New Zealand – Aotearoa - The land of the great white cloud & Kiwis (the bird variety of course!) The North Island – Part 1


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Oceania » New Zealand » North Island
May 30th 2016
Published: May 30th 2016
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It’s been nearly 8 years since we were in NZ as part of our ‘Round The World Trip’ in 2007/8. We had a fabulous time thanks to some friends we made on the overland section of our trip through Africa. We attended Evonne’s wedding near Gore, stayed with her sister Lynley & partner Matt in Christchurch, and with Penni at her place in Kaikoura. Linda was a nurse in London though is now in Auckland. We have always wanted to return & so took the plunge and decided to visit again from mid January to mid March 2016. We hope to see some (if not all) of them again – most have small children now. We also revisit many places as we lost our photographs in Santiago, Chile, when the memory card got stolen in a small backpack & we wanted to capture the beauty of these places again as it’s likely that this may be our last chance to visit NZ. We have too many other places to visit on our Travel ‘Bucket List.’

Auckland – The City of Sails or AKL to locals!

After a very long journey from home in London via tube to Heathrow airport and Thai International Airways via Bangkok (3 hours stop over) leaving home Sunday evening 17th we arrive in Aucklnad, NZ on Tuesday 19th Jan’16 at lunchtime.

M spends all but 3 hours of his Birthday (the 18th) on a plane (and loses some of the day due to time zone differences). We also pass our London neighbours (Kevin & Terri) who are on the way back from NZ somewhere over the sea between BK & NZ.

The flights aren’t too bad. The night flight from London helps as we get some sleep after our meal (Thai curry), and watching The Martian. We arrive in Bangkok at 2pm on the 18th – 11 hours later. We buy some duty free stuff in the airport, Face Time (FT) with the girls back in the UK, and enjoy a lovely Thai meal at the Mango Tree in the airport – a treat for M’s big day!

The second flight (though also 11 hours) seems longer. Not helped for C by her not sleeping very much. Also, the plane seems too bloody hot with no individual air vents to cool down which is unusual but it makes the atmosphere uncomfortable and dehydrating. The entertainment is the same as the previous flight, so to pass the time; M watches Gravity & Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation & C - Everest & two Mission Impossible films.

Once we arrive, getting through immigration in Auckland is a breeze. It’s a bit cloudy but warm – about 26C, though feels warmer. At the airport we get loads of info at the Tourist Office. (We notice as we travel around that this is a positive feature of travel in NZ – they produce buckets of free info for travellers & have them on display all over the country. Well-done NZ! The ‘Down Side’ is that the marketing hype is akin to the US where they overstate most things!).

We soon get a local Vodafone SIM card for the iPad and mobile on a great 2-month package for Travellers - NZ$49 (about £22) – no hassle or contract and no mega security stuff like India, the US & Spain. All done in 5 mins. Again NZ, take a bow.

We decide to take the ‘Super Shuttle’ bus to our hostel in Parnell and get there in 30 mins (NZ$43 for 2). Our Hostel – The City Garden Lodge (a rambling old colonial house which was once the home of the Queen of Tonga, where we stayed last time we were here), is in a lovely quaint “village” about 1 mile from downtown. The hostel is looking a bit tired 8 years on and is run by an Indian guy (we notice this in a few places in NZ). NZ must be the new destination of choice for folk from India as we found the plane was pretty full of Indians from the Bangkok leg.

We walk to the downtown area (25 mins) to get orientated, focusing largely around the Central area & the new Wynyard Harbour side area. The latter is now being developed into a trendy eating/bar area with new flats etc. It looks well planned with a somewhat trendy & slightly industrial finish. There are some really expensive yachts in dock below the city sky-scape, which is sort of dominated by the Sky City Tower.

It’s all pretty impressive. Though we notice that NZ has become as expensive, (if not more so for some stuff) than London – a bit of a shock to us.

The weather turns quite sunny so it’s a nice way to spend a few hours walking around enjoying this warmth in January, however, we later discover that the sun seems much fiercer than in Europe for the same temp as we both get a bit sun burnt in no time!

