“Oh you like coffee? You’ll love Wellington.” And we did. There are a number of cute, quirky little cafes in Wellington, and we didn’t even scratch the surface of them! The places we did visit served spectacular coffee, so the reputation was an accurate one.
Cuba street was a highlight of the CBD, with all its lively attendees. Even though it was raining most of the days we visited, it didn’t stop the Wellingtonians. Rain jackets donned, many of them didn’t even wear the hoods!
We spent a day in Te Papa, the national history museum. There was an exhibit there called Gallipoli. It tells the story of the Anzac soldiers (Australia New Zealand Army Corp) and their role in World War 1. Peter Jackson headed the project, and designed realistic portrayals of some of the individuals involved. They were big. Not just big, but 3.4 times larger than human scale. They boasted insane detail, from the dirt under their fingernails to the sweat on their forehead. It was amazing to learn the history, and just to stand in the room with the models. We also really enjoyed the rest of the museum, with a floor dedicated to the Māori culture and Treaty of Waitangi. Its a massive place and we spent hours there, taking it all in.
Another cool thing was our visit to The Weta Caves. You may not have heard of them, but you’ve definitely seen their work. Their first major project was to design and create all the costumes for the Lord of the Rings series. Since then they’ve worked on movies like Avatar, King Kong and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It was really cool to watch a short little background video on how they came to be and what it is they do there.
We got a break in the rain that day, so we went to the top of Mount Victoria for the panoramic view of the city.
We really wanted to take advantage of the weather, so we went off to drive the around the bays. At the end, we decided to do a short hike to the Red Rocks. It was actually a road that took you there, but our car was nowhere near the caliber to make the journey. So we set off on foot. About 5 minutes in, we notice an SUV headed our way, so we stuck out our thumbs for the heck of it. The guys pulled over and asked, “Do you really want a ride?” Yeah! If you’ll give us one! We asked how far they were going and they replied, “As far as we can get!” Their names were David and Michael. David was an incredibly skilled off-road driver. We decided we’d rather journey on with them, than stop at our originally planned destination. Turned out to be a much better afternoon. They took us around narrow cliff sides, through small rivers, across beaches and finally to a stopping point with a lookout to a lighthouse. We got so far around the bay that we could see the sun peaking through the clouds! There was a seal colony hanging out on the rocks and we stayed there for a bit. Marveling at the sight and being stoked about the day. The guys were so nice, on the way back we passed a truck stuck in the sand and they helped pull him out. We got so lucky to meet them and we’re so glad they let us tag along on their 4 wheel adventure!
The other highlight of Wellington was getting to hangout with Katie! Katie is Chris’s sister (of Chris and Kate that we lived with in Christchurch). She and her flatmates were nice enough to let us crash their house for the weekend. We got to hangout with them a few nights, one night Katie took us to a comedy show in town, another night we met some of her friends for some drinks and spent the evening chatting over cheese and crackers. We had a blast spending time with her and were stoked we got to meet her!
Our previous blog talks about our adventure between Wellington and Taupo, check it out if you like to chuckle at the misfortune of others 😉
Taupo has some fantastic free hot pools. They are alongside the river that runs through town, and accessible though a park which is accurately named “Spa Pool Park”. We went twice, the first time in the dark, directly after arriving in town. The second time after we hiked Tongariro Crossing, wherein we appreciated the beautiful scenery we had missed the prior night in the dark.
We spent one day in town, washing our muddy shoes off in the lake, having lunch by the water (waiting for our shoes to dry) and susing out the situation for the Tongariro Crossing.
The i-SITE in town is where you book any activities you have to pay to do. The Crossing is a 19.4k hike, one way. (Note: We aren’t quite sure why the .4 is so important, but not one single person we met was willing to round the number up or down. It’s always 19.4k specifically) This means that even if you have your own car, you need to have transportation to get you to it either at the end, or at the start. A bus ride either way cost $30 per person. I (Molly) have a painful inflammation on my heel which is made worse by long, uphill climbs. Which is almost a perfect definition of the first half of this hike. However….it is fabled to be one of the best day hikes in the world (who gets to decide that anyway?). So we were weighing the situation and trying to decide if it was worth $60 when two German girls approached us. They asked us if we were planning on doing the hike, to which we said a hesitant yes? Maybe?
