To celebrate finishing the North Island, Jonathan and I planned to take a few days off in Wellington. But the morning after we arrived, I got sick. Like, really sick. The kind of sick where you look down a hallway and think "I couldn't possibly make it that far." I stayed in bed for two full days after throwing up so violently that I literally put my foot through a wall. Not a great start.
Once again -- and this seems to be a theme here in New Zealand -- we were impossibly lucky to be staying with a friend, Roz, who gave us a cozy bed and place to stay for four days while I recovered. Roz was not only shockingly unfazed when I told her that I'd put a foot through her wall, but she also proceeded to offer up the Kiwi version of Pedialyte and to convince Jonathan not to feed me Vegimite on toast for my first post-sickness meal (really just heroic -- that stuff is revolting).
While I was out of commission, Jonathan began working on logistics for the South Island, sending food boxes ahead for the next two weeks. If you've ever wondered what this looks like, picture one of those shopping spree shows from the '90s where people just run through a grocery store clearing shelves into their cart. Then picture an over-packer trying to zip their carry-on while sitting on it like, "Nah, I don't need to check a bag."
We didn't get much exploring done in the first few days, but with the North Island behind us, we didn't really have anywhere to be, either. So, we decided to take a few more days to get to see this city that we'd heard so much about.
The first and most important thing we'd heard about Wellington was that it was the center of craft beer culture in New Zealand. Our other beer experiences in this country had been decidedly mediocre as a rule, so we looked forward to a frosty beverage or two. Welly had also been lauded as the country's cultural capital (in addition to being the actual capital, of course), so we were after some great food and sight-seeing.
On day 1 of touristing, we hit up Weta Workshop for their free tour (that's the studio that worked on all of the special effects and props for Lord of the Rings, designing all of the costumes and armour, simulating crowds for the battles, crafting non-human characters like Gollum, etc.). We also checked out a brewery called Garage Project where we sampled some local brews -- decidedly better than your average NZ fare -- and spent a few hours walking around Zealandia, a nature reserve where we got to see some rare birds and several Tuatara. For you nerds out there, the tuatara is the last remaining species of an order that thrived 200 million years ago during the age of dinosaurs. The rest of the species in the order went extinct over 60 million years ago, which makes this one kickass animal. It also has a third "parietal" eye on the top of its head and can live to be 100 years old.
On our second day exploring the city, we got some culture at the national museum, Te Papa, where we saw a huge exhibit about the ANZAC forces in Gallipoli during World War I. We also did some extensive exploration of the city's food culture. What a great time to be a hungry thru-hiker! Jonathan got his first dim-sum (called "yum cha" here) and we cashed in on a gift from my family to enjoy a phenomenal meal out on the town.
Our gift from afar also included a stay at a boutique hotel in a building restored from the 1930s right in the middle of downtown Wellington. The finishing touch to our night of indulgence was a bottle of perfect pinot noir from Central Otago.
On our final night in Wellington, we combined the two best themes of our time there: new friends and great food. Brett and Michelle, who we'd met hiking around Taranaki, invited us over for a phenomenal meal complete with homemade kombucha, delicious craft beer, and a rhubarb crisp that I would conquer nations to re-create. Apart from enjoying their excellent foodcraft, we loved hanging out with this pair and swapping stories -- it's not often that we meet people who adventure in the same way we do and who so deeply understand why we love big miles and ultra-wild places. Once again, in classic style, we were too busy enjoying ourselves to take a single photo. We swear that we've made real friends other than Charlie, even though he's the only one that ever shows up in our pictures...
Thank you so, so much to Ros for your out-of-this-world hospitality and travel beta, and thanks to Brett and Michelle for making Wellington such a welcoming stop along the trail. We both agreed that we'd willingly become vegan if Brett would just cook for us for the rest of our lives.
We couldn't be more stoked to start sharing stories about the epic mountains in the South Island, so stay tuned for another post coming soon as we start the Queen Charlotte Track!