We discover the lovely local fish market by the harbour, which has a great selection of all types of freshly caught & prepared seafood. There’s also a Fish & Chip shop next door, which we try for lunch on another day. The choice is amazing, it tastes fabulous and the price is pretty reasonable.

After a decent coffee by the Ferry Building & lots more info from the Tourist office we catch the Inner City Link bus (loop bus route) back up to the Broadway in the Newmarket area (just beyond Parnell) to see if there are any decent bars/eateries for the evening. There are a few nice looking restaurants, however, not the sort of casual dinning or cuisine we like.

This is all thirsty work so we try a local bar - The Lumsden - and have a bottle of local beer, Lion Red (most seem to be drinking this). It’s a bit tasteless & we guess drunk because it’s cheap, so we get a craft beer which is much better – they cost NZ$10 to $13 (£5 – 6.50) for a pint, and at that rate NZ is not going to be a cheap trip!! On our way back to the hostel we discover a local shop selling Whittakers Almond Chocolate, which is our favourite from the last trip here so get a big bar!

It’s Parnell for dinner and after a pint of Speights at the Windsor Castle Pub (NZ$16 for 2 – much better beer & cost!), we go to Burgerfuel, which gets good reviews, though we are not sure why – the Burger has no texture or flavour and the sweet potato chips (known as Kumara) are awful unlike in the US! We also discover we can get bottles of Speights from the Liquor Store or Supermarket for equivalent of £1 per bottle so that’s the plan in future.

After a good night’s sleep, recovering from our ‘Jet Lag’ it’s into Parnell village to The Verve Café for lovely coffee and an awesome orange/almond cake for breakfast. We visit the place quite a bit during our journey in & out of Auckland.

We decide to do the LP guide recommended 4 km walk to get a feel for Auckland so take the bus to Karangahape Rd (referred to locally as just K Rd). It’s at the top of Queen Street (the main drag in AKL). It’s an interesting area with loads of Asian and Ethnic restaurants including some recommended Indian vegetarian places.

The walk starts at St Kevin’s Arcade a funky building that leads to Myers Park & takes in some of the more interesting parts of Auckland. There are with a few good murals & a large reproduction statue of Michelangelo’s Moses under a palm tree. Heading down Queen Street we pass the Town Hall, Aotea Square, the Civic Theatre then via Wellesley St and right to the New Gallery and a pretty little square celebrating the suffragettes who got NZ women the vote before anywhere else in the world.

Up the stairs is the Main Gallery with a walk uphill to Albert Park (which has great views of the city skyline including the Sky Tower) and across to the University Clock Tower through the beautiful University campus, which is attractive and quite genteel, then pass Albert barracks and the impressive and colourful Old Government Building. The path then leads to Princes St, and the old Synagogue.

We then head into the trendy eating and designer shop area - Chancery Precinct and to the High St and down to Britomart Train Station. This Station is quite impressive and is the transport hub for the city. It seems like a mini version of Grand Central Station in NYC to us. The Britomart area is now regenerated and very trendy with fancy restaurants and many office blocks surrounding a square that people use during their lunch break. The square has bean bags spread about on the lawn for use by passers by – something we find quite common in other NZ cities during our travels.

We finally make our way back to the harbour side -Wynyard Wharf and Viaduct Harbour & Basin where we have a great fish & chips lunch – gurnard & snapper plus a deep fried mussel each. The business we notice is run by Indian folks, as is the seafood store next door. The number of people from the Indian sub continent definitely has increased since we were last here.

The more we explore NZ we can’t help noticing the very definite ‘US look’ to some of the shopping areas and neighbourhoods, (AKL also has a Denny's, Wendys & Gloria Jeans - all US food chains), more noticeable now, as we spent 7 months touring the US since our last trip here, and there’s also a touch of OZ about the design of the timber frame buildings.

