Museums instead of bungy jumping. Mountains ranges replaced by volcanos and hot springs. And craft beer rather than wine. The North Island felt like being in another country, with the same level of awesomeness.
A bit of culture
We started the day off with a stroll from the Botanical Gardens down to Wellington City Centre. Charming houses on steep hills, tiny cafes and independent shops – you won’t find a Zara here, not easily at least.
The harbour is home to the Te Papa museum. Full of interactive exhibitions, here we learnt about earthquakes and the origins of the Haka, the traditional Maori dance made famous by the All Blacks. The most impressive of the rooms has to be the one dedicated to Galipolli. Focused not so much on the good vs evil struggle of World War II but on the personal side of the Newzealanders who took part, it delivers an emotional array of stories involving kiwi soldiers – including some hyper realistic recreations of them – who fought in the battle for the Turkish peninsula.
I wonder how many museums like this will be necessary before we realise the stupidity of wars. Just outside the museum we found a lively market full of fresh fruit and veggies. Tastiest plums ever, glorious sun and local performances, a great place to get ready for the next bit.
In Wellington, our inner geeks were in for a treat. Not far from the city centre, the Weta Cave is where it all started for the Lord Of the Rings. Here is where the armours, swords and make up used by Gandalf and company were conceived. Not only that, but here they give birth to all the merchardaising, replicas, boardgames and other toys that you can find all over the world. They have been in the business since 1988, but it was their success with the Tolkien saga that made them the go-to studio for the film industry in recent times. Avatar, District 9, Mad Max, King Kong, The Last Samurai and many more, chances are that they have been involved in the last movie you went to see to the cinema.
Understandably, so much culture made us thirsty. And as it turned out, Wellington is the right place to be when you are in need of a nice beer – or four.
Possibly the best beer-country in the world?
Next day, our self-guided, self-planned craft beer tour of Wellington started off with a visit to Golding’s Free Dive – a colourful bar with an extraordinary decoration: movie posters, Star Wars memorabilia, graffitis and a roof made of skies. The beer selection was on a completely different level: only craft beers, on tap or by the bottle, coming from local independent breweries. Heaven.
Next, we found ourselves sitting on the grass enjoying the sun at The Rogue and Vagabond. The bartender took his time to explain New Zealand hops and suggesting a few beers he thought we would like. A stout and a pale ale, please.
The afternoon got even better as we walked in to Little Beer Quarter. Our favourite of the three, with a retro decor – hipster you could say – and comfy sofas. Again, another great guy behind the bar who allowed us to sample a few of their beers so that we could make up our minds.
He looked at us in the eye and said that we could not finish the day without visiting Garage Project. And of course we could not let him down. They started off just a few years ago and have now become the meca of the New Zealand craft beer scene. We landed at their cellar door only to discover that they do not serve drinks there. Don’t worry – said the young lad – I am still allowed to let you sample each one of our brews, for free. Hops, hops and more hops. What a place to finish the day.
Yes, we were a bit merry by the time we finished with Garage Project. After this trip I am not sure I will ever be able to drink a Heineken again. What a shame.
As a tourist destination, in New Zealand – like in Australia – you are never short of activities to spend your money on. Sometimes, these so-called must see attractions, have been disappointing, like watching the dolphins at Monkey Mia on Australia’s west coast. Overtime, we’ve learnt how to avoid them, like the helicopter ride to Fox Glacier (which I am sure it is pretty cool but to me it does not justify the cost).
Once again, we were facing the same dilemma with Waiotapu. Another “must-see” attraction with a significant – although not prohibitive – price tag. This time though, we accepted. And we are glad we did.
Waiotapu is an active geothermal area covering eighteen square kilometres featuring many colourful hot springs and boiling mud pools. A door to another world.
The smell can be off-putting due to the presence of different gas and minerals, in particular sulphides. But if you can stand the fumes and the heat, what you get in exchange is well worth every penny.
Together with marvelling at all these wonders, we had also been having a thought about the South America situation. Car or no car? It was time to make a decision.
Not far from Waiotapu lies the Whakarewarewa Forest, a set of walking tracks and magnificent Californian Coast Redwoods surrounded by lakes and thermal areas. These towering trees together with the fresh air combine to create an invigorating atmosphere.
Which is precisely what we needed to put our thoughts together.
Hmmm, I don’t think we have enough time to purchase and sell a car and doing everything we want to do in South America.
You may be right. Let’s just “bus it”. Hey, what if we spend the last two months of the trip in Spain?
That’s interesting. Family, friends, food and familiar places?
Yes – deal?
With the feeling of having made the right decision, we headed north, to Auckland, to drop our campervan. And to meet an old friend.
Rob, one of our partners in crime during the Mongolia Charity Rally, welcomed us into his house with open arms and a epic barbecue for the night. We talked about dodgy border crossings, our camping skills, the roads to Ulaanbaatar and The Fellowship of the Stans. And we made plans for what was about to be one of the best weekends of the trip.
From The Shire to Mt Doom – don’t know what I am talking about? you better read the next post.