Thursday, October 2, 2014

All is Wellington


Days 29 & 30:  Picton to Wellington, NZ.  Wednesday began early as we packed up and made our way to the ferry terminal at 7 a.m.  Of the two ferry services operating on the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands, we had opted to book passage on Bluebridge, the smaller of the two, but the only one offering free wifi service, a helpful feature on a 3 ½ hour trip.  Though the Hertz office was located at the terminal of the larger Interislander Ferry, this presented no problem as we were able to park the car at Bluebridge and leave the keys with a ticket agent.  Hertz would send someone to pick up the car.

Smooth sailing across the Cook
Since we had saved $100 by not having to take the car island hopping, we opted to fork out $40 for a private cabin on the ferry.  With two beds, a full bathroom, table and chairs, it made for a very comfortable trip.  Though the Cook can be quite windy and choppy, we lucked out with a smooth voyage in calm water.  After a bit of a mix-up on where we were supposed to pick up our rental car, we soon sorted things out and arrived by noon at our apartment hotel in the heart of New Zealand's capital city—At Home in Wellington, a name which created a bit of confusion when locals asked in conversation where we were staying.

The Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa
The compact and very walkable CBD (central business district) of Wellington wraps around the city’s harbor in horseshoe fashion.  After settling in at the hotel, we strolled over to the next block to visit Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum.  Situated on the waterfront, the museum houses six floors of exhibits dedicated to the country’s culture and environment.  In addition to the typical art and artifacts, Te Papa abounds with multimedia and interactive features, appealing to a wide audience of all ages.

Materials:  (L) hand-knitted VHS tape, (R) discarded zippers
When we entered this free admission wonderland, I made a beeline for the World of WearableArt exhibit while Ken wandered through some historical sections.  Though I’m certainly no fashionista, I do get a kick out of the creativity and competition of the Project Runway television show, and this exhibit featured the ultimate unconventional materials challenge.  An annual competition, Wellington’s World of WearableArt fashion show represents a collision of fashion, art and theater, turning traditional design on its head with wildly improbable costumes and clothing made from the most unexpected materials—cable ties, pine needles, twine, wood veneer, or whatever the artist conceives.  Te Papa’s exhibit features many of the creations from past shows as well as large video screens playing back the high drama of their presentations.

An exhibit of the works of New Zealand artist Billy Apple left us scratching our heads.  Leaning more toward the representative end of the art spectrum, though we do enjoy impressionism and abstract pieces, we are confounded by the vagaries and seemingly pointless nature of conceptual art.  A case in point is Billy Apple’s work Sold on exhibit at Te Papa.  It is merely a large receipt for a work of art sold to the National Gallery, except that there was no work sold.  The receipt, along with the transaction behind it, IS the art work.  You be the judge.  Is this a reflection of the museum curator’s gullibility, a tribute to Billy Apple’s marketing ability, or a brilliant work of conceptual art?  After several hours in the museum, we wandered back to the hotel, prepared dinner and made plans for Wellington, Day 2.

With a full agenda for Thursday, we began with a drive up the narrow one-lane track to Khandallah Park near the summit of Mount Kaukau.  During a short hike on the park's Northern Track, we found ourselves in yet another lushly verdant rain forest.  A chorus of raucous birds provided commentary and entertainment as we tramped along the deeply shaded trail.

Khandallah Park
From the park, we navigated around to the other side of the city in search of the Mount Victoria lookout.  As we were stumbling around trying to find the viewpoint, we encountered Dave, a friendly local refuse management operator, who pointed us in the right direction and took 20 minutes out of his day to offer us advice on places to visit and things to do in the Wellington area.

On the peak of the 650-ft Mount Victoria, we were reminded why the Kiwi capital is often called Windy Wellington.  Today's forecast called for wind at 25 to 35 mph.  Gusts atop this summit with its spectacular views of the city must have been a bit higher.  As in Chicago, Wellington's winds are intensified by nearby waters.  The city's prevailing winds accelerate through the Cook Strait, giving Wellington more than 170 days of wind in excess of 38 mph each year.

View from Mount Victoria
Returning to the city center, we found the winds a bit calmer as we stopped by our hotel for a FaceTime birthday call with our travel buddy Steven, who turned 12 today in Tennessee.  Actually it was already the day after his birthday in Wellington, but still his special day where he was.

A couple of blocks east of the hotel, we came upon Allen Street, a cozy laneway with a nice variety of cafes.  A 2014 Trip Advisor certificate of excellence posted on the window had us studying the menu on the door of Istana Malaysia.  The door opened and a congenial server assured us of a plentiful variety of vegetarian options.  The food did not disappoint.  Some time later, fortified by our delicious lunch, we set off on foot to see more of Wellington's many attractions.

