Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wellington, Nelson, and Motueka (New Zealand)

If Rich thought Auckland felt like a proper city, Wellington is where all the cool kids must hang out. We didn't get to spend much time there, but the center seemed to have a lot of cool restaurants and bars filled with the artsy fartsy and hipster crowds. There's a film school, and it's the base of the New Zealand film industry. You can visit the Weta Workshop, too, responsible for much of the special effects and costumes in Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, and other films.

Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, has to be the best free museum ever! Although, like everywhere downtown, you do have to pay for parking. The exhibits are well-organized, creatively presented, and highly interactive. With New Zealand's location in the Ring of Fire, the awesome power of nature features prominently, including experiencing a mock earthquake inside a house. There are exhibits highlighting the flora and fauna with an outdoor native bush area and a scary, preserved colossal squid  (that's the real name). You can learn more about Maori and New Zealand history and culture even stepping inside a whare, or a traditional Maori meeting house.

We had a smooth crossing on the ferry from the North Island to the South Island. Later we heard horror stories detailing rougher ones with 3 meter swells, and the boat running out of the entire supply of seasickness bags. Passing the misty, forested outcroppings of desolate smaller islands in the Marlborough Sounds reminded us of the approach to Vancouver Island in Canada.

After picking up our South Island car, we headed straight for Nelson in the dark, finding it to be quite a charming town by daylight. The little shops all seemed to be staffed by friendly people, and we got to catch up with another friend in a nice pub that inexplicably was playing an old North Carolina favorite tune “Wagon Wheel.”

The road out of Nelson towards Motueka is quite picturesque as, in addition to the ubiquitous sheep on the hill, it is also wine country. Pinot Noir grows particularly well in the Upper Moutere region, but the wineries also produce Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurtraminer, and Riesling from grapes sourced locally or elsewhere in New Zealand. Wine tastings were very reasonable, ranging from free to 4 tastes for 2 New Zealand dollars (= 1 pound or 1.50 €). Such generosity tends to lubricate the wallet, and we picked up a nice reserve Pinot Noir from the Woollaston vineyards for later and had a nice lunch from the wood-fired oven at Kahurangi Estates. Other stops along the wine route also included a glassblower's gallery, a fruit stall selling bags of kiwifruit (kiwis are only the people or the flightless bird in New Zealand), and a woodturner's studio with a gnarled, cross-eyed old man with the air of a chatty grandad.

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