With only 2 weeks until we had to drop the car off in Queenstown, and knowing that we wanted to spend most of our time on the South Island, we made our way quickly down the North Island. Day 2 was my turn to drive and it happened to be a long day in the car. Nothing like 8 hours of pure driving to get me used to the opposite side of the road.
The drive started out the same as the day before, green and sheep, but by lunch time we got our first view of the ocean and a snow-capped mountain. Beautiful. We stopped for lunch at the ocean-side town of New Plymouth – healthy organic salads yay! – before continuing inland and down to Wellington. By the time we arrived it was already after 7; it was a day dedicated to transportation.
The only other thing we’d booked before leaving Auckland was the ferry to cross Cook Strait from North to South Island, which was the next day at 6:30 pm. We had about 24 hours to explore Wellington.
We had quickly booked a hostel during lunch and when we arrived we discovered it was one of the big backpacker ones, Nomads. It’s where the Stray bus riders stay (a hop on hop off bus company that basically shuttles around 30 or so 20-somethings to an itinerary of highlights, with a bit of a party reputation) and is the slightly less intense New Zealand equivalent of Wild Rover or Loki (Base being their equal). Our one night in Wellington we found ourselves hanging out with the Stray people at a beer pong tournament. It wasn’t exactly the night I’d hoped for in Wellington, but you live and you learn.
The next day, after our make-your-own pancake breakfast (included, a rarity in NZ), we did a quick tour of the city, following the recommendations from our hostel receptionist. We started with a ride up the cable car to the Botanical Gardens. The cable car was a bit of a let down, blame it on seeing the awesome SF cable cars daily when I lived on Hyde Street, but the gardens were nice to wander around. There was a great view over Wellington and the bay at the start and then a variety of vegetation to peacefully explore.
Next up was Te Papa, The Museum of New Zealand. This museum is a school field trip destination; we were there on a Thursday and kids were everywhere. You can see why though: it has exhibits on New Zealand history, culture, nature, and art. Even with all the kids around it is still worth a visit, more than one visit really, since it covers so much. It’s also free, which is just awesome. If I end up with any time in Wellington on my way back up north I’ll probably try to go back here; I only got as far as cultural history and art, but I heard the scientific part is amazing with exhibits on earthquakes and a blue whale skeleton.
After a welcomed spicy ramen lunch and some window shopping on Cuba Street, we took some time to chill before getting on the ferry. It was a quick tour of Wellington, which I’m sure skews my opinion of it, but I found it to be an okay city. I think I liked it more than Auckland but not enough to feel like I needed to stay longer. It is also intensely windy.
The ferry across Cook Strait was unexpectedly great. It had a comfy upstairs bar with some decent beers that were much more reasonably priced than we expected, and the sunset timing and slightly stormy weather created a crazy environment. The waves were impressive and the lighting was hypnotizing. We settled in next to a window and enjoyed our beverages. As per usual, I used this time to write a few blog posts and edit a video. Driving around is fantastic, but it has cut into my productivity time.
We docked in Picton around 10 pm. We had arrived in the South Island.