New Zealand, on fantasy destination list since before Sir Peter Jackson demonstrated to the world that he knew exactly where on this earth JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings could be found (but to be honest, those movies sealed the deal on just how magical these islands are) (and yes, I believe the New Zealand tourism agency requires any blog written about NZ travel to start with a reference to that empire). We did not do any specific LOR tours (there are plenty), nor did we choose our destinations based on specific scenes (though that might not be a bad way to go). I believe we did see some of the locations that were in the film, that is, when the weather allowed… We went to the jeweler who made ‘the ring’ (did not buy anything, found an even better ring on the beach outside that town, on my finger now).
And somehow, New Zealand has flown by without finding time to post. Mostly that’s a good sign. It is a thoroughly engaging place. Food, coffee, people, ‘stuff’, scenery… There were certainly down times, but rather than hunkering down and processing photos and writing (hopefully) witty posts, I seem to have spent those times ineffectively railing against the weather gods, a pastime my sister very wisely pointed out is entirely useless. Note made to self, next time be sure to make appropriate sacrifices to those gods before making travel plans.
So on the morning of our (hopeful) departure from New Zealand, here begins an attempt to capture the rich variety of experiences had over the last three weeks. Will split this up into several posts, mostly chronologically.
As I contemplate our departure, reminded of our arrival. We were way back in coach on our way to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. Being Virgin Australia coach, it was hardly the nightmare that United can be. Nice soothing purple light, enough space for a normal human being, friendly flight attendants.
And as the perfect introduction to the country, we were sat behind an absolutely hilarious and super friendly family. I forget exactly how we started talking, think the little girl was staring at me and we started chatting. The parents had both worked in the travel industry and gave us recommendations of ‘out of the way’ things to do around the country. And then the kids (about 8 and 10 I think, boy and girl) proudly told us that their father was the executive chef at one of the upscale restaurants in Wellington. This earned us an invite to come by the restaurant and try out some steak, their specialty (and no I won’t make a joke about that). They also told us, very proudly, that Wellington had just been recognized as the windiest city in the world, edging out Chicago. I think that’s the definition of dubious honor. When I asked the parents where to find a good flat white in town, they told me that everywhere in Wellington has good coffee, it’s definitely a ‘thing’ there now.
So we arrived after midnight.
By the way, France, take note. Right in the tiny arrivals hall, at midnight, was a friendly representative of Vodafone who set me up in next-to-no-time with a prepaid SIM card. That night included we only spent two nights in Wellington, so some brief outtakes. I did not know that there were hotels with rooms with no windows. There are. I am super claustrophobic, so upon checking in at 1 am, I promptly popped back downstairs to reception and learned unfortunately that the hotel was entirely full. The kindly clerk pulled I don’t know how many strings to get us moved into a window room the following day. So we went from no windows (at least the morning light didn’t wake us…), to a room with a wall entirely made of window. Here’s me celebrating.
It was windy, a bit rainy, and not overly nice when we took off walking the next day. But being New Zealand, there were several hearty people swimming in the bay (look for little dots behind Jeff).
We visited the amazing Te Papa Tongarewa museum. Perfect introduction to New Zealand covering its arts, geography, geology, cultural history, etc. High quality exhibitions, beautiful space. We needed more than a day there. With our brains chock full, we recovered a bit, lounging in our enormous window. Then it was off to meet our new friend from the incoming flight for a steak dinner at his restaurant, easy name to remember, Portlander Bar and Grill. I wasn’t expecting much steak in New Zealand. Lamb yes, and green lipped mussels (both of which we enjoyed multiple times). But there is quite a bit of really high quality beef. The steak we had at the Portlander was far and away the best. Plus we had our first whitebait appetizer. It’s whitebait season (as far as I can tell, whitebait is smelt). They cook them as in an omelet and serve on white bread with lemon and salt. Tasty.
Our itinerary had us mostly traveling in the south island (even people who live on the north island will agree the south is the most beautiful), so to see a bit more of the north island in a short time, we decided to take a train trip up the middle. Kiwi Scenic Rail runs trains several times a week, so we headed out on Friday morning on a nearly 12 hour journey up the island. Amazing scenery and super friendly staff (honestly, just about everyone who works in the travel industry here has been super friendly, it’s a bit odd). The rest of the pictures tell the story. The generator cut out about a third or half way through the trip, so it got a bit warm and we could no longer listen to the interesting commentary or watch our status on the overhead screens, but it seemed the best place to be was back on the observation car anyhow, so it was not too big an issue. Plus they gave out free ice cream, yogurt and drinks as they couldn’t keep them cold. If anyone is planning a trip to New Zealand, I strongly recommend taking this train ride, with or without electricity.