A Travellerspoint blog

Wellington - city of cable cars

I arrived in Wellington at 5pm on Thursay 13th February after a six hour Intercity bus ride from Turangi. Some of these journeys are long but they tend to include stops every couple of hours for a 'comfort break' and the scenery is very diverting if you can stay awake. I booked my accommodation for the entire trip about two weeks before I left Australia but nonetheless it was very difficult to find a bed in Wellington. It turned out that there was a three day cricket international and a music festival going on in the city during that weekend so some people who arrived without booking anything couldn't find a bed anywhere. Another good reason to do your travel research properly!
I spent the first night in the YHA hostel in a four bed female room with en suite on the 6th floor. The view was amazing 6DAC16C72219AC68174EBEC2FA1AA784.jpgand I did wonder how much it would have cost me had I been in a normal hotel. The hostel is close to all the action of bars, restaurants and shops and has good amenities and I would have been happy to stay there for my three nights in the city if there had been space. I spent my first evening checking out the waterfront which has a great boardwalk and where all the old wharves and sheds have been developed into a buzzing restaurant/bar area. 6C7EE2712219AC68173EAB500AD7F94A.jpgOn Friday I had to move to the Downtown Backpackers which is a period building and in need of some serious renovation but on the plus side it is located right across the road from the station (great for an early start on Sunday morning) and which has super friendly and helpful staff. I did have the bonus of a single room, and a bathroom which I only had to share with the room next door, and they gave me a NZ$20 refund because my TV couldn't get a signal. 6C830E602219AC6817C4EBAB0F3155FA.jpgAs it turned out this was a much quieter location and it was closer to some of the things I wanted to see. I was able to leave my uber heavy bag with them just after 9am and get a good start on the day. For NZ$4 I took the cable car 6C1282E22219AC6817969B7A7091055E.jpg up the 394ft hill for coffee in the restaurant at the top and got some great views of the city from there. 6F95F07E2219AC68179EDADAFF24C12F.jpgThere is also a Cable Car Museum at the top with some very interesting and informative film about the history of that transport within the city. 6C1666142219AC68175227451ABBA0BE.jpg It turns out that there are over 400 privately owned cable cars in Wellington and there was footage of interviews with some of the people who had installed them for domestic use. There is a relatively small area of flat ground near the water all around the bay and most of the houses are built into the slopes. For some of these their cable car is the only access and some houses have been built utilising only the cable car as a fork lift to shift all the building materials up to the site. One couple put in a cable car when their labrador couldn't manage the steps anymore and he is taken for walks by first being taken downhill in it. Hats off to dog lovers ?.
The entrance to the Botanic Gardens is also located at the cable car stop and the walk down through these back to the city is quite lovely. 6F96F1C82219AC6817FB17EB10540B2F.jpg6C1783362219AC68170D02869836EC39.jpg6C186E772219AC681790177E1EF6E084.jpg At the bottom are rose gardens and a begonia house 6C445E222219AC68176D46B789505FA9.jpg with an impressive collection. You can join the 'City to Sea Walkway' at this point and it continues down through Bolton Street Memorial Park which is an actual graveyard that was bisected by a major road build. The skeletons that were dug up during this process were re-buried in a mass grave with a memorial plaque and the headstones were placed in the appropriate section of the remaining graveyard. The original Sexton's Cottage, built in 1857, is still standing and is thought to be the oldest building in Wellington and the original chapel which was lost to time has been copied. 6C452F282219AC6817944FEF33820523.jpg6C462F092219AC68177242BAC7E8E4E4.jpg6C46FBB52219AC68177045CDDD81584D.jpg I poked my head into both the Catholic and Anglican cathedrals, which are situated virtually next door to each other, but I thought the exteriors of both were really ugly and the interiors lacking in any kind of atmosphere. By contrast Old St Paul's Cathedral, 1865, is very special. 6C4B38E92219AC68170FD615BB10B0DE.jpg6C4C097F2219AC68179B194462737E38.jpg I did a tour round the House of Parliament Buildings (New Zealand did away with the upper house in 1950) including 'the Beehive' which is the Executive Wing and which incorporates restaurants, a bar,a gym, a swimming pool and a theaterette. We also visited the Parliament Library, a gothic building, and were taken into the basement to view the 'base isolating' structures that have been put in place to protect the buildings from future earthquakes up to scale 7. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs in any of these buildings so no interior pics for this one. 6C47C8272219AC6817D75D3ABEB5DB29.jpg6C4875972219AC6817F7F29F2CE6850D.jpg
I had earmarked Saturday for Te Papa 6C82590B2219AC6817F1DE7CFAA888A7.jpg the national museum of New Zealand, because everyone I met had told me it deserved four or five hours but it didn't open until 10am so I hiked up the 640ft Mount Victoria and it was worth it for the views 716591CA2219AC6817D8979D4A96A0AA.jpg although when I saw how short the airport runway was I was pretty glad I wasn't using it. image

