We just spent two weeks in New Zealand. Wellington, Rotorua, Hanmer Springs, Christchurch. I’m so stoked to have been there again.
Jamie and I actually lived in Wellington for just under a year, in 2010. The two of us were, at the time, newly living together and navigating the path for my Australian permanent residency. He got a job in New Zealand, so, why not come along? Our apartment was at the top of Cuba Street, which was very conveniently located for everything cool. Everything felt so familiar on this trip back, which in turn felt a little unnerving.
I didn’t have many ‘activity’ plans for Wellington. It’s not a hub for adventuring or for majestic scenery. It is, however, a hub for food, coffee and beer. They’re big on being the ‘cultural capital’, so it felt right to plan our stay around where we’d go for brunch and dinner. Tough life, I know. It was awesome.
Stuff I like: my boyfriend, craft beer, adorable little ratdogs.
Wellington has twice the population of Hobart, just under half a mil, but its geography – steep hillsides and the harbour – forces the city centre to stay compact. It’s a small yet full-sized city, squished into the surrounding hills like playdoh. The geography and the compactness make it well-suited for urban hikes.
We made sure to hit the summit at Mt Victoria. Sights like this make me want to entertain the idea of having a little house on the hills overlooking the sea. It’s stunningly blue, turquoise even.
Hills, city and sea. It’s where I’m happy to be.
The real downside to this place is that they have the most mediocre weather in the country. It was good by Wellington standards while we were there, but my denim jacket really wasn’t warm enough for the cold southerly winds barrelling down narrow city streets. Absolutely Positively Wellington indeed.
From there we drove north, through the tussock lands, past Mt Ruapehu.
Jamie had to spend a few days in Rotorua for work, so we made ourselves a little holiday out of it. It was a pleasant stay. The weather was great, we had a balcony attached to our room with a hot tub on it, and we went out for sushi at a place that served it all very prettily on a bridge sculpture. Far out.
Rotorua is a hot spot for geothermal activity, which means that even the most dodgy motels have a spa pool. We visited the bubbling mud pools just outside of town and a spot on Lake Rotorua called “Sulphur Point.” The whole town has a faint sulphur smell, but this spot = fog of rotting eggs. You could taste it. Local plants and animals don’t care.
Lots of manuka in flower.
Right before we left, we spent one bright morning in the Government Gardens. The sun was fierce. I saw lots of flowers and even a few pūkeko hanging out in the pond. Lots of people out enjoying themselves, whether at the multicultural festival on the lawns or decked out head to toe in white playing on the lawn bowl courts.
We’d only stayed in Rotorua for one night prior to this trip, but spending multiple days there with beautiful weather left a favorable impression on both of us.
We flew from Rotorua to Christchurch, in a little regional jet with propellers. Arriving over the South Island was like landing in fairyland.
From there, we drove to Hanmer Springs, which is about an hour and a half north of Christchurch, at the base of a mountain range. It’s a touristy little alpine town, with all the outdoorsy appeal of any other spot on the South Island, but it has one major draw: its thermal pools. The thermal pool complex contained plenty of tidy mineral spas, which were nice and all, but it also had a lazy river and waterslides. Jamie had never been on a waterslide before. Perfect. We couldn’t ask for better scenery either, being surrounded by mountains and sequoias.
Before returning to Christchurch, we explored further along Lewis Pass, one of the main passes through the Southern Alps.
Our time in Christchurch, in one word: educational.
We’ve visited in the past, in March 2010 and December 2010. March was before the first big earthquake. December was before the second one, the bad one in February. So we’ve seen what the city centre used to be, when it was bustling and full of charming classical English buildings.
Now it looks like one big vacant lot.
Three years on, and the demolition and cleanup are still going. The surrounding suburbs look normal, more or less, but the CBD was utterly destroyed and it will take a long while to recover. I can’t imagine what Christchurch residents have been going through.
That said, people are pressing on.
There’s some interesting temporary structures in place, like a shopping mall from shipping containers – which has become quite flashy – and a cathedral made from polycarbonate and cardboard. There’s so much room to experiment with designing structures that are responsive, sustainable, and really, really cool-looking.
There’s also a surprising amount of colour mixed in with the grey rubble and too-open streets. A good number of vacant lots have been taken over by public installations. People are putting their hearts into this, especially with projects like this salvaged mini-city and the memorial assembled from chairs.
There’s a massive push to rebuild and perfect. I can’t wait to see how much has changed in another few years.
To sum it all up: thanks for being so cool, New Zealand. I look forward to seeing each other again some time.