When you think about it, New Zealand is actually pretty big. To drive through it, you need several days, and we had to get from Raglan down to Wellington in just a few days to catch our ferry across the Cook Strait between the North and South islands of New Zealand. In other words, we had to drive a heck of a lot to get there. We spent many hours driving those days, but we didn’t miss some little attractions along the way.
Soon after leaving Raglan, we stopped at a big hill with a view of the ocean for lunch.
Someone in Raglan told us about a geothermal hot water beach a couple hours down the coast in a place called Kawhia (“wh” makes an “f” sound in Maori NZ). We borrowed a shovel from someone who was leaving, and dug ourselves our very own hot tub!
And since the cold ocean was right there, we ran in between the two temperatures for a hot-cold spa treatment. It felt nice!
We spent that night at a campground in a place called Oparau. A guy who owns a roadside gas station/store lets people camp around it for free. The next day, we drove a lot, but stopped at a few places along the way.
After 10 hours or so of driving over a time span of a day and a half, we were running low on songs to play on the iPod, and replayed our favourites like “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. Eventually though, we got to Wellington, NZ’s capital city, and the southernmost country capital city in the world. Some people we met at our campground in Rotorua told us about a great free museum there called Te Papa. That was our first stop in Wellington. There was a big animal exhibit with models of New Zealand’s animals, existing and extinct. There were skeletons of NZ’s marine mammals, including one of a juvenile pygmy blue whale. It’s hard to believe that it’s a pygmy, and that it’s not even full grown! The big attraction in that exhibit though is the body of a big colossal squid that was accidentally caught by a Kiwi ship fishing for toothfish in the Antarctic. It started eating a fish was caught on a deep fishing line, and didn’t let go as the line got hauled up. It died at the surface because of the rapid change in pressure, but the crew took it on board for scientific examination (big deal, like 12 squid specialists from around the world came to examine it), and was sent to the museum afterward as an exhibit.
Another big thing at Te Papa was the Air New Zealand 75th anniversary exhibit. It showed the evolution of air travel through the years (like what the flight attendants wore), and even had a simulator room for what flying with Air New Zealand might be like in the future!
As the national museum of NZ, there was also some stuff about what the country is known for like progressiveness in women’s and gay rights, Maori culture, and of course, All Blacks rugby. I learned about the origin of the haka. If you’ve ever watched an All Blacks game, you’ve seen them do a dance/chant with their tongues out, and it’s called the haka. The Maori used to do it before fighting to scare their enemies.
After Te Papa, we went up a hill, at the highest point in Wellington. There was a wind turbine up there, which of course got my dad interested.
We heard that Wellington is known for it’s storms. We were there on a nice day, but it was still really windy, so it’s a good place for a wind turbine. We even had to set up our tent behind the cooking shelter at the campground in town that night!
The next morning, we drove to and onto the Inter Islander ferry, on our way to the South Island.
The ferry is supposed to take 3 and a half hours, but we had to wait a while just outside of Picton Harbour for our sister ship to leave and give us room to dock. After driving off, we went west along the north coast of the South Island because we were scheduled to start the Abel Tasman coast track the next day. We drove through Nelson, which is in an area known for its fruit orchards and vineyards. A lot of ni-Vans we met in Vanuatu told us they worked for 4 months per year planting and harvesting apples, grapes and kiwifruit in that area.
That drive was where NZ’s curvy roads stood out to me the most. Some parts are just ridiculously windy, then you see a “caution: windy road” sign. Yeah, as if the road wasn’t windy before!
We camped near Golden Bay where we would start our trek the next day. The campground is called Hangdog, a camp near a big climbing cliff that’s quite hippyish.
The campground was jam-packed, but we managed to find a spot to set up the tent. My dad and Kaia went to the campfire that night, but it was a bit awkward for them, as they were the only people who weren’t climbing enthusiasts. Apparently, the conversation around the fire was about stuff like: “I buy handholds from the brand Uprising for my personal bouldering gym at home” and “There are 3 climbing gyms in my town, but I only use 2 because one of them has handholds that are really sandpapery, and it’s not good for the skin on my hands longterm”.
The next day, we started the Abel Tasman coast track, which Kaia will tell you all about.