01.11.2013 - 08.11.2013 68 °F
Here are some things to know about NZ. Although it is around the size of Japan, New Zealand’s population is just over four million, making it one of the world’s least populated countries. That's not counting the sheep, however. There are around 9 sheep to every 1 human. 30% of the land is forest and nowhere in New Zealand is more than 120 km from the coast. Being close to the International dateline, it is the first country to greet the new day although I can't personally vouch for this. To be honest, I never really had much interest in visiting this country. I made the decision to go following Steve's departure from Australia. He had to get back to the US two weeks earlier than I. So with the time remaining I flew from Melbourne to Wellington, the southernmost capital city in the world. ( And I bet you thought the capital was Auckland. Actually it was before it was moved to today's location).
Wellington has a San Francisco feel to it albeit much smaller. It's at the southwestern tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range with about 400,00 urban residents. It is surrounded by a big harbor, beaches, and hills. A number of sections have vintage Victorian buildings and homes. It is a city where you are sure to eat well. Many of the restaurants and cafes have excellent kitchen. I know because I tried as many as I could! And like San Francisco, it experiences earthquakes and is on the same fault line, part of the Ring of Fire. It's even got a cable car. Here's a view...
On the waterfront, some art (?)
I stayed at the Downtown Backpackers, located in a "historic" Art Deco building. The "art deco" is quite fading but it served its purpose. Directly across the street from the train station, two blocks from the harbor, and three blocks from Parliament provided a great location. An aside on backpacker accommodations. In NZ they seem to be the budget accommodations of choice. BBH is the most popular network and places to stay can be found virtually anywhere. I chose this approach over hotels and was never disappointed. In each I had a private room with a bathroom ensuite and some access to wifi. Many have kitchens, travel desks, daily events, bars, hot tubs, even pools, and of course, comraderie. And they take credit cards for payment. In fact you could say that New Zealand is a plastic nation. I read that almost all personal financial transactions are made with a card , credit or debit. My VISA cc was accepted everywhere for even the smallest transactions. I only used my ATM card once, at the airport upon arrival.
Among the first things After settling in was to visit i-SITE. It is New Zealand’s official visitor information network. There are over 80 i-SITEs nationwide which means you can find one in almost every town and city you want to visit. Every person who works at an i-SITE is a local travel expert for their home town. They will help you find quality activities, attractions, accommodation, transport and handle the bookings. They charge no fees and they were able to get better prices than I could. I found them to be the best of the tourist offices in all my RTW travels. In addition this one offered a two hour walking tour (for a fee). One of our stops was Old St. Paul's church. A timber gothic revival style, it is the oldest wooden structure still in use in the Southern Hemisphere.
Today it is only used for special events but as luck would have it, the church had a quartet performing that evening. They were actually quite good even though they look like zombies (due to my poor pic taking skills).
One of them is famous (more or less but he was certainly amusing)...
They even sold wine and sandwiches to enhance the experience. You really have to love those Anglicans!
This country has some excellent museums, maybe not always for the quality of their collections but surely for their presentation. Among the several I visited in Wellington The Museum of New Zealand, affectionately called Te Papa (our place in Maori), is noted for its social history collection. The building from the outside....
Level 4 and 5 of Te Papa is about the most exposure I got to the the Maori culture. Maoris (a flashback from my anthropology class) were the first inhabitants and believed to have come from eastern Polynesia, arriving between 800 and 1300. This makes NZ the last major landmass to be populated (with the exception of the polar regions). The first Euopean explorers came in 1642 led by Able Tasman, a Dutchman. His group left when a number were killed by the Maori. It wasn't until 1769 that James Cook, an English captain, arrived and mapped the land. Subsequently it was colonized by the British but was never set up as a penal colony like Australia.
There was also A special exhibit on WOW! World of Wearable art. The exhibit displayed some of the attending garments of the World of WearableArt Awards Show, a performance spectacle held annually in Wellington during September. Photos are not permitted to this is the only one I could take...too bad because the "costumes" are EXTRAORDINARY!!
Since I was in Wellington, it was an excellent chance to check out the the buildings that comprise Parliament. There are three and each was built at a different time and in a different style. The newest is called the "beehive" and that's just how it looks. (No pic but trust me, it's not very attractive). The first parliament was held in in 1855 but moved to a more central location between the two islands at Wellington in 1865. It is a part of the British Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II is officially Queen of New Zealand and is represented by a Governor General who ratifies all laws put before her. It's leader is a Prime Minister. It has only one legislative branch, called the House of Representatives (although based on GB's House of Commons). The electorate of about 125 represent a population of 4 mil. (That is one per 32,000 people compared to the US which is one to 700,000+ Originally there was also a Senate (based on the US model) but later eliminated because it was were ineffective. (Hmmm....) In 1893 New Zealand gave women the right to vote making it the first major nation to have universal suffrage. No wonder it's such cool country.
Wellington is a very walkable city. One of the ways to cover some ground (!) is to visit the Botanical Gardens. It is located in Kelburn, a suburb in the hills overlooking the central city. I got there by taking the cable car from Lambton Quay (pronounced "key"), the main shopping street, and returning on foot. This is a stop along the way....
And here is something I did not know about camellias...
On another day I took a train to Featherston then bus to Martinborough, the latter a town about an hour outside the city. It is located in the Wairarapa Valley which produces most notably, Pinot Noir. It is a young wine industry. The most mature vines are only about 30 years old and there are not more than 25 wineries. Not all of them have tasting rooms. It is easy to cover a number of them on foot, which is what I did. Unfortunately, most weren't open when I arrived in the morning so I had the opportunity to do a lot more walking than tasting. The first I visited, Te Kairanga, is now owned by an American, Bill Foley, who also owns other wineries throughout the world including Sebastiani in CA. I was unimpressed but they said they have a new winemaker and to look out for the 2013 vintage. Next was Alana Estate. The pinots didn't do it but I liked their Gruner Veitliner 2013. The third was Poppies, the name of the woman who is the winemaster. She had a good schtick and posed for a photo.
All on all, none was outstanding and the prices are high. Of the ones I tasted , they ranged from $34 to $110 NZD. According to the Martinborough Wine store the best are Ata Rangi, Escarpment Vineyard, Martinborough, Peregrine, and Mt. Difficulty. Unfortunately, I didn't taste any of these but have a good reason to return! In addition there is a very good jazz festival in September according to a shop owner.