Another outstanding museum with free admission
Heading in the general direction of the Parliament building, we stopped in to check out the respected Museum of Wellington City and Sea.  Housed in a nineteenth century waterfront warehouse, the museum offers a compelling collection of exhibits celebrating Wellington's history.  Perhaps the most intriguing was on the museum's upper floor.  In a room at the end of the hall, we found a small exhibit of artifacts similar to others we had seen in the museum—lanterns, books, baskets, bottles, shells.  Several benches sat on the floor facing the display, which was behind glass.  As we were speculating about the nature of the exhibit, the lights dimmed and a tiny woman walked from behind a basket, lit the lantern with a flick of her hand and began telling the story of the Maori creation legend.  As she talked, she walked among the objects and even interacted with them, sitting on a book, leaning on a bottle.  We were mesmerized and learned later that this brilliant little hologram was created by an Australian company using green screen technology and a precision projection system.  At one point in her tale, the entire exhibit appeared to be engulfed in flames.  Simply brilliant!

Spectravision form of virtual reality
Tearing ourselves away from this captivating museum, we wandered on north toward the Thorndon section of the city, home to the national government.  Along the way we passed one of the world's largest wooden buildings, disguised to mimic stone.  Built in the early 1870s, just twenty years after New Zealand became an autonomous British colony, the Government Buildings Historic Reserve was built to house the burgeoning government and served as the first Parliament House.  With widespread native kauri forests, wood was a plentiful building material.  Yet the government wanted this important symbol of its nationhood to convey a sense of strength and stability implied by the popular Italianate style.  Today the structure houses a law school.

Old Government Buildings
At last we reached Parliament House and the Executive Building, known for obvious reasons as the Beehive.  At the visitor entrance to Parliament, we underwent the standard security screening with a bag check and walk-through metal detector.  Security guards were friendly and welcoming.  Self-guided tours of the building were not permitted, and the guided tour came with heavy restrictions.  Because visitors are taken behind the scenes where ministers and members of Parliament are working, participants on the tour are not permitted to take any personal belongings.  This was similar to what we encountered at the U.S. Capitol.  Where it differed was in where your belongings would be held.  Rather than in a secured locker with a key issued to us as in Washington, we were expected to surrender our passports and other valuables at the coat check, where they would be dumped into a plastic tub alongside those holding the possessions of other visitors.  Call us paranoid, but we were just not willing to comply with what we considered an unnecessary risk to our belongings.

Beehive Building and Parliament House
After checking out the excellent exhibits in the Parliament House visitor center, we ventured over to Old St. Paul's Cathedral, another Wellington structure built from native timbers.  Constructed in the 1860s, the church served as the home of Wellington's Anglican congregation for almost 100 years.  Today it is a popular historic site and serves as a venue for a variety of cultural events.

Old St. Paul's Cathedral
When she learned we were American, the docent at Old St. Paul's pointed us toward a special exhibit of a U.S. flag and Marines flag.  During World War II, more than 20,000 U.S. Marines were stationed in the Wellington area.  With Japan so close by, the Marines' presence gave locals an improved sense of security, lacking since so many of their own men had been sent to foreign battlefields.

National Library
Heading back toward the hotel, we passed the National Library and couldn't resist popping in for a look.  We were treated to an outstanding exhibit on New Zealand innovators, free wifi, and a charming cafe, where we enjoyed a spot of tea.  Giving new meaning to "user-friendly," the library offered numerous cozy areas with comfortable seating where individuals and small groups could find a bit of privacy.

As we exited the library, rain began to fall—just the excuse we needed to flag a taxi for the return trip to the hotel, where we prepared a nice salad and began packing up to leave this charming city tomorrow.

Daily Stats:
  • Started in Picton, ended in Wellington
  • Mileage - 117   (Trip total: 15,103)
  • Weather - 42° to 58°, rainy, partly cloudy, WINDY
  • Miles walked -  wow, a bunch!

More Photos from Today

Our ride from South to North
Great food here!
The exhibit home of our hologram friend
Dave, our friendly rubbish collecting guy
A Medusa tree we saw near Old St. Paul's
Old St. Paul's sanctuary
Library of Parliament
Fun exhibit of old advertising and public service posters at the National Library
Jump platform at harbor with various kinds of jumps suggested 
Wellington Harbor
Wellington Harbor and City to Sea pedestrian bridge
Another view from Mount Victoria

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Picking Our Way North


Day 28:  Nelson to Picton, NZ.  After a very interesting conversation with our innkeeper Max this morning, we departed from Nelson around 8:30, under cloudless blue skies, still thinking about a Florida couple we had just heard about from Max.  Apparently they were naively operating from an American interstate highway mindset when they did their New Zealand planning, for they decided it was feasible to drive from Queenstown to Nelson in a day.  As the crow flies, the distance is about 350 miles.  But their rental car had no wings, so they had to travel by road, adding another 160 miles to their one-day journey.  Make no mistake, this drive bore no resemblance to the effortless 500-mile jaunt on the wide, straight, level ribbon of I-95 from Savannah to Miami.

