3rd Jul 2012
Wellington - rain, wine and the wobbles
Having warmed up a little from the white water rafting, the bus left on its journey to the capital – Wellington. But before we hit the big city, we stopped off at a few very ‘local’ towns on the way. I still can’t get over how small a ‘town’ is in NZ – it’s pretty much the same size as a village back in the UK with a couple of hundred people as the inhabitants, mainly outnumbered by sheep!
So we stopped at a couple of towns; Taihape and Bulls – both very quiet apart from the odd tumbleweed blowing through. But as is the Kiwi Experience way, we have to stop a few times for food, toilets and leg stretching!
But it wasn’t long before we hit the main road which leads into Wellington, following the Kapiti Coast – a dramatic coastline formed by a huge earthquake back in 1855 which saw a lot of the island disappear out to sea. It was beautiful, and lovely to see the ocean again!
After a while, and having driven down the main highway into the city which actually spans the huge fault line that surrounds Wellington, we arrived at our hostel – a pretty noisy one! But we made friends with a Kiwi guy called Abbi and headed down to the basement bar for a drink with him.
Abbi, from Auckland, was telling us about his plans to travel to Europe. It seemed pretty normal to us until he explained that he has never flown further than Sydney before and hasn’t really ever known a different culture, or a country with a different language. It suddenly made us realise how lucky we are to be in the midst of Europe and at the doorstep of countries that are so unique. It was also funny talking to him about life back in England. He couldn’t quite get over how close the houses were together having grown-up watching Eastenders on TV, and seeing the terraced houses crammed down the streets. But of course, NZ has so much SPACE so their houses have huge backyards and loads of room between the neighbours!
Later on into the evening and after a semi-decent 3 minute meal, Chris and I headed back down to the bar for what we hoped would be one last quiet beer. Little did we know that we were about to find out how active the land beneath Welly really is. At first, we thought someone had just turned the base up on the massive speakers next to us as all we could hear was a low boom and we felt the floor start to shake. After a few seconds, we noticed the furniture in the bar was wobbling and the bottles behind the bar were shaking violently, the liquid inside them gushing from one side to the other. This was an earthquake! And we were in the basement of a 5 storey building! But you honestly couldn’t have stood up, the floor was shifting so erratically from side to side, but having done a quick scan of the bar we realised no one else was leaving, we were just trying to steady ourselves in our seats. It was such a weird but quite terrifying experience, and what made it worse was the length of the quake – it went on for over 60 seconds which we found out the next day was one of the longest the city has ever seen and this place gets up to 14,000 shakes a year! Once the wobbles had stopped, a local guy came running over to us and congratulated us on surviving our first quake! He didn’t seem to be worried about it or the fact that we were in a basement, probably the worst place to be! But we headed up to reception just to check we were still ok to be in the building, and they also seemed quite relaxed about the whole thing. They explained that the epicentre was very deep and about 200km away, hence there was little damage despite the length of the quake itself. So not really knowing what else to do, we headed to bed.
Day one in Wellington and thankfully there were no more earth wobbles in the night! We headed out to the main city to take a look around, and walked along the harbour area to check out the views out to sea. Unfortunately, despite being so lucky with the NZ winter weather so far, it did start to rain so we ducked into the national museum of Te Papa. Having done a museum in Auckland, we weren’t too sure how this one would be very different but it was incredible! By far, the best museum I have ever been to! It’s got loads of interactive stuff, cool exhibitions, a wide range of subjects and extraordinary stories from around the country. The only downside, it was the start of the school holidays so it was packed with screaming kids! But we battled through them and spent some time learning about the geology of the land and scared ourselves even more following our brush with an earthquake the previous night!
Having spent a few hours there we continued the walk in the drizzle through town and visited the very ugly looking Parliament building and new cathedral. From here, we headed back through the city and its main shopping area but it’s no Oxford Street! In fact, it was hard to believe that this place was a capital – the roads and pavements were empty, and the centre was tiny in comparison to London. So having walked around and seen the main sites, we did the only thing that you could do in the rain – find a pub! Or in our case, a micro-brewery with an open fire, sofas and good ale! Perfect!
Day 2, our final day here before we sailed to the south island, and we decided to catch the cable car up to the botanical gardens. The weather was still quite overcast but the rain had stopped so we walked to the station. I was excited, having never been in a cable car before but was a little disappointed because it was more like a train carriage on a wire pulled up a hill but it was still good and the views across the city and out to sea were amazing. You could really get a feel for how enclosed Welly is; sea out in front and steep hills around it. Gorgeous.
Having spent some time looking around the gardens and the views which were slowly being engulfed by clouds, we headed back and went on the hunt for the old cathedral which our roommate had told us was beautiful. After a long walk and a few wrong turns, we found it and yes, it was beautiful. It looked like it had been picked up from England and dropped on the edge of the main city. A picturesque white church with a tall steeple and magnificent stained-glass windows. And inside, it was just as spectacular and felt as if you had walked back into an old English church. It was so peaceful and nice just to spend some time looking around and learning about its history.
From here, and with the rain starting to come down again, we decided it was best to head back to the micro-brewery for the afternoon to kill the rest of the day! It’s a tough life sometimes! And we didn’t want to overdo it – we have a long journey tomorrow leaving the north island and heading south across the water to the port of Picton.
From what everyone had said to us, the south island is much more magnificent with more dramatic landscapes, wilder scenery and fewer people! We were finding this hard to believe having been blown away by the beauty of NZ so far throughout the north island. So we were pretty excited to be seeing more of it and had high hopes for what lay ahead.