Week 45: A Novel-Perfect English Hotel, an Elvish Paradise, and Windy Welly: New Zealand’s North Island, Part 2
[New here? Catching up? Welcome! Check out the beginning of the story that took me to New Zealand for my first southern-hemisphere excursion, and read about my first few days of exploring this beautiful country. Then dive in!]
Days 5-6: The Wairarapa and Rivendell
A Classic Pub Hotel, French Bakery, and Savory Chocolates in Greytown
My fifth day in New Zealand put us on the road again as we drove from the Hawke’s Bay coastal region into the Wairarapa.
Winding, scenic, sometimes gravel roads led us slowly to the North Island’s southeastern coast, then finally to Greytown for a single night’s stay. After a magical night back in the 1920s in Napier, the Greytown Hotel, on the other hand, made me feel like I was in a quintessential small-town English hotel. A bustling pub occupied the first floor, then a handful of rooms (10 at the most) were available for guests upstairs with shared bathroom facilities. The rooms were small but tidy, and to my delight, each had an electric kettle and proper tea fixings.
Before leaving town the following morning, we made sure to make two intentional stops: first, breakfast at the French Baker, where we savored freshly baked pastries and housemade muesli while sitting at a picnic table and watching the town wake up.
Second, we stepped into Schoc Chocolates, a chocolatier that has pieces of each of its unique chocolate bars ready for you to taste before you buy. The founder of this shop sees chocolate as a savory food, not a sweet, so they offer a wild range of unique flavors, like apricot and rosemary, earl grey tea, cardamom, and lemon white. I got a bar of each to take home after sampling at least a dozen options.
A Visit to Rivendell
If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, the name “Rivendell” will immediately bring a lush forest scene and home of elves to mind. Prior to going on this trip, I’d seen the first two movies of the trilogy when they were first released in the early 2000s, and I knew the films were shot in New Zealand, but that’s where my trivial knowledge and excitement ended. “Rivendell” had long since dropped out of my brain.
Many, many other people around the world feel much more strongly about it than I do.
Between Greytown and Wellington, we stopped at the Kaitoke Regional Park. It claims international fame as the site where Rivendell scenes were filmed, but I was more enthralled with the natural beauty of the rainforest.
We crossed a long and high swinging bridge over a river and were immediately immersed in a forest in which five shades of green grew on top of fifteen other varying shades of green. As far, high, and low as you could see, leaves of every shape and size reached toward the light from each available space and crevice. Birds called from above, rain gently trickled down onto our heads, and I could occasionally hear a scuffle of something small and four-legged on the ground around us.
The Rivendell site was easily accessible, and aside from some guideposts and a model archway, it looked like just an average clearing in this otherwise beautiful park. Ahead of us, a more excited group of visitors was dressed in cloaks and carrying bows, ready to recreate iconic scenes and photos from the movies.
We didn’t get nearly enough time in this park. I’d love to go back and spend a whole day exploring it.
Days 6-7: Wellington
I’ve been told that people sometimes say Wellington reminds them of San Francisco. They’re both culturally rich and progressive cities, and they visually complement each other, with steep hillsides layered in homes on the coast.
I can see where they’re coming from, but I think the two differ in a not-insignificant way: breathing room.
I noticed that while walking around Wellington, space between homes was still filled with greenery: trees, bushes, ivy, grass. Good luck finding that in San Francisco, where most of the literal green space can only be found in designated parks or by getting out of the city.
Wellington had a more laid-back, friendly, and present vibe, too: even in the heart of town at rush hour, with hundreds of people making their way home from work, I actually saw people walking without the earbuds that cut them off from the world.
We spent a large portion of our first afternoon at Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. With exhibitions ranging from a natural-science exploration of the earthquakes and volcanoes that continue to shape New Zealand, to extensive documentation of the native Māori history and culture, and even an immersive special feature around New Zealand’s participation in Gallipoli during WWI, it’s nearly impossible to see and appreciate everything at this museum in a single day.
The following day, Schuyler and I walked through the Wellington Botanic Garden. I love botanic gardens and if a city has one, I try to visit. Wellington’s didn’t disappoint. My favorite area within the park was the succulent garden, which was filled with at least a hundred varieties of unique and striking plants. I’m afraid I may have stretched Sky’s patience with my desire to photograph as many as possible, but he was a good sport and hung in there with me without hint of complaint.
Mother Nature Shows Her Fiesty Side
Back at our flat in the Mt. Victoria neighborhood—where streets were named “terraces”, an appropriate description for the dead-end roads that laddered up the steep mountain—we started to pay closer attention to the weather forecast for the following day for two main reasons:
- We had tickets to cross the Cook Strait via ferry from Wellington to Picton on the South Island. Even on a clear day, this Strait is notorious for delivering a white-knuckled ride (and it’s a 3.5-hour ride).
- Ex-Cyclone Gita was barreling toward New Zealand. (That’s the South-Pacific name for what we in the States know better as a tropical storm.) Prior to heading straight for our coordinates, Gita wreaked havoc on Tonga as a Category 4 storm, where winds of 171 mph destroyed the Parliament house. Even as a weaker storm, the NZ Met Service warned that areas where we’d be traveling could see wind gusts of 115 mph.
Sounds like a great time to board a ferry, doesn’t it?
The fated day dawned rainy and gray but otherwise unexceptional. I’d later realize that this was the one day on the entire two-week trip that I had any sense of unrest or anxiety. I considered that to be remarkable, particularly following the adventures I had on my last international trip in Nicaragua.
Thankfully, I can sum up this part of the story by telling you that the ferry crossing was smooth and uneventful, the drive from Picton to Nelson wet but not treacherous. We all sighed with relief after we stocked up at the grocery store and hunkered down to relax and wait for the rain to pass.
Experiencing a (low-grade) hurricane may be on my bucket list, but I’m grateful that event didn’t get checked off while traveling halfway across the world with a 12-week-old baby.