Often the motels in NZ have laundry facilities and that is where I was a few hours before hitting the road for Wellington. The old washer/dryer were quite slow and a very friendly lady from Wellington stopped by with her wash. She was curious about our travels and when she heard that we were off to Wellington, suggested we cut over to the westcoast and drive south along the Tasman Sea to Wellington… which we did. At her suggestion we took a western route through Palmerston North and down the westcoast, with beautiful views of the Tasman Sea… stopping in Paraparaumu for a break and some ice cream.
We arrived in Wellington in late afternoon. The country driving of the past week was replaced with fast moving close quarters rush hour traffic. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and the seat of government. My acquaintance from the laundry room had also suggested we enter the city by the ferry terminals and drive along the waterfront. Doing that we passed through the Parliament district and we saw some fine historic buildings which set the tone for the city.
We checked out two hotels and decided to stay at the Museum Hotel. The Museum Hotel was initially located on the other side of the road, moving to its present site in 1993. Facing demolition to make way for the new Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa, the 5 storey, 3500 ton structure seemed doomed, until Chris Parkin, the owner, began to investigate the possibility of relocating the entire structure. The hotel made a 120-metre journey down an inner city street on railway tracks.
Keeping with its museum past, wonderful art can be found throughout the hotel. Here’s a picture of the lobby reception area:
Wellington is a very walkable town. As we found through much of New Zealand, outdoor sculpture abounds.
During an evening stroll we came upon this gentleman walking his dog. The stairs behind lead to Boulcott Bistro.
We had a fine meal at Boulcott Bistro. The place is buzzing with locals. The food was fresh and simply delicious. We shared a Snapper on a smoked fish brandade, in a pool of red pepper puree decorated round the edges by a clam nage, accompanied by fresh green beens with basil butter and broccoli with lemon and toasted almonds. As we have at each evening meal, we tried wines from the region – tonight is was a Dogpoint Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (just northeast from Wellington).
After an early dinner we took a stroll along the waterfront…
Reading about the Art Deco architecture and beautiful coastline attracted us to Napier. We later learned that the town had been almost completely destroyed by a large earthquake in 1931 and in rebuilding the townspeople went wild for Art Deco!
Arriving in town without a reservation we canvassed the waterfront which is lined with accommodations of all sorts. Our first choice, Pebble Beach, was booked but they recommended the Shoreline Motel which had an oceanfront room with a nice deck where we ate breakfast both mornings. The hotel manager, another friendly, helpful New Zealander, suggested the Mediterranean Wine Bar & Bistro for dinner. After a day of driving we relished the stroll down the waterfront to the restaurant and enjoyed some delicious red lentil encrusted shrimps and tender grilled lamb.
The next morning we headed to the National Aquarium which is on the waterfront and was walkable from our hotel. Feedings are at 1o:00 am so we quickly made our way over in time to see that. There is a cool moving conveyor that tunnels through the enormous tanks of fish, sharks, rays, and large crayfish. We also enjoyed the kiwi area – a large dark habitat where several kiwi live. Not sure how the kiwi birds ended up at the aquarium but we enjoyed spotting them and getting a sense of how they root around with their long beaks. They are very cute. Sorry, no pictures allowed in the kiwi room.
It was pouring when we came out of the aquarium so we dashed back to the hotel and then drove into town for a bite of lunch. Afterwards we walked around the town, picked up some fresh plums and nuts at a local health food store and then headed to wine country – our real attraction to the area.
Pulling into Hahei we began to look for lodging. After some searching we found a Garden Studio at the Cathedral Cove Lodge Villas part of the Hahei Holiday Resort. Simple and clean the room is just a stone’s throw from the beach and was available for two nights. Yahoo! Jay quickly headed off to the beach for a swim and some reading.
Tonight we dined at The Church – a restaurant in Hahei serving “smart” food and housed in a historic Methodist Church. Both of us choose the evening’s special – baked Hapuka on a bed of rocket and black olive parsley risotto. Hapuka is a meaty white fish – sort of a cross between snapper and grouper. Delicious. Paired with the fish was an Amisfield Savingnon Blanc from the central Otago… quite lively on the palate with overtones of grapefruit – a perfect pairing with the fish.
Friday morning we headed over to Cathedral Cove, about a mile north of where we were staying. It was nice arriving early – parking was readily available, it was the cooler part of the day, and the trails down to the cove had fewer people on them. The hike down takes about 40 minutes, mostly down hill. We brought plenty of water for the trek. On the way down, the intense sound of locust were ever present, and resident grazing cattle would frequently be spied path-side.
The cove slowly reveals itself, first through the sound of the surf filtering through the trees, then glimpses of limestone bluffs rising from the ocean, worn by millennia of pounding waves. There are two beaches, divided by the “cathedral” – a cavernous hole worn through the bluff by the sea. At low tide you can walk through it, passing from one beach to the other. This is a beautiful spot, and a great place to swim and body surf.
Today our New Zealand adventure begins! Arrive in Auckland at 4:30am on a non-stop overnight New Zealand Air flight from San Francisco. A little disoriented but fairly well rested we take a shuttle bus to the Skycity Grand Hotel. After waiting a few hours to check-in (which we expected given that we arrived around 6am) a very gracious manager upgraded us to a 15th floor harbor view room. The Skycity Grand Hotel is connected to the Convention Center and good rates can be found online. It offers a quiet, calm atmosphere with a modern sophisticated setting. In contrast, the Skycity Hotel across the street has a bustling high-energy atmosphere that revolves around the Sky Tower and includes an iSight tourist information desk, many restaurants and a casino.
Auckland is a walking friendly city – in an afternoon we took in Quay Street and the waterfront, Albert Park and the Auckland Art Gallery. Our early morning shuttle ride took us through Auckland Domain the oldest and largest park in the city.