The Countdown supermarket seems to be the main chain in NZ or at least in Central AKL (apart from the ‘Asian Supermarkets’). It’s a big store, though the range is limited and fresh veg is pretty expensive compared to London, while seafood is amazingly cheap. Steak is on offer though so that’s dinner sorted with a bottle of Pinot Noir - we think its NZ but turns out to be Chilean when we open it! That’s jet lag for you!!

As it’s a good day we take the Outer Link bus to Mt Eden Village via Ponsonby. The former is a good place to start the ascent to Mt Eden (Maungawhau) itself which gives you awesome hill top views of AKL across the mouth of what was once a volcano and is a sacred Maori site – so one cannot enter the now grassed mouth of the volcano. (Ponsonby is a pretty trendy area of the city with loads of eateries, cafes, boutique shops etc. and after all the walking we decide we will call in there on our way back before we leave AKL).

Mt Eden village looks interesting with some fun places - quirky cafes, interesting shops and it definitely has a nice feel about it. However, we are short on time so set off for the trek up hill. We will, however, endeavor to come back here as well, on our return to AKL for brunch perhaps.

The walk up to Mt Eden is pretty easy but we take the steep cutting up just for fun and realise how unfit we are. Views from the top of AKL City are pretty awesome - across the mouth of the volcano to downtown & harbour, and 360 degrees all around as well. It’s a lovely sunny day with blue skies & good views a long way out.

We decide to walk back to the edge of the city center & hop on a bus to Queen St, where we find hosts of office workers, on their lunch break, queuing for some Street Food – we try the two most popular - Chinese dumplings which were ok and Korean pancake (potato & cheese) which was yummy.

Later we take the short local Ferry ride to Devonport across the bay. It’s a suburb of Auckland & many commute to and from here. It’s an interesting area with some old colonial buildings & a small High Street. It retains a sort of village atmosphere, which is quite charming. The NZ navy is based here.

The main thing to do as a visitor is to climb up Mt Victoria for great views across to AKL and as it’s a sunny day it’s quite impressive. After some exploring we decide on a Speights beer at the Patriot (very English style) Pub. Devonport is very parochial and reminds us of parts of Canada, the USA and even Australia.

Eventually we dash off the ferry to the fish market to buy some Kingfish & Hapuka fish steaks, which make for an awesome dinner at the hostel.

The next day we are up early to catch the local ferry for a day at the beach on Waiheke Island which is 35 mins away. This is an Island where they once couldn’t give land away so hippies moved in and started a small community. It’s now very desirable and ‘Millionaires Island’ for the wealthy from AKL who co-exist with the remaining hippy community. The Island has a nice vibe and a lot of artists & galleries - the Waiheke Arts Trail encompasses 26 galleries. Unfortunately, it's cloudy so we just mooch for a few hours and visit Oneroa & Onetangi Beach and paddle in the sea, which is not that warm for the Pacific.

It’s then back to AKL where it’s pretty hot (and unwittingly we get sun burnt again – even at 26 degrees. The sun is definitely strong here than in the med or in many parts of the world as M never gets sun burnt!) so we decide to go to the cinema on Queens Street to see ‘The Big Short’, a great film nominated at the Oscars. It tells the story of people who foresaw the housing market crash in the US and made a mint. Our feeling is that the financial sector has not learnt the lessons of those dark days, sadly, and it’s likely to all happen all over again.

The rest of the evening is spent at the hostel trying to enjoy smoked salmon sandwiches for supper while listening to an idiot pontificating about the spirituality of the American Indians, who thinks he knows it all but hasn’t really travelled much anywhere!

Rotorua – Maori Land and the Geothermal Capital of NZ or ‘Sulphur City’

The next day we pick up our hire car (a new Toyota) – booked from the UK as it’s much cheaper doing it that way & we get it through Economy Car Rentals – and drive towards the south. Getting out of AKL is a pain even along the motorway while traffic crawls till we are past the airport, after which it’s plain sailing.

