After a brief glimpse of what Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, had to offer the previous day, I had a full day of sightseeing planned for my twentieth day in the country.
Wellington’s skyline is captivating. I had to walk a few blocks from my hostel to where I had parked the campervan for the evening, and my reward was a sweeping view of the city across the bay.
I’d stopped on the summit of Mount Victoria the previous afternoon to get some picture of the city, but the sun had been setting behind the city and most of the photos had been badly back-lit. I returned in this morning to get some better shots. I posted a photo essay of the best of the shots from Mount Victoria previously.
My first destination of the day was the Wellington Zoo, a facility with an excellent reputation for not only it’s collection of native and foreign animals, but also their breeding programs and conservation ideals. The Zoo’s website billed it as the “Best Little Zoo in the World”.
One of the Zoo’s most popular exhibits is the Endangered Chimpanzee exhibit. The zoo has a troop of 13, and I was lucky enough to catch the scheduled program where a trainer talks about the chimps while throwing apples to them. It was fascinating to hear about their behavior patterns and also to be able to see them up close.
As was to be expected from such an environmentally conscious people, the Wellington Zoo placed great emphasis on the preservation of natural resources. Since so many of the animals in the zoo were endangered or in jeopardy of becoming extinct, much of the zoo’s signage focused on efforts to save each particular species. My next post will be a photo essay of the best photos I took in my three hours at the zoo.
After my time at the zoo, I headed to Wellington’s Central Business District to do a long walk I had mapped out the previous evening. I’d seen a bit of downtown the previous night when I walked from my hostel to the area to have dinner and a couple of beers at some downtown establishments. I started off by walking through Chews Lane, a historic alley that connects Willis and Victoria Streets. It began as an area of warehouses, but over the years has developed in to a commercial hub. It is named after John Chew, a leading businessman in Wellington’s early years.
I mentioned in my post about Queenstown that I’d been a bit shocked by the commercialization I found there. That was probably a reaction that had been heightened by the amount of time I’d spent in the beautiful, sparsely-populated area of the South Island. I wasn’t shocked by Wellington’s commercialization, being a capital city and home to 350,000 residents, I’d expected it more here. It still was hard to adjust to the bustle. It was odd seeing Kiwis in this setting, as most of the ones I’d met so far had been in much different locals.
I took Wellington’s famous little red Cable Car from Lambton Quay to the top of the hill in a district known as Kelburn. The cable car has connected Wellington’s commercial downtown with the residential neighborhood at the top of the hill since 1902.
At the top of the hill is the free Cable Car Museum, which shows the history of the cable car, as well as how it operates. The museum is quaint and informative, and best of all is free.
After my visit to the Cable Car Museum, I strolled through Wellington’s vast Botanic Gardens, which stretched down the hillside to the north. I picked up a free brochure and followed the pink flowers painted along the walkway to guide me along the self-guided tour. It was a pleasant stroll, and the gardens contained all kinds of native and non-native plants.
My favorite part of the Botanic Gardens was the Lady Norwood Rose Garden. This semi-circular garden contained beds of just about every kind of rose imaginable.
Leaving the Botanic Gardens, I wandered through Bolton Street Memorial Park and it’s historic cemetery. For over fifty years, starting in 1840, the residents of Wellington buried their dead here. One of the most notable aspects of this burial ground is that it is a ‘shared’ cemetery. While Jews, Christians and the general public were buried in separate sections, having them share one geographic plot of land was unheard of, during this period of time, in England and most of the rest of the world. Looking through the individual tombstones is like looking at a historical record of Wellington.
I finally arrived at New Zealand’s government buildings as the sun was dipping below the mountains in the west. While Wellington, as the capital, lacks the grandeur of other world capitals, this small complex of building housing the government of New Zealand had both the dignified Parliament House and the modern ‘Beehive’ building. The Beehive is Wellington’s most recognizable structure and is home to the Prime Minister’s office and cabinet rooms on it’s top floors.
Across the street from the government buildings lies Wellington Cathedral, finished in 1972, ad subsequently added on to twice. It is home to the city’s Anglican archdiocese.
After returning to the hostel for a quick change of clothes, I wandered out to grab a quick bite to eat before heading to Te Papa, New Zealand’s National Museum. I was glad that the museum has extended hours (until 9PM) on Thursday, which allowed me to make the most of my daylight hours and still have three and a half hours in the evening to explore Te Papa.
The museum’s full name, The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which translates to “Our Place”.
I’ve visited quite a number of museums in my travels. Te Papa is one of the best, if not the best, I have ever visited. It is part science, history, & cultural. The strongest point of the museum is it’s collection of Maori artifacts, but every square inch of the museum was well done. I had over three and a half hours for my visit, and still felt like I was rushing at the end just to finish those exhibits I really wanted to see most. I left probably a third of the building unexplored.
All of the museum’s displays were remarkably well-done, but two of my favorites were the section on the history of the people of the Pacific Region in New Zealand and the displays in the exhibit that focused on the 20th Century history of the country. I’ll feature more about Te Papa in an upcoming post/photo essay.
I left Te Papa as it closed at 9PM and headed out for a walk along the waterfront in Wellington. I knew I had only scratched the surface of the city, and, for a while, I debated staying another day. There was much to see and I could easily spend another night visiting the city’s great beer bars. In the end, however, I knew there was still so much more of the North Island I wanted to see, and that was the final deciding factor in my decision to leave Wellington early the next morning for destinations further north.