This trip did have one facet in common with the Savannah-Miami route.  You could drive it on a single highway—the two-lane State Highway 6—but that's where the similarities ended.  Getting from Queenstown to Nelson requires traversing a half dozen mountain ranges, winding along hundreds of sharp curves and switchbacks, slithering along serpentine sections of coastal highway with sheer dropoffs and, as often as not, no guardrail as a safety net.  Throw in slow-downs for the many one-lane bridges and single-lane strips of road in the mountains, plus the novelty of left-lane driving, and it's obvious this trip will push past 12 hours.  And it did.

The hapless couple arrived at the hotel in Nelson near midnight, having driven through some of New Zealand's most beautiful scenery in the dark.  And before sunrise this morning, they sped off to Picton to catch a ferry to the North Island.  Having made similar kinds of miscalculations of our own, we felt really bad for them.  They flew halfway around the world to dash from place to place and miss much of what they came here to see.

After retracing our Monday route back to Havelock, the green-lipped mussel capital, we turned onto Queen Charlotte Drive, a 25-mile sinuous route edged with native forests.  The road continued winding lazily up and downhill past endless bays and coves and sounds, and even arms, until it meandered around one last bend into the town of Picton.

One-third of New Zealand's timber exports go to China, their second largest trading partner.
Just before we rolled into town we got a look at Waimahara Wharf in Shakespeare Bay, the exit port for some of the millions of logs exported from New Zealand each year.  And in Momonangi Bay, we spotted the Spirit of New Zealand, a 150-ft square rigger tall ship built for and used as the focus of a youth development program.

The core program accepts forty trainees, ages 15 to 18, from all over New Zealand.  Split evenly between male and female, the group is set afloat on a ten-day voyage to share the challenge of sailing a square rigger.  From their rigorous adventure, trainees reap confidence and friendships as well as a new set of skills.  And yes, more than a few bragging rights.

Spirit of New Zealand
Once in Picton, we checked into the Harbour View Motel, where our studio room featured a balcony overlooking the recently remodeled town marina.  Like many other tourists who visit Picton, we were there to catch the ferry from New Zealand's South Island to the North.  After a flavorful lunch at Le Cafe, a local bistro in the heart of town, we visited the ferry terminal to talk to the Hertz agent about the rental car process and to see the vessel we'll be riding to Wellington.

Picton port
We had heard that the international car rental companies do not permit their cars to cross from one of New Zealand's islands to the other.  As part of a single rental agreement, you drop off the car you've been driving on one island at the ferry terminal.  At your destination, the rental company has a similar car waiting at the terminal.  We were never able to determine the reasoning behind this rule, but it saved us the $100 ferry fare for the car, so we certainly did not object to the policy.

At the Picton port this afternoon, we spotted Sarah, a petite 30-something vagabond from Britain.  Wearing an 80-liter backpack on her back, a 25-liter one on her chest, and large tote bags on each shoulder, she was hard to miss. And her appearance stoked our curiosity about her travel story.  Surely she must be carrying a tent, sleeping bag and other camping gear with a load that large.  Wrong.

Sarah chuckled when we asked if she were camping, instead blaming her lengthy travel schedule for her excess baggage, which must have weighed 60 pounds or more.  She explained that she is in the final third of a nine-month trip, with three months in Southeast Asia, three in Australia, and three in New Zealand.  We were quite eager to hear about her adventures and why she would carry so much "stuff" around with her, but she had a ferry to catch, and since she laughed in response to Ken's inquiry about her penning a book about her travels, we'll never know.

Picton Town Marina
While I worked on the blog this afternoon, Ken crossed the Coathanger Bridge to Shelley Beach on the opposite side of the marina for a hike on the scenic Harbour View Trail.  Since we must report to the ferry terminal by 7 a.m. tomorrow, we turned in early to rest up for our North Island adventures.

Daily Stats:
  • Started in Nelson, ended in Picton
  • Mileage - 78  (Trip total: 14,986)
  • Weather - 39° to 57°, sunny
  • Overloaded British tourists - 1
  • Frenzied American tourists - 2
  • Gas price - $6.96/gallon

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