It’s Swelly in Welly

We are now in Wellington, or as most Kiwis would say, “Welly.” They do like to shorten things, sometimes to the ridiculous, but I guess it fits the culture. As Jacinda said on the Colbert show “we are a pragmatic people.” I have come realize this to be very true. The brevity of the language, I guess, is an expression of that pragmatism. Why waste letters that really don’t add all that much. Or why waste all the cloth on pants when you can just wear shorts … even when there is an Antarctic cold front blowing through. Central heating? Seems like a bit of overkill. Double panes on your windows? Why bother. Just harden up, mate.

The Martinborough Hotel

On our way to Welly down from Hawkes Bay, we stopped in Martinborough. The drive was pretty uneventful and overall pretty easy. The big issue we keep having is with google maps. It is hard to trust sometimes. It’s always taking you on “faster” route that ends up being a gnarly, windy, narrow 2-lane affair that saves you 1 or 2 minutes. But sometimes it is right and if you ignore it, 20+ minutes later you are sorry. It is a tad frustrating.

We had made a booking at Ata Rangi winery for a tasting for 2:30. It was highly rated and the woman who I had arranged the booking with said it was an “intimate 45 minute tasting talking about the wine and vineyard.” We got to the hotel around 2 and decided we had time to check in and then walk out to the winery since it was such a lovely sunny day with temps in the high teens. We got there right on time…or so we thought. When we got to the door, the woman inside with other guests looked a bit distressed. She opened the door and we said we were there for the 2:30 tasting. She informed us it started at 2:00. Ugh. Bummer. I guess I put that in my calendar wrong. Luckily it was only 2:20 and, they were just starting on the tasting, but she informed us we weren’t going to get the low down on the winery, vineyard, and wine maker. At least we were in time for the wine. Priorities, people!

There were two other couples in the room with us; one from Perth and one from Sydney. It felt quite stiff and stilted for the first 10 minutes. Susanne sat there quietly. I am sure in part because the stupid Americans couldn’t figure out what time the tasting was. Doh. Finally things started to loosen up and we had some nice conversations with everyone. The wine was really quite good. We bought some of the Pinot and I think the lady that was doing the tasting kind of forgave us for being late.

Cool old building converted to fine dining

We walked back to the hotel and hung out in the room just chillaxing for a while. We had a booking at 18:15 at a highly rated restaurant in Martinborough called Karahui Wine Bar and Eatery and the nice thing was that is was about a 100 meter walk from the hotel. Well, let’s be real ………. Martinborough is a very small town and almost everything is walkable.

The dinner was quite lovely and the service was excellent. I would definitely recommend going here if you ever find yourself in Martinborough.

The next day were were booked to go to Poppies for lunch, which was according to one of the dudes we met at the the Te Awanga FAWC event “an absolute must do” and you have to make a booking because it is so popular. Well, I had tried about a week earlier. Their webpage informed that they would only do bookings by phone. So I called and left a message. Nobody called back. So I called again. Same response. I was pretty much giving up when I thought I would just email them. The title of the email was “I called as instructed and nobody called back.” I know, obnoxious … but sadly true. They finally emailed me and we arranged a booking for 12:30. I can help but notice that the booking was arranged by email. Seems like the whole phone thing was pretty inefficient, but *sigh*, I’m trying to be more zen in my old age.

It was cold in the morning and at least a 30 minute drive to any interesting hikes, so we just hung around town until we could go to Poppies for our lunch. I did find some cool stuff to do if we come back. An uncommercialized glow worm cave called Ruakokoputuna Caves was tops on my list. It was on someone’s property and you just needed to call them and ask permission to go on their land. There was a cool chasm (Patuna Chasm) to hike as well, but that would set you back $42 big ones, so I was a bit less enthused by that.

We drove the 1.5 km down to Poppies for lunch and wine tasting. It was a nice sunny day so we took the offer to sit outside. We had to grab our coats, though, because the second you felt a slight little breeze, you realized it was only 11 degrees (52, for our Fahrenheit people). They first brought us inside for a tasting. The dude serving was, in my opinion, a bit obnoxious and clearly told the same jokes over and over and over. The wine was pretty good but didn’t really stand out of the crowd for me.

Nice, but not all it was cracked up to be

The “lunch” was just a platter. I will say that it was just ok. Nothing special. Some of the items were just plain weird and didn’t really go. The gluten-free crackers had so much fennel in them that even I deemed them inedible. The ladies from Sydney were there and we waved hi to them and chatted for awhile. I didn’t ask what they thought of the place.

It was a nice day so we thought we might go do the one hike that was close by. Our one hesitation was that the folks from Perth, who we met at Ata Rangi, had said we probably would need a good set of gummies since there was so much mud and manure. Susanne suggested we try another winery instead of a hike. Good call. We headed down the road to one I had read about, Colombo. With a name like that we had to try it.

