Thursday, May 17, 2007


Two weekends ago, I went to Wellington (the capital city of New Zealand for the geographically challenged). It was rather fun but work keeps getting in the way, which is why I am not posting about it until just now. For the record, the way this worked was I took the train down Saturday (it's an all day affair through wonderful countryside), hung out for two days as I had no class Monday, and flew back Tuesday morning. Really fun, and I met a bunch of cool people to hang out with while in Wellington that made it more than worth it!
View of Mount Ruapehu, the tallest mountain on North Island and the resident active volcano/ ski resort. We travelled through the areas where the lahar flows routinely go, such as the one I mentioned a few months ago... by the way one of the biggest disasters in New Zealand history is when one of these lahars swept away a bridge in the middle of the night and the passenger train fell in, but I probably shouldn't mention that.

Sorry about the cloud obscuring the top of the mountain by the way: it eventually veered off, but not before power lines got in the way of all my shots on that side of the train.
A typical view of the scenery on the Overlander. By the way, did you guys ever hear the story of why Peter Jackson decided to do Lord of the Rings, particularly in New Zealand? He was taking the Overlander from Wellington to Auckland and was reading the books, and kept noticing that the view out the window was exactly the same as what was being described in the books! I have to admit it's been awhile since I last saw the movies though so I can't remember how most of this scenery fits in; I suppose it'll be on my to-do list when I get home.
Hooray for the view of Wellington! Basically think of what Pittsburgh would look like on the ocean and you have a pretty good idea of the terrain. The only difference is the houses are really spread out when compared to Pittsburgh, so in my opinion the whole city looks a little out of place. It's nonetheless a lovely spot though to live; everyone gets a view!
Cable car! Yep, it's basically a glorified incline like the kinds in Pittsburgh (which is properly a "funicular" for those not cool enough to visit my hometown). You even ride the Wellington cable car to the top of the hill primarily for the view, just like if you were on Mount Washington!

I will note though, that one of the things that fascinated me most about Wellington is even some of the houses have their own, tiny inclines: the garage will be on the street but the house will be at the top of a de-facto cliff, so it's either walk up the killer steep stairs with all your gear or put it and/or yourself onto your own private rail system. I don't know about you guys, but I want my own private incline now.
This here is the center of government in New Zealand- the nice old building on the right is Parliament, and the modern building on the left (appropriately named "The Beehive") is the executive building. They mesh together suprisingly nicely actually... the fun thing about Parliament, I thought, was how I walked right up to/ around the buildings, including through the executive parking lot and rose garden where two people were having a discussion on internal policy, and no one really seemed to mind. Considering the fact that I've never been able to do this at my own country's center of government (and probably won't anytime soon) I rather liked this.

By the way, the inside of Parliament is very nice and done in the British woodwork style, but I wasn't allowed to take pictures of it. Looked a lot nicer than the last Parliament house I've visited, if you guys recall my visit to the Cook Islands...
This is the outside view of Te Papa, meaning "Our Place" in Maori, which is the National Museum in New Zealand. If you ever go to Wellington make a point to go as it has to be one of the best museums I've been to and it covers everything in New Zealand from geology to native wildlife to art to immigration to whatever else you ever cared for. This place is impressive: one of the kids I met at my hostel spent three days here in his attempt to see everything!
A stuffed kakapo on display, as I like kakapo. For those of you who are not my sister the bird-brain, kakapo are a species of nocturnal, flightless parrot of which there are only 86 left in the world. (Like many indigenous species, they didn't do too well when the feral cats, stoats, and possums showed up.) They thought they were completely extinct for awhile, actually, for a few decades until some were rediscovered in the 1970s. (The first sighting in a long while was in the Milford Sound area in the 1950s by some tourist- isn't that cool? You can wander around the beaten path here and happen to spot species thought to be extinct!) Now all the kakapo live on two islands and undergo a careful breeding system to keep them alive, so cross your fingers for these guys. They are probably the icon for the plight of New Zealand wildlife, the the point where Douglas Adams went on a search for them in Last Chance to See.

Man oh man, so many good bird stories... I think before I leave New Zealand I am going to do a bird post. Yay!
Cards at the hostel... can you believe no one knew how to play spoons, and I had to teach them?! Keep an eye on those two people on the left, Doug and Laura, as they are my British friends who I hung out with last weekend when they came to Auckland. The kid second from right showed up unexpectedly too in an Auckland pub, we called him "Canadian Ben"... alas Luis, the Argentinian on the right, missed out on the Auckland awesomeness.

By the way, the nightlife in Wellington is the best in New Zealand. Most places close down sorta early but here you don't have this problem even on a Sunday or Monday night! So believe you me, I have stories to tell, but I'm smart enough to not tell stories about my antics in this department online... trust me though, if you want a fun night in New Zealand go to Wellington, and if you don't have one it's your own fault.
I rented a bike for the day on Monday, and rode out on the coastal track to the airport. Took about an hour in one direction along some really nice bays (this is the view back to the city at the last visible point), and it was the first time I'd been on a bike since I left the States. Yeah, I know some of you guys are having a hard time imagining that... I am too, as I miss bicycling very much.
An actual, semi-standard sign on the coastal track. The fairy penguins in the picture (native to New Zealand and Australia) will go out to fish for the day in the ocean and come back to their burrows in the night, but have the slight problem in that there's a road between them and a lot of their burrows! So drive carefully in New Zealand, lest you feel guilty for the rest of your life for running down a penguin. (Because you know you would, and everyone would forever regard you as a horrible, evil person if you did such a heinous act of penguin murderer.)
The view from Wellington from the plane on the way back- pretty good for an airplane shot, I think! The sparse skyscrapers are at the bottom of this picture where the bay comes in the furthest, and the furthest picture of the city was taken from that point on the far right.

All in all, I had a great time in Wellington! It also classified as my first trip somewhere by myself (none of my other friends had no class on Monday like me, unfortunately) so I was really pleased as to how it turned out. I've met some of my best friends on this trip so far in Wellington, so for that alone it was definetely worth it!