It’s the final week of class, and it’s wild to be typing those words. I arrived here in the peak of summer, heat in the air and sunburn on my shoulders, but now it’s nearly winter, the leaves have dropped and I can’t leave my flat without a warm jacket. Times have changed, and moments that were once only a potential have become memories. I’ve learned to use time wisely here and definitely make the most of what the day offers–starting with the last two weekends. I traded in my mountains for the concrete jungle. Well, as close as New Zealand gets. Dunedin and Wellington, two more of those must see cities.
First stop: Dunedin. This was kind of a last hurrah trip, as it was the biggest group trip in a while, with thirteen of us split between one more glorious Jucy van and a mini Jucy car. We made it down late Friday night to our hostel, where we managed to rent out an entire 12-person suite. I’ll call it that as it was lined with bunk beds, a relatively clean carpets, a defunct fireplace, and a set of couches. On the outside, it did remind me a bit of a haunted house. The inside did too–old wooden staircases draped in faded carpet and drafty windows. I wish I would have taken pictures of it.
We had some time to explore the night scene of Dunedin, wandering around in the freezing cold (literally, it started snowing later). Unlike Christchurch, with bars and good times literally located as far from each other as possible, Dunedin has a square called the Octagon, a neatly arranged square of hip brew bars, bass thumping venues, and other delicious looking restaurants. Nice, but I’m a Californian, I’ll take a nice walk to icy conditions any day.
The next day, I had to wake up in the morning to register for classes back home–a little dose of reality for the day. What I also woke up to: snow! I’ve only seen snow fall from the sky once, so this was a little more exciting that I care to admit. My friends are mostly East Coasters, so they were amused. After a sluggish start, eventually the gang made it to a cafe breakfast. Then, the Cadbury factory. Why not?
They didn’t let us take pictures inside but honestly, I was a little disappointed because we didn’t get to see any of the actual workings of the factory. We drank some liquid chocolate and left with a baggie of free samples, so I suppose that’s a decent consolation. At the end, we walked to the top of the silo, were told to shout “We want chocolate!”, and were rewarded with watching one ton of liquid chocolate drop from a vat. It was as odd as it sounds. Our guide told us we were lucky because it was cold enough to prevent the chocolate from splattering the walls. It was then we noticed the large brown blobs behind our heads. I’d rather eat chocolate than get splattered by it, personally.
From there, we headed to the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street. We parked the Jucy van at the bottom as we doubted its capacity to make it up the incline and instead did it the old fashioned way. It was reminiscent of Lombard Street in a way, both streets crawl with tourists and cars eager to say they completed the task and houses just minding their own business. Of course, Lombard Street is exponentially more crowded. We made it to the top, admired the snow dappling the foothills, and headed back down.
A friend and I ducked into a store to buy a postcard when, after a few moments, a great rumble of an engine cut through the otherwise quiet air. The next instant a green-and-purple streak rushed by the shop door and we jumped outside to see the Jucy van admirably bowling towards the hill. At first the van flew up the incline at a breakneck pace, but about halfway up, the speed drop was fast and sudden. The cold air highlighted the massive amounts of exhaust pooling out of the car, but after a few moments of doubt, the van made it. Another fine example of the glory of the Jucy van.
Most of the group headed back to nap, but I split off with a friend to walk around the city. We found the train station and a surprise art show inside. I took a very sneaky picture of my favorite one. After the church, we went on a hunt for the massive European-esque churches that we’d spotted around the city. We went into one of them and then opted to escape the cold with some chowder at a bar, which happened to be filled with celebratory graduates and their families. It was another dose of reality–next year that will (hopefully) be me, good beer included. Once we hit our temperature-quota, we walked back to the hostel. It was definitely a stay-in sort of night, complete with a massive pot of pasta.
The next morning, we were on a quest for penguins. We were out by 6:45 and headed to a beach where they supposedly lived. We made it to Long Beach just in time for sunrise, the entire sandy shore cast in the soft glow on the edge of releasing the golden rays of the day. A few locals were already out walking in their down winter jackets on and their dogs bounding after shorebirds. It felt familiar, one of environments that run parallel to each other, even across the globe. And, there was a puppy. A puppy who proceeded to tackle every one of us from behind.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find the penguins. We found the cave they sleep in, as evidenced by the little penguin tracks. There was also a brief encounter between a dog and seal. Made me nervous, but the owner acted like this had happened before.
