Between the two islands and across Cook Strait.
It is easy to fall in love with Wellington. The cultural capital of New Zealand, the city of arts with buzzing social scene and beautiful surroundings, it has an easy charm and a lot to offer. Set amongst forested hills, facing the sea and dotted with parks, gardens, cafes and galleries, Wellington invites you to relax and enjoy life!
Stroll along the waterfront, across Frank Kitts Park with its kinetic sculpture ‘Water Whirler’, designed by Len Lye and with Plimmer’s Ark, the remains of a 19 century sailing ship. Walk towards the city-to-sea bridge that links the waterfront with the Civic Square and the City Gallery. The bridge is adorned with timber sculptures that symbolise Maori and European consecutive arrivals to these shores.
I can see kayakers in the harbour and families flocking to Te Papa, the famous museum of all things New Zealand that will keep adults and kids entertained for hours. Te Papa has something for everyone. Its natural history department is built to represent the native forest with its wildlife, sounds and sights. You can also learn about volcanoes, experience an earthquake (if you wish so) and see the dead body of a giant squid that once swam in the deep waters of the Pacific.
Excellent Maori collection of arts and crafts with an active marae on site and a comprehensive introduction to the Treaty of Waitangi and its consequences is what you find here too. Te Papa is also home to the national modern art collection.
Since you are in Wellington, you will probably want to take a cable car, up the hill to the lookout point with the fantastic view over the city. The cable car is fun, well worth a ride and you can walk down the hill on the other side to reach city’s Botanic Gardens. Rose Garden and Begonia House are a joy to explore.
You don’t need to travel far from Wellington to see New Zealand’s native wildlife, just catch a free shuttle bus to Zealandia, just outside the city. Zealandia is a wildlife reserve: a vast expanse of native forest with numerous walking trails where you can easily disappear for hours with only birds for a company. Tui, kereru, fantail or kaka will accompany you all the way. They are not scared of humans and will come close to investigate you.
No matter how much you love Wellington, if you spend too much time in the harbour looking out to sea, you will finally want to answer its call. Wellington, a fascinating and exciting place in its own right, is also a gateway to adventure. South Island with its breathtaking landscapes, solitude, unexpected encounters and countless opportunities for outdoor activities, is just one ferry trip away! The journey across Cook Strait is full of wonder and anticipation. Despite an early hour and whipping wind and cold, a few of us travellers, decided to stay on the deck to see this new world of green little specks of land in the surrounding ocean emerge from the night and take shape in front of our eyes. It is a magical experience!
Out of the ferry in Picton, I jump on a boat that will take me to Ship Cove and the beginning of one of the most spectacular walking tracks in New Zealand (and that is saying something!). Queen Charlotte Track takes you across the coastal forest with the views of the sounds, surrounding islands and picturesque bays. The beach of the Ship Cove, where the boat leaves me at the beginning of the track, is marked by two monuments.
One informs me about Captain Cook’s multiple visits to this place (he named it Ship Cove), the other - a Maori carved pole – celebrates Polynesian explorer Kupe, who is said to be the first man to discover Aotearoa.
Silence envelops the beach, I am standing on a small wooden jetty looking down at the crystal clear water and jellyfish floating below its surface. Before me, the dark line of the forest encroaching the small beach. Between the trees, the entry and the start of the walking trail. Small, muddy path winding through the dense, primeval forest, up and down the hill, never far away from the coast. Bright red flowers of the pohukatawa tree, or what is left of them, since it’s the end of summer. Occasional possum traps. The views from the track towards the sounds will enchant you. If you look down, through the bright green foliage of giant ferns, you’ll notice sheltered sandy bays, so secluded you can believe no one has ever been there. If you look up and ahead – the endless landscape of sea drown valleys and forested hills.
Six days later, you emerge on the other side of the track at Anakiwa Bay, an equally serene place shared by white boats and black swans.
If you travel west along the coast, South Island hides another secret, maybe not so very well kept. Everyone knows about Abel Tasman National Park and for a reason. It is a paradise. Whilst Marlborough Sounds offer you a beauty you can admire from a distance, Abel Tasman’s broad golden swathes of sand invite you in for a lazy holiday! Quiet beaches, sheltered by the forest are only accessible by foot or a boat. No cars, no internet and no coffee other than from a flask, you are away from civilisation and believe me, you don’t care! If you have a kayak, you are lucky to explore the turquoise waters as you please and be greeted by basking fur seals. Walking track through the forest will take you to hidden waterfalls, streams and across the swing bridges.
Coastal landscapes of the tip of the South Island make you wish you could stay here for ever. As beautiful and enchanting as they are though, it is but a taste of what awaits you if you venture further south. The Alps, the fiords, the rainforest, lakes and glaciers, wineries and cycling tracks. You are about to begin a great adventure in this diverse and surprising country!