They suggested that we ride together to save money. We’d give them a ride to the start point, and they’d give us a ride back to our car when we finished. It was too good of an offer to pass up, so we made plans to meet and head off at 7:30 the next morning. And just like that, we were doing the Tongariro Crossing.
Turns out the girls were also at the same campsite that night, which made things easy, as we left at the same time.
The best word to describe Tongariro was overwhelming. In distance, at just over 12 miles. In views, with breathtaking emerald lakes and the impressive Mount Doom. And lastly, in people. There were so many people on the trail that at some points it felt like you were waiting in a line. In the end we decided it was a good thing that so many people were out seeing nature.
We finished at 5 and a half hours, just before it began to rain.
A good portion of the hike was vaguely familiar of the rocky planes of Idaho. Coincidence? Probably. But we found it cool that one of the worlds supposedly best hikes, also reminded us of home 🙂
The town of Napier is known as the Art Deco capital of New Zealand. In the ‘40’s, a large earthquake flattened the majority of their downtown. But they were quick to rebuild, meaning that most of the buildings have a similar theme. A 1940’s theme…. Art Deco.
We really enjoyed wandering through the old style streets, it almost felt like we were on an old Hollywood movie set. Even their street signs fit the theme. We were super bummed that we missed the one weekend a year where they hold a festival. The entire town becomes Art Deco… from the old style cars to the costumed locals.
The town is oceanside, with a unique pebble sand beach.
We spent our night in Napier with a local family we found through Couchsurfer. They were a bustling household but still took the time to make us feel welcome, even going as far as feeding us dinner! We chatted about travel and the apple industry, and they told us all about their town.
The next day we checked out Arataki Honey, taking the self guided tour and tasting their variety of different honeys. We then went onto a wine tasting at Mission Estate Winery. We wanted to do a wine tasting in Hawkes Bay because it’s known for having some of the best vineyards. We didn’t know it until we got there, but it’s actually New Zealand’s oldest winery! We extensively broadened our knowledge of wine in that 20 minutes…. which probably tells you a lot about what we knew beforehand.
Napier was quite an educational visit for us! We wish we had been able to spend a bit more time there, but there’s always next time 😉
The number one reason we wanted to go to Gisborne was to see the sunrise. It is the first city to see the sun each day. So we made a pretty drastic out of the way loop to be able to go there. We found a superb camping spot directly on the beach, and spent the evening listening to the sound of the waves crashing and the wind whistling. Which is to say, it was a noisy night. When we woke up for the sunrise, we were bummed to find that it was cloudy on the horizon. We watched the sky get gradually brighter anyway, telling ourselves that we were the first to see the day begin. It’s a pretty cool concept to take in. We realized later that day that after all our effort to see that sunrise, we had forgotten to even take a picture. This one is from the sunset as we arrived the night before.
Rotorua is a massive geothermal area. So much so that in many places, you are not allowed to camp in a tent due to heat and steam. As we drove through town we would frequently see large puffs of steam coming out of the ground and even the sewers and man holes! This also means that the whole town smelled vaguely like sulfur. Kind of insane! The town is lakeside, so we made use of the sunshine and ate our breakfast by the water. We also made use of the geothermal properties and ventured to a nearby hot springs called Kerosene Creek. The pool you could sit in was under a waterfall and a lovely warm temperature. We made friends with a Californian couple and their cute daughter, sharing travel experiences and hearing their top tips about Australia, as they had just been! On our way out, we stopped to appreciate a few guys playing guitar and ukulele. They were sitting at the top of the falls, serenading the hot spring attendees below. It made for quite a peaceful setting.
We also visited the Rotorua Redwoods, which smelled and felt just like the California ones. The one distinguishable difference was the presence of a few tropical trees here and there.
We were looking forward to Matamata for two reasons. First, because we got to go to Hobbiton. Second, because we got to see our friend from Christchurch, Dave.
Hobbiton was nothing short of magical. The tour took us through the movie set of hobbit holes and told of lots of fun facts about the creation of Hobbiton, as well as the trilogy overall. We finished the tour with something especially exciting: drinks at the Green Dragon! We were pleased to find that it’s actually a functioning building, and enjoyed our cider and coffee next to a crackling fire.
After our tour, we headed to the center of town to meet up with Dave and his sister Sonja. We had lunch together and wandered around town a bit. It was so cool to get to see Dave again, and to meet his sister.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the North Island! You can also check out some video footage of the things we mention, in our April video!