Blog // Tales from the trail
In some kind of Stepford housewife coordinated effort, we had breakfasted, packed up and rolled out of the campsite by 7am - a first, and most probably, a last for us! So this is what it's like cycling in the early morning quiet and calm. However, we had a bus to catch and there was no time to stop and admire and view. The bus was taking us and our bikes all the way to the capital, a trip that would've taken us 3 days, and we didn't intend on missing it.
We had been advised to get the bus into Wellington because of the busy roads in. Happy to jump on this advice we had booked our tickets in advance at the bus station finding out that bikes and busses are not really a happy formula in New Zealand. "You'll have to get the early morning bus" we were told, "because I can't guarantee that there will be space for the bikes on the later ones." Bikes are taken at the driver's discretion and this can be influenced by a number of factors including the driver's general enthusiasm, whether the service is running on time, the number of people already on board or perhaps, whether the driver fancies the additional $10 surcharge in their pocket to take the bikes, which is all a bit wishy washy and random for a company which claims to take bikes as part of its policy. Nevertheless, in true Kiwi style we were greeted by a super-friendly driver upon our arrival at the bus station, who wasn't interested in the $10 surcharge (provided we loaded them and all the bags onto the bus ourselves) and in general it really was no trouble at all and we were on our way to Wellington!
Wellington is tucked away in a harbour bay, hidden behind the green, coastal hills. Wondering how far away we were there becuase Google claimed we were there, we didn't catch a glimpse of it until we rounded the final corner coming out onto the bay and were almost blinded by the sparkling reflections off the water. It was beautiful.
And windy! Getting everything off the bus was a bit of a faff, more so with the wind blowing our foam mattresses and tarps all over the platform. Trying to eat our packed-lunch outside the station, whilst holding onto the bikes to stop them blowing across the square and taking someone out was also a bit of a challenge!
Wellington's tag line is the 'Coolest Little Capital' in the World and it does manage to merge big city culture with small town charm; it has a very personal feel about it. Distances were a lot closer than they appeared on the map and Keith navigated us in circles a few times before we found the street in the centre of town that we'd be staying on. We didn't realise it was a bus-only road and we were quickly reprimanded by a passing pedestrian who told us to get on the pavement quick-sharp before we had a run-in with an angry electric-bus driver. Oops. Thankfully, over the course of the next few days around the cutesy capital, we didn't break any other regulations. Tut. Rogues.
Tyler and Megan (friends we had stayed with in New Plymouth) were also in town and we enjoyed a windy walk up to the top of Mount Victoria with them that afternoon. A very steep hill, just 15 minutes out of town complete with multiple walking and gnarly-looking mountain bike tracks (giving the city a massive bonus point from Keith), and the 360 degree views from the top well worth the hike up. Overlooking the airport, flanked by mountains on three-sides and the runway leading straight off into the Cook Straits, I made a mental note never to fly into Wellington, as we watched a plane lurch around like a malteaser rolling past a desk fan on its way to touching down - no thanks! We read that the city experiences, on average, 173 days of wind over 60 kph! That's a lot of wind.
The walk down the well-loved Oriental Street took us past some impressive property, stepped into the hill, with views of the bay. The only access was via a steep walkway winding between the houses and we mused over whether people ever moved out of their houses, and if they did, would they just leave the furniture behind?
We crammed in as much as we could over the next few days, ensuring that we sampled as much good food, coffee and craft beer as possible amongst all the activity. We were staying near Cuba Street, the real hub of bohemian culture and loved the quirky scenes. While we had been enjoying our food in NZ, a criticism would be the lack of diversity in the eateries in many of the towns we'd visited - a standard combo being a fish & chip shop, a pie shop and a 'cookie-cutter-like' cafe serving up variations of salads, sandwiches and quiche - all delicious, but not much variation from the norm. We were pleased to note that Wellington had all manner of global cuisines and happily a delicious Vietnamese street-food joint next door to our hotel. Munching on a banh-mi, we chatted to the proprietor, Ms. Vy, asking her how she enjoyed living in Wellington after a very different Saigon. All in all her review was positive, with two interesting points/observations:
- that the city more or less 'dies' at night, everyone going 'home' to the suburbs after work, making it, in her words, boring (which is in complete contrast to Asian cities which are constantly buzzing, no matter what time of day or night);
- that she felt she had become lazy, finding the concept that people finished work and then enjoyed 'leisure' time, especially for exercise, completely alien.
This made perfect sense to us having experienced the hard-working Vietnamese first-hand and we we weren't surprised to find her joint still open at 11pm, serving food to those leaving the bars.
It was interesting that lazy and leisure time were put in the same sentence because Wellingtonians, it seemed, are anything but lazy. The city is fit, bursting with people exercising, at any time of day: running, cycling, roller-blading, rowing, swimming, mountain-biking - it was non-stop. It's a very motivating sight and with all the fresh sea air, it is a lifestyle that very much appealed to us and ticked a lot of boxes.
Highlights in the city were numerous: The excellent Te Papa museum, had a stunning exhibit remembering Gallipoli - a brutal 8 month campaign by the allied forces attempting to secure the peninsular during World War I. The very moving exhibition tells the story of Gallipoli through the eyes and stories of the people who were there; bringing them back to life through over-sized figures (2.4 times human size). Apparently the the sculptures took 24,000 working hours to complete and it is clear to see the workmanship that has gone into them, by the haunted expressions in their faces or the veins standing out on their forearms as they fought for their lives. The exhibition is open until 2018 and an absolutely must-visit.
A trip up on the historical cable car was a great final afternoon out in the city, finished off with a walk back through the beautiful botanical gardens.
We also enjoyed lunch on the bay watching the exercising massive; a night sampling various local craft beers accompanied by some excellent pizza; morning coffees in a small, local roastery where the regular customers and their orders are well-known; the Wellington museum and the Portrait Gallery! A bit of a whirl-wind tour! In two days, we fell in love with the small and charming city and were sad to leave, promising ourselves a return trip one day. Now..., if we could only do something about that wind...!
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