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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 3

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

For the first time since 7th February we are back on the itinerary I set up when we planned the trip. This is the day we get the ferry back to the North Island, back to Wellington. This time we’re on the BlueBridge Ferry – this has a fixed price (for people and cars) and is cheaper. The InterIslander Ferry is more like EasyJet – different prices for different days, for different departure times, and for bookings near the date of departure the prices also change; up initially, and down at the very end.

We take the Queen Charlotte Drive from Nelson to Picton. Not only is it less than half the distance of SH route, it hugs the Marlborough Sounds and drops into every bay along the way (before climbing out for the next). It makes for a spectacular and exhilarating drive, and one we enjoy immensely.

We have an hour to spare in Picton, so we down two flat whites and then do a walking tour of the harbour area and the shops. Picton is remarkably small given that its, “The Gateway to the South Island” ….. Two roads in, ferry out, a small port area, a small boating and yachting marina, a shopping street (called The High Street), and that’s about it. There is a ribbon development of motels (see Note below) and eateries along SH-1 going out of the town, but that’s small too.

We have usual frustration of waiting in the queue for the ferry; it all takes so long; check in, wait, drive to ferry, wait, drive onto ferry, wait for turn around to happen, and then park. All that said, the ferry between the Islands is very spectacular – it sails through the Marlborough Sounds, into the Cook Strait (from where you can easily see both Islands), and then into the massive Wellington Harbour. They’re all rather special.

We’re booked into the “Quest on Johnson”, right in the city centre and less than a mile from the BlueBridge ferry terminal. We’re quickly there. gets very quiet after about 9pm. We’re on the 8th floor – we soon know we’re in a city; this is the first time we’ve been higher that the first floor since we went up the SkyTower in Auckland on our second day in NZ!!!

We have a busy day planned for tomorrow so we’re unpacked, dined and into bed for an early night. I fall to sleep recalling some of the car registrations we’ve see lately: SMILES, OK and TAXSUX (on a BMW Z3).

==================== Note: If you need a motel in Picton, try the Americano Motor Inn, just off the High Street. It’s very central and some of the units are set above the High Street’s shops. I’d guarantee Picton.

Day 35 – Our One Day of Culture

Wellington – capital city of New Zealand – has been set aside as our one day of culture on this trip. In the morning we’re visiting the Botanical Gardens, and in the afternoon, Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand.

The Botanical Gardens can be accessed by road, by walking, or via a wonderful cable car straight from the city centre. Naturally, we take the cable car. AND, I achieve a personal FIRST – a concessionary fare of $2.00 instead of the normal adult fare of $2-50!!! This saves me 19p, my first benefit from passing 60.

The cable car rises up over the city centre, through the university area and ends near the entrance to the botanical gardens. They are set within the “green belt”; an area of land that NZ town planners seem to provide in many cities and large towns as a natural recreation and open space between ‘the centre’ and ‘the suburbs’. We’d seen it before, in Dunedin, and it works very well.

The gardens are very expensive and very hilly. We make a special visit to the herb garden, and Chris chats with the gardener who is tending the beds. They exchange stories and facts about herbs and plants used for medicinal and culinary purposes. We also walk around the rose garden, formally laid out with large beds for the various types of rose on show.

In Wanaka, I’d chatted to a botanist from California – he’d expressed his absolute amazement at the variety of flowers, plants and trees in NZ, and that they occur alongside each other, temperate varieties alongside semi-tropical alongside tropical varieties. Of course, this is very evident in the botanical gardens, with evergreens alongside palms trees, and succulents and cacti with pines inter-mingled.

The botanical gardens ‘done’, we return on foot along a specially constructed walkway back to the city centre. The walkway takes us through a cemetery and over the SH-1 motorway…. In fact, the motorway bisects the cemetery, and we read, “Over 3,000 lots of ‘remains’ had to be re-located into their appropriate sectarian areas of the cemetery when the motorway was being built”. We’d noticed Jewish and Chinese sections on our walk through, but we also read “over 1,000 sets of remains came from unmarked graves”. I’ve no idea how they worked out what “sectarian area” was “appropriate” for these?

It’s human nature I suppose, but we can’t help reading many of the headstones that lay near the walkway. Some are quite old by NZ standards, dating back to the early 1800s. The most tragic was of a family – the mother and father had lived well into the 20th Century, but their 5 children had all died between 21st December 1898 and 1st January 1899. It didn’t say what they died of ….

Back in the centre, we make our way down to Queen’s Wharf and along to Te Papa. I’d picked up a guidebook to the museum when we’d passed through on 12th February with the aim of planning our way around the museum. In part, this was how it worked out: we concentrated on floor 2 (New Zealand’s Fiery Origins) and floor 4 (Maori art and culture). But, in practice, we took in almost everything on these two floors and a lot more besides.

Te Papa is new, and benefits from modern thinking about how to lay out and display museum exhibits – it’s probably the best I’ve ever seen done, with lots of participative areas for children, and well-planned, clear descriptions for adults. There’s even a “Bush Walk” for those that only ‘do’ towns and cities – it includes a large collection of boulder-sized rocks that demonstrate the variety that can be found in NZ. Again, bush walk and rock display are well done and very informative.

Now, the reason for getting back onto the original itinerary, the reason for stopping in a city-centre hotel, the reason for being in Wellington on 7th March, were because we are due to meet someone. An ex-work mate of mine that I have remained in contact with is on a touring holiday in ‘Asia’ – he’s taking in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand and as chance would have it, we’ve arranged to meet up in Wellington.

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