Wellington is a beautiful anomaly – bright blue sky one minute and stormy clouds the next. The single constant is the wind. It’s the one place I’ve been in the world where you can watch the weather change in front of your eyes. Looking up at the clouds, you can see them getting buffeted by the winds, moving them out over the Cook Straight.
To take advantage of the nice weather (and it was nice about 75% of the time – for the rest, see the fickleness I mentioned above), we venture up the cable car to the top of the Botanic Gardens. The walk back down into the city takes us past widespread vistas of Wellington and through beautiful rose gardens. We also check out the “Beehive” (a Wellington architectural icon), the Parliament buildings and also to our final destination – Te Papa.
Day at the Museum
Te Papa is NZ’s national museum and it deserves the title. Huge and sprawling, with four floors of interactive and interesting displays, Te Papa has to be one of the best museums I’ve been to in ages. I’m finding NZ Maori history really fascinating and there is no shortage of places to learn about it. Unfortunately, we are pressed for time and don’t get around the entire museum. I wonder if you can really do it justice, even with a whole day. When I make it back to Wellington I’ll pay another visit, that’s for sure.
Napier to Hamilton
I’ve got a lot of ground to cover over the next few blog entries – I’ve literally covered a lot of ground! Our stop in Napier wasn’t what we expected because of a bad turn in the weather. Maybe this is the curse striking again, but many of the farmers out there see it as a blessing! Napier gets its claim to fame by being flattened by an earthquake in the early 1930′s and rebuilt in Art Deco style. After a quick visit with Lofty’s friend Naomi and a tour of the earthquake museum we headed off to Hamilton to watch some test match cricket – Black Caps vs. England.
At last! Our luck begins to change. We arrive at the cricket grounds and the forecast is for sunshine. It is a good thing too, as we claim a spot of the grassy hill designed for spectators. Lofty fills me in on some of the rules and jargon of the sport and on the players (like Sidebottom – ha!) England are bowling. We spend the rest of the day sunbathing, picnicing and occasionally cheering the odd wicket (don’t I sound in the know?) The afternoon is languid apart from the jeers of England’s “Barmy Army” fan club – but I’m pleased to say I didn’t need to break out the book once!
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It does feel very strange to be without Sarah after basically living inside her pocket for the past 5 months. Our separation took place in Dunedin, but not without a few last minute jaunts. Along with my new travel buddy Lofty, we hit up the Otago peninsular and watched an albatross soar through the air; we visited the inside of the Cadbury’s factory and gorged on free chocolate; we saw lots of creepy taxidermied animals and more interesting Maori exhibits at the Otago Museum and we ate amazing steak which we cooked ourselves on 400degree stones.
Lake Tekapo, Take Two
Having missed out on the Earth and Sky astronomy tour with Sarah the first time around, I was determined to make another attempt. This time, success! The bus took us up to the top of Mt. John, where Canterbury University hosts their telescopes. The bus couldn’t use its headlights because of light interference with the powerful lenses, so the driver carefully navigated up the windy mountain road in the dark… scary! By the time we reached the top, our eyes had adjusted to the darkness and the sky was wonderfully clear. Still not a patch on the Serengeti and especially not on Abel Tasman, but still clear enough to see major star action.
Our guide was a young amateur astronomer from Finland who could talk incessantly about the stars. She pointed out the Southern Cross (I’ve finally seen it!) as well as our closest neighbouring star, Alpha Centuri and the two planets in the sky, Mars and Saturn. We then got to use the telescope to see the constellations. Seeing Saturn through a powerful telescope has to be one of the coolest sights of the night sky. The rings were perfect and you could even glimpse one of Saturn’s moons, Titan. I learned, and then witnessed for myself through the telescope, that Alpha Centuri is really made up of two stars orbiting each other. After that, the clouds came in to obscure our view of the heavens, so we warmed up with some hot chocolate and left the mountain, lights on this time.
Bye Bye, South Island
The south island of New Zealand is out of this world. I had so much fun exploring all it has to offer, and I still didn’t get to see all of it. I will find myself back here, I feel it in my bones. There are too many ties that lead back to NZ for me to ignore. But moving on is always exciting, and I’m not leaving the country yet.
The Interislander ferry is supposed to be one of the most spectacular ferry crossings in the world. But as luck would have it, it seemed the south island was as sad to see me go as I was from it… hard sheets of rain fell as we pulled out of Picton on our way to the capital city of Wellington. It was still raining when we arrived and Castle II protested violently against being set up in the howling winds. Wellington is by far the windiest place I have ever been in. All through the night, the wind battered our tent. We had to get up three times in the night to peg it back down and even then the flexible poles bent themselves inward as if they were being contorted and mangled by some torturing puppeteer. Finally, dawn broke and the tent settled… for the time being. For as anxious as I had been about the tent during the night, I could only imagine what would happen to it during the day, with nobody inside it to hold it down! It did survive, but only just. They don’t call Wellington the ‘windy city’ for nothing.
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