A new friend

They had a nice area outside to sit and enjoy the sun and the wine. It was very relaxed and way less pretentious than Poppies. The wine was very nice too! There were some folks sitting behind us that had this very cute little dog that was running around have a jolly good time. He kept running up to everyone trying to get pets. Of course we were total suckers and doted on him completely. This made the folks laugh. We chatted a bit and he had a lot of friends in Montana and loved to visit there. The wine maker was from Chile so when she found out Susanne grew up in Venezuela they chatted for a while in Spanish. It was a lovely afternoon.

I had the thought that we should go visit Parliament while we were in Wellington, so I booked us a tour for 13:30 the next day. We had our coffee, lounged about, and then packed up and headed out for Wellington which was just 1.5 hrs away. The road, of course, went up and over a typically steep, narrow, and windy road. I am sure the views were great, but it took too much concentration to see much of anything but possible impending death.

Another major New Zealand highway

We got to Welly a bit early, so we found a place to park and looked for something to eat. We opted for a Thai restaurant and it turned out to be pretty tasty. We walked around downtown for a while and checked out the Beehive and other buildings that are the seat of government for New Zealand.

The Beehive

We checked in for our Tour and waited around for everyone else to show up. Sadly, they don’t let you take pictures of the inside of the building and you have to leave your phone and you have to leave all your stuff checked outside. Bummer. Clive, our guide, was quite the enthusiastic tour director. He was full of factoids and seemed to really enjoy his job. We learned a bunch of things too! Unlike the Brits, New Zealand only has one chamber. Evidently, the used to have two (Representatives and Legislative Council), but they got rid of it because at some point it became clear that the Legislative Council was useless and added no value whatsoever.

In 1950, National party leader Sydney Holland added 29 members to the Council with one and only one job—vote yourself out of existence. And amazingly they did! Wow. What are the odds. I also learned that currently, of the 120 MPs, 59 are women. Sadly, it doesn’t appear we will see that in the US anytime soon.

It was cool and I have a lot to learn about their system.

The folks (Jeremy and Annie) we rented our house from in Te Awanga invited us over for happy hour our first night in Welly. Jeremy had seen from the blog that I liked biking as well. How could we not get together? We drove up the very narrow and hilly streets to their house in Brooklyn. Jeremy runs the East-by-West Ferries in Wellington which has a totally cool electric ferry.

Electric Ferry

He also has a lodge along the 85km Timber Trail that runs through Pureora Forest Park in New Zealand’s Central North Island that looks amazing. They were awesome and we had a lovely time chatting with them and of course petting their dog. I’ll definitely have to get together with Jeremy for some bike rides.

The next day we took the famous cable car up to the Botanic Gardens to check those out. Fortunately for us, the weather was great—not a common thing in Welly. We hiked around the gardens for a while and enjoyed the views. I am sure in the spring the flowers and plants are really amazing.

Cool trees
There’s a kaka in there

Way back in 1987 when I was in grad school I was doing field work in Borneo with two other students, Eric Schmidtke and Bard Ilg. Brad and I had stayed in touch over the years but I hadn’t seen him since Borneo. He happens to live in Welly, so we arranged to meet him for dinner at Shed 5 that night. He has been living here for over 20 years now and loves it. It was great fun to catch up, learn about his experiences here, and learn about why he loves Welly so much.

Hanging by the pool in Sabah in 1987.
Let’s just say, Brad and I still look this good.

He invited us to come back and stay with him next time so he could show us around. This adventure has been great for reconnecting with some cool people that I have not seen in a really long time.

The next day we took the ferry out to Matiu/Somes Island Preserve. Jeremy gave us tickets to get out there, which was super nice. Sadly, the new electric ferry didn’t start service until the next week, so we didn’t get to try that out! The island was pretty cool. It has been rodent-free since about the 80’s so a lot of the native species have made a good comeback. They have a biosecurity station as you arrive on the island, and you have to check your bags for rodents, Argentine ants, as well as brush off, wipe, and disinfect your shoes and hiking poles to make sure you don’t bring seeds or fungal spores onto the island. It isn’t huge, but the views are nice and we did see a few Kākāriki parrots flying around. We spent about two hours wandering around. They used the island in World War II as a degaussing station for ships to keep them from being blown up by the magnetic mines the Germans deployed. There were recordings by a woman who worked at the station, telling various stories about it. She was a hoot. They also have the old gun emplacements that were used during WWII, though they never were fired.

Tomorrow we head for the South Island on the early morning ferry. Although it was a short visit it was definitely Swelly in Welly!

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