We ended up leaving three of our own on the beach–they wanted to do some climbing–and we found breakfast in Port Chalmers, a cute port town with interesting small shops surprisingly filled with animals. Then, off to our final stop of the trip: the Moeraki Boulders. I’m not a geologist, so I can’t explain the presence of perfectly round boulders half buried in the sand. If anything, I would say aliens. Kidding. Maybe.
That was Dunedin. Second stop: Wellington.
The next weekend, we were on a plane at 6:30 AM, flying out of Christchurch. Never say no to cheap flights. When we landed, we were greeted with a sign that read: “The Middle of Middle Earth” and then an eagle diving over the waiting passengers, Gandalf included.
That was a good omen, if I’ve ever seen any.
We dropped our bags at the hostel and set off to see where the wind would take us (only to realize how literal that was later. Wellington is a windy place). Before we could do anything, we got breakfast at one of the multitude of cool cafes in Wellington (I will only spare a sentence for these lovely spots, I know not everyone is as excited by them as I am). But I should say how good Wellington’s coffee is. After a satisfying flat white and eggs benedict, we headed to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Yet another impressive display of New Zealand’s museum skills, especially their WWI exhibit on the Gallipoli campaign. They had several larger-than-life models of soldiers scattered throughout the exhibit and I have no words to describe how life like they were. It was haunting. You could see the sweat beading on their foreheads and the hair follicles on their arms and the dirt under their fingernails. The more I stared at them and listened to their stories behind me, the more I expected the statues to stand up and start moving. I didn’t take any pictures of them, I’m an idiot, but the ones I included are taken by my friends (it really doesn’t quite catch the detail though).
Like most human beings, we were attracted to the water. We found ourselves on the wharf next, fighting off wind but enjoying the lovely sun that Wellington decided to greet us with. Down the wharf a ways, there was an art sculpture of a naked man. And when we asked a stranger to take a group picture of us with the water in the background, she decided to include the man. We laughed.
We had a brief respite at the hostel after this, but it didn’t take long for two of us to wander the street again. However, it was not for very long. One bar boasted a sign for $3 bubbles and well.. we couldn’t say no. The fish and chips were good too. Waiting for two more of our crew was no problem. Eventually, they woke up from their naps and we were off again on the streets of Wellington.
Already it had much more of a pulse than Christchurch does. We wandered down to the end of Cuba Street, found some New York style pizza by the slice, and a night market of food, crafts, and knick knacks. One of my friends is collecting coasters from different bars, so naturally that was the reason we went into one more Irish pub before heading back.
The next day was a bit drearier–weatherwise. But it was either explore or sit inside all day, and I was definitely (and never will be) keen on that. Luckily, no one else was either. One coffee and breakfast later, we were on our way to the Wellington Zoo. We couldn’t quite understand why there were so many people and cars swarming around the entrance, until we bought our tickets: a whopping $2. We somehow managed to arrive on two-dollar entry day. We were thrilled and it made our animal sightings all the sweeter. Highlights were: sun bear couple getting annoyed with each other, the penguins imitating the penguins from the Madagascar movie, and the up-close-and-personal encounter with a giraffe. After a bit of wandering, the clouds eventually did cave, releasing the rain. Time for the next indoor activity: the Weta Cave, the studio that designed much of the Lord of the Rings creatures.
Okay, don’t get me wrong, I love Lord of the Rings. But I’ve realized that I’m much more of an experience person than a tour person. If the tour can take me into the heart of the city/mountains where I can feel the personality of the place and the authenticity of it, I’m all for that tour. But tours that take you out of the heart and into some highly structured, impersonal facts, I start to squirm. I’ve been on cool tours, yes, but it’s generally not my first choice. So as I was excited to see the place where Gollum was born, the little nagging voice in the back of my head kept telling me about all the parts of Wellington I’d be missing out on. It puts me in a bit of a conundrum when I’m trying to keep an open mind.
Yet we arrived, and found out the tour wasn’t free and the movie would be another hour, no one seemed keen on the tour. We took our pictures with the figures in the gift shop and waved goodbye to Gollum.
