to check out Cuba Street, which is full of restaurants, shops, and bars.

It didn’t disappoint, but my favorite spot on the street by far was a used bookshop. I spent far too long in there one evening and, as always happens when I enter a used or independent bookstore, I bought a book. I justified it because it was a book of poems by a Kiwi poet. Not only do I not typically read poetry, but I’ve also never purposely read something by a Kiwi author. And now I have done both of those things!

We only had one full day in Wellington and we spent it, unsurprisingly, hiking and by the water. We climbed Mount Victoria, which was really just a hill. It provided beautiful views of the city . . .

. . . and the walk itself was lovely, as usual.

We passed charming gardens on our way back to the harbor . . .

. . . and then we saw the most wonderful idea! The library sponsors a book bike to ride around and let people take (to keep!) books for free. These are books that are out of date, like old travel guides, too worn to remain on shelves, or yet another donated copy of books the library already has. How wonderful!

Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, is located in Wellington and of course we went for a visit. It was fascinating to learn about the country’s history, particularly since we were somewhat familiar with Maori culture by this point. The history of native people and colonial settlers is much the same the world over and it’s painful everywhere. We also got really lucky at Te Papa because there was an exhibit on the Terracotta Army on view. I’d love to see the real site but Te Papa’s exhibit was amazing.

Another main attraction in Wellington is the cable car, which took us up the hills overlooking the harbor to the Botanic Gardens. The walk down through the gardens was calm and peaceful and the gardens ended in a cemetery as we returned to the city.

The following day, we took the Bluebridge Ferry from Wellington to Picton, the tiny town with the ferry terminal at the tip of the South Island. The ride was about three and a half hours and it was wonderful to stand outside and feel the wind and smell the water.

We sat next to a lovely older couple who told us about the geography of the Cook Strait and gave us suggestions of what to do with our South Island itinerary. Everyone we met, honestly everyone, was so friendly and helpful.

And then just like that, it was time to spend two weeks on the South Island!

Travel Guide: New Zealand Road Trip – North Island

After a weekend in and around Auckland (which was sweet as!) my friend Sharon and I picked up our North Island road trip vehicle, a white Toyota Yaris that I promptly named Sylvia. I can’t help it; cars speak to me.

We headed first for Rotorua where we spent two nights. This was also the part of our trip where it began to rain. It rained quite a bit during our travels but we didn’t let it stop us from seeing what we wanted to see. Our drive took us through farms and rolling hills and mountains that faded in and out of blues and greens. We drove with the windows down, enjoying air that was fresh, clean, and cool. We saw more cows, sheep, and horses than anything else, which was a theme throughout the trip. Even more than the animals, though, I noticed the trees. Part tropical palms, part enormous ferns, and part overgrown forest, the juxtaposition with cleared farmland was striking.

The climate of New Zealand reminded us of California and it wasn’t long before we realized how similar they actually are. Our first stop in Rotorua was the redwood forest that shares trees with California. Our walk through the woods was beautiful in and of itself . . .

. . . and the redwoods took my breath away. I sat for a time and meditated, listening to the wind.

When it got dark, which happens quite late in New Zealand in the summer and only later as you travel further south, we climbed the trees. The Rortorua Treewalk consists of 28 suspension bridges linking to 27 trees. I haven’t spent much time 20 meters up looking down to the forest floor and it was so cool. Oh, and there are giant wooden lanterns lighting the way. It was beautiful and felt like being in a fairytale.

The next day we went to Kuirau Park to check out the bubbling mud pools and hot springs. I expected a dinosaur to wander by at any moment. While sitting in the rain with our feet in the pools we chatted to travellers from Germany, South Africa, Belgium, the US, and elsewhere in New Zealand.

I love how much of New Zealand is just conservation land and public parks. There’s a unique feel to it, a sense that it is both important and expected that people spend time together as well as in nature. That afternoon we took a walk through Rotorua Park, which smelled more strongly of sulfur than Kuirau. It didn’t take us long to figure out why.

