After our early arrival in Wellington, "the coolest little capital in the world" according to Lonely Planet, we dropped our stuff of at our hostel and headed for Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum. Free wifi aside included, it's a really lovely museum, incorporating New Zealand's prodigious Maori history, as well as biology, geography, ecology, and modern European history. Definitely worth a visit.
As we left, we noticed some sort of competition going on nearby along the waterfront. Lo and behold, it was the National Firefighters Competition: squads from around New Zealand racing to carry dead weight up six flights of stairs, knock down debris with a firehose, and drag crash dummies around. And all with the world's most enthusiastic emcee.
This was just the first of a couple random quirky things we stumbled upon in Welly. After lunch, we cruised to the hottest microbrewery in New Zealand, The Garage Project, who make a delightful array of hoptastic, in-your-face (shall we say American-style?) beers. We were disappointed that the brewery could only sell retail bottles, and only in one liter plus volumes (well, not totally disappointed), but we happily bought a liter for an afternoon siesta on the hostel patio. After a little rest, we rode the cable car up the hill to the Wellington Botanic Gardens.
We enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the gardens, watched a little pick-up cricket, and then rounded out the evening with some delicious Malaysian, a cuisine which Wellington is apparently known for. I'm not the first to notice this, but Wellington has some San Francisco-esque characteristics-- on an iconic harbor, hilly, and packing a cultural punch above its size.
On the morning of day 2, Jared and I stumbled into Caffeination, New Zealand's national coffee conference (free admisison!), including the national barista championship, and the experimental room. The American coffee-snob in me was really excited to finally have a pourover (gasp!) and even a little cold brew (still a very new idea there). Suitably caffeinated, we headed for the surprisingly decent Museum of Wellington City & Sea and then on to Parliament for a tour. I was moved by the monument to New Zealand's soldiers near the capital:
These Laid The World Away
Poured Out The Red Sweet Wine Of Youth. Gave Up The Years To Be
Of Work And Joy And That Unhoped Serene
That Men Call Age. And Those
Who Would Have Been Their Sons
They Gave Their Immortality
From there we toured the (in)famous capital building, endearingly (and un-endearingly) known as the Beehive.
Our tour guide was, ahem, a little boring (as dirt), but Jared and I couldn't help but be intrigued by the workings of NZ's parliamentary democracy, so it was worth it.
After our tour, it was time for a quick dinner, and then our overnight 11 hour bus ride from Wellington to Auckland. Unfortunately, we made one large miscalculation: in the U.S. when you ride an overnight bus (e.g. MegaBus or BoltBus or Greyhound), you get on the interstate and drive in basically a straight line, at a constant speed, all night. There aren't any interstates in New Zealand, so instead we spent 11 hours on hellishly curvy, hairpin-filled roads. Since the bus was mostly empty, I tried to curl up across two seats, but instead just found myself frantically grasping for handholds (and sliding into the aisle) whenever we rounded a corner, as people and backpacks slid around the bus.
After a less-than-restful bus ride we arrived in Auckland at 6:30 AM, grabbed a coffee, resupplied, and then hopped on the 9 AM ferry:
We were bound for Rangitoto, one of the fifty volcanoes in and around Auckland. Our plan was to hike to the summit and then wander to neighboring Motutapu Island, where we were camping for the night (we just can't get enough camping!). Rangitoto reminded me of a mini-Big Island (of Hawaii)-- lots of fresh lava flows (a'ha everywhere!), with lava tubes, and a gradually sloping trail to the top.
There were sweet city views from the top:
And by now, you probably saw this coming:
After lunch on the summit, we strolled over to Motutapu and down to our campsite for the night.
We spent the afternoon exploring the nearby WWII-era gun emplacements and bunkers (reminiscent of the Marin Headlands),
and enjoying the views,
before taking in sunset back at camp. The best part: no sand flies. What a treat. Sunset was pretty good too.
The next morning we caught the noon ferry back to Auckland and then walked to our cute little AirBnb apartment near the University of Auckland, about fifteen minutes from the ferry terminal. As a special treat, we got to catch up with our BU friends from the Kepler Track (see 4 posts earlier).
The next day Jared and I embarked on the symbolic Coast to Coast walk through Auckland, fifteen kilometers, from the Tasman Sea in the west, to the Pacific Ocean on the west. Coincidentally, it's also part of Te Araroa, the through-trail that Jared and I were loosely following on the South Island. See the little icon Jared's pointing at:
From there, we walked over One Tree Hill (isn't that a TV show?) and up scenic Mt Eden, with it's awesome views of the city. As you can probably tell, it's an extinct (thankfully) volcano.
We ended the hike with a beer on the harbor-- not necessarily the best hiking, but a very symbolic journey nonetheless.
On our final day in the city, we decided that we hadn't been getting enough nature (or maybe were getting too much city?), so we rented a car and headed for the Coromandel, a peninsula about two hours east of Auckland that juts out into the harbor. After an hour delay caused by the national hotrod convention (sigh), we arrived at our first stop, the delightful Hot Springs Beach.
There are hot springs beneath the beach (hence the name), so at low tide, you can dig into the sand and sit in a toasty pool while cool waves wash over you. The hotrod convention delayed us enough that we only had twenty or thirty minutes before the tide washed over the beach, but it was still very cool.
Our next stop was Cathedral Cave trailhead, with its stunning Pacific views.
After that, it was a 30-minute hike down to the cove, where we enjoyed lunch.
We then took some time to explore the feature landmark of the cove. Here I am coveting a perch...
Here I am deciding maybe not...
And finally. All mine.
After enjoying the beach, we drove north around the top of the peninsula and over a pass.
The area reminded of Big Sur-- not in it's climate (far too sunny), but in it's ruggedness and proximity to a major city. A beautiful end to a beautiful trip.
That morning Jared decided to extend his trip through May, so the next day he hopped on a noon bus south to work at brewery, while I spent the afternoon wandering the city, eventually stumbling into a pretty impressive botanic greenhouse.
That evening, alas, it was time to return to the real world after seven months as a nomad. As I flew out, I got one last parting gift from New Zealand: sunset over Auckland Harbor.
As the plethora of blog posts have attested to, wow-- what a trip.
Thanks to those who shared their cars, their time, and their stories with us.
A shoutout to you who kept things interesting (you know who you are...).
And of course...
A trip is only good as your travel mate. And I had a good one.