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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The Big Island – Waipio Valley with Horses

31 07 2007

If you are among the dozen or so people who have seen the movie “Waterworld” starring Kevin Costner, you may have wondered where that beautiful valley featured at the end of the film is located. Even if you have never wondered this, I’ll tell you anyway. The valley in question is Waipio Valley. Well, technically, I believe they filmed it in Waipio Valley and the next one over.

A view of the mysterious Waipio Valley as seen from the overlook.

Waipio Valley Overlook

Waipio Valley is the southernmost valley in the chain of 7 valleys in the northeast side of the Big Island. This valley is a sacred place for Hawaiians and has both cultural and historical significance. Not only is this the most fertile valley in the islands, but it is also the setting of many ancient stories about gods and kings. In the past, this valley was well populated and had schools, churches, restaurants, and even a hotel. However, a great tsunami destroyed these structures in the 1940s and since then it has not been repopulated. Only about 50 people live down there now, mostly locals whose families have lived there for ages and um, nature lovers.

A waterfall in Waipio Valley

Waipio Valley Waterfall

Because it’s such a sacred place for Hawaiians, it’s best to take a tour. There are donkey cart tours, van tours, and horseback riding tours. I believe hiking straight to the beach is ok, but hiking into the valley and the back of it is definitely a no-no. However, I don’t know who would want to hike down because the road down into the valley is super steep. I mean it feels like you are falling over if you stand up straight and it is steeper than the steepest street in San Francisco. ONLY 4-wheel drive vehicles can even make it down the road and back. There is no sidewalk so you need to share the road if you walk, which is not my idea of a good time.

We opted to enjoy our tour of Waipio on horseback with Na’alapa Stables. This is the only stable actually in Waipio Valley, and they take you through streams and right into the thick of Waipio Valley. They are locally owned and operated, so you know the guides are good.

Waipio on Horseback

Our guide Keoni was very gregarious and funny. My horse was great. Very gentle and easy to direct. Actually, my horse is famous – he starred in “Waterworld.” I am a horseback riding novice and it was fine. The company gives you a quick overview of how to ride a horse before you go out. It is a nose to tail ride, but you go at a leisurely pace so that you can enjoy your surroundings. The views were amazing, and we even saw some wild horses! There are fruit trees everywhere – you can just reach out and pluck a guava. The valley is absolutely beautiful, and it was great to be given a tour by a longtime resident.

I would suggest some insect repellent though. This was the only place on the entire island where I got bitten by mosquitos. I got 4 mosquito bites on one arm, although I think it’s because it’s where I rested on the saddle blanket.

It was an honor to be able to visit such a beautiful, special place.

Next: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park








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