Wandering in Wellington – Discover New Zealand


Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

Always prepare to be sick when planning a boat trip.

(This is the eigth post in a series. Missed the first seven? Click here to see them all.) I’ve got a couple of hours before my boat departs. Clay and I exchange messages. His earlier boat has some choppy water so I head to the drugstore, just in case. I get an herbal seasick remedy, figuring that if I survived altitude sickness without drugs, I can do this, too. But, just in case I’m wrong, I get a more potent medication called Sea Legs. It makes me feel like a reverse Little Mermaid.

My hostel owner drives me to the boat. I check in and am told they’ve just discovered structural damage to the boarding walkway, most likely from the earthquake. Apparently they just found it, most likely because use, over time, made the damage worse. I’m not even sure why the check-in agent is telling me, but kiwis are very friendly, and it doesn’t sound like we’re going to crumble to our deaths, so I figure everything will be ok. I make my way to the waiting room. Eventually we board and this boat is huge. I find a quiet bunch of seats in the middle of the boat and take one. (I learn later that the middle of the boat moves the least in big waves, good to know.) Our departure time comes. Our departure time passes. More time goes by, and then one of those announcements I don’t want to hear happens. “We’re seeing some large swells thus the delay. We’re mapping out the best possible course to Wellington.” Gulp. My neighbors tell me if it’s really bad, the captain will just bring us back to Picton. Great. 

Always good to be prepared.

Photo by Heather Markel, copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

We finally depart. Because Picton is in a bay, I have the false perception that the water isn’t as bad as they expect. An announcement is made as we set sail, and all I remember is, “…If you get sick, do not use the bathroom. Bags are located all around the cabins, use one of those.”  Or something like that. I grab a light lunch from the cafeteria so I don’t have an empty belly or one that’s too full. We glide into the Cook Strait. I soon start feeling woozy. I look out the window, and it doesn’t look too bad. I stare straight ahead. Nope, not helping. I shut my eyes. Also not helping. My body starts warming up. Not a good sign. I crack open the herbal remedy and swallow. I expect a miracle in 2 minutes. There isn’t one. There’s still no miracle in 5 minutes. 10 minutes and near vomiting later, I cave and take my sea legs. My entire body, within minutes, feels like it’s on fire. Uh-oh. I shut my eyes and try to sleep. Then the miracle happens, the heat subsides and I feel better. I close my eyes for a bit, and when I open them, I see land ahead. Is that possibly Wellington?! I go outside to have a look. It’s cold, but that is definitely land, and we are definitely heading towards it.

View outside the boat. It didn’t look bad, so I couldn’t understand why I felt seasick.

Photographs by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020

One of the passenger exits has an issue, so those of us without a car have to wait for everyone else to get in their vehicle and off the boat before we can leave. Once off the boat, I collect my luggage and call an Uber to my AirBnB in the Kaori district, having no idea where that is in relation to anything. My driver is Indian and when he drops me off, we both delight in the amazing smell of Indian cooking. He wants to rush off because it’s making him hungry, and I have to admit, it makes me hungry, too. My host arrives at the door and lets me in. It turns out I’m staying at the home of a South African couple! And, that Indian food smell is coming from their kitchen. I meet Andre and his wife Ilse and their dog. They show me to my room and give me some tea before I head off to meet my friend Alex. I met her last year on my Peru Hop bus from Lima and we’ve stayed in touch.

“A very authentic feeling city.”

I get into town a bit early so wander along the downtown center. I stop into a shop and buy some chapstick and get talking to the cashier. He tells me that because fewer people are taking flights, his wife, who booked a flight to South Africa, called the airline and requested an upgrade for $200. They agreed! Then because they had so few passengers and didn’t want to serve more than one class, they moved everyone to first! Now I’m looking forward to booking my eventual flight there and hope this happens to me. 

I meet up with Alex and she’s hoping we can eat at her favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Apache, but they’re booked for hours, so we head over to Highwater Eatery. I have my first glass of orange wine (!) and among other delicious food, I try lamb tips. Never heard of them, but everyone should eat these at least once. They are marvellous. Even after I’m full, I want more. Wow! They’re kind of like spare ribs, have fat, but less greasy, more crispy, and perfectly spiced. I am drooling just writing about them. We finish dinner and think we have enough time to catch a show that’s part of Wellington’s Fringe Festival. Alex lets me pick, and I go for a show that sounds funny, sad, happy, strange…we end up running to get there because, though it’s close, we’re just at the start time. We show up five minutes late. They won’t admit us. 🙁 Apparently not all the shows have this policy, but this one does, so be it.