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I also learned, from one of the notice boards at the top, that due to the prevailing winds through the Cook Strait Wellington experiences winds in excess of 36mph for 176 days a year. Maybe it should be Wellington the windy city.
Te Papa is every bit as good as everyone says it is and I spent several hours here before wandering back along the waterfront in time to catch a ferry which visited four places around the bay and allowed me to see the city from the water. 6C85B4DB2219AC68179B670D33081CA7.jpgimage

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At NZ$22 for a 60 minute round trip it seemed like a bargain.
Before I went back to the hostel for dinner, and to pack for my early start the next day, I spent an hour listening to some of the free music on the waterfront.6C83FB9E2219AC681702768E1C3F408C.jpg Wellington is a lovely mix of a city and I really enjoyed my couple of days there.

Posted by busyboots 22:29 Comments (1)

Turangi, Tongariro and the road to Wellington

I had planned to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and decided to stay in Turangi rather than Taupo, where the majority of people stay, because it is 40 minutes closer to the park and I wanted to start early before it got hot and crowded. When the bus dropped passengers off at Taupo I was glad I had made that decision since it didn't look too different to Rotorua and was VERY crowded. The road south goes right alongside the Eastern shore of Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand with a surface area of 238 square miles, A52A046F2219AC68174ABCABCDB693B3.jpg it is formed from the crater of a volcano which is still gently bubbling away at the bottom, and the views from the bus were brilliant.
Turangi is a tiny town with one arcade of about a dozen shops, a library, a police station, a bar and a supermarket. The most noise was from the cicadas ?. I stayed in an amazing hostel, A Plus Backpackers, that my friend Grant would love, and I had a room to myself which was great. A Plus is really quirky, a bit Heath Robinson and with some indefinable air of friendliness that kept most people off their mobiles/laptops and talking to one another. It kind of has the feel of a hippy commune from the sixties and quite a few people come for a day or two and end up staying longer. I met a lovely couple, Nelson and Margaret, who run a dairy farm nearby and often have hostellers staying on to work for them for a while. They provide food, accommodation and pay. There were some very lively conversations but as most people were either starting the crossing early the next day or had done it and were exhausted everyone had a relatively early night.
The hostel is run by Ian, a total one off, and his wife Liz. They clearly encourage their guests to contribute artwork to the fabric of the buildings and, amongst other animals, keep a calf called 'Rosie' which they hand reared after it's mother died, and which loves attention.A51C6BAD2219AC68177182C8BF230A41.jpgA5254A1B2219AC6817E8392E632BB1D7.jpgA527508F2219AC68179AA76F1F0B70CB.jpgA528EE662219AC6817FCEB1A4A048BBA.jpg
I was on a 6am shuttle out to Tongariro and we made a couple of pick up stops and started the walk at 7am. We began in bright, clear and warm weather and a brisk pace meant stripping layers of clothing off and frequent stops (in my case) to let the heart rate get back to normal, A51509432219AC6817F4E9DFB797F629.jpg but after about an hour we had climbed into cloud which got thicker and thicker. It began to get colder so all those clothing layers went back on and then it began to rain, relentlessly, and the wind got stronger as we got higher. A5199AE32219AC6817E6F4DBCE498EBD.jpg Before we even got to the top visibility was down to a few feet and people were literally trudging in each other's footsteps and muttering about how cold it was. It was a real shame because as we got higher and higher it was not difficult to imagine how amazing the views would have been if we could have seen them. We could not even see the peaks of Tongariro or Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom for Lord of the Rings fans) and I was certainly thinking 'just let me get off this .... mountain'. It is a tough hike A52D86972219AC68171B673D14B5B4F9.jpgbut would not have been so arduous if we had been able to enjoy the views and to stop for 'photo opportunities and the picnic lunches that everyone had brought with them. In the end I think most of us were just grateful to get off the mountain and glad that at least we had done it. It took a very long, very hot shower to repair the damage to my body and my walking shoes are still drying out. I would certainly recommend it as a hike for those who have the opportunity to do it but, as with all mountains, the weather is unpredictable and can change very quickly. We all thought we were prepared, we were not!
My bus the next day did not leave until 10.45am so I was able to have a good night's sleep and a lie in on Thursday. My knees were grateful for the six hour bus ride to Wellington! The countryside heading south is really changeable. The centre of the North Island is very volcanic and the topography reflects this with the road cutting through hills on all sides. There is literally hardly any flat land and it is a bit oppressive particularly as the pine trees are densely cultivated (wood is New Zealand's third largest export) and seem to hem you in on all sides. Once you get out of this region the farmlands are really lovely and the mountain range goes on and on in the distance like a backbone through the North Island. The coast immediately to the north of Wellington is beautiful and the view of the city as you drop down into it is amazing. I am looking forward to exploring the city with my daysack on my back and my guide book in hand ?.

