Located directly on Cook Strait at the southeastern tip of New Zealand’s North Island sits the capital city of Wellington. It’s a truly modern city with a population of just over 400,000 and, of course, all the hustle and bustle that comes along with big city life. It is often called Windy Wellington and has certainly earned its monikor as it is considered the windiest city in the world!
The winds of the Roaring Forties travel uninterrupted from South America to New Zealand thousands of miles away and then get funneled into the fourteen mile wide gap of Cook Strait. This creates a channel of wind that blows at an average of 14.4 knots. If you’re a woman who likes to have your hair just so then Windy Wellington probably is not the place for you. After the first twenty-four hours I gave up. Forget boat hair I’ve had Welly hair for well over a week now.
We opted to stay at Chaffers Marina in downtown Wellington. It’s a bit pricey but the proximity of the marina to everything we needed or wanted to do is perfect. We are just a five minute walk to restaurants and shopping and within a few kilometers of many different tourist sites. We literally have walked everywhere and enjoyed every second of it.
So what’s there to do in Wellington? Well, there’s more to see and do than we had time to experience but we did hit some of the major highlights. Our first day in town we toured the city centre on foot and ran a few errands mailing things home and picking up some miscellaneous items. This gave us a great understanding of the layout of the land.
Te Papa Museum of New Zealand
The Te Papa Museum of New Zealand sits just a few hundred feet from the marina and we’d heard it is a world class museum. Our second day here we decided we’d stop in and check it out and honestly, whether or not you’re a museum buff you are sure to appreciate this marvelous place. We spent three hours exploring this phenomenal museum.
There are six floors of some of the coolest exhibits I’ve ever seen and there are lots and lots of hands on exhibits to keep kids and adults entertained. You can try your hand at creating a tsunami or a building that will withstand an earthquake just to name a couple. We even went in one exhibit where they have a small house that simulates what it’s like to experience an earthquake. Dan, who had been through more than a few of them in California, said it’s pretty realistic. The things falling from shelves and bouncing off the floor just reminded me of a typical day at sea on Dazzler.
The two exhibits that are top on our list are the Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow at Mana Whenua. Here they have a marae or meeting house that was so exquisite with its carvings and design that it was hard to take our eyes off of it. Unfortunately due to religious and Māori cultural beliefs they would not allow photography so I’m unable to show you this majestic piece of art. They also had hundreds of pieces of Māori artwork and information about the culture.
The second exhibit that literally took our breath away is Gallipoli: The Scale Of Our War exhibit. This exhibit tells the story of the Gallipoli campaign by ANZAC (Austrailian and New Zealand Army Corps) as they fought the Turks during WWI. Gallipoli is the Turkish peninsula located between the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles Strait. During this campaign that lasted ten months, three weeks and two days 2,779 Kiwis lost their lives.
This exhibit is so compelling that we both found ourselves on the verge of tears more than once. The exhibit tells the story through the eyes of eight Kiwis who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Eight grand statues (2.4 times human size) each displayed in a different room bring their stories to life. Each one shows a different aspect of the battle from a nurse in tears as she reads letters the soldiers are sending home to a doctor kneeling over a wounded soldier.
Another particularly touching statue features three soldiers in battle. Two are firing a machine gun over the top of one of their comrades who was killed. The expressions of their faces show what one can only assume to be completely accurate with a look of fear mixed with a determination to stay alive while avenging the death of their brother in arms. It is truly powerful stuff.
These eight statues are just a small part of this entire exhibit though. There are 3-D maps and movies, models, miniatures, recordings, dioramas and more. We watched a 3-D move that was so heart wrenching I could barely hold back the tears. It was a slideshow with black and white photos of a battle that had gone for so long that literally thousands of men were lying dead on the battle field. It was such a bloody battle that one of the Turk commanders actually asked the allied forces for an eight hour cease fire so they could each take time to bury their dead. Once the eight hours was over they commenced firing upon each other once again. The 3-D visuals photographs put you right in the middle of the action. I could almost smell the gunfire and burning flesh.
We both left this exhibit feeling a bit emotional but are so glad we took the time to see it. It brought WWI and the experience of those brave men and women who were there home to us in a way no movie or book could ever do.
If you ever have an opportunity to visit this museum we highly recommend it!
