Despite having been to New Zealand on previous trips, neither Joel nor I have ventured too far South. Joel spent most of his time with his cousin who lived in Mount Maunganui at the time. While my travel buddy, Allison and I were able to do a short 5 day road trip around the North Island, only venturing as far South as Turangi (about half way down the Northern chunk of the country).
I had only ever heard fabulous things about Wellington. We had read that Wellington has more pubs, restaurants and cafes per capita then New York City, it’s also the capital city of New Zealand and has a reputation of being an arts and culture hub.
Food, coffee, craft beer, art and more… yeah, we were looking forward to our trek down South! In fact, there’s far more to see then could be completed in one weekend- so we plan on seeing it again. Maybe not too soon, though…
Hittin’ the Road
Early Friday morning, we loaded up Crumpy and grabbed coffee for our 6.5 hour drive South. Brandon was a trooper and drove the entire trip there (which was greatly appreciated).
We have all been doing research on this tiny country we’re temporarily calling home, but nothing really prepared us for the beauty of New Zealand.
We drove just over six hours, but in that stretch we drove along lush, prehistoric-looking forests, expansive lakes, open plain that hosted desert-like plant life, snow-covered mountains, trout fishing towns and more. It was as if North America had been shrink-rayed to a space roughly the size of the United Kingdom. Wild!
We arrived in Wellington just before dusk and were immediately drawn in. I would describe the initial appearance of the city to be a mix of San Fransisco and Seattle. There was a very urban-ocean vibe to it, and I was surprised to see how built up the city is.
We wound our way up steep, switch-back city streets to reach our AirBnB. We really found a hidden treasure in the city in terms of accommodations. We were hosted by a lovely, animal-loving family who recently bought their victorian-style garden home after living in Australia for more than 20 years, having run a cafe among other things there.
Wayne, the home owner, was a warm, generous and hospitable guy who made us the best coffees of the trip. We loved going up to visit with him 2 of the 3 mornings we were in the city.
After checking in with Wayne and dropping our bags off, my attitude told me it was definitely time for food. I tried toning down my hanger long enough to go grab some dinner in the CBD.
It was the quintessential Friday night in Wellington- along Courtenay Place and Cuba street, the pubs and restaurants were humming with activity. We had looked into a couple restaurant options, but tried our hand at getting a table at Chow- which, divinely had had a cancellation just before we arrived. Rather than the usual 40+min wait, we were ushered right in!
Joel and I ordered a few small plates- which included peking duck lettuce wraps and mushroom and leek dumplings among others- while Brandon and Stacey each enjoyed their own dishes- lamb curry and a spicy pho.
Surprised by how close things were downtown, we happily walked a couple blocks to reach our next destination, The Fringe. The Fringe is a cozy bar with friendly bartenders that hosts all sorts of live events each week. The Friday we went, it was standup.
Joel and I are fairly new to seeing live comedy, but have really enjoyed it (although, we’re both careful to be inconspicuous to ensure the minimum amount of audience-participation pointed at us).
The evening had a slower first half, with only 2 of the comedians being able to properly engage with the (tough) crowd. The second half, however, held much more success for the comics who performed. Jerome Chandrahasen was the headliner that evening, and he did not disappoint- he had everyone in stitches.
We walked the main strip a bit before deciding parts of the CBD were best toured in daylight, and called it a night.
Saturday was a day of city exploration. After coffee and some suggestions from Wayne, we headed toward Te Papa on the wharf. We parked and started our walking tour.
The wharf had been set up for a noodle festival, so there were these cool paper lanterns dancing in the sea breeze as we walked. Lots of really lovely mixes of architecture were all around as we drank in the city views along on the water.
In a parkade just off the water’s edge, there was an art and design market. We wandered the stalls there and found lots of fun treasures including jewelry, bean-to-bar chocolate, and handmade soy candles.
Our time at the market wrapped up with a hunger for brunch, so off we went. While still in Papamoa, I had researched a few food and coffee spots to check out in Wellington, and I had read that Ti Kouka could do most of their menu items gluten free. We discovered it was within walking distance, and were impressed by our experience there.
Indeed, most things were able to be made gluten free, and the waiter was happy to accommodate Stacey’s sensitivities- being careful to share her needs with the chef. Stacey said her potato rosti with wilted greens, poached egg, bacon and hollandaise was the best breakfast she’s had! Awesome.
Wellington is another one of those cities with this incredible mix of history and reclaimed buildings right along with modern architecture and amenities. We had a lot of fun wandering the city streets checking out churches, shops, and more.
Here’s Joel at the Wellington Chocolate Factory, where we sampled a few tasty truffles.
From or brunch stop we headed toward Cuba street, which is a street with a pedestrian mall part way through it. Cuba street is a hipster-area along the lines of Whyte ave. in Edmonton or 17th in Calgary. Lots of neat secondhand book stores, op shops (thrift stores), cafes and boutiques lined both sides of the street.
After wandering about, we decided it was time to head back to our first parking spot to move our car to a better location for the All Blacks game.
The All Blacks are the national rugby team, so they don’t have one set location, instead their games are played all over the country and are always wildly popular. We were sure parking and traffic would be tricky, so we decided to be proactive with our parking choices. Using Wayne’s recommendation, we found a parkade just on the other side of the train tracks from Westpac Stadium and hunkered down there for the evening.
One cool thing was, with time to burn, we ended up seeing a new side to the CBD. From our All Blacks parking spot, we were able to see the parliament buildings nearby.
We had tried to visit The Thistle Inn Tavern, which is one of the oldest public houses in New Zealand, but we were met by All Blacks crowds- even three hours before the game was due to start. It was cool to see inside the tavern, just the same. Many of the pubs around the stadium were set up with private events or game-specific menus, so we ended up at good ol’ Maccas (along with several other groups of game-goers we noticed). After a quick break to rest our feet and feed our stomachs… we were on our way to Westpac Stadium!
