On our last visit to Wellington, we had tried to get on the Hop On Hop Off bus but it was all sold out. It was also raining so we trudged through the downpour and went to the Te Papa museum which was really quite nice—and dry. This visit we did not want to miss the bus so we got online and made reservations. To be sure we would be there in time, we made them for 11 AM but we arrived at the port and were on the dock early enough that we made it to the information center by 9:30. Bob asked if we could change to the 10 AM bus but they said it was full.
Nothing like free WiFi though to make up for it. So we sat and perused email and Facebook. Just as I was finishing up another email, Bob strolled down to where the bus was loading and spoke with the driver. He hustled back to tell me that if everyone did not show up by 10 there would be two seats available. As luck would have it, two people were no-shows and we were on.
The bus is a small mini-bus that holds 11 people plus the driver. It’s small because of some of the narrow twisty roads they travel to get to points of interest. They have a system whereby they note who gets off and how many they will have to pick up with the next bus (I think there were only three operating). The system wasn’t working well this day but more about that later.
Our first stop was at the lookout at Mount Victoria. Just as advertised you could get a 360 degree view of the city and surrounding area. Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is sprawling much like Auckland. The downtown area is full of skyscrapers and bustling with business (government as well as commercial) and tourism. The suburbs spread out in all directions across the land that is quite hilly. According to our driver, “Give a landowner an inch and he’ll build a house on it.” He was referring to all the homes sitting precariously on the hillsides. Some even had their own funicular or cable car to get them from the street to their house. Imagine carrying groceries in that way.
WETA was our next stop and we told our driver we would stay the hour so that we could get a glimpse of the free mini-museum and watch the free movie. What is WETA you ask? It is the maker of props and sets for a score of movies including Lord Of The Rings and the Hobbit series. Outside were mockups of the giant trolls and inside, the mini-museum turned out to be a museum of miniatures from the movies. I assume some were used in the mini sets movie makers use when they shoot some scenes such as a train crash.
The movie was very interesting and showed how two people who loved art and the movies had begun a studio to sculpt and make puppets for movies. It expanded and turned into quite a business and now is a very popular place with many of Hollywood’s movie makers including James Cameron (***) and Peter Jackson (who is actually a Kiwi). The business expanded into the digital area and now has several divisions that include all sorts of special effects and prop and puppet making.
Next stop for us, the top of the cable car hill. The cable car or more correctly the funicular is an icon in Wellington. It is the must see and must do of any visit. The last time we were here it was pouring rain and we ran into the little café there and had lunch. I remembered their chicken, cheese and cranberry sandwiches. (I know, more food stories.) We told our driver that we would stay here for an hour and he noted that with the dispatcher.
The other thing besides the better weather that was different was that the scaffolding was all gone. The new cable car stop was all glass enclosed and very modern looking. It is nice to be able to go inside and watch through the glass as the car comes up or goes down. We didn’t think we had time to ride up and down so we just went into the café. There was my sandwich and just as good as I remembered.
There being some time left in our hour, we strolled into the gardens that are there and took a look at the observatory. There are actually two there but we wondered just how good they were any more. The city lights had certainly gotten brighter since they were built. Bob tried his hand at telling time with the human sun dial. We would have been late if the sun hadn’t finally come out from behind the clouds.
We met the bus on its scheduled stop but found it full. No problem, there was a second one right behind and we could get on that. We did, only to be told after the driver called in that there wouldn’t be space because he had to pick up someone else. As we waited for the driver to coordinate our pickup, I suddenly noticed what looked like a scorpion crawling up my pant leg. I screamed and knocked it down and then found that everyone was enamored with the critter. Turns out it was a weta, a grasshopper relative that doesn’t hop any more. Thankfully this was a female and didn’t have pinchers. In all our visits to New Zealand this was one critter we’d missed. I don’t need to see one again—especially on my leg.
All told there were six of us that stood waiting another whole hour for a bus. Something or rather someone wasn’t keeping records right, or so we were told. “The new guy is gonna have to get it together.” We weren’t terribly upset. We had all day and in the extra hour had made friends with a lady, her husband and two brothers from New Mexico and Colorado. They were cattle ranchers and had traveled extensively. We swapped funny stories about driving experiences in other countries and other travel moments to remember and what was happening back home—our new furnace and her new calves. Before long the hour was up and an empty bus came for us.
A short stop at an old wooden cathedral that was unique and beautiful inside and then an option to get off at the waterfront which we took. It was a beautiful afternoon. Sun shining, the kind that makes you just want to sit watch the water and the activities associated with it. Very relaxing.
We found our way back to the ship’s shuttle and rode back to our home-away-from-home. The one where someone makes your bed every day, cleans your bathroom, puts out fresh towels, and offers food and drink all hours of the day. It’s a tough life.