Wellington Cable Car & Botanical Gardens
Wellington has more than spectacular museums, however. There are lots of other things to do and while it’s Autumn here and days are shorter and the temperatures are cooler, we did manage to get a few fabulous, sunny days. On one such day we took advantage of the weather and walked to the Wellington Cable Car. Here we took the cable car up the hill to the Botanical Gardens.
They charge $4.50 NZD for a ride up the hill and I guess if you’re really fit and want to get some serious exercise then you might enjoy walking. As for us taking the cable car up and then walking down was a much more pleasant option. After all, who walks uphill when for a small fee you can see the same things and walk downhill to the pub?
Due to the time of the year there weren’t an abundance of flowers but there were some. Honestly, we just enjoyed being outside on a beautiful day as we strolled through beautiful gardens. At the bottom of the hill sits the Begonia House and the Lady Norwood Rose Garden which was still in bloom albeit not as fresh as it surely would be in the Spring and Summer.
After exploring this area a bit we found ourselves at the Bolton Street Cemetery which dates back to 1840. I absolutely adore old cemeteries so we strolled through checking out the old gravestones as we contemplated the people who were buried there and the lives they must have led.
From the cemetery we walked toward the wharf and eventually came out near where the Bluebridge Ferry docks. Along this wharf there are restaurants and shops and all sorts of tour offerings. Want to climb a rock wall, take a helicopter tour of the area or go out on a fishing charter? You can find someone to help you do it here.
It was the Saturday before Easter and a simply gorgeous day so people were everywhere and the restaurants were packed. We picked the Crab Shack and are glad we did. It’s the only place we’ve found in New Zealand that sells creamy, New England style clam chowder and boy was it AMAZING! It was so good we went back to this place a few days later. Our server, Ben, was really great and we enjoyed the entire experience.
As cruisers who spend a good deal of time in remote areas where we must depend upon ourselves for meals we never miss the opportunity to enjoy a few meals out when we are in and around the city. Wellington has every type of food you can imagine and we took advantage of the opportunity to check out the available fare.
In addition to The Crab Shack, as mentioned above, we found a few others that we really enjoyed. There’s Tequila Joe’s which, as the name suggests, is a Mexican restaurant. We stumbled upon this little gem while we were out doing errands one day. It’s owned by an Indian family and boy do they have the Mexican food thing down. It is hands down the best Mexican we’ve had in this country. We ate there twice and both times it was excellent. Varun, AJ, Priyanka, Chunky and the rest of the crew really know how to make you feel welcome and make certain you will leave with a full, satisfied belly!
We found another great place called Panheads. They specialize in craft beers and have some really great pub grub. They have a loaded french fries plate that is crispy, shoestring fries covered with shredded beef then covered in cheese and broiled. I was a bit skeptical about beef on fries but oh my….this was absolutely INCREDIBLE! And, they make a macaroni and cheese that would make an old southern woman sit up and take notice. We like this place so much we went there three different times this week.
There were a few other places such as Joe’s Garage, Hackett’s Irish Pub and JJ Murphy & Co but the others are the ones that ranked highest on our list!
Neither of us are really big city people. We’d much rather find ourselves on a remote island or in a secluded anchorage than in a city filled with hundreds of thousands of people, high rise buildings and bumper to bumper cars and buses.
That said, Wellington has proved to be a very great experience for us. In addition to the great museums, gardens, other touristy things and incredible food there’s a vibe here that you just don’t feel in many big cities. It’s warm and friendly and very modern yet old world.
Getting around here is easy too! Of course there are city buses that looked extremely clean. There’s a train system if you’re coming from further afield as well. We walked everywhere but if you’re so inclined you can rent scooters. You put it on your credit card and take it from wherever you find it. People use them all over the city. To me it just looked like my next emergency room visit so I kept my feet on the ground.
And, it’s really clean. Seriously, when I think of big cities I typically think of alleys and gutters filled with trash, empty buildings with broken windows and smog. You won’t find that here. We were both quite shocked to find it to be a city with very little in the way of trash laying around. In talking with some Wellingtonians we’ve found that it hasn’t always been that way but over the past few years they’ve worked hard to clean up her appearance.
The strong winds that give Windy Wellington her name are not just generating fresh breezed either. They actually breathe fresh air into the area and eliminate any smog or air pollution. It’s not uncommon to see some fog on a sunny day the air is as clear as a newly polished diamond.