All Blacks vs Wales
Two hours before kick-off we lined up with the other rugby fans to get into the stadium as soon as the doors opened. We had tried to study up a bit on the rugby ways, but still didn’t know what to expect from the experience. We were greeted by a bank promotion and were happy to label ourselves as All Blacks fans (Stacey’s also practicing her Haka face as she displays our bank swag):
As we waited in line, we listened to the Stadium announcements which included reminders of how to be gracious and considerate fans as well as a brief note on what to do in case of an earthquake. These announcements were nestled amongst visual projections and amp-up videos played on the stadium itself, dragon sound-effects and the chatter of more and more people readying themselves for the game.
We made our way through the ticket scanners and bag check to trek around the stadium to our seats. We were pleasantly surprised to see we were quite close to the field, and that- with the evening chill setting in- we were near the coffee kiosk, too!
Selfie-city, population: me.
I loved having this new experience. From the national anthems (sung mainly in Maori for NZ and Wales being entirely in Welsh) to the exceptionally polite crowd (reminded after the first try again, via loud-speaker announcement, to be cordial and respectful fans) and throughout play- I was quite taken with rugby. As good little Canadians, we only really had professional hockey games to compare our sporting event attendance to, so that was eye-opening.
(I really like when they lift each other up to catch a throw)
We enjoyed the quick-pace of rugby, and I was interested to note the way injuries were dealt with. I don’t think there are any other sports out there where several medics are on the sidelines, at the ready to run on field to help- often before the player himself is aware of his own need of medical attention.
Furthermore, teammates aren’t able to involve themselves with on-field injuries. They are more concerned with staying warm and in game-mode. At one point during play, a tackle resulted in one player having to be removed via stretcher and golf cart due to a neck injury. Although, I’m sure the other players cared about their teammate, they waited for him to be removed from the field by running passing drills and being sure their own fitness was maintained for the game to continue. Crazy.
By the end of the game, we were fully involved. It was really cool to have the All Blacks going for trys in our end of the stadium during the second half, too. We had lots of fun cheering the All Blacks to victory!
To Market to Market
After a good rest, Sunday was a day of unexpected treats.
We first decided to venture back to Te Papa for the weekly farmer’s market held there. It was cool to see the car park brimming with all sorts of produce and wares. It was a bustling spot and even as we walked up Oriental Parade afterward, we could see folks with their market shopping bags as evidence of its popularity.
(Me shadow in the greens)
After a food-truck breakfast and a quick wander up and down market stalls, we strolled up the walkway by the water toward Oriental Bay.
This area again reminded me lots of San Fransisco, now complete with row-houses among the rolling hills and clear water.
A picture’s worth a thousand words, which is great- because I’m almost at 2000 of those…
As we left the market, we headed for a cafe which was highly rated and had a cool, retro vibe, but ended up being amongst the most disappointing coffees we’ve had in NZ.
The bright side of that stop was me noticing a family friend living in Wellington had touched base on Facebook in hopes of meeting up with us. Perfect timing!
A Wellington Tour Guide
My oldest brother’s best friend, Karl has been living in Wellington with his family for the last couple years and had made a couple suggestions for us on our trip. To our surprise, our schedules ended up overlapping well with his and we were able to meet up.
At the Weta Workshop we ran into Karl and his two, fabulously joyful kids! It was a lovely meet up. We were hoping to see the workshop (where all sorts of movie magic is birthed through costumes, props and digital design), but had a couple hours to burn while we waited for our tour to start.
Karl was gracious enough to be our tour guide for our in-between time, and this ended up being the highlight of our trip! He drove us around Mirmar and pointed out lots of interesting things we wouldn’t have seen on our own. We even got to see Peter Jackson’s house and I’m 90% sure I saw his forehead through his kitchen window as we drove by- haha!
We did a quick, windy hike up to check out a bunker originally used to watch for Japanese invaders in WWII. It now boasts a wicked view which includes sights of the airport and an interesting vantage point of the city.
We took in some great sights together and were able to share a nice fish and chip lunch (gluten free, even!) before heading back to Weta for our tour.
Wonders of the Weta Workshop
I didn’t realize how influential the Weta team is on the big screen. We were toured inside the workshop where artists are constantly working to make movies a believable escape from reality.
We were shown all sorts of things- from alien weaponry used in District 9, to fully-functional all terrain vehicles used in the Halo promo movies, animatronics used in Lord of the Rings and full models used in the Narnia films. It was amazing to see the massive amounts of work, time, money and creativity that’s poured into the movies we’re entertained by for a couple hours and kinda just forgotten about in some cases.
We were thoroughly impressed with our time at Weta, and left with a greater appreciation for all that goes into the films we see and have seen!
Rounding off the Weekend
As we left the workshop, we realized how drained we were starting to feel. The busyness of the day and now grey skies were all weighing on us. We decided to drive up to one more lookout atop Mount Victoria in the city centre before heading back for a rest and pizza supper.
What a beautiful city! We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend away. It was full and worth the trek, for sure.
Monday morning brought our final coffee with Wayne and his wife before their dog feasted on my shoe 🙂 and we started our long drive home.
We ended up somehow missing a turn off part way back home and took a slight detour. The detour ended up treating us to some really cool views we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We stopped in Wanganui for lunch, and then followed the river until we worked our way through the hills, beside the lonely mountain and up towards Lake Taupo.
With a couple of stops- one to stretch our legs at the lake, and another at Pak n Save to set ourselves up for meals and such, we were back home and ready to start the week leading up to our first set of visitors!!
Jamie and Michelle will arrive in about 5 days, and we couldn’t be more excited! Many more massive posts to share, I’m sure.