Posted by busyboots 22:37 Comments (0)

36 hours in Rotorua

I really liked this city. It is very easy to get around on foot and like most (it seems) New Zealand towns it is laid out in a grid. 6DEBEFB92219AC681735785BF7F42D26.jpg There are some lovely gardens with pretty little pavilions 6DEFC8C32219AC6817F5C116FF34E0D2.jpg6DEE53682219AC681726F1FBD8B7FBEE.jpg and some intresting statues 6DF41DAF2219AC68174DDCE4E6E9FCC1.jpg Lake Rotorua is the second largest lake in New Zealand and the city is well known for it's thermal activity and sulphorous smell. In various places around the city there are 'hot pools' with signs warning people not to go near them. 6DF55D8B2219AC6817C87570A89135E8.jpg6DF1710F2219AC68170E5523E77EC2DA.jpg6DF2A4B42219AC6817107713ABD1FFA6.jpg
On my first evening I decided to join a 'Maori cultural experience' involving a greeting ceremony into the Tamahaki village 6DF6F2FC2219AC6817B4B9815F9FCE63.jpg6DF853A82219AC681754C50AB62E8303.jpg some interactive demonstrations of craft and culture, 6DF982622219AC6817C6FD5DCE1976A5.jpg during which some of the male visitors were taught the haka, and some live performance art. We were also given a really good meal after being shown how it had been cooked in the traditonal way in underground ovens 6DFA87C02219AC6817D78D2CB1412637.jpg I am always slightly suspicious about the authenticity of stuff like this but this particular Maori run activity was recommended in my AA trave guide and I am glad that I did it.
On Monday morning I joined a tour to the 'thermal wonderland' of Wai-O-Tapu and it was definitely worth doing.This whole area is actively geo-thermal and there are some amazing sights 6DFB717B2219AC6817B4690A80827D94.jpg6DFC6D2A2219AC681787A0C4A8E670E7.jpg6DFE64122219AC6817B88EE716EBFC70.jpg and in the afternoon I visited the museum. This is the first museum that I have had to pay for but I think it was worth the NZ$20 fee. 6DED2B762219AC681785A687252354FD.jpg The museum was opened as a bath house in 1908 offering geo-thermal therapautic treatments to patients from around the world. It has gone through various identities since then, part of it being a nightclub for twenty five years, and it now displays each of those identities in different parts of the building. There is also a section of the building devoted to an extremely good exhibition of Maori history and life and a cinematic/seat experience that brings a volcanic explosion right into your body. Definitely worth a visit.
I am sure that Rotorua deserves a much longer stay than I had time for. Apart from anything else there are many 'adventure' activities on offer in the area, including black and white water rafting, abseiling into a massive cave and skydiving. I hope I managed to do it some justice in the short time I had there but on Tuesday morning I had to move on to Turangi for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing one of the 'must do' things in everybody's travel guide.

