16 February 2018
On our last full day in Wellington we were anticipating rain, which never came, so we planned to spend it inside the Museum of New Zealand or Te Papa Tongarewa. The museum is free, except special exhibitions. The exhibits include Maori culture, natural science and history, New Zealand Wars, and WWI’s Gallipoli campaign.
It’s hard to beat The Great War Exhibition to learn about New Zealand’s involvement in WWI but Te Papa has an impressive exhibit, ‘Gallipolo: The Scale of Our War’. The exhibition features several larger than life representations of soldiers and nurses who contiributed to the war effort. We had never seen anything like it before.
The exhibits of Maori culture, the New Zealand Wars, and the effects of volcanos and earthquakes on New Zealand were similar in quality to the War Memorial Museum we visited 2 weeks ago in Auckland.
We got lucky. They had a special exhibit of Legos which our kids loved. We spent plenty of time marvelling at the Lego reproductions of iconic world structures.
The museum is located on the waterfront in the heart of Wellington so there were plenty of options when we finally left to grab dinner.
Gallipolo: The Scale of Our War
15 February 2018
As part of our walk from the city center to Mount Victoria, started in Mount Cook at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park and The Great War Exhibition. We have been fortunate enough to visit some fantastic museums in our lifes and The Great War Exhibition must go on our top-10 list. It is a must see for anyone intersted in World War history.
The museum stands out because it was designed and created in a unique way, through the guidance of film-maker Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, King Kong). The scenes are movie quality, the pictures are bright and colorful, and the collection is a step above others we’ve seen. The museum tells a story as you walk through from start to end of World War I. Very well done.
Adjacent from the front entrance is the National War Memorial which stands out in the city skyline. The Hall of Memories is in the base of the tower.
The Great War Exhibition
National War Memorial
13 – 17 February 2018
The Wellington Cable Car was high on my to do list when I started to research the city. Growing up in Pittsburgh, the Duquesne Incline is iconic. Wellington’s cable cars looked quite familiar. They are a quick way to get up and down the terraces and worth a ride just for fun. They are your best option to visit the Botanical Gardens and Victoria University from the city center. The overlook at the top provides 180-degree views of the city and harbour and the Cable Car Museum is free.
At museum we learned about the long history of cable cars in New Zealand. Two items stuck out for me.
First, privately owned cable cars are used throughout Wellington for residential uses. Many of the houses peculiarly perched on the sides of the mountains use cable cars to scale the mountain side, connecting their garage or car park to their house. We saw them several times when we walked the Mount Victoria area. Great way to commute but I’m not sure how safe I’d feel.
Second, the first electric driven cable cars in New Zealand were built in Philadelphia. The city of Dunedin purchased them from J G Brill Company, the same manufacturer of Pittsburgh’s beloved Duquesne Incline cable cars. The Wellington cars were manufactured locally using what the engineer learned from Dunedin. It’s a small world.
Lookout from the Top
Residential Cable Car Tracks
13 – 17 February 2018
To complete our tour of New Zealand’s North Island we spent several days in the country’s capital, Wellington. Wellington is the second largest city, however at about 417,000 residents it is much smaller than flagship Auckland.
Located on the southwestern tip of North Island, Wellington is a center of government, business, and shipping. And wiith the success of filmmaker Peter Jackson, his studios in the Miramar neighborhood have added the nickname ‘Wellywood’.
We know it better as ‘Windy Welly’. We heard it was windy but had no idea just how true that was. Wind whipped through the city all day and night with gusts that almost stopped me in my tracks. It is the windiest city in the world based on annual average wind speed.
We toured the city by foot. It is small enough but the changes in elevation make it tougher than it looks on a map. The city starts at the shoreline and expands up the mountains. Some of our favorite places to visit were the wharfs on Lambton Harbour, Parliament, Mount Victoria, The Great War Exhibition, Te Papa, and the Cable Cars.
Old St. Pauls
Chinese New Year on Cuba Street
12 February 2018
On our drive south between Rotorua and Palmerston North we spent the day in Tongariro National Park. After a picnic lunch in the small town of Ohakune, we spent the afternoon hiking in the park.
First we hiked the Waitonga Falls Trail, about 75 minutes of medium difficulty down to the base of the falls. Nearly back to the trail top we heard what we thought was Waitonga Falls but it was actually another waterfall. The viewpoint was not signed and a bit dangerous. A short drive up the park road was the car park for Mangawhero Falls. The designated lookouts are a short walk. Both falls are impressive and definitely worth the time.
Second falls from Waitonga Falls Trail
Our last hike of the day was on the Ohakune Old Coach Trail from Marshalls Road to the Hapuawhenua Viaduct. The entire trail is 15 km and follows the old North Island Rail Line. The trail uses the old rail bridge which we enjoyed walking across. While the old rail sleepers are tightly spaced it is a bit unsettling to look down between them. There is much more to do in Tongariro National Park and could have easily spent another day in the area.
Old Coach Trail
10 February 2018
For any Lord of the Rings fan Hobbiton is a must see, but you don’t need to be a fan to enjoy stepping inside the world of the hobbits. The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies were filmed in New Zealand at sights throughout the country. The Shire set was constructed at Alexander’s farm and has been preserved for movie set tours ever since.
Director and New Zealand native Peter Jackson chose the location. As the story goes, they built the Shire for the LotR films and then dismantled it, restoring the land to be farmed again. When they decided to make the Hobbit trilogy movies, they re-built and expanded the Shire to remain permanently.
Not unlike the feeling we had stepping into Cars Land, the whole family enjoyed walking through Middle Earth, if only for a moment.
9 February 2018
Today we travelled south to Taupo, the center of North Island. Our first stop was at Aratiatia Rapids on the Waikato River. It’s a popular spot for tourists, especially when the dam opens and floods the river. They open the dam a few times each day and we were fortunate enough to be there during one of those times.
Further down the Waikato River is Huka Falls. The falls are not very tall but the extreme flow of blue water rushing through a narrow chasm is worth the visit. There are several lookout points all an easy walk from the car park. There are hiking paths along the river but we opted to spend our time at another tourist sight.
Craters of the Moon is a geothermal boardwalk, about an hours walk. It reminded us of the thermal features we saw in Yellowstone. There are numerous thermal parks in central North Island. We enjoyed Craters but I don’t think I’d recommend it over some of the other parks in the area.