North Island, New Zealand: February 27 2008
Unfortunately, we had some sort of glitch and have lost our Wellington photos...so words will have to suffice for the moment. The afternoon of Feb 19 we drove off the ferry into Wellington after crossing from the South Island to the North Island of New Zealand. Wellington is the political capital of New Zealand...AND one of the main hubs for much of the Lord of the Rings filming. We gave ourselves three nights in the area so that we could explore leisurely. We started touring the city centre by foot...Parliament, Te Papa (award winning National Museum), waterfront and we even rode the bright red cable car from Lambton Quay up to the Botanic gardens for fabulous hilltop views. Wellington is often called a "Little Hong Kong" because of its city centre nestled between the harbor and the hills...it is beautiful (but Hong Kong is still a jewel unto itself for Erin).
We observed an afternoon debating session of Parliament...quietly seated in the balcony...as questions were asked of various Members. For a quick intro we were given a sheet of paper with a seating chart on one side (individuals identified by name and political party) and a list of questions/discussion topics for the day on the other side. Questions usually focused on the progress achieved (or feet dragging) on various issues. The explanations were often met with snickering from the opposing party members...it seems even elected officials cannot contain their sarcasm and jab one another openly and heatedly...divas?!
The award winning Te Papa Museum was interactive and wonderfully diverse...telling the story of New Zealand's art, history and natural environment. Countless bird species were the first settlers of New Zealand, including the Moa...believed to be a sort of giant ostrich standing twelve feet tall. The diverse array of birds were followed by the Maori, a Polynesian people, that originally settled New Zealand in the 14th Century. Much of the tattoos, art and ceremonies seemed familiar to us after our travels through the islands of French Polynesia...gosh, could they paddle their outriggers...present-day authorities believe the Maori rowed all the way from the Society Islands. Finally, Captain Cook and other Europeans arrived as the third wave of settlers. The Maori and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840...a merging of the two cultures that remains controversial to this day but is still in place. Our favorite exhibit was the temporary Whale Exhibit...complete with whales singing over speakers and a gigantic whale skeleton suspended overhead. We capped off our hoofing around the city with a visit to the movie theatre where the Lord of the Rings had its premiere...drat, workman stopped the show before it could begin.
Mt Victoria is a collection of walking tracks on a hillside within walking distance of Wellington's central business district (CBD). Several of these paths were used for scenes in the Lord of the Rings...not much signage was provided but no worries...we had the GPS coordinates of specific filming locations. Off we went with the hand-held GPS, maps, camera and quite a bit of excitement. We are pretty sure we found the spot where the Hobbits hid as the Nazgul went past as well as the accompanying scenes of the early stages of their journey away from the shire. Okay, maybe a bit nerdy with eyes glued to the GPS...but what fun! We also sampled a few Wellington eateries that cast and crew were supposed to have frequented...Sam Wise Gamgee enjoyed the Irish pub Molly Malone's and the Ranger favoreded the Green Parrot. Fabulous nachos at Molly Malone's...and the ubiquitous Guinness...while the Green Parrot served big, old fashioned dinners...both were delicious.
As we had anticipated, the North Island touring has become squeezed for time. Our main focus on the North Island was to catch up with Jason and Ems (s/v Serai) who are now working and living in Auckland. For that reason we made a bonzai trip from Wellington to Auckland with only a quick dinner and sleep at Lake Taupo along the way. We missed loads but that will be for next time; Havelock, Hawke's Bay wine region, art deco of Napier, thermal baths of Rotorua, surfer town of Raglan, rugged Bay of Islands...we cannot see everything. Lake Taupo was a pleasant stop (Feb 22) with wonderful accommodations at the Lake Taupo Motor Inn (www.laketaupomotorinn.co.nz). We had a friendly dinner at the Mole & Chicken Pub (www.moleandchicken.co.nz)...another great nachos plate...and watched the Wellington Hurricanes beat the Brisbane Reds in a rugby match on the telly (yes, even grown men refer to the TV this way in New Zealand). A friendly bar neighbor chatted with us but Erin was too overwhelmed by accents at this point to make any assumptions about his origins...okay, his voice was a dead ringer for Sean Connery...but she took no chances. Well yes, after more conversation we learned that he is now a local Kiwi...after emigrated from Scotland.
On the road from Lake Taupo to Takapuna Feb 23. Hhhhmmm, certainly a bit strange looking for Jason and Ems at a street address rather than a dock slip or anchorage...but how great it was to see them! They are happily settled (after only three weeks in their new four walls) and we started with a relaxing lunch of cheeses, meats, breads and salad...and were joined by Garr and Nicole (fellow cruisers we met in Tonga). It felt really great to be in such familiar company. We had a tour of Takapuna with Jason and Ems and then took the ferry across to Auckland (Feb 24) for a breakfast at the revolving Orbit Restaurant...rotating 1,000 feet above the city with 360 degree views...and glass floors. Yikes, it is a real mental trick to c-a-s-u-a-l-l-y walk across those glass pieces. We had a cloudy morning which meant only glimpses of the view; however, we were still able to see the jumpers. Literally, people pay money and jump off the needle thin structure...certainly makes for unique breakfast entertainment. After breakfast we avoided the drizzle by wandering around the New Zealand National Maritime Museum for a few hours. It is incredibly dense with all sorts of sailing lore, artifacts, videos of America's Cup races, figureheads, actual boats (sails and all), charts and on and on...many visits would be the only way to do the place real justice. Back in Takapuna for dinner a la Jason...an English Sunday roast...complete with all the fixin's...including Yorkshire pudding! Amazing!
We spent the next couple of days exploring Auckland and hanging out with our friends. We visited the Auckland War Memorial Museum with its funky architecture and complete Maori meeting house...and Chris posed with a penguin...no, these guys no longer roam the earth but they once did...never before thought of a penguin as a...predator?! The port of Auckland is a forest of masts...arms of slips literally number A to Z in a single marina. We wandered the docks, checked out the fish market and kept a towel handy as Chris drooled over the rows and rows of chandleries. Our last night was near the airport so that our pre-dawn departure would involve as little drama as possible. Surprisingly, we found a little Greek cafe within walking distance of our motel where we sat on the patio under umbrellas and dined on a dinner of mezes. Off we flew from Auckland back to Brisbane. Although we have only scratched the surface of New Zealand's unbelievable diversity we loved what we found and hope to return someday to these friendly people, stunning landscapes...and delicious meat pies!