For Christmas Eve we’d planned a visit to Mitai Maori Village. I haven’t celebrated very many Christmas Eves but this was a darn good one! In addition to dinner, we were treated to a cultural performance which included entry by water . . .

. . . a walk through the village . . .

. . . and a cultural performance of songs, dances, and, of course, the haka.

Once it got dark, we went on a short walk to see the glowworms, which are famous in Rotorua, and to Rainbow Springs Nature Park to see the kiwi birds! Kiwis, we learned, are very rarely seen in the wild and they’re nocturnal, which doesn’t help make them easy to spot. Our very helpful guides had no trouble, however.

The next day we were back on the road heading to Napier for Christmas Day. On the way we stopped at Wai-O-Tapu, which call itself a thermal wonderland. That was pretty spot on. We were just in time to see the daily eruption of Lady Knox Geyser . . .

. . . and then followed the walking trails. The sun came out as we explored and it was a unique place indeed! While I took pictures, Sharon read aloud from the map about each of the natural wonders that we passed.

We’d heard that Lake Taupo was pretty (note: everything in New Zealand is pretty) so we stopped there for lunch and a walk. I thought we might walk around the lake but that was before I learned that Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake; we walked along it instead.

When we arrived in Napier, the town was quiet and empty. Napier is designed in an Art Deco style that makes it feel like going back in time. It wasn’t until the next morning that we saw many people at all, and the emptiness and shuttered stores gave it the feel of an old film set.

The point of visiting Napier was to spend the evening on the black stone beach, which is exactly what we did. We watched the sun set and the stars appear; we listened to the wind and smelled the sea.

We shared a bottle of wine and had a beautiful evening.

After a night in Napier, we headed for Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city. Post coming soon!

Travel Guide: Auckland and Waiheke Island

Everything they say about New Zealand is true. It is magical and beautiful and has more sheep than people. It has trees and flowers I’ve never seen, as well as mountains, lakes, and deserts. It is, after all, Middle Earth. And it’s also the land of the dinosaurs, but more about that in a later post. For now, let’s visit New Zealand’s largest city and a neighboring island. (I didn’t know it before I visited, but there are lots of neighboring islands!)

For three weeks I explored New Zealand with Sharon, who was one of my travel partners in Greece earlier this year. We landed in Auckland in the afternoon and headed to Queen Street, a popular shopping area. We got our bearings and took ourselves through Viaduct Harbor. It’s a great place to walk, eat, drink, people watch, and admire boats. I was particularly excited about the last part, but my first beer from New Zealand in New Zealand was great, too.

We spent the evening at the Viaduct and were glad for the sunshine that woke us the next morning after the clouds of the first day. We went out in the opposite direction towards Mount Eden, from which we’d been promised the best views of the city. (We soon learned that New Zealand’s best views only get better.) We explored Symonds Street Cemetery on the way.

The hike up Mount Eden, the first of many hikes that largely characterized our three weeks, was beautiful and a lovely welcome to New Zealand. The sun was shining and we could see so much of Auckland and its environs.

We took a taxi back towards the Viaduct from the Mount Eden neighborhood, intending to take a ferry to one of the beaches. It wasn’t warm enough to swim but it was certainly warm enough to take a walk on the sand. Instead, though, the driver suggested we visit Waiheke Island and go wine tasting. We didn’t need much convincing and I loved everything about it from the start.

The ferry ride was beautiful . . .

. . . and so were the flowers, vineyards, and walking trails.

We visited Wild Estate, Te Motu, Stonyridge, and Cable Bay and I have only good things to say about all of them. We watched the sunset from Cable Bay, too.

We had a bit of an adventure getting back, for which we can only blame ourselves. The lady at the ticket counter said they ferry departed every half-hour and we neglected to verify that even though we were carrying the timetable. Turns out that as the day grows later, the ferry leaves every 45 minutes . . . and then every 90 minutes . . . and so we were stuck at the Waiheke Island ferry terminal from 9:40pm-11pm. Oops.

The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Auckland pick up our car, a white Toyota Yaris that I named Sylvia, and begin our North Island road trip! Stay tuned!