My final journey in New Zealand was to visit the one major place I hadn’t yet explored, the capital Wellington. I researched the best and cheapest way to visit the city and chose to travel on the Northern Explorer on the way down and to take the Kiwi Experience bus back up to Auckland.
Kiwi Experience organised this whole route called the Northern Express and it made for a varied and fun few days.
On the morning of my train down to Wellington I hopped on the bus and made my way to The Strand train station, a little used station on the outskirts of the CBD and the home to this famous railway. The journey is a total time of 12 hours and takes in much of the changing landscape across the North Island. The train itself offers customers a great relaxed experience with skyroofs and large windows to offer all customers a great viewing experience.
I was sat in an aisle seat which was a shame but still got a great view of all the amazing sights whizzing by. A bonus is the open carriage which allows you to get a closer look at the scenery. I made sure to go here every so often to get some fresh air and check out points of interest along the route.
Throughout the long journey, the staff keep you informed of interest points and where you are on the map. The first few hours are rolling hills as you go past Hamilton and Taupo. The landscape then drastically changes to marsh and rugged hillside as you enter the National Park. You also get an amazing view of the various volcanos dotting the landscape. This part of the journey is also home to the popular and impressive Raurimu Spiral which allows the railway to make a 139-metre ascent on to the National Park plateau.
After this exciting part of the journey, you continued south past several small towns and over huge viaducts which all overlook beautiful rivers and valleys. As you approach Wellington, the train comes to skirt the coast, giving views of Kapiti Island which is mainly uninhabited to preserve the fragile ecosystem on the island. You approach this part of the journey around dearly evening which in the winter means you get amazing views of the sunset.
Finally, the train arrives in Wellington at approx. 7pm. I walked from the station to my hostel, The Marion which was around a 20-minute walk. There are plenty of taxis and buses in the area though for those who don’t fancy the trek! I stayed in Te Aro, just off Cuba street in a modern hostel. The accommodation looked amazing on Hostelworld and was just as impressive in real life. It seemed to have a few long-termers staying there due to the nice furnishings and social areas.
I stayed in a 10-bed dorm which was unique in that it offered full privacy for all guests. I think this style is becoming more popular now, but the luxury of having a curtain to shut off your bed from the room is great! The downside of this is that people do tend to keep to themselves more in the dorm and not socialise. I didn’t mind this too much and spent the evening relaxing before getting an early night.
The next day I had a relaxed wake up, I was on a little holiday after all! I planned to visit the National Museum, Te Papa and was told this would take up most of the day as there was so much to see. The Museum is free to enter and has some amazing exhibitions to appeal to all ages.
The exhibitions ranged from interactive displays of the country’s formation and geography to Maori history and artefacts. There is even a giant squid! Te Papa is renowned as one of the best museums in the world and is a must-see attraction when you visit New Zealand. I ended up spending around four hours in the museum, but you could do less or more depending on personal preference. I also didn’t visit any of the paid exhibitions.
I then headed back to the hostel to relax a little, finding a cosy spot to chill in one of the social hubs on each floor of the hostel. That evening I had arranged to meet up with a traveller I had met all the way back in December on my tour of the Bay of Islands. Michelle was living in Wellington and we had a lovely night catching up and eating in an amazing Mexican place which served fantastic cocktails.
On my final full day in Wellington I had a planned a busy day. First up was a tour of the Beehive, New Zealand’s parliament. These tours are free but need to be booked in advance. As a lover of history and politics, this was a fascinating insight into other countries politics and how it compares to other nations. I was impressed with their handling of party power and the general success the current political party was having in New Zealand. Sadly, Aunty Jacinda was not in the building but I have since seen her at an All Blacks game in Auckland (from a distance!)
Next on my itinerary was to take the famous Wellington Cable Car and explore the gardens above the city. The cable car is an old staple of the city and although was used for some residents to access their homes on the hill, was mainly created as a Victorian tourist attraction. At the top there is a cable car museum showing this Victorian history, a café and restaurants and many other attractions on the hill. After a bite to eat and a drink in the sunshine I visited the small museum and started my walk through the gardens.
Although the sun had been shining when I first got there and ate, I noticed a band of dark clouds coming in my direction. Making a spontaneous decision, I decided to make a detour to the Space Place Carter Observatory and spent the next two hours exploring the exhibits and watching the impressive light show and cinema story about the Maori story of creation. (I’ve written about this in my previous post on the Bay of Islands)
It was a good thing that I decided to explore the observatory as the weather turned drastically to heavy rainfall giving me an excuse to really explore the Space Place. Once the rain slowed down, I walked back down to the city, abet slightly soggy. I detoured through the botanical gardens which were impressive and varied. In better weather I would have spent more time checking them out, but I was more focused on getting back to the hostel and getting dry! That evening I got comfy and got some pizza from one of my favourite pizza chains in New Zealand, Sals.
I didn’t manage to meet many people in my hostel and as such had very relaxed evenings in but I didn’t mind that after two long days filled with sights. The next morning, I checked out of the hostel and made my way to the Kiwi Experience bus pick up point. The journey back up North took two days as we stopped off in Taupo. This made for a scenic ride back with good company.
I was glad I made my little trip down south to Wellington and was even happier that I did it with Kiwi Experience and not by plane. It isn’t the traditional Kiwi Experience one usually seeks out, but I enjoyed the journey by road and rail and the added bonus of a stop off at Taupo.
Wellington was vibrant and I really enjoyed my time there. Part of me wishes I had explored New Zealand before I settled so I could have got a flavour for all parts of the country but as I headed back up to my little home in Auckland’s suburbs I realised how lucky I was to have the opportunity to explore so much of what new Zealand has to offer.