Posted by busyboots 22:15 Comments (1)

Bay of Islands and Waitangi wash out

On Tuesday 4th February I took the Intercity bus from Auckland to Pahia in the Bay of Islands. There are several other bus companies operating around New Zealand including the Naked Bus (I don't think you have to be naked to ride on it) and the Kiwi Experience but I opted for a Flexi-Pass with Intercity because their buses are frequent, their customer service is excellent and it only cost me NZ$313 for a 10 trip pass. This will take me to all the places, both North and South Islands, that I want to visit.
I stayed in a hostel, 'The Pickled Parrot', run by the owner Rose and would certainly recommend it. I arrived mid afternoon and took a walk around the town, which is very small and very touristy, 6831ED752219AC68178AC6218F593DAD.jpg and around the bay to Waitangi. I also took the ferry to Russell (NZ$12 return) which used to be called 'the hell hole of the pacific' due to the pirates and prostitutes that inhabited it. Now it is very pretty with some quite historic building and up market houses. 683578E52219AC68175D8BFA31AF4D1E.jpg683427542219AC681794E4A1CA040990.jpg6836B2562219AC6817A8A7767820718F.jpg6837C1BD2219AC6817DF8CBFA93B25F8.jpg
I paid NZ$95, including morning snack and lunch, for a day sail around the bay with Michael Carera on Gungha II on Wednesday. There were about fifteen people in the group and we all got on pretty well. Michael took us to a small bay where we had an unexpected and absolutely wonderful dolphin encounter. There were four dolphins, three adults (much bigger than I had realised) and a young one and they spent ages swimming under and around the boat and leaping into the air with each other. There was an opportunity for swimming and kayaking whilst lunch was prepared and most of us also walked up the hill behind the beach to get a better view. 6839CB752219AC681749B8B4F2CCAA3B.jpg68A437A32219AC6817DA2A7777A32609.jpg Unfortunately the day was overcast and there was no wind so we were not really able to sail but at least it stayed dry until we arrived back in Paihia. Then it started to pour with rain and did not stop for the next two days! It reminded me of home.
Thursday was Waitangi Day, a public holiay in New Zealand, and it celebrates the signing of The Waitangi Treaty, between the various Maori tribes and the British government on that day in 1840. The Royal New Zealand Navy has a presence, their band play and a gun salute is fired from a RNZN ship offshore. 68A324DC2219AC6817FB430C50578992.jpg68A544A12219AC68178975519663FFBF.jpgThere is also Maori music and dancing and plenty of stalls selling food, gifts and clothing. Unfortunately the bad weather prevented many of the planned outdoor activities from taking place and a protest against oil drilling led to the doors on the wharenui being locked to stop the protesters getting in. That, of course, also stopped anyone already inside from getting out for a while. 68A62D6C2219AC6817A4FAC0A5B10F1B.jpg68A751922219AC681745ACCF92DF407A.jpg We spent the rest of the day in the hostel where I ended up giving English lessons to two young Italians and a Spanish lady. Great fun and much laughter, perhaps I have missed my vocation.?
Friday is a return to Auckland to spend a couple of nights with old friends and then on to Rotorua.

Posted by busyboots 20:04 Comments (0)

And so to New Zealand ...