We make for Pukekohe in south Auckland, where we are meeting up with Linda (one of the NZ women we met on our Africa Trip) for lunch. She’s now married to Lance and a Mum to young Luke. They have a few friends join us for a BBQ lunch, which is all rather nice as the weather is just perfect. They have a beautiful house in the countryside and lots of land where they are rearing a cow to eat, apart from growing a lot of their own vegetables – shades of ‘The Good Life’ NZ style.

After lunch we say our goodbyes and make for Rotorua the dynamic thermal area with spurting geysers, steaming hot springs and exploding mud pools. The Maori population here is about 35% and Wai-O-Tapu (Sacred Waters) is the most revered place for them. Lake Rotorua is actually a ‘spent’ volcano filled with water.

There’s also the new attraction of Hobbiton Town nearby (post the success of The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit), if you like that sort of thing.

We’ve been to Rotorua before so are here on a whistle stop trip. We stay at the Spa Lodge Hostel, which is Japanese-owned. It is quite basic, colorful and a bit warm in the heat. We got a fan provided as we had a double room. Kim from the US is the very helpful receptionist – she’s been here for a year largely because she’s obsessed with Hobbit Town!

Rotorua town is very touristy & full of backpackers hostels. It also has many Chinese owned businesses and lots of Indian restaurants – at least one on every block. This is definitely a change from 8 years ago. Near the park by the lake they have developed a new ‘Eat Street’ food and drink area which is packed and buzzing, in contrast to the rest of the town which seems dead.

As it’s getting towards sunset we walk to Lake Rotorua & watch the many black swans feeding & fighting. The lake has Floating aircraft flights or Heliflights for tourists we notice & there are many Chinese tourists around.

Next day we take a trip to Te Puia which is in the Te Whakarewarewa (pronounced ‘fa-ka-re-wa-re’) thermal reserve. The entrance is $45 each with 10% discounts from the hostel. This includes a guided tour, which gives us a short history of the Maori people & their traditions. We are taken to a craft center where young Maori people are learning how to sculpt Maori traditional art. There’s a ‘Kiwi’ House which is in a very dark enclosure as the birds are nocturnal & very timid and finally the big show - Pohutu (aka the Big Splash) is the main & famous geyser which spurts hot water up to 30 meters high into the air. It’s pretty impressive and normally shoots off after the Prince of Wales Feathers (a smaller geyser) named after the then King of England when he visited the site.

The ground has Ceremonial halls, which includes a cultural show (which you have to pay to see), however, we pass as we have seen it before. They also arrange a nightly Mai Ora Hangi (traditionally cooked Maori feast) on the site.

The other attraction in Rotorua is the Te Whakarewarewa thermal village where people live and show you around & explain their history & art including tattooing.

Nearby is an interesting junction by a small bridge where you can bathe in the river where Hot & Cold springs meet (it’s near Wai-0-Tapu thermal park not far from Kerosene Creek where we had been on our last trip). It’s free to use and quite an experience. Many tourists and locals visit the spot. Though beware – take off all your jewelry before ‘diving in’.

We take a walk to Rotorua Museum of Art & History, which exists in a very impressive mock Tudor building from 1908, which was initially built as a Spa. There’s a beautiful ‘English Style’ garden surrounding the building and is worth a walk around, known locally as the Government Gardens. We then make our way to the little Knirau Park (which is free for everyone) and they have a small pool where visitors can dip their weary feet in the thermal waters. We met some Chinese tourists from Shanghai here. We are informed that as it’s nearly ‘Chinese New year’ it’s traditional for Chinese people to go travelling and it seems that NZ is a big hit with them.

Lake Taupo – NZ’s largest lake, once a caldera of a volcano & the origin of NZ’s longest river The Waikato



It’s only 1.5hrs drive to Lake Taupo - capital of skydiving they say!! At $249 from 12,000ft, or $339 from 13,000ft it’s not for us. It’s also the capital Trout fishing lake of NZ. However, our main purpose of revisiting is to do the best one-day trek in the world – The Tongariro Crossing. Unfortunately, M has problems with a ligament strain in his left heel so can’t do it. C however, is keen and will – partly to replace our lost photos.

