Wellington is not a large city and though it is hilly, the downtown is along the water and easy to walk. Even driving on the left it wasn’t too difficult to navigate. We’ve always been able to find parking and figure out how to pay for it. There are about three coffee shops on each block and not a Starbucks among them (There are only two or three in all of New Zealand). Coffee is served strong, no need to ask for extra shots!
We’ve now been to Wellington twice–both great days. We had to begin with a day of doctor visits. Fortunately, the morning visit was shorter than expected (!) and we had time to visit the Zealandia nature park. It’s a green fold in the land just above Wellington center. I don’t know why it wasn’t developed, as there are suburbs all around. It’s about the size of Central Park in Manhattan and a section of the park is walled and fenced to keep out non-native species. In New Zealand, there are no native mammals, so everything from cats and dogs to opossums and stoats are predators. Native New Zealand animals, including kiwis, never learned to hide from ground predators. There’s even a ground-dwelling parrot in New Zealand. They’re all endangered. We saw tuataras sitting at mouth of their burrows. They look ordinary but are the only surviving descendant of an ancient line of reptiles. For an animal-centric view of this country, read “Notes from New Zealand: A Book of Travel and Natural History,” by Ed Kanze.
There are bird feeders at Zealandia, where we saw Kaka, one of the native parrots. These clever birds have to operate a handle to open their food dish, both to keep them engaged and to keep the other birds from stealing their food pellets.
The walk was lovely and not difficult. One area was closed off to protect the nest of a Takahe, an oversized purple gallinule that is only found in New Zealand (endemic). I overheard a staff member excitedly chatting with a visitor–the egg is due to hatch in a week! We get so excited about the little things.
Our second trip to Wellington was entirely by choice, focusing on the Maori collection at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, called Te Papa. The Maori exhibit was fascinating. The sculpture is highly detailed, it is a shame that photos aren’t permitted beyond the entrance. There were some massive canoes, all highly decorated, along with sculpture, clubs, and tools.
From the museum, we crossed the Sea to City Bridge, an art piece on its own, and window-shopped on Cuba St. This is a lively neighborhood of restaurants and shops. Around the corner, we bought a loaf of multi-grain sourdough bread at Leeds St. Bakery just before it closed, and finished with lunch at Florinda’s where Jonathan’s tuatua pasta (pasta with clams) was so delicious that we decided to go clamming the next day.
Our final stop on both trips was Evans Beach. I found a web site that shares places around the world where you can look for beach glass, and I looked up Wellington. Our beach in Te Horo has lots of driftwood but not much glass. Evans Beach in Wellington was said to have beach glass, so we made our way there. We didn’t find a beach, just a few rocky stretches connected by cement walls holding up the highway. We found a less-developed stretch where we could pull over, but most of the shore was rock. The tide was low, so I went down to look at a gravelly spot–and there I found a great spread of beach glass! Jonathan was surprised that I found anything. It was such a surprise that we made a return trip the second time we were in Wellington to return the larger pieces and pick up smaller ones that I can use in my jewelry-making. Wellington is truly a something-for-everyone place.
The Wellington waterfront from Te Papa.