New Zealand: Passage to the South Island

17 04 2009

The best way to travel between the North Island and the South Island of New Zealand is by ferry. This three hour sea passage is both convenient and incredibly scenic. Passengers and cars sail out of Wellington Harbor out to sea and enter the South Island through the Marlborough Sounds and majestic Queen Charlotte Sound.  Just thinking of this sea passage makes me sigh.
 

View Larger Map

We booked the Interislander ferry through our hotel a day in advance. Visitors can also take the Bluebridge Ferries, which take a little longer. Both ferry companies sail with large multilevel ships that are full of amenities such as lounges, cafes, bars and observation decks. Some even have children’s play areas and movie theaters. There are 5-6 crossings a day, depending on the season.

We left Wellington on the 10:25 AM ferry.  Click on any of the pictures below for a larger view.


View of Wellington from the Ferry


Passing another ferry going in the opposite direction.

We passed by these lighthouses and land formations as we left Wellington Harbor.

After leaving the harbor, the ship is out at sea for a while. I passed the time reading the NZ gossip mags since there was nothing to photograph for more than an hour. NZ gossip magazines are almost as good as the British Tabloids. I read all about Prince William’s relationship with Kate Middleton.

It was obvious when we reached the Marlborough Sounds because we began to see green and yellow islands and peninsulas rising out of the sea. A dense fog rolled over the Sounds, which only added to the grandeur and mystery of the Marlborough Sounds. It also had the effect of making the colors of the land more intense.

 

Against the backdrop of the high cliffs, the sailboats looked like white birds fluttering across the water.

 

After cruising through the waters of the Marlborough Sounds, the ship made a big turn into Queen Charlotte Sound. Since we would not be able to do the Queen Charlotte tramp, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, we were happy that we were able to catch a glimpse of this beautiful area from the water.

 

 

Finally, we reached our destination, the port city of Picton.

Although Picton is a small town that serves mainly as the south terminal of the ferry, it does this job well. We were able to pick up our rental car without any problems right at the ferry terminal. There are several rental cars companies to choose from, but if you want a choice in what you rent it’s better if you book ahead of time. We drove into town to have lunch before embarking on the beginning of our South Island adventure.

Next: Abel Tasman National Park





New Zealand: Wellington

15 04 2009

After our short stay in Auckland, we flew straight to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and home of this country’s film industry.  Wellington is the third largest city in New Zealand with just under 400,000 residents.  We spent a day and a half in Wellington, primarily just wandering around the city on foot and visiting Te Papa, the excellent National Museum of New Zealand.

We began our walk at the Parliament Buildings, right around the corner from our hotel.  We passed by the famous “Beehive” parliament building.


New Zealand’s Executive wing of the Parliament Buildings is nicknamed the “Beehive.”

We then headed toward Lambton Quay, the main shopping street in Wellington.   We walked past the historic  Kirkcaldie & Stains department store.  As you can see from this 1909 photo, the appearance of this department store has not changed much since it was relocated here in the late 19th century.

Strangely enough, I was reminded strongly of Singapore while strolling down Lambton Quay. It was probably the spotless streets and gleaming shopping centers combined with tropical trees that gave me that impression, although they are both former British colonies. The fact that these two places both use the word “quay” quite often only added to their similarities.


Kirkcaldie & Stains department store on Lambton Quay

Speaking of shopping centers, I was fascinated by this former bank building that was converted into a very elegant shopping arcade.  The building has been beautifully restored.


The Old Bank Shopping Arcade in Wellington

Inside, you can clearly see how the teller stations were converted into individual boutiques. There is even a little cafe in the middle of the lobby of the bank.


Inside the Old Bank Shopping Arcade

I even found the old vault! It was in the basement near the bathrooms.


The vault at the Old Bank Shopping Arcade

When we came to the end of Lambton Quay, we walked down Willis St towards Civic Square so that we could get to Cable St, home of Te Papa.  

We spent the rest of the morning at Te Papa. Translated loosely as “Our Place” in the Maori language, Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum.  This excellent (and free) museum has science, history, and culture all combined in one interactive high tech space.  We were particularly interested in seeing the Maori exhibits, but all the exhibits are top notch.  We highly recommend this museum, even if it’s the only museum you go to in New Zealand.

We first visited the “Mountains to Sea” exhibit, which explores the animals and plants native to New Zealand.  This was a great exhibit because it allowed us to identify a lot of the unique wildlife we had seen that was unfamiliar to us.  We saw a stuffed kiwi, the famous flightless bird and emblem of New Zealand.


The kiwi, the flightless bird of New Zealand.