There are beautiful parks and sculptures everywhere…especially along the wharf. The famous statue called Solace In The Wind stands boldly at the waterfront just outside of Te Papa Museum. It’s a large bronze statue of a naked man with his arms behind him as he faces out to sea. Many refer to it as the Naked Man statue. It is said to reflect the vulnerability each human experiences at some point in our lives.
Across the way at the end of one of the piers at the marina is a bronze mermaid looking as if she is about to dive into the ocean. There’s the giant albatross fountain and the whirling fountain, Wahine Memorial Park and so much more.
There are so many other statues and memorials that it would be impossible to mention them all. And, there are cool places like a spot right beside the museum where you can walk to the top of the stairs and dive into the water. We watched a young man do this several times. It’s a bit odd in its placement being right near the center of town but also very interesting and interactive.
There is an abundance art and adventure to be had here in Wellington and I honestly believe we could be here for several more weeks and not even begin to touch the surface of all this vibrant city has to offer.
New Zealand is pretty strict about keeping your boat bottom clean and free of biologicals. Marinas require that you provide them with a certificate showing you’ve either had your bottom painted in the past six months or cleaned in the past 30 days or they won’t let you stay. Add to this that the only “in water cleaning stations” are found in the furthest parts of North Island near Bay of Islands. There are none at this end of New Zealand, not that anyone would actually want to get in the frigid water to do it anyway.
Dan cleaned Dazzler’s bottom before we left Russell seven weeks ago so the time had come to do something about it as we’re going to need to stay in a few marinas on our way up the east coast. Unfortunately there aren’t many places where you can anchor out so we’re at the mercy of the marinas.
Here at Chaffers they have a really great and easy way to handle a quick bottom cleaning. They haul the boat on a stationary lift and then have a huge moving table that rolls out under the boat. There they lower the boat down but leave it in the slings. Then….they give you the pressure washer and hose and let you do the work to clean the bottom. It took about two hours total and cost us around $300 NZD.
And….as a side note, whenever we’ve hauled the boat in the past Dan wouldn’t let me do a thing. He simply told me it’s not a job for me to do. But, since we’ve become engaged he’s all the sudden “allowing” me to do more. He actually had me help him clean the bottom this time. Hmmm….maybe it was better to be a concubine than a fiancé. LOL
Waiting On Weather
We’ve enjoyed our stay here in Windy Wellington but honestly, we’re ready to start working our way up the east side of the island to get back to Whangerie. The problem is the weather. Down here the weather seems to change in a matter of minutes and predicting the right weather window is something of a challenge. We’ve actually had several days here where the winds reached upwards of 40 knots.
A few days ago we were on the end tie overlooking the city and the winds started kicking up that morning. The bay between the marina and the wharf was churned up with white caps and the seagulls struggled to take off from the shore. Dazzler was bouncing up and down at the dock so much that we ended up having to put out extra fenders. At one point Dan was on the dock adding the fenders and I heard an alarm going off. It was one I’d never heard before. I went out to the cockpit and looked down at the nav pod to see “High Wind Warnings” showing on all of our Simrad displays. “What the heck?”
I called out to Dan to tell him about the warning and he couldn’t even hear me over the wind. Finally he came back to the cockpit and told me it just meant that the winds had reached a velocity greater than the limit of 35 knots he set. Well, this was certainly a new one for me. We kept resetting the alarm and it continued to go off every few minutes so we had to up the alarm parameters to 40 knots. Even then we had it go off a few times. Sure glad we were in port and not at sea in that stuff.
As you can see the winds here can be a bit brutal and trying to find that right window to go out of the bay and make our way the 220 NM we need to go to get to the next safe harbor is definitely a challenge. When you add the fact that all of the weather models seem to have their own very differing opinion as to what will happen it feels a bit daunting. But, I know my Captain and I’m certain he will pick the right one.
The main thing is not to rush it. As much as we want to get further north where it is a tad bit warmer we will not rush out to sea. That’s the great part of being retired out here. We don’t have to do anything on anyone else’s timeline.
For now we are looking the weather many times a day. In the meantime we will try not to be blown off our feet and just enjoy the beauty that is Wellington.
Until next time,