Quiet ride with Intercity along the west coast of the North Island to reach Wellington. After two weeks in New Zealand it’s finally time to visit the nation’s capital!
Less populated than Auckland, Wellington extends into the bay of the same name where ferries leave to the South Island and is surrounded by the peninsula of Miramar and mountain ranges. In the Maori language, Wellington is called Te Whanganui -a-Tara meaning « The great harbor of Tara ». Wellington is also known as « Windy Welly » because of the very frequent gusts rushing into the strait connecting the bay to the sea and making Wellington one of the windiest cities. Although quite small for a capital city (which makes its charm), Wellington has an artistic vibe, a good nightlife and an important cultural aspect. The Te Papa, the largest national museum in the country is located on the waterfront and Weta, the studio of Peter Jackson, is located in Miramar on the Peninsula.
Anecdotally, Wellington has more coffee shops per person than New York. That say a lot about how Kiwis are passionate about coffee.
I arrived late in the afternoon with a gray weather to drop my luggages in a hostel which resemble more of an old impersonal hotel than a real hostel. Hum, nice beginning… Especially since I’ve decided to stay at least a week to decide about the rest of my trip. Alright. I remember the phrase that is becoming my mantra: « Don’t worry, be happy », removes the negative thoughts of my brain and leave for a stroll at nightfall. Walk along the waterfront bathed in half-quiet, half-animated atmosphere. Despite the little I see, I like Wellington instantly. And this feeling will only strengthen in the following days.
In the end I spent a week in Wellington wandering around the city, doing some very interesting tours and hikings in the area. I had also the opportunity to decide about the rest of my trip. Being particularly happy to be in New Zealand, feeling good in the country surrounded by beautiful scenery and making lots of friendly encounters, I decided to stay a year! So I made online procedures to apply for a Working Holiday Visa! And I also decided to spend the winter in the South Island and find a job for 3/4 months.
Other than that, what are the things not to miss in Wellington? Here is a selection of walks and visits that I liked the most and that will give you a good overview of the capital of New Zealand!
Strolling along the waterfront
Wellington is located in an absolutely beautiful environment. Surrounded by bay, mountains and peninsula, the capital has a small endearing downtown, composed of business district and designer shops, mix of buildings from today and from the 19th century. There is also the New Zealand Parliament, affectionately nicknamed the « Beehive » because of its distinctive architecture and the Embassy Theatre which hosted all the premieres screening of the trilogy Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. I went inside to admire the posters of Peter Jackson’s movies. Small emotional moment!
But what I liked the most in Wellington it’s the waterfront and its amazing atmosphere. Old seaport, the waterfront was completely refurbished to offer to the residents a space of incredible relaxation. A stroll not to miss which will allow you to have spectacular views of the Wellington waterfront is the climbing of Mount Victoria, 196 meters of greenery delimiting the city center area from the district of Oriental Parade.
A nice climb in the woods for an incredible panorama. Descending from Mount Victoria towards the northeast you can reach Oriental Parade, consisting of a mix of beautiful Victorian villas set on a hillside (and new buildings that spoil a bit the scenery). Oriental Parade has the only beach in the center of Wellington! There is even a fountain in the sea! The view of the bay and mountain ranges in the distance is worth it!
Zealandia, ecological sanctuary
On my second day in Wellington, I went to see Zealandia with Julie, a French girl that I had met in Rotorua, also passing in Wellington. But it was not the right day to do that because it was torrential rain for most of the day! Despite the bad weather, our visite of Zealandia was still quite successful (except for taking photos and by the fact that it was really cold).
Zealandia, Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, is a huge reserve of 225 hectares, ten minutes by free shuttle away from Wellington center. This protected area is a large valley including a forest with a very big lake in the middle was once a water reservoir for the city of Wellington. The purpose of Zealandia is to give back to the valley its original appearance before the apparition of the settlers and pests animals in New Zealand. The entire biodiversity is naturally being restored without human changes. Fully protected by a barrier, there is only native fauna and flora including Tuatara, Weta, Takahe, Kakariki and many other animals and plants.
We did a small tour with very friendly guide (and very courageous to work under this torrential rain !!). She showed us a Takahe couple living in the park (large blue flightless bird with a big red beak) as well as a study in progress with a Chatham Island robin, little curious black bird. She put several worms in a small hollow carved in a stick and noted how many the bird store in a cache before starting to feed itself. Very interesting.
Julie and I then swallowed as fast as possible our snack under the only shelter of the park before resuming our ride through the forest. Walking among the ecosystem of Zealandia is like having the impression of being back in the Prehistoric time! I almost expected to see appear a Moa (giant flightless bird resemblant to an ostrich, now extinct) or a Tyrannosaurus!
We have seen lots of Hihi (little bird with a touch of yellow on the feathers), Saddleback (beautiful bird with red spots, always moving and almost extinct), Kaka (big curious parrot), Kereru (the superb New Zealand pigeon), Tui (magnificent bird with two small white balls under the throat and producing extraordinary vocals), Bellbird (small yellow / green bird singing like a bell), Fantail (tiny bird with a very interesting behavior), etc, and we ventured into an old mine to see Cave Weta. The fear I had when I lit the ceiling of the mine a few centimeters above my head and I saw it was covered with Weta (which in the dark resemble large spiders). Needless to say that I came out at full speed!
