Exploring the Capital
Sunday, February 14
It was now Sunday, February 14 - exactly one week after we arrived in Auckland and began our New Zealand adventure. Over that one week, settled into our AirBNB rental house in Taupo, we visited many interesting North Island destinations.
It was now time to start heading south on our journey to transition over to the South Island (where we would spend the rest of our vacation). The first step in that journey was to drive south to the capital city of Wellington, situated on the coast closest to the South Island. A major ferry route would then take us across the Cook Strait to the South Island.
After tidying up the house and packing the vans, we headed south along New Zealand's state highway number 1. The drive was very scenic - especially the part where we passed the eastern flank of the high volcano of Ruapehu - the North Island's highest peak. Here, the highway crossed a wide and arid volcanic plain.
After driving past the volcanic landscapes, we continued through hilly farmland, across some flat plains, then along the coast of the Tasman Sea, with wooded mountains crowding us every closer to the water. The hillsides became more densly populated with residences, and the highway divided into a full expressway - both signalled that we were approaching a major metropolitan area. Shortly after noon we followed the highway as it cut through wooded hills over to Wellington Harbour, and soon caught our first glimpse of the buildings of the city itself.
Capital in sight
As I mentioned earlier, Wellington is the port city in which one takes the large ferries that connect the north and south islands. Rather than immediately hopping on a ferry, however, we decided to spend the remainder of the day in the capital city, exploring its nooks and crannies before taking an early-morning ferry the following morning.
In order to make our stay in Wellington as comfortable as possible, I had booked us all accommodation well in advance, in a downtown hotel very close to the primary attractions. Strangely named "The Setup on Manners" (Manners was the name of the street), it had an interesting vibe - slightly boutique-ish, but with a modern/urban sort of decor. Apparently there are a few other "Setup" accommodations elsewhere in Wellington.
Manners Hotel Room
After navigating the slightly complicated procedure to get our rental vans into the hotel's parking structure ($15NZD per vehicle), and after checking into our hotel rooms, we set out to explore the city. It had turned out to be a perfectly clear and sunny day - very amenable to strolling around the downtown.
Our first destination was the Te Papa Tongarewa - The National Museum of New Zealand. A beautiful, large, modern building built on the waterfront, the museum is completely free and houses extensive collections. Pu had heard it was the best museum in all of the South Pacific.
After swinging by one of the downtown's outdoor stores to pick up some camp fuel and food for our upcoming South Island adventures, we strolled along the very scenic waterfront to the museum.
Our tour of the museum was somewhat rushed; the exhibits were large and numerous, and we had only allocated a couple of hours to peruse them. Highlights included the marine organisms of the "Mountains to Sea" exhibit - including the one-of-a-kind preserved remains of a colossal squid, the outdoor "Bush City" exhibit, and the social history exhibit, which featured some exceedingly beautiful Maori carvings and structures. We certainly weren't able to soak in any of the exhibits fully, I don't think.
New Zealand's first inhabitants