Friday, November 19, 2010

Wellington, NZ: End of an Island

It was a windy and overcast and chilly day when we came down from the Rimutaka into the suburbs of Wellington. I wish I could say we had the energy to pedal up a big hill for a view of Wellington after dinner, but that would not be true. Instead we were chauffeured from the cozy home in of our new friends Christine and Terry, whom we met briefly at the hot pools of Waikite Valley.  We exchanged emails regarding route options as we wound our way down the North Island.  They have a habit of bringing traveling strangers from foreign lands into their home, and lucky for us we are part of that privileged group.

The sunset is muted over Wellington on the overcast day we arrived.

Terry and Christine
Provided were everything a bicycle tourist would want after a month on the road -- a warm meal, hot shower, and the first "real" bed since leaving home.  And good company.  We stayed two nights, taking the train into Wellington one day to visit the downtown and the Te Papa museum.  Simply one of the best museums we have ever been to -- an immersion of Kiwi natural history and culture presented in highly interactive and modern displays.

View of the harbour from the Te Papa museum.

We cycled into Wellington to stay our last night at the HYA hostel, so we would be in good position for the ferry ride to the South Island.  We walked the intimate downtown, seeking out some decent bread, a gourmet grocery store filled with the best of New Zealand products, and indulging in satisfying bowls of Malaysian laksa.  Food is a preoccupation for us me.

Cycling into Wellington on the bike path along the Hutt River.

Banners along the waterfront remind us of the season, except here the Santa hat is on  a Tui bird.
The ferry across Cook Strait is a three and a half hour journey.  It is the major transportation link between the North and South Islands, and the hold of the ferry is filled with camper vans and trucks alike.  Very little is in open sea, and the ride is scenic as it winds through the Queen Charlotte Sound.  And a booking snafu saved us the normal $20 each for bikes for the crossing -- more money to spend on food.

We met two other bike tourists on board, the first of our species since the first days of our trip.  Time passed quickly as we exchanged notes on our travels through the North Island.  While our style is to stay primarily in campgrounds, they don't fret about where they will stay, instead knocking on farm house doors asking if they can pitch a tent in the pasture.  They invariably get offered dinner and a bed.  We have been much too reserved to try that yet, but it opened our eyes to the possibility if the need arises.

Navigating through Queen Charlotte Sound.
Nine our of ten times when we discussed our itinerary with a Kiwi, they would say, just wait until you get to the South Island.  It is beautiful, laid back, and open.  Only four million people live in New Zealand, which is geographically the size of California, and only one million of them are on the South Island.  And the North Islanders do not seem to have any problem admitting which of the two islands is better. 

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