Funny enough, we also saw the fish that Charles ate for dinner the night before, the John Dory.  We had no idea it was so ugly.  You can see the fish in the photo below.  It’s the ugly brownish fish in the lower right hand corner with the black “evil eye” on its body.


Exhibit at Te Papa showing different marine life present in the waters surrounding New Zealand.

The primary reason we went to this area of the museum was to see the famous Collosal Squid.  This is not the LARGE or even GIANT squid, but the COLLOSAL squid.  There is only one complete specimen on display anywhere in the world, and it’s at Te Papa.  Found in the waters off Antartica, this collosal squid is over 13 feet long and weighs more than 1 ton!  You can find out more about this amazing catch on Te Papa’s website.


Te Papa’s Collosal Squid

The flora and fauna section of this exhibit was outdoors, where the curators had put together a living collection of the unique plants and trees found in New Zealand.


A waterfall found in the outdoor flora and fauna exhibit at Te Papa.

Following the “Mountains to Sea” exhibit, we focused on finding The Marae.  A marae is the customary meeting place of the Maori people.  The Marae in Te Papa is a functioning marae and was designed and built by the leading Maori artists of the time. Not surprisingly, the marae reminded me of a popular Western meeting place – church.


The beautiful Marae at Te Papa.


The artistry and color was exquisite.


Stylized art on the ceiling of the Marae at Te Papa

After our tour of the Marae, we saw the rest of the Maori exhibit. I have always been fascinated with Maori art, even when I didn’t know it as such, and it was exciting to be able to see the real thing, even if it was in a museum.

We saw a model of the boat that brought the Maori across the Pacific to New Zealand. The Maori were superior sailors and builders, and were able to navigate very long distances across the sea. It is said that Hawaiians and the Maori originated from the same group of Pacific seafarers. There is even evidence that most Pacific Islanders originally came from or at least came through Taiwan!


Scale model of the Maori boat that brought the Maori to New Zealand.


Life size version of Maori boat


The Treaty of Waitangi, the document that details the relationship between the Maori and the British settlers. It is considered the founding document of New Zealand.


English Translation of the Treaty of Waitangi

We saw a few other exhibits at Te Papa, including a wonderful area called “Awesome Forces” that focused on the geological forces that created New Zealand.  There is even a little house inside the exhibit that simulates an earthquake!  

After Te Papa, we resumed our walking tour of Wellington, stopping at a few places that we had passed in the morning. We ate at a local pizza place for lunch, but the most interesting thing we noticed was the Thai restaurant across the street. Let’s just say that the restaurant name and what is written on the steps would never fly in the ultra-PC United States. Go ahead, click on the photo below for a closer look.


The un-PC Thai Restaurant across the street from where we ate lunch.

Following our lunch, we walked down Manners St, which has a lot of interesting looking stores, restaurants, and cafes. While looking for caffeine, I found this Taiwanese cafe! I have this talent where I can find the one Taiwanese place wherever we go.


A Taiwanese Cafe in Wellington

I also spotted the Embassy Theatre, where Peter Jackson premiered all three Lord of the Rings films.


Embassy Theater, Wellington

We moseyed our way down Manners St until we reached the alternative Cuba Street. This funky pedestrian only street is full of stores, cafes, public art, and street performers. It is said that the LOTR actors spent quite a lot of time hanging around this fun area. I can certainly see why!


Funky Cuba St in Wellington

After exploring the “downtown” area, we walked back to Lambton Quay so we could take the cable car that takes to up to a fantastic view of Wellington and the Wellington Botanic Gardens.


From the top of the Cable Car is a view of Wellington.

We spent a relaxing couple of hours walking around the Wellington Botanical Gardens, where I was able to blissfully snap away with my camera.  Well paved paths led us from hilly forests to formal flower gardens, pretty ponds, a fragrant herb garden, and lastly to a beautiful rose garden.  We loved seeing all the native plants and trees, exotic to us, in a natural environment.


This tree trunk had an interesting pattern in the pith.


Fern frond


The silver fern, the national symbol of New Zealand.

We walked through this fragrant herb garden on top of a hill.

At the end of this path, we found the large rose garden.  

This pink and orange rose is called “The World.”

The Wellington Botanical Gardens were a real delight for an amateur photographer like myself. I had a blast just flitting here and there taking photos while Charles enjoyed the sun and the breeze. Wellington residents are truly lucky to have such a wonderful outdoor space to relax and walk in just a short distance away from the city. 

Overall, we were really impressed with Wellington. For a small city, Wellington has a surprisingly number of cool boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. We would have loved to spend a few more days in the area to explore even more.  As we were beginning to understand, New Zealand just has extremely liveable cities that strike a good balance between the modern and natural world.








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