...two days in Auckland

I flew from Sydney to Auckland on Saturday 1st February and took the Airport Express to the centre of the city arriving at the YHA Central around 12am. The only misadventure en route was as we were about to disembark the plane. You know how they always give out those announcements about being careful when you open the overhead lockers because things might have moved during the flight? And you always think, yeah, yeah. Well, as one of the lockers was opened two bottles of duty free alcohol fell out and smashed onto the head of one of the passengers. He was groaning, blood was pouring down the side of his face and we all had to sit back down so that a first aider could get to him. Fortunately it was his own duty free, ergo his own mis-packing of the locker, but it was a salutary lesson for everybody aboard.
Despite the lateness of my arrival the bus was fine and it cost NZ$16 for a 40 minute trip into the city. The YHA Central is not as well located as most I have stayed at and it was in a noisy location but apart from that it was clean and comfortable and the other guests were very friendly.
On Sunday I did a 30 minute walk to Mount Eden and although it was hot and, obviously, uphill it was well worth it for the views. 36EB58262219AC6817149BC0E7B72D05.jpg36EC2DC42219AC6817E216FF748FE500.jpg36ECE9452219AC681743678B27B97463.jpg36EE043F2219AC6817974E37734FF43D.jpg I took a different route back down to the city and it took me through 'The Domain' (the main public park for the city) where several groups were enjoying Sunday morning cricket games and where I came across a bandstand where jazz was being played and lots of families were out with their picnics. 37720D532219AC681751E169B7AD6C3B.jpg3774E7992219AC6817BA5796DD563DCA.jpg There is a really lovely Wintergarden in The Domain 3774257C2219AC6817776F940CFDE181.jpg377337832219AC6817977F770F4CD43A.jpg and the Auckland museum is also located there. I did not visit the museum but headed on into the city past the Old Government house with it's beautiful clocktower and which is now part of the University campus. 3775C2412219AC68176BFD2E61F23DF3.jpg377796D62219AC6817D27F867DB09E79.jpg
I ended up at Auckland waterfront and took the ferry to Devonport, home to the Royal New Zealand Navy, and an historic part of the city. The ferry costs NZ$12 for a round trip and is an excellent way to see the city from the water. 3778EE6B2219AC68177906C537FBACE5.jpg377D1E552219AC681768FC7F9B6CF7D7.jpg The view as you approach Devonport is lovely and when you arrive there is a horse and carriage taxi waiting for anyone wanting to see the town in a leisurely way. 377FBC622219AC681712D89AC5537D27.jpg Devonport is lovely with a short high street featuring lots of food outlets and gift shops, some beautiful (and clearly expensive) homes and a long promenade with the Navy Museum at the end of it. 3780EF792219AC68177427DB4D45FF3C.jpg39AD3EB32219AC6817D278DFF5F0FED6.jpg
On Monday I walked to Parnell, another historic, and very pretty, part of the city that is well worth a visit. 3817F88A2219AC681767B83F5B64D16B.jpg3817297F2219AC6817E9BD9DDDDB003A.jpg38164BE02219AC6817112EF5D69BCF32.jpg38152DF32219AC6817DD971A14370AEF.jpg I saw a charming little house to rent 3818F1332219AC6817F481BD476663DF.jpg and another that would be good 'dooer upper' 381A3D562219AC6817D371D684C7C6DB.jpg but I'm sure the prices on both would be quite hefty. The Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral in Parnell is amazing 381B09072219AC68171E073DACFBA10C.jpg381C39B82219AC6817EB4739BE48366A.jpg and the tiny St Mary's, located right next door to it, was built in 1886 and is regarded as 'one of the finest wooden gothic buildings in the world'. 381D546B2219AC681729D69513974986.jpg381E57352219AC6817B1C28DB6D6065E.jpg
Heading back into the main part of the city takes you past the Parnell Rose Gardens, where unfortunately the roses were already dying, and through a small park to the lovely Judges Bay 381F5E472219AC681790872328EEAF23.jpgFrom there it is a half hour walk back to the harbour where there is the Downtown shopping mall and many bars, restaurants and high end shops. 3820576B2219AC68172B62413631F4B4.jpg The Sky Tower, which dominates the skyline wherever you are in the city, is 'the tallest building in the southern hemisphere' and there is a viewing platform and revolving restaurant at the top. You can walk around the top, 192 metres up and harnessed only to a rail above you for the price of NZ$145 and you can throw yourself off, on a base jump by wire for NZ$225. NZ$290 will buy you both activities. Since I plan to do a tandem skydive in Queenstown I gave this one a miss.
I discovered a great little 'English' pub, The Albion, 3821429E2219AC6817914CAA0A8E485A.jpg just aross the road from the Skytower and had a quick drink and a long chat to the two very English ladies working behind the bar then set off for the art gallery. This is more impressive outside than it inside. Although there are a couple of nice galleries in architectural terms, nothing in the choice of artworks had the 'wow' factor for me and I have met a few other people, both old and young, who feel the same way. I'm not really sure who the curator is trying to appeal to with his/her choices here. 38221FA22219AC68172638FBC95EA428.jpg3822FA272219AC68173F821109F98662.jpg
Auckland has been interesting but I will be glad to get out of a city. Next stop is the Bay of Islands, sailing and Waitangi Day. Can't wait ?!

Posted by busyboots 23:05 Comments (1)

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