Last Day in New Zealand

Our first couple of days in New Zealand were cloudy and rainy. Not cyclone level rain, but enough to soak us to the skin and to cloak the Sky Tower in mist. By the time we made it back to Auckland for our final day, the cyclone was long gone and we were treated to clear skies.

We spent the day wandering around the Auckland harbour front and enjoying the warm summer weather (and trying not to think about what was waiting for us at home). I’ve posted a number of pictures highlighting the public art in New Zealand, but today I want to show how it seems to pervade the national consciousness in things large and small. First up, a building decorated in Greco-Roman vases. I have no idea what the point is, but it is really fun to see.

And then, nearby, a building under construction had fencing up to screen the construction site. But instead of plywood plastered with fliers, it had this…

… and then, in a small park, a nod to the earthquakes that are a regular feature of life in New Zealand.

At the entrance to this park, this mosaic in the sidewalk.

Our last full day in New Zealand was my birthday, and we managed to get a table at a fabulous restaurant, on the balcony, overlooking the harbour. They weren’t sure they could give us a table on the balcony, so we mentioned that it was my birthday, so in addition to getting the table we wanted, I got this…

Lovely restaurant. I highly recommend it.

And then, after 24 hours of flying, we were back to this.

The title of this post is our last day in New Zealand. It may have been the last day on this trip, but it will not be our last day there. We will be back.

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Today was mostly a travel day as we head back to Auckland for our flight home. Thanks to frequent roadworks along the way, the trip took over five hours, but we still had time for a lovely walk along the lake after we arrived.

Public works of art have been a consistent theme during our visit to New Zealand, and today was no different. They come in many forms, some functional (built into the paths), and others purely for pleasure.

Our hotel was right on the water’s edge, so we were treated to a stunning sunset as we sipped wine on the balcony.

Three days from now we will be in the air, and in four we will be in the snow… 😦

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Windington AKA Windy Wellington

Today we took advantage of the lovely weather to just wander around downtown Wellington. Yesterday’s hike up the mountain and our aching legs had nothing to do with it at all. Honest.

We headed down to the waterfront where we had a lovely view of the Museum of New Zealand.

As we were walking along the waterfront there were a wide variety of musical performers – violin accompanied by a dancer, a man playing bagpipes and taking requests, and this – live opera from a “tower”. Not something I’ve ever seen before.

As suggested by the title, apparently Wellington is known as “Windy Wellington” or “Windington”. We really hadn’t been exposed to that aspect of Wellington … until today. Hold onto your hats – literally.

And if there was any doubt, these flags give you a sense of the wind.

We couldn’t put a word to it, but there was something about Wellington that we really enjoyed. It just felt right, and kinda has a funky vibe. These were “origami” statues in front of the Museum of New Zealand.

Random buildings had art like this.

And then, there was Cuba street. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Last, but not least, there is the craft beer scene in Wellington.
Actually, in all of New Zealand, but today we were in Wellington, so I went to Whistling Sisters and tried a flight of their beers.

Tomorrow we are back on the road heading north.

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Buns of Steel Workout #17

I’ve been told gyms have machines that project nature trails during workouts, and that many of those trails are from New Zealand. We’ve been trying to check it out on this trip. Today we took the path to the Te Ahumairangi Hill lookout in Wellington. I thought it would be medium difficulty. Oops.

This isn’t part of the trail. It’s the gentle slope leading up to the start of the trail.

This is the trail.

Turns out that was the gentle part of the trail. It got steeper.

And steeper. The path was also a bit of an obstacle course with tree roots giving your ankles a workout and providing regular balance challenges.

And then … we realized we were only at the halfway point. But the second half of the hike was … pretty much like the first half.

But when we got to the top it was totally worth it, with stunning views of Wellington and the sea. I keep telling myself that.

Along the way up, and down, there were countless gorgeous flowers. So of course, I’m going to show them to you.

