Tarungi, Napier and Wellington
If you happened to ask me what I was most excited about doing in New Zealand, I probably would have told you about the Tongariro Crossing. The Tongariro Crossing is an all day hike that traverses multiple active volcanos (including “Mount Doom” from Lord of the Rings) and has some of the most interesting landscapes in the North Island. We’d pre-booked a shuttle to take us on one of the two days we’d be in the area but nature seemed to have a different plan for us. Rain, lots and lots of rain. With rain, comes slippery slopes and falling rocks and so the whole Tongariro Crossing was shut down for three days in a row making it impossible for us to do the hike during our time in the area. Needless to say I was beyond disappointed, but part of learning to live like a traveler is rolling with the punches so we decided to turn the rain in our favor and booked a white water rafting trip instead!
Even though the mountain may have been shut down, rain only makes the rapids on the Tongariro River more exciting and so we headed out for a wet morning of grade 3 rapids dressed in fleeces, wet suits and river booties. We got to spend almost three hours on the river and went through 52 rapids, jumped off a cliff and shared a beer with everyone who happened to be in our same boat…literally (Dad joke alert, sorry I couldn’t help myself, hehe)
In the afternoon after our white water rafting experience Jeremy and I actually went on a wet hike along the Tongariro river and encountered our first swing bridge! We also got some great, albeit wet views of the nearby countryside. I only wish that the weather would have been better so we could have actually seen some of the nearby mountains and volcanoes.
After spending two days at a cute little fishing lodge we made our way to Napier, a town on the west coast of the north island known for their Art Deco architecture. We happened to be there during their annual Art Deco fest where people come from all over the world to celebrate their special city and the Art Deco-style and history. We also happened to arrive on the night of The Great Gatsby ball and ran into all sorts of characters around town dressed in their vintage Gatsby-wear, and those who drove their vintage cars into Napier from near and far!
Jeremy and I took an Art Deco tour of their downtown area and learned a lot about the towns history as well as their specific Art Deco buildings in town. In 1931 Napier was absolutely devastated by a 7.8 earthquake that killed 256 people and completely flattened nearly every building in town. What wasn’t destroyed by the earthquake was quickly enveloped by huge fires raging through the city wiping out everything else. But as the people of Napier like to say, the earthquake gave them a “gift. “ The local landscape changed dramatically, with the coastal areas around Napier being lifted by around two yards. The most noticeable land change was the uplifting of some 25 miles of sea-bed to become dry land. Also because the earthquake happened during a global depression, the rebuilding of the city created thousands of jobs.
What was really interesting was that the entire city was rebuilt in less than two years’ time, almost completely in the Art Deco style incorporating local Maori influence into the architecture and design as well. We also learned that in the 1960’s and 70’s people in Napier thought they lived in an ugly and “old fashioned” city and wanted to modernize it. Only after a visit from a famous museum curator did the people of Napier realize that their town was really something special!
Our journey from Napier to Wellington would be the longest in our car yet. Over the years we’ve both experienced the extremely uneventful drive through the cornfields from Chicago to St. Louis and back and so in our minds the idea of a four-hour road trip did not loom well. Fortunately the drive was quite scenic, passing through rolling hills, fields of sheep and cows and across several babbling streams. Although traffic was pretty non-existent until we hit Wellington, we later realized that we chose a day during one of their busiest weekends of the year. Both the Edinburgh Tattoo, a huge marching band festival along with the Wellington Food and Wine Fest was taking place. Lucky enough we’d booked our Air BnB far in advance as the whole city was practically sold out of hotels and hostels.
After a bit of a late arrival and dropping off our rental car we made our way straight to Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum which seemed like a combination of Chicago’s Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry and Art Institute all rolled into one! Since New Zealand is a nation of natural disasters, a large portion of the museum is dedicated to learning about these forces. It was cool to a have a little bit of a refresher from what I learned in elementary school about earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis with an emphasis on how New Zealand was formed. I also learned a lot more about New Zealand's native Maori people and the role they played in New Zealand’s history and their influence even today on the nations language, art and culture.
After leaving Te Papa and experiencing the wind that Wellington is known for (it makes Chicago’s wind look like a passing breeze), we headed back to our Air BnB to meet our host and share a drink together before treating ourselves to our first dinner out since Jeremy’s birthday. We’ve been cooking almost every night, but after an exhausting drive and it being a Friday we decided to treat ourselves. Our host was having friends over before having a night out on the town and it was really the first time Jeremy and have socialized with those around our age since we went out with my friend in Auckland. Our host was actually originally from Minneapolis and around our age and she and her friends ended up being a really fun time to hang out with before we went to dinner, even giving us a suggestion of a BYOB place where to go to help us save some money. They also directed us to an area nearby to hit up afterwards that had a great bar scene. We really haven’t been “out” since alcohol can be one of the priciest things about traveling and we were excited to check out the local scene. After a dinner at a popular Thai place, we made our way to Cuba Street and Courtnay Place that were packed with party-goers on a Friday night. We ended up taking our hosts suggestion and having a drink at this place called “Motel Bar,” that we really didn’t know anything about and immediately dug it’s tiki vibe. We’ve been on a pretty early bedtime schedule so we only made it for one drink before heading back to our hosts home.
We were disappointed that the very next morning after less than 24 hours in Wellington that we had to board a ferry to the South Island. While we’re excited about the next portion of our adventure to begin, we were sad we couldn’t spend at least another day in windy Wellington. For a smaller city it seemed like a really happening place and we know that we would have been able to entertain ourselves there for several days. The food scene in the city was huge and we were a bit disappointed we didn’t have another opportunity to splurge on a “treat yo self” day. We’re already adding it to our list along with Taupo and the Tongariro Crossing of things we want to spend more time on when we one day we are back in New Zealand!