Days 121 and 122: New Year in New Zealand

I’m combining two days worth of posts here because I’m never going to catch up otherwise.

There is so much to see and do in Wellington – I heartily recommend a trip here. It has everything, certainly everything that I like: woodland walks, beachside hikes, street art, cake and icecream, museums and a beautiful waterfront to stroll around.

It’s a very liveable city – even and especially with the hills, which aren’t always that steep. I hate the gym so I walk everywhere – for fitness fanatics, you’ve got endurance, resistance and distance training built into the landscape.

This is your typical view of suburban Wellington: a mish mash of different types of houses painted different colours spotted between the rolling forested green space.

And the view of the waterfront from the top of Mount Victoria is worth the climb.

The fact that there is a slide to help you get at least a small way back down in no way shaped my enjoyment. Honest.

Down the hill, there are some ‘Lord of the Ring’ spotting opportunities – to find the spot where the hobbits hid from the Ring-Wraithes… the Nazgul’s search would have been so much easier if they had paid attention to the signage.

In Newtown, on the edge of the suburb where I have been staying, street art is front and centre… on the walls of houses, on garage doors, basically everywhere, painted, stencilled, as murals, as small pieces and using yarn.

And at sea level… the stunning Breakers Bay which I saw courtesy of my friend Jess when we finally met up after several months of social media conversation.

That’s the amazing aspect of travel – the people you meet. I was introduced to Jess by a mutual friend Chris because he knew I was coming to Wellington.

I arrived and Jess took me out to see some of the Bays that I might not easily get a chance to see.

The tide was low, at Breakers Bay which was my favourite, allowing us to walk alongside the striking rock formations.

And for the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, I headed up to the Botanic Gardens, which are free to enter via the Cable Car which is not free to ride – 5NZD one way; 9NZD for a return ticket if you buy in advance.

This is New Zealand’s only operational funicular and you catch it out of the centre of Wellington at the literally named Cable Car Street – making the station a very easy place to find.

The short ride up to the Gardens takes you through painted tunnels and then neon lights before giving you a view over the harbour.

The Wellington Botanic Garden at the top of the Cable Car is actually one of four Botanic Gardens in the city.

Top Tip Interruption: The Wellington Council website is a fantastic resource for visitors. For example, looking for walking routes around the city? The council maintains a comprehensive and free range of guides and maps that you can download.

So, the Botanic Gardens are free to enter and I spent hours up here, wandering various gardens and groves.

The official Wellington Botanic Garden was established in 1868, with the Botanic Garden Bill passed in 1869. The management of the gardens was passed on to the New Zealand Institute, though the Garden has been managed by the Council since 1891.

There are a variety of gardens focusing on different types of plants and different climates – the succulents and deserts, the Australian and Chinese zones, the fern walkway and the rose garden to name just a few.

I wasn’t sure about the beekeeper though.

It’s possible that I’ve watched too many episodes of ‘Doctor Who’.

And within the grounds of the Garden was my destination for New Year’s Eve – Space Place and particularly the Carter Observatory.

While most of Wellington’s museums are free, this one has a small fee 14NZD and in my view, it’s an absolute bargain.

Handing over your money gets you a free viewing of one of a a range of documentaries about space. Apparently these are age appropriate – I hadn’t read that when I went for the ‘We Are Stars’ 8pm viewing.

It featured Andy Serkis! Voice of Gollum!

It was also very good and highly informative. ‘The Big Bang Theory’ has clearly made me far more receptive to physics.

There’s a compact but detailed exhibition in the museum too. This covers the solar system, space exploration and technology, gravity, black holes, star creation, alongside a history of New Zealand’s contribution to the world’s understanding of stars and space.

To quote Mr Spock: Fascinating.

The exhibition also covers some of our misguided ideas about space and our neighbouring planets – the chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one.

I really enjoyed the inclusion of Maori creation myths and learning about the names they have given the constellations.

For the last few weeks, it has been strange to see the moon from the Southern hemisphere: I can’t see the Man in the Moon. The Maori legends include the story of a woman taken up to the moon after she complained about how bright it was.

But the highlight for me was going to the Observatory to look at the moon and snow of the stars through the Cooke Telescope.

The telescope was built in York (UK) in 1867 and shipped to New Zealand in 1905. It arrived at the Carter Observatory in 1941 and while it’s no longer used for scientific observations, it was very exciting to look at the night sky through it.

I’ve never done this before – yet another new experience for me.

We were able to view the moon and, as the sky darkened, nebulae in Orion’s Belt and the Matariki.

Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters.

It rises in mid-winter (so July, here) and for many Māori, it heralds the start of a new year. Matariki literally means the ‘eyes of god’.

The Observatory was open for star gazers until 11pm (as it is every Tuesday unless the weather is unkind) and while I did go down to the Waterfront to watch the band and see the fireworks, it was the evening up at Space Place that made New Year’s Eve 2019 so utterly magical.

What a way to end the year.

Categories: Festivals, Nature/Landscapes, New Zealand, Street Art, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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