|WHANGAREI TO WELLINGTON, South Island NZ
After much anticipation about taking a break from being tied to the dock and seeing some sights, we finally managed to cram all of what we were sure we might need into Norman Greenbomb and set off for the South Island. Since we knew it would be much colder there, we packed pants, sweaters, jackets, socks and even brought our quilt. As it turned out, the South Island was indeed much colder than any conditions we had experienced in a long while and our shorts and Tís remained folded in our backpacks, unworn til we returned.
We encountered an array of climatic conditions...
We had our fair share of rain while traveling but we also experienced some of New Zealandís other weather patterns. The day after we left Greymouth, a tornado swept through the town, destroying everything in its path. On the southern tip of the Catlins we experienced around 50 knot winds sweeping across the barren land from the Tasman Sea. The Haast Pass and Mount Cook were shrouded in clouds so heavy that we retreated to Christchurch instead of continuing to the Alpine Heartlands. It tuned out that on that very day a well known and competent climber lost her life to the mountain when a freak snow storm engulfed her.
Then there was the earthquake that rumbled through Picton late one night as we lay sleeping in our bed there. It didnít do any damage but was a reminder of just how unstable the islands of New Zealand are.
Since the drive to Wellington where we catch the ferry to the South Island takes a few days, we took our time and toured some of the central North Island on our way.
Auckland to Turangi
February 26 After stopping in Auckland to drop off our liferaft for recertification, we met up with John Cooper who has been very helpful in supplying us with maps and tips on where to travel in the South Island. We had a great visit over coffee and cake at his apartment overlooking downtown Auckland.
We drove towards Taupo and spent our first night in Turangi, at the south end of Lake Taupo. We stayed at a backpackers that was seriously into climbing and had a huge complex of climbing walls.
February 27 Because there was such a heavy cloud cover the following morning, we were advised to take the eastern route around Tongariro Mountains and through Tongariro National Park, dominated by three active volcanoes, the major one being Mount Ruapehu . The landscape was stark and harsh, used as a military training ground. The area reminded us of Nevada. The mountain road revealed glimpses of the snow covered volcanic peaks shrouded in the clouds.
Whanganui National Park
There are many rivers in the region, the best known being the Whanganui River which is the longest navigable river in New Zealand. For a change of scenery we took the remote Whanganui River Road, an area seeping in Maori tradition with ruminants of the tiny mission villages dotting the narrow, sometimes gravel road. Later at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington, we watched a documentary that taught us more about the culture and history of the Whanganui River area.
The upper river is dense rainforest which leads through deeply incised gorges where ferns and native plants cling to steep riverbanks. This dramatic landscape opens up into rolling farmland. We spent the night in Wanganui, which was a charming historic little town at the mouth of the river.
February 28 Our drive to Wellington was along the west coast, a stretch of road that encompassed more museums than one can imagineÖ.trains, planes, trams, vintage cars, etc.
We checked into our hotel which was a crazy Backpacker building painted like a zebra and called Wildlife House Backpacker, right in the heart of downtown Wellington. Wellington is a compact city, making it possible to walk almost anywhere. We spent the evening walking around Courtney Place, where there are dozens of restaurants and cafes.
That evening we enjoyed a private hot tub at the Wildlife House and retired early to our sparse room.
Since we arrived a day ahead of schedule, we had the whole next day to explore Wellington. We started the day by walking to Oriental Bay looking for a restaurant to have breakfast. There was some great views of the harbour and surrounding city with the fountain in the middle of the bay.
The city beautifully combines modern high-rise developments along its reclaimed foreshores with gracious old homes that cling to the hillsides above the city. We poked around the Art Museum and even ran into Dejara (Victoria is working in Wellington). Itís amazing that we can consistently run into people we know wherever we go!
The Cable Car
The cable car took us past Victoria University to a fantastic view from the top of windy Mount Victoria overlooking the city harbor and hillside suburbs.
Walking through the Botanical Gardens we made our way back to the downtown area through many points of interest, including the historic Government Buildings and Library.
By the end of the day our feet and legs were throbbing from the multitude of miles we had walked so we stopped for supper at a Sports Bar near our hotel. There was a Rugby game in progress and all the Kiwis were cheering on their favorite team with an overload of enthusiasm.
We got up early enough the following morning to take in the Te Papa Museum. As are all museums in Wellington, it was free. We really enjoyed the interactive exhibits and technology that gave us an insight to New Zealand's natural environment and to the Maori history and culture. There were some fabulous displays of the native birds and animals of New Zealand including present, endangered and extinct species.
Ferry to Picton
That afternoon we boarded the Lynx, the fast Cat ferry that took us to Picton on the South Island. The sea state was quite rough but the journey was pleasant.