At the bottom of the hill we walked past the Sprig + Fern Tavern. Not really. We actually walked into the Sprig + Fern Tavern. Those of you who know Jan may be surprised to hear that she ordered a beer (technically it was a Ginger Driver, but it had beer in it) and suggested we sit at the bar to drink it. In a trip of many firsts, this one stands out. After climbing the hill, it was cool, refreshing, and generally divine. My Nectaron Pale Ale was delicious as well.

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The Full New Zealand Experience

Some have commented we’ve had the “full New Zealand experience” … sunny beaches, floods, fingernail biting car trips through the mountains, wine tasting … a cyclone – we even had a bit of an earthquake the other night. But there is another way to look at this. We’ve had a very unusual New Zealand experience. Everyone tells us this is the wettest New Zealand summer in memory. Cyclones are not exactly an everyday experience here. And now we’ve arrived in Wellington and the weather is looking fantastic – sunny and warm-ish. Apparently this is very unusual for Wellington, but we’ll take it.

It was a short drive today so we arrived in Wellington early afternoon. Our room was ready, so we were able to check in, unpack, and visit the botanical garden a short walk from out hotel. We’ve been trying to learn the names of the plants we were seeing, but we kept hitting snags. You know, the usual stuff – floods, cyclones and such. So when everything lined up today, we went for it. As you know, I like taking nature pictures, so this will be a long post. If you don’t like trees and flowers, this would be a good time to change the channel.

I’ll start with a magnolia blossom – not native, but still beautiful.

There oh so many conifer trees here, though apparently they are not native. Note how on this one the cones seem to grow right out of the large branches., which is something I’ve never seen before.

The bee in this picture is the size of a bumble bee and the colouring is close, but not quite right.

The botanical garden had so much lush growth. The next two pictures give you a sense of it.

The botanical garden has many native plants, but also many that are non-native. These were in the succulents section.

And here are three plants unlike anything I’ve ever seen before (note the blue sky). If anyone knows what these plants are, I’d love to know.

The botanical garden is right in the city of Wellington, but you’d think you were in the wilderness. This picture gives you a sense of this.

Flowers … so many flowers.

Mushrooms have their own kind of beauty, though I’m sure this isn’t one of the things that was intentionally included in the botanical garden.

Fun fact. For the past two weeks we’ve been seeing a tree that kind of looked familiar, but we had no idea what it was. Today we learned the answer. Norfolk Island pine. At home we grow them indoors and they grow a few feet high. But here…

We keep seeing things we have never seen before, and then we saw something we thought was unique to North America. Monarch butterflies. Turns out they are native to New Zealand as well. See if you can spot the Monarch.

Two more pictures from the botanical garden.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Agapanthus, which we can’t grow at home, but which grows everywhere here – along the paths, in the ditches, everywhere. At home the closest thing is the Tiger Lilly.

Tomorrow we will see what else Wellington has to offer.

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Rain, Rain, Go Away

For the past few days, every time I put a location into Google maps, I’d get this warning…

And if you are unfortunate, you’ll get this warning…

This example was for a trip from Gisborne to Napier – the one we took just before the storm hit. Gabrielle has passed. Gisborne is still completely isolated so it is an extreme case, but the flood waters are still causing problems all over. Yesterday our path was blocked when a road was closed due to flooding, even though Google thought it was still open. Fortunately a friendly local told us to follow her, and led us to one of the bridges that was still open. When you see the rivers, you understand why it is a problem.

And today we had more rain. Not like earlier in the week, but still. Fortunately Martinborough is in wine country, so we did what one does in wine country, even if it isn’t raining.

As always, there is lots of interesting vegetation, though this one isn’t native to New Zealand. This is a Cork Oak tree, and this picture is a closeup of the bark.

We also spent some time wandering around Martinborough, which is a pretty little town built around a square that is reminiscent of Sonoma.

And after a couple of wine tastings, it’s time to relax, since we’ve had more than enough excitement over the past few days. Tomorrow we are off to Wellington for the final stretch of our visit.