The lake is pretty large & serene. It has ‘beach’ areas and a range of activities are run on and around it. As we are a bit early we decide to try L’Arte Café, which sounds lovely in our LP guide and boy what a surprise. The location off Acacia Bay is lovely and the café is a delight on many levels. It’s really impressive as it’s attached to an Art Centre, which has to be seen. The art is very Gaudi-esque (Barcelona’s famous artist), in beautiful gardens; colourful tiled constructions including a living room with lamps and fireplace! We have great coffee and eggs Florentine on a potato cake with hollandaise sauce with Wasabi – just divine! We make a point of returning when passing through the area again during our trip.

It’s hot and we check into The Rainbow Lodge - a pretty large hostel and a lot better than we recall from our last stay here. We get allocated a double room with en-suite bathroom and a TV – wow – hosteling is going up in the world. The place also has a great kitchen & fabulous amenities including 2 BBQs. It also organizes events for guests everyday of the week ranging from a cinema show to pub crawl/quiz nights etc.

We take a walk around town and the area seems a lot nicer than we recall – definitely a place where one could be tempted to stay a bit longer and chill out. The lake’s lovely and clear and we go in for a swim later during our stay to just cool off. After a Montieth’s (beer) at the local pub, we trip off to Pak ‘n Save (a cheaper supermarket than Countdown) and have a BBQ at the hostel with pasta to get C ready for her big trek.

It’s up at 4.30am for her pick up at 5.15am for the trek. M amuses himself driving around the lake after breakfast at Replete – an institution apparently – the coffee was great but the food counter snacks - not recommended.

What’s noticeable is how simple, functional (box like with a lot of glass) and impressive the designs of houses are in the area. Timber framed, mainly bungalows with double garages and easy construction. We’d love one.

M lunches at L’Arte, – salmon (not smoked) benedict with added spinach on request this time. It’s lovely with a ‘long black’ – the NZ equivalent of an Americano. It beats trekking 19kms across rough terrain.

At about 5pm C returns triumphant from the walk and is treated to a very well earned beer and it’s off to Lake T for a swim – really refreshing.

Tongariro Crossing – the best day trek in the world!

This is C’s recollection of events from the trek!

M see's me off with a big hug and good luck wishes; I'll need them, as I'm nowhere as fit as I should be!

We arrive at the drop off point by the Mangepoto hut, just before 7am and after a ‘pee’ stop and a few pictures (which are a bit rubbishy as I can't work out the settings on M’s camera) I set off. Nearby Mt Ruapehe is covered in snow and clear but Mt Ngaurhoro is in cloud and looks every bit the ‘Mt Doom’ of Lord of the Rings. The first bit is easy so I up the pace as I suspect I'll slow down when I get to the Devils Staircase. And I do. Boy is it tough. Made worse by being passed by a couple that are running the Crossing and a couple of kids (4 & 6) tripping by as if on a playground!

The cloud offers mixed blessings. It's slightly more comfortable for hiking but it means not great pictures, as the light isn’t right - and that's the main reason for doing the walk again because we lost our memory card with the pictures on it when our bag was nicked in Chile. The walk across the crater floor is great as the sun comes out and offers some nice views of Mt Doom and the red summit (and of the loon tunes who are clambering up and down the steep scree-covered volcano adding another 3 hrs to the trek plus an agony of muscle pain). Then it's time for the final tough bit up to the red crater - a new addition since last time being the steel rope handrails to grab onto to get up the steep bits. At the top the views are fabulous across the emerald lakes and into the red crater - except the lakes have loads of folks getting in the way of my photo’s and the cloud means no great colours in the crater or the lakes. We were dead lucky last time with bright sunshine all the way.