Wellington Cable Car

View of Wellington from the Cable Car station.

Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

Alex was so kind to give me her spare Snapper card for the bus. That means I can top up rather than having to have small change on me all the time and pay the driver. I head back to my AirBnB and my host, the next day, drives me to the Cable Car and I have a wonderful day in Wellington. The view from up here is beautiful. Gives me a great feel for Wellington. I meander through the museum and then, since I’m also at the entrance to the Wellington Gardens I head to the Botanical Gardens. I end up virtually lost in nature, and sit on a bench secluded inside trees. I take a moment to shut my eyes and take in the sounds of the world around me. Eventually I continue walking and head back to the cable car. I wanted to get to Zealandia, but there’s not enough time since I only have one full day to explore. Since I went to the Christchurch animal reserve, I figure I can leave this for another time. I take a ride on the cable car. As we descend, the lights go crazy, like being in a disco! We get to the bottom, and I head to a grocery shop and top up my Snapper card.

The next stop on my list is the Weta Workshop. I grab an Uber and for about $10 get to an amazing place. The first thing I do is notice hillarious ogres outside and take some photos. I head inside and look at the tour options. There’s a French man inquiring about tickets (I can tell from his accent) and I’m not sure he understands everything he’s being told. I buy my workshop ticket and then see the French man and offer language help, if he needs it. We end up chatting. Since there’s time before our tour, we snap photos of each other with the ogres outside, then peruse the gift shop. Whether or not you’re a fan of The Hobbit, this place is amazing. The gift shop has miniatures of many characters you’ll recognize. The tour is intriguing. We learned about all the work that goes into costumes and more. It’s a lot of work. Moreover, the Weta Workshop is about more than just The Hobbit. I learned that many mainstream films have worked with this workshop for something in the film. Most of the tour, we aren’t allowed to take photos, but we can in the last room. A man is making various monster models using some substance he created, and it’s fascinating to watch.

Around the Weta Workshop. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

There’s a movie I can watch, but it’s getting to be almost 2pm, and I’m hungry and there’s so much more of Wellington I want to see. I say goodbye to the French man (wondering if I should have stayed and talked more as I notice he is cute!) and return to town center. After a bite to eat, I decide I should try and see a doctor about my cough, which still has not gone away after three weeks. It’s now March 12th. I find a walk-in clinic and have a strange experience. The woman at check-in seems horrified to see me, and backs up a little. I tell her my symptoms and she says that since I’m a new patient there’s nothing before Monday, by which time I will be gone. She seems very uncomfortable and then asks how long I’ve been in New Zealand. I tell her it’s been three weeks. She visibly relaxes. She flips some pages, and says she can fit me in, and asks me to take a seat. They call my name five minutes later. I realize that Covid-19 fear has caused the response I got. The doctor listens to my breathing and confirms that I have a viral infection, it’s not Covid-19, and there’s nothing I can do but let time heal me. He says all the drugstore remedies I’ve tried will relieve the symptoms, but not get rid of the issue. I’m at least relieved to confirm that it’s nothing more serious, and get a prescription for antibiotics in case it becomes bronchitis.

Views around Wellington.

Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

It’s a beautiful, sunny day, so I head over to the boardwalk, and meander over to the Te Papa museum. I take lots of photos of the beautiful harbor, stopping at a small area of shops and find some colorful puppets hanging around. I cross a bridge, and enjoy some time watching everyone walk about, and do team boating practice. I head inside the museum. I can’t believe it’s free, and it’s wonderful. I visit displays about New Zealand’s geology and watch a video showing how the islands were formed over time, complete with volcanic eruptions. There’s a house that mimcs the feel of an earthquake. I walk through it, happy that it doesn’t shake with me in it. In another area I see all the wildlife in the country and learn about some species that are extinct. I head to another floor and see Maori artifacts and an interesting exhibition on humans and being human.

I spend the rest of the daylight walking along the boardwalk all the way to the end of town where it gets a smaller town feel. There are cabanas, restaurants, the setting sun, a beach. It’s one of the most pleasant long walks I’ve taken for a while. I’ve found Wellington to be a “real city.” It doesn’t feel particularly touristy, it has a definite center, and a lot of culture. If I had more time, I’d definitely spend a couple more days here. But, for now, I’m very happy with my short visit and looking forward to Rotorua next, working my way up to Auckland where I’ll stay with some friends and then look at flying over to Sydney!

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