With a goal to reach the South Island by February 1, decided to make a move and get down to Wellington. The weather turned foul again anyway, there is nothing better to do but to drive through sheets of sideways blowing rain.
To get there, we drive up and over a very steep mountain pass. Shifting back and forth between 1st and 2nd gear, we grind our way up and over, around hairpin turns and narrowly squeeze between oncoming car and the side of the cliff. As we twist around blind curves, all we can do is trust fate and hope a Two-Week-Tourist in a rental car isn’t trying to pass a Three-Month-Tourist in minivan at the wrong moment. With the blind curves, rain, speed, and the tendency for the road to crumble off the side of a steep cliff, these roads are far more dangerous than anything I have seen at sea so far. I pat Sister Mary Francis’s Steering wheel and give her some encouragement. After all, she has driven sixteen+ years in New Zealand without major incident. She seems pretty lucky.
Finally, we reach town and drive through a beautiful neighborhood protected from the wind by tall mountains. As I suspected since arriving: New Zealanders are fabulous gardeners. Our hosts are no different. Giant mums, roses, hydrangeas line the walkways. The cat in temporary residence skulks around keeping watch over the grounds. A plum tree is heavy and full with ripe delicious fruit, and when we are invited in we find jars of homemade marmalades out on the counter, being labeled.
We are welcomed with smiles and cheers. We met these people when they visited sailing friends in Tonga, so this is the reunion of quickly made friends. It is so nice of them to host these wanderers in a stationary, and dry home.
Our tour guide takes his duties quite seriously, and we ares cooped up and taken to the heart of Wellington for a tour of the best Cafe in Town (stiff competition, these New Zealanders LOVE their coffee), Cuba Street, the sea front, and one of the many green space parks New Zealanders are wise enough to preserve within their cities. We practice eating a little bit of Malaysian food, preparing for this upcoming sailing season. It's delicious.
Wellington is clean, cold, windy, and filled with small shops. A rebellious streak runs through the community, priding itself on variety, diversity and apparently fighting the man.
We wander Wellington’s National Museum Te Papa Tongarewa, learning that New Zealand sits directly astride of the Pacific and Australian techtonic plates. (If the numerous active geysers, hot springs, recently erupted volcanos and frequent earthquakes were not evidence enough, now we know.) With each rumble, the North and South Islands grow ever further apart.
The people who built the set of Lord of the Rings created an exhibit all about New Zealand’s involvement in World War I, making these giant, extraordinary life like soldiers for display. Dwarfing all the people walking through the exhibit, their lifelike arm hair freaks me out.
*Husband for Scale*
The lawyer in me is fascinated by the exhibit showing the two translations of the Treaty of Waitangi. English and Maori translations set side by side, the subtle differences in the language indicate two very different intentions. (1) Maori’s scede complete governance to the Queen of England; and (2) the Maori Chiefs retain their sovereignty and control over their country, entering into a partnership with England. A problem that occurred all over the world with native people of new lands.
The Sailor in me is excited to see a real (formerly alive) Craken or Giant Squid. Lore has it that a giant squid can wrap its tentacles around a ship and sink it in one fail swoop. You know, Pirates of the Caribbean type stuff. I don’t know if they get that big, but giant squids are real. They have one on display in a glass case in New Zealand. She is giant and creepy, with rotating hooks on her tentacles and a giant beak. I hope never to meet one in the wild.
*Tourist dude for scale*
We discover Polynesian culture is alive and well here, with kids jumping off of wharfs or even a bolted on plank, despite the 40 knot winds and chilly temperatures. They look cold.
We meet our Wellington host at EKIM for a tasty burger, and enjoy the beautiful summer weather...
...then on to an open mike comedy show. Our host, one of the open mike participants, gives the crowd a good laugh. I can’t wait until he’s famous and I can say “I knew that guy when.” I was so distracted by the show that I forgot to get a good picture while he was up and laughing. So, here’s a crappy photo of the comedy crowd generally.
Between acts, the thought did occur to me that I am in the basement of a very old building. I hope that Wellington doesn’t experience one of those famous New Zealand earthquakes right about now….
To cap off our Wellington tour, we mountain biked at the Makara Bike Park, with spectacular views of Wellington’s Wind Turbines, and seaside neighborhoods. The trails are perfectly cut, and wonderfully fun. At the foot of the trail, a bike wash down station and all the tools you might need to adjust your rig. This place is made for mountain bikers.
Our last night, our hosts shared their favorite “Fush n’ Chups" with us and introduced us to fried abalone. Delicious! We watched a nature documentary about New Zealand, and learned more about New Zealand’s natural wonders.
Sad to leave friends, but time to keep trucking. The next morning, we waved goodbye then got in line for the ferry to cross Cook Strait. I was just happy to have someone else driving. South Island bound!