And then the worst bit of the whole trek - down a steep shale section, skiing on your feet and praying you don't fall and break the camera! I made it and so did the camera. After a well-earned picnic lunch at the bottom, the sun comes out so I get some nice shots of the lakes, and then start the long walk back to the end point to be picked up for the drive back to Lake Taupo. At the blue lake I take a look back and see that the cloud is at last lifting on Mt Doom. So I sit awhile and wait, and it pays off. I manage to capture lovely pictures of the ochre and copper tones in the rocks - and with M's camera (I have to confess) managed to get way better photographs than I would have got with mine - so I finish the memory cards, power up the iPod, and start the downhill boring bit. As I pass the Ketehahi hut I take a loo stop (cleanest on the trip amazingly) and keep on going stopping only to take some photos of the thermal fields, and finally hit the end point just before 3.

Luckily I get on the first bus out and get back to Taupo at 4-30ish to be met by M and enjoy a good cold beer before we go for a lovely refreshing dip in the lake. It’s a great way to end a very satisfying day.

Wellington – Capital City of NZ, AKA ‘Wellywood’ & Windy City

It’s up very early to start the long drive to Wellington, the capital of NZ. It’s wet and raining quite heavily as we pass the Tongariro NP so we can’t see much and the roads are lot windier than we recall.

Eventually, as we near Palmerston North, it settles down and visibility improves so we stop for some brunch at Moxies – a café we remembered from last time. The town isn’t much to shout about but it is the home of the’ NZ Rugby Museum’ – odd center to locate the national sports Museum.

We get to Wellington mid afternoon and before we return the car we drive up to the peak of Mt Victoria, for a misty view of a somewhat wet Wellington Harbour. We drive past the Reserve Basin (NZ’s Test Cricket ground in the city which is quite quaint and compact) & the Te Papa Museum.

Our initial impression as we drive is how much the city reminds us of San Francisco (USA) as many of the houses are Victorian timber clad and especially as it’s a hilly city so has a similar street scene.

We drop the car off at Thrifty after checking into the Trek Global Hostel. It’s a very large place & a though we have a nice room the hostel is lacking in some of the key aspects of a good hostel; the small kitchen area we have to share is poorly stocked and the space isn’t conducive to it being sociable other than on the Ground Floor where the kitchen and eating area is larger & spacious.

We walk around town trying to orientate along Cuba St & Courtney Place. We decide to treat ourselves, and book into Ortega’s for dinner, considered to be one of the best restaurants in the city. It’s a bit pricey but a nice treat – we enjoy snapper & grouper with arroz negro which were superb as was the Paua dumpling as a starter.

It’s an early start to do the ‘housework’. Later we set of to find a good coffee place as NZ is famous for it’s caffeine culture and chance upon a new bar in the CBD district called Mojos. It’s a state of the art coffee house/chain. It’s too clinical for us (a new look they are trying out), standing room only with plenty of books on coffee and accessories for sale, all at ridiculously high prices. We were offered a taste of their new invention; Nitro Infused Coffee. Freezing coffee really. M was not too impressed by it but C was ecstatic – Heston Blumenthal eat your heart out!!!

As it’s threatened to rain we plan some ‘indoor activities’, so visit the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, (which translated is ‘The Container of Treasures’, though most folks including the Museum & guide books drop the last word – which seems odd as it’s the most meaningful).

We take the guided tour for an hour – well worth it. The guide was a volunteer Maori woman who’d been a primary school teacher & was now retired. She added a lot by sharing her own experiences of growing up and facing various challenges in NZ as a Maori woman.

One historical fact that really surprised us was that Abel Tasman – a Dutch sailor based in Indonesia - did not even set foot on these shores, yet is responsible for naming the Country what it is today (New Zealand) and the Kiwis have also named a beautiful National Park in the North Island after him – it defeats logic and makes us wonder why they haven’t renamed it (given the obsession with the possible changing of the National Flag at the moment, to reflect the modern country with no British allegiances). Postscript: The Final Referendum to decide whether or not to change the National Flag – decided by a majority for no change – about a month later, which for us sums up the national Psyche.

The exhibits are quite impressive with various Maori historical artifacts & documents including the Waitangi Treaty that is essentially ‘The Constitution’ of NZ (even though the Maori & English versions don’t quite match up in terms of common understanding and is even today (176 years on) the subject of political & cultural differences & the source of conflict from time to time).

