Give it some Welly...
31 hours! That's how long the journey was from London Heathrow to Wellington, New Zealand.
In all fairness, it is on the other side of the world. Literally.
First impressions count, and my first glimpses of 'Middle Earth' from that third and final plane of the journey sure got me excited.
Even the thorough inspection by NZ Customs at the airport of my hiking boots and tea (they are pretty particular about anything that might harm their agricultural industry) did not dampen my spirits.
The 3 weeks I spent in Wellington were primarily for work, but they were immensely enjoyable.
Here are some highlights.
Mount Victoria is right in town and gives a stunning panoramic view of Wellington. Although I had good intentions to hike up, I went one day after work and rushed to get some post sunset light for a photo so ended up driving. Probably a good thing when I realised how steep it actually was.
Te Papa Tongarewa (Museum of New Zealand) was really good to wander round. The 'Awesome Forces' exhibition was very eye opening for me having lived all my life in earthquake free lands to find out just how much earthquakes affect most of NZ - frequency as well as impact. The earthquake house simulation is a must for anyone who hasn't experienced a real one. Also on Level 2 is the natural history section with lots of whale and dolphin skeletons as well as a complete colossal squid (heaviest one ever caught). Great for a rainy day.
The Harbourside is really nice just to have a wander. On Sunday mornings there is a lovely market with plenty of street food options in addition to fresh produce.
The area around Queens Wharf really reminded me of Bristol (home) with its various 'sheds' some of which are now restaurants/bars and very similar cranes.
Come to think of it, with a very similar population size (circa 400,000) and reputation for being a bit arty and hipster, it's not surprising that I felt quite at home in Wellington.
Adventures a little further afield from Wellington
Makara Beach/Walkway some 16 km north of Wellington has some great natural views of sunset. These are more views of the natural landscape and sea (compared with Mt Vic).
The 6 km walkway loops starts off with a rather steep climb up a grassy hill to some excellent viewpoints sort of along the top of a cliff. The views were really quite stunning and I was having a field day taking photos.
Being the typical photographer, I spent a lot more time than anticipated trying to capture the beauty being bathed in the sunset light.
Quite quickly though, it got dark (wintertime) but I figured that I was alright since I got to the gun emplacements and the base of the wind turbine and the next part was a gravel road heading down to the beach. So 20 minutes or so down the hill I went with no a soul (nor animal) in sight.
At the end of the path I got to to the beach where there was lots of driftwood.
From there there was a rather confusing sign that just pointed to the right and I couldn't see a path anymore, but I remembered that the final part of the loop was on the beach. I started off along the beach but soon realised that in the dark (even with my decent head torch) working out which part of the beach I should be walking on and what I needed to clamber over was much more difficult, not to mention that I had no idea if there were any parts that weren't accessible if the tide was high!
After a short debate with myself, I figured that it was infinitely safer to just turn around and backtrack up the way I came.
So all the way up the hill, past the wind turbines, gun emplacements and back down the grassy knoll it was. I'm missing out a lot of huffing and puffing, annoyance with myself and losing the path a few times in the grass and some frightened sheep... but I eventually (some 90 minutes later) got back to where I parked the car at Makara beach.
Castle Point Lighthouse is not really that near Wellington - some 2 1/2 hours drive away.
Beautifully picturesque, it really felt like the archetypal lighthouse that get featured on postcards and screensavers.
While (thankfully) there wasn't another adventure of hiking in the dark, there was a nice bit of clambering over the rocky edge off the main path. Felt pretty safe as most of the cliff edge was layered so you're unlikely to actually fall into the sea below, although I'd definitely not be wandering off the path in strong winds.
It was quite interesting to see sea shells (say that a few times quickly) embedded into the cliff face nearly 50m above sea level.
View more photos at better quality on my Flickr page.
Coming next... my foodie exploits in Wellington.