Wellington – the land of (sheep) milk and (Manuka) honey

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Oceania » New Zealand » North Island » Wellington
March 11th 2012
Published: March 13th 2012
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We boarded Air New Zealand for our 12 hr flight from Hong Kong to Wellington, via Auckland.

Wellington is the capital city and second most populous urban area of New Zealand. It is at the southwestern tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range. It is home to 393,400 residents. In 1865, Wellington became the capital city of New Zealand, replacing Auckland, where William Hobson had placed the capital in 1841. The Parliament of New Zealand had first met in Wellington on 7 July 1862, on a temporary basis, but Wellington did not become the official capital city for three more years.

The area has high seismic activity even by New Zealand standards, with a major fault line running through the centre of the city, and several others nearby. Several hundred more minor fault lines have been identified within the urban area. The inhabitants, particularly those in high-rise buildings, typically notice several earthquakes every year.

When we arrived in Wellington, we were amazed by the clear blue skies, green pastures and bright sunshine. It was beautiful weather to fly in, and we were taken aback by New Zealand’s natural beauty. Not surprising however, as The 2010 Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranked Wellington 12th in the world and in 2011 Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2011 named Wellington as fourth in its Top 10 Cities to Visit in 2011, referring to the New Zealand capital as the "coolest little capital in the world".

We picked up a rental car from the airport as we were going to be taking a few day trips from Wellington. We were delighted to visit Vicki, Suzi’s friend from Cornell, and her fiancée Ryan. They were kind enough to host us for our Wellington stay, and it was great to be in a home after so many nights in hotels. They had flown in from the US earlier that day, and already had amazing guacamole and a delicious dinner in the works when we arrived. Since the weather was so spectacular, we all took a walk along the charming waterfront. The town was pristine (we were used to seeing much more pollution in South East Asia).

I thought the buildings along the waterfront could easily be picked up and placed in Martha’s Vineyard, and Kostek loved the hills and greenery, telling me many times how much it reminded him of Seattle. We saw the impressive silver fern ball in the town square, and Vicki and Ryan gave us the lay of the land as we walked around the city. That night, Vicki made us a delicious chicken dish, and we enjoyed catching up on both of our trips.

The next day, Kostek and I took the historic cable car up to the Wellington Botanic Garden. The garden features 25 hectares of protected native forest, conifers, plant collections and seasonal displays. They also feature a variety of non-native species, including an extensive Rose Garden. They are classified as a Garden of National Significance by the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture.

I was amazed by the begonia house, and even got a few tips from excellent gardeners on premises. The surroundings were just beautiful; there were so many little surprises, a rock garden, endangered plants, a rose garden with a wide variety of roses. We enjoyed brunch in the rose garden, and then walked around town a bit more before our first sailing lesson.

We met with Nick of Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club and he took us out on a 32’ racing monohull to give me my first sailing lesson and help Kostek review his skills and the sailing terms in English. Later in the trip we are sailing a Catamaran in the Whitsundays, Australia with our friends Dana and Luke, so we were glad to get a refresher before heading out on our own. I learned the critical elements of sailing, and was taking up and putting down sails, tying knots, and learning about wind direction in my first day of sailing. After our lesson, we met up with Vicki and Ryan and went out to Southern Cross for dinner, and then onto bowling. It was a very fun night.

The following day, we spent six hours on the water, practicing mooring, anchoring, keeling, tacking and jibing. It was a lot of fun, although sometimes nerve wracking when we were in high winds (35 knots from the southerly) and the boat was really keeling (for land lubbers, that means the boat was tilting out of the water on one side, so the keel, or underside of the boat is exposed). Nick assured me it was nearly impossible to flip the boat since it’s center of gravity is so low (there was 1.8 tons of lead in the keel). I kept that in mind as I gripped the boats railing cord and was almost vertical in the air. Had I let go I would have fallen into the water. It was very impressive to see Nick reef our sails in this situation (reefing means taking down part of the main sail while under strong wind) and Kostek was also able to practice the reefing.