There’s a special exhibition about the battle of Gallipoli in WW1. It’s quite an impressive display and well presented and documented. However, we are not sure we came away with a better understanding of why this battle means so much to the Kiwis and why they still celebrate ANZAC Day. We are not sure there’s much to celebrate about a brutal and flawed war event where over 130,000 people died – of which 2,800 were Kiwis. (In fact, the vast majority of the casualties were Turks, and there were more Indians killed that Kiwis and yet there isn’t much, if any acknowledgement of this fact in most history books).

During our stay we go to the cinema (better than just walking or driving around in the rain) to see ‘Spotlight’ the new film about the Catholic Churches’ cover up of child abuse by priests in Boston & the US. It’s great story, well told and very powerful. A few weeks later it won the Best Picture Award at the Oscars.

The main attractions in Wellington are the Harbour, Lambton Quay (the city’s main business street), and The Waterfront along Jervois Quay, Cable Street and Oriental Parade which is being revitalized and where the Te Papa Museum stands. Cuba Street is sort of trendy and arty in equal measure, while Courtney Place (mainly bars and for young drunken types). Willis St, Queens Wharf & Lambton Quay are noted for their food and drink culture.

We enjoy a lovely dinner at Ombra (which we were tipped off about by overhearing a conversation between friends in a bar). It’s an Italian tapas place on Cuba Street and the food was fabulous - Beef cheek risotto and delicious lamb.

The Rugby World Sevens Tournament is to be held here on the weekend so the city starts to buzz more on Friday and the weather gradually improves. Meanwhile we decide to invest in a new suitcase (partly because it’s sale time & the small one we brought was damaged on the plane – Thanks Thai Airways!).

We plan a walk through the main areas of the city starting at the Havana Café on Tory Street; it’s an amazing place! The building is classic Art Deco exactly as buildings in Old Havana with fabulous coffee smells wafting across the street, as this is the main roasterie, which is the supply hub for branches all over NZ. They have Cuban coffee beans in the grinder so we enjoy a Cuban coffee (it’s been a while!) and wander around taking loads of pictures, which they encourage. The people working here are amazingly friendly and are happy to explain how the commercial bean roasting process is managed etc.

From Courtenay Place we walk down an alley which is painted with pictures of various manifestations of theatre and art – from jugglers to comedy sketches and players acting etc. This leads onto a large car park, which is equally impressive with Murals & Street Art.

Next it’s Waitangi Park and the waterfront – with small beaches, and several small harbours with yachts moored. From here we move onto the Civic Place Park (which has a weird wooden construction feature), where preparations for the Summer Festival (and Rugby Sevens competition) are being set up with a stage and a few food trucks (though not very inspiring).

We wander along the ‘Government area’ with the Beehive (which is what it looks like). It’s the NZ Parliament building – a modern & somewhat ugly structure, in amongst typical imposing Victorian edifices. There’s a Victorian Train Station near the ferry terminus, which has a statue of Gandhi in the gardens of the Station??

What is noticeable is the amount of street art all over the city.There’s also lot of construction reinforcing/earthquake proofing work being carried out of the major buildings after the earthquakes that have hit over the last few years. The devastation of Christchurch probably added to the urgency & need for action.

As we are passing, we decide to pop into ‘Bad Grannies’, a funky pub on Cuba Street – part biker, part punk style - for a pint as its ‘Happy Hour’ & it’s packed. The beers pretty good too.

Later we make our way to the Cuba Street Night Market. The atmosphere on the Street is fabulous, as it’s the start of the weekend and there’s a Salsa School giving a demonstration and getting passers by to join it. Great music & toe tapping fun!! The market itself is in a side street with a real variety of global food stalls. We decide to go for a Chinese/Malaysian combo and it’s pretty good. Later we try some Philippines snacks. The market also has a number of really talented buskers performing, which adds to the magic of the evening.

We have an early start the next morning to catch the Bluebridge Ferry (which takes 3.5 hrs) to Picton and our South Island Adventure…….so see you on the other side.


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