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Remember how I said the storm wasn’t going to be a problem?

Turns out I spoke a bit too soon. At 7:00 PM the wind was gusting and the rain was teeming down, but the tent was holding up fine (though it was very noisy inside) and we were planning to stay put for the night. But as we were getting ready for bed around 9:30, the owners “evacuated” us down to the main house. Apparently things were going to get a lot worse overnight. So we spent a fitful night listening to the wind howl, and woke up with no power, no cell service, no internet, and all the roads closed. Before you start feeling too sorry for us though, I’ll point out that we simply headed back up to the tent (which had survived the night just fine) and spent the day reading, playing Yahtzee, and enjoying the stunning views. Here is what we had for dinner -not exactly roughing it.

We were fine, but others were not so lucky. The rain caused serious flooding – here is a sequence of pictures from our tent showing the river early in the storm, yesterday after it had passed (but the water was still rising), and then again today as it was beginning to ebb. The sequence shows land in the middle of the river, then all water, then land beginning to re-emerge.

And note the trees all under water in this one.

Yesterday the roads were all blocked or under water, but by today they were beginning to open up. Here are a few photos showing the scale of the destruction on the roads. – and this is after the cleanup is well underway.

I have to say that we feel vey lucky. Four days ago we stayed in Gisborne, and today Gisborne is completely isolated and running low on supplies. In Hawkes Bay, where we were staying, tens of thousands of people are without power, likely for days, and perhaps for weeks. Homes were damaged or destroyed. All that happened to us was that out “glamping” was a little more like “camping” – we were without power and internet, and couldn’t take a shower for two days. And we experienced it all with this view.

As I said, we feel very lucky.

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Camping in a Cyclone

Okay, okay, “glamping” isn’t the same as “camping” and we are only on the edge of the cyclone … but you get my point. We’ve been sitting in the covered space outside the tent all afternoon, reading and enjoying the sound of the rain on the canvas. We have a lovely view out over the river valley, although with the rain we have a very hazy view. But still lovely.

This morning we stopped in Napier to buy nice warm merino wool sweaters and enjoy the art deco buildings lining the street.

I have limited coverage here (it is a cyclone, after all…) so I’ll leave it at this and perhaps post more photos later.

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Storm’s a Coming

I’m talking about Cyclone Gabrielle, which is already being felt in Auckland. We are further south in Napier, where the effects are expected to be less, though still significant rain and wind. Nothing to panic about, though we were told that some locals are stocking up on everything from bottled water to toilet paper. I’m pretty sure that’s an over-reaction. It better be, because for the next two days we are glamping. Pretty luxurious, but it’s still a tent. At the edge of a cyclone. I’ll let you know how it turns out…

Today we drove from Gisborne to Napier, successfully dodging the rain pretty much the whole way. The scenery was nearly as stunning (and the road nearly as terrifying) as yesterday, but we arrived unscathed. Napier is another town known for Art Deco architecture, courtesy of the same earthquake that hit Gisborne a century ago. Here are some examples.

Gisborne has a number of interesting sculptures along the waterfront.

And as always, fascinating trees unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

We finished the day with a walk along the beach. The waterfront is lovely in Napier, but it isn’t really a beach for walking barefoot through the surf. More stony than sandy, with a steep falloff and strong currents. So even if it wasn’t for Gabrielle, we would have been sticking to the paved path along the shore. But it was still a lovely way to end the day.

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Today we drove from Whakatane to Gisborne through an amazing mountain gorge – a sheer cliff on one side and a steep drop off on the other. Not stressful at all, right? No pictures though – all eyes were on the road. It was a stunning ride, but you’ll just have to take my word.

One thing that Gisborne is known for is the number of Art Deco buildings in the downtown area when the town was rebuilt after a major earthquake in 1917. Here is a small sample.

And of course, the other thing in Gisborne is the endless beaches.

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