After the lesson, we sat down at the computer and he reviewed the boat we had chartered in the Whitsundays. He assured us the Catmaran we chartered was an excellent and easy boat to sail, and the winds in Whitsundays are nowhere nearly as strong as what we had seen in Wellington Harbor, fantastic! Afterwards we went back to Vicki and Ryan’s and we made them a few dishes from our Thai cooking class, it was fun to cook together and hang out.

The following day, Kostek and I took a trip outside the city down the coast to beautiful Cape Pallister. Vicki and Ryan got engaged there, and said the views were spectacular, along with the view; there was also a colony of seals to watch in their natural habitat amongst the rocky shoreline. The drive was really pretty, and we spotted seals. On our way back from the lighthouse (set 250 steps up on a rocky mountain), a friendly Australian couple told us about a hidden away place where heaps of baby seals were playing in a little pool formed by the rocks. We followed them by car and sure enough, there were about 20 baby seals playing around in the pool. They were diving from the rocks into the water, and some appeared to be doing headstands under water – it was incredible. As we approached Wellington, we realized that the National Museum, Te Papa (meaning our place in Maori) was open late on Thursdays. We explored the museum, which includes the heaviest squid ever recorded, it was monstrous. The museum was impressive and very interactive, with sections on earthquakes, Maori heritage, and New Zealand’s position in critical times in world history. We came back to Vicki and Ryan’s where Ryan had made the most amazing roast chicken dinner we’ve ever tasted. We have really been spoiled by their wonderful hospitality!

The next day, we set out to explore the ‘Middle Earth’ on the full day Lord of the Rings tour. We visited many of the sites used in the movies, had a great lunch out on the pier, and saw a live set being used for the upcoming movie, the Hobbit. It was impressive tyo learn about the production of the movie that cost approximately $1 million per day to make. As part of the tour, we visited Weta Cave, the creative production studio for Weta films, that made Lord of the Rings, Tintin, Avatar and many other major motion pictures. We rushed back to Vicki and Ryan’s where we met my cousin Sheelagh. After meeting most of Sheelagh’s family in New York and Ireland, it was great to meet her as she is also living in Wellington. We had a great time!

That night, Kostek and I surprised Vicki and Ryan with an engagement dinner celebration. We booked the private dining room at Hippopotamus restaurant at the Museum Hotel. The hotel is included in Yahoo’s list of ten of the best hotels with magnificent artwork of the world, including Harley Davidson motorcycles.

We enjoyed a 5 course chef’s selection dinner and wine pairing. We couldn’t believe how the time flew; it was midnight when we left the restaurant, all together a 5 hour dinner! We all had a great time together; and agreed this dinner should be the start of a new tradition.

The following day was Saturday, and we were so lucky to get amazing weather. We all headed out to Martinborough wine region, only about 1.5 hours from Wellington. We enjoyed a beautiful brunch al fresco at Medici café, then went to one of the oldest wineries of the area, Martinborough winery. We then went to a small winery, Cambridge Road, where we met an extremely friendly vigneron proprietor, Lance Redgewell. Lance (and his 5 yr old son Aston), gave us a tour of the grounds. Lance told us the influences of his wines, and how he is taking a different approach to his wines, using little to no sulfates for a very organic wine. His wines were a favorite of Vicki and Ryan’s, and it was great to take in the afternoon sun, play some cards, and enjoy the 2008 Dovetail along with bruschetta Lance whipped up as a kind gesture. It was a perfect way to spend a Saturday.

The following morning was an early one for us, we left Vicki and Ryan’s at 5 am to catch our flight to Sydney!

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13th March 2012

Loved your New Zeland adventure recap!
Wow-- what a wonderful, varied experience you're having on your trip! We loved your entry from New Zeland-- it sounds like you had an exceptional time sailing, visiting with friends and family, wine touring, seal watching, and enjoying many fine culinary creations! Jealous!

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