After 18 amazing days on the South Island, it was time to board the ferry and head to the North Island. I had booked myself on the second ferry of the day, rather than getting up before dawn to board.
I had a few minutes before heading to the Ferry Terminal, so I walked around a sleepy Picton. I also drove up to the hill overlooking the town and the harbour.
The ferry was a great experience. It was not only a cool, unique thing to do, it doubled as a scenic cruise since we had such a fine day. I spent most of my time on deck enjoying the beautiful surrounding on the sunny (yet very windy) day. The Interislander vessel I was on, the Aratere, had just about every imaginable amenity possible. (I won’t spend a lot of time here talking about the ferry- since I did two photo essays earlier this week, one on the boarding experience and one on the splendid views from the boat.)
We arrived in Wellington a little before 2pm. I’d read a lot about the great views over the city that were provided by the ring of hills surrounding the central downtown area, but one in particular had captured my imagination.
Located high on a hill in Wellington’s southwestern suburbs sits the Wellington Wind Turbine Generator. I got my first glimpse of it from the ferry. My excellent New Zealand Road Atlas also provided a good city map of Wellington’s downtown area, but did not cover the suburbs as well. I mostly used the directions in my guidebook to find my way to the top of the hill and it was quite a windy, twisty drive through residential neighborhoods perched along the hillside.
It was worth the drive, as the views over Wellington and it’s harbour were amazing. On the other side, you could see straight across the Cook Straight to the South Island. I was the only one enjoying this incredible view for the whole half-hour I spent up there. My guess is the reason for that is because it is not accessable via public transportation. Also, only one of the three guidebooks I carried with me had any mention of it (Rough Guide New Zealand).
With my love of elevated views, it was no surprise that my second stop before heading to my hostel was at Wellington’s most famous lookout, that from Mount Victoria. There is a striking memorial at the site to American Admiral Richard Byrd, a famous Antarctic explorer. The monument faces south toward the seventh continent.
While the views from the turbine were more sweeping and dramatic, the views from Mount Victoria were of much more practical use for me. Seeing the city from above like this really helped me get a great feel for the city and how it was laid out. This came in handy later in the day when searching for the good beer mentioned in the title (don’t worry, I’m getting to the beer), but also the next day when I did my long sightseeing walk.
I hadn’t judged the sun correctly, and it was setting behind the city in a way that backlit all my pictures of the city. I knew I would have to return to this spot earlier in the day to get the pictures I wanted. I was able to get good photos of the mouth of Wellington Harbour, the Wellington Airport and the Interislander Ferry heading back across the straight carrying people in the opposite direction I had come earlier in the day.
Mount Victoria also has traditional meaning to the Maori people, who settled here hundreds of years before the European settlement of Wellington was begun.
After checking into my hostel early that evening, I set off on the long walk across Wellington to Cafe Leuven, a bar specializing in Belgian beer. I’m quite a beer snob and I had been looking for some imported Belgian Beer for the past 10 days. The problem was the towns I was traveling through on the South Island’s West Coast were all very small, and the best I could find was Stella Artois and Heinekin. I’d tried a number of New Zealand brewed beers and hadn’t found any I liked very much. The countries two biggest breweries, Speight’s and Montieth’s didn’t do bad beers, bu they also didn’t do any of the styles I liked. A few days earlier I had been searching for a place in Wellington I could find some Belgian Beers, and Leuven’s website came up. When I looked through the menu and saw their selection, I knew immediately where I would be having dinner that first night in Wellington. I was able to have a traditional Belgian seafood sandwich with authentic Belgian frites, and a Westmalle Trippel, one of my favorite beers. The whole experience was of those moments of travel bliss. To top it off, I had a nice conversation with the Belgian couple at the next table who were working and traveling in New Zealand for the past year and were splurging that night for a taste of home.
After leaving Leuven, I wandered over to The Bruhaus, another bar I’d found online with an excellent selection of beers. It was here that I met a bartender named Philip, who was able to really fill me in on the the New Zealand craft beer scene. Philip had also been to America, so he was familiar and well-versed in all different styles of beer. He introduced me 8Wired, a Marlborough-based brewery whose beers I quickly became a fan of.
I finished the evening with a walk along the waterfront near my hostel, stopping back from time to take pictures of the skyline of Wellington glowing in the distance.