Then, ParrotDog brewery. This I was excited for. ParrotDog is my favorite New Zealand craft beer (so far). So when I found out they were based in Wellington and gave free tastings, I made that my one request for something to do on this trip. Both of the young people working the tasting were from the States, which is an idea I’ve buried in the back of my mind as a backup plan. Like a good friend, I got two out of the three to find a beer they liked. The other doesn’t like beer so that’s her loss. A new hat, t-shirt, and bottle of beer later, we snagged a bite of Italian-approved pizza and then headed back to the hostel. My friends took a nap, and I walked. It was happy hour/dinner time, so the city was alive and I like to see it like that, in it’s true colors. Because the streets change after people have had a few drinks.
The second night was another exploration of bars, but this time, we found live music. On recommendation from the ParrotDog crew, we stopped at a place called Rogue & Vagabond (a craft beer bar–my type of place) and there was already a crowd. The band was called Richter City Rebels and they were doing a homecoming tour, as Wellington is their home city. We stopped, had some good beer, and somehow weaseled our way to the very front row. So close that once they began to play, I thought I was going to get hit in the face by the trombone player.
I couldn’t begin to try and put this band in a genre–they were just toe-tapping good. Sax, drums, trombone, trumpets, etc. They definitely made you want to move and knew how to have a good time, which we without a doubt had. This is what I like in cities, I like finding little gems like these, your own discoveries. Finding your own way, with the risk of being disappointed making the rewards like these fill you up with joy.
It was the highlight, hands down. I even bought a CD, granted I was a little loose with my money at that moment.
And the good thing about flying out on a Monday, we had all of Sunday too. We kicked off the day with the best breakfast so far. The cafe was called Fidel’s and they had mimosas and breakfast burritos, enough to make Alexis happy.
However, we had a brief moment of panic before as one of my friend’s could not find her passport. We scoured the hostel and had no luck. We thought it may be in the bar next door, where the bouncer had humorously ushered us inside with his dancing, but we left quickly after. The bar was closed until 5, so we had no way to check. That thought was hovering over our heads for most of the morning.
We made a pit stop at Rogue & Vagabond, where I bought yet another t-shirt. I love my t-shirts and definitely made up for my lack of New Zealand t-shirts this trip (more to come later). Since it was the sight to see in Welly, we eventually got to the panoramic views on top of Mount Victoria.
From here, half of our crew split off to do work (how responsible of them), while us irresponsible ones went beer tasting. This time at Black Dog Brewery, literally around the corner from our hostel. I found it fitting, as it was one of the first beers I had in New Zealand, way back in Auckland. The beers were tasty, but I realized I’m still not really a stout person. ParrotDog is still my favorite, but I bought a t-shirt anyway (I came to New Zealand with zero black t-shirts and will now be leaving with four. Whoops.).
We made our way to a side of Wellington we hadn’t seen yet, stopping at more churches and finally the Beehive, where we accidentally toured parliament. We followed the sign that said “tour” into airport type security and then rolled with it. No pictures allowed, unfortunately, as even my tour-hesitant mind thought it was neat to see a different style of government. After that, we found another Irish Pub where, out of all places, they had Lagunitas on tap. It’s been five months since I’ve had it, so I’d like to call this a blessing.
The second blessing was the text that my friend had found her passport, somehow plastered into the arm of her cardigan. The weekend was saved.
We celebrated with $3 bubbly and a tapas bar. Wellington certainly spoiled us with its good food and drink, two things which I think are important to experience in any city, building the personality of the city. We later tried to go to a bar called the Library, supposedly a must-see, but when we walked in, it suddenly felt like we were interrupting a seance. There was live music, but quite the opposite of last night, ghostly and echoeing. It wasn’t the vibe we were hoping for, so when that happens, don’t hold onto expectation and try to make it work. Go find something better. Like the waffle shop next door. A tiny little shack, but a more than welcome snack and a great way to send us off, as we were at the airport by 9 the next morning and back in Christchurch by 11.
Easily one of my favorite cities in New Zealand and one of my favorite trips. It was a light, carefree sort of trip, with a smaller group of people. I tend to like smaller groups–you get better conversation and it’s not as much of a challenge to wrangle the crew into a restaurant. As potentially my last trip in New Zealand, it was perfect.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” – J.R.R Tolkien