We emerged from the park in the late afternoon a little numb because of the cold. A passage by the most famous waffles store in Wellington: The Little Waffle Shop was obliged! The store is a very tiny shop on Courtenay Place offering a dozen waffles with delicious assortments! Caramel Cookie Crumble is for Julie and Cheeky Chocolate with Peaches for me! A delight too quickly swallowed!
Gallipoli or the art of presenting an exhibition
On the Wellington waterfront is located the very famous national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, whose name means in Maori « the place of the treasures of this earth ». Gigantic building with several floors, it has many permanent collections of Maori and New Zealand culture, fauna and flora, art galleries and an outdoor garden. It also has a very interesting and beautiful reproduction of the Treaty of Waitangi (document representing the foundation of New Zealand as a nation and the agreement between maoris and settlers signed in 1840) and has the largest colossal squid in exhibition (a bit decrepit currently in his formalin pool but still very impressive). You will need several days to overcome all the wonders of the museum!
When I visited the museum, there were many celebrations in honor of the Maori New Year: Matariki! Indeed a group of stars known as the Pleiades or Matariki in maori appear in the New Zealand sky from late May to early June. This is the signal for the Maori New Year and a period of remembering the dead and celebrating the new life. Many events took place in the museum with very lovely and interesting Maori songs and dances.
Sounds of Wellington – Te Papa – Matariki :
One of the visits that you should not miss in Wellington is the visit of the exhibition, Gallipoli, The Scale of Our War which explain the Gallipoli campaign during the First World War in Turkey from April 25, 1915 to January 9, 1916. Allies of England, New Zealand and Australia landed on April 25, 1915, on the north shore of Gallipoli in what is now Turkey, in an attempt to seize the strait and open the way to Constantinople to force the Ottoman empire to capitulate. The operation was a butcher and the two countries suffered from heavy losses. For New Zealand, Gallipoli have an unprecedented impact in its history, because of the horror and the huge number of deaths (in proportion to the size of the country) that the battle made. Nearly one on five men did not return from the war!
After the Treaty of Waitangi which devotes New Zealand as a nation, it’s Gallipoli which has truly forged the identity of the country.
The exhibition created with the help of the Peter Jackson studio, Weta Workshop recounts in one of the most successful stage design I’ve ever seen the details of the campaign, focusing on the history of eight New Zealanders soldiers who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Every soldier is captured in a moment of their life on a monumental scale (2.4x human sized) in a wax statue glaring of realism. An entire room is dedicated to each statue, each time with a soundtrack describing the horror of the campaign. Grandiose!
One of the soundtrack even mix the sounds of the battle with the voice of the soldier describing its history, a choir with Arabian influences and sounds of the haka!
Sounds of Wellington – Gallipoli :
But it does not stop there my friends! The rest of the exhibition is a treat for the eyes and a wonder of interactivity. For me, who have made studies focusing on interface design, exhibits and graphics, it’s Christmas !! Paintings, stagings, light games, videos, full of interactive features, a use of typography absolutely wonderful, a great soundtrack, a fun and interesting content, I come out from the exhibition my eyes filled with stars! Even the exhibition website is amazing!
The only thing to consider is that some stagings can shock. Be in a simulated trench, the sound of bombing exploding in your ears and see an enemy soldier rushing towards you before being shot right in front of your eyes by a Kiwi soldier screaming of madness, it’s a shock! Sensitive souls, beware. And also the exhibition is full of people, so do not go there during the day. Better get there at the opening of the museum or one hour before closing.
Gallipoli has been a perfect hell on earth
Peninsula, Miramar and Lord of the Rings
Later in the week, I met Julie again to go walk around the peninsula on foot to go take a look at the village of Miramar, so-called « pretty as a picture » if I believe the brochure and go to the required place of pilgrimage for any fan of the Lord of the Rings: the studios of Peter Jackson, Weta and its souvenir shop, the Weta Cave.
The road runs along the water edge of the peninsula and offers us a beautiful but windy landscape! Wellington deserves its nickname of « Windy Welly! We need almost five hours from Te Papa to walk along Oriental Parade and the Peninsula to get to the other side of the Peninsula where the first houses of Miramar are.
Starving, we take our snack on a beautiful beach observing a group of divers return from their session. Some Little Shags are drying their feathers on rocks. But the weather turns bad and clouds appears on the horizon. We head on to Weta Cave.
The three trolls of the Hobbit, faithfully awaiting for us at the entrance of the store. They are impressive of realism! The interior of the shop is filled with statues, figurines, books or reproductions of weapons and clothes but nothing really exceptionally. I come out a bit disappointed. Also because Julie who made the studio tour two weeks ago, warned me against (very expensive for what there is to see). Well too bad, some pictures will be enough. We returned to Wellington by bus, both well tired from our day of walking.
Departure for South Island
After this big week in Wellington which is for now my favorite city, I leave the North Island on Wednesday, June 29 to go to Dunedin on the South Island! Instead of the ferry, I take the plane, the only easy and cheap way to travel directly to Dunedin. At the airport are waiting for me beautiful and gigantic statues of Gandalf of a eagle and Smaug! Classy ! In an hour flight I will be on the other side of the country!
Note: all pictures published in this article are my creations. They are not royalty free. Thank you not to use them without permission.