New Zealand has blown me away for my entire time here, and it’s not about to let me down now that we’re back in the city. Wellington is a fantastic place. Everything about it — the people, the weather, the sights, the food — is so perfect I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling once during my two days here.
When we get back to Wellington after our trip to Lake Taupo / Rotorua, we toil away the afternoon with coffee, a trip to the coolest museum I’ve ever experienced (seriously though, it’s won awards and stuff, it’s amazing), and then at a bar next to an old boatshed that is still in use but looks like something out of an early 1900s movie set.
Few things are capable of making me more content than I am in this beautiful weather after perusing a seriously cool museum, sipping delicious Kiwi coffee, and strolling along the harbor of this incredible city with my wonderful cousin. The nachos we have at this bar, however, are one of those things. They are the most delicious nachos I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve been living in South-Central for three years now. I’m truly at peak happiness at this point.
Road trips are always exhausting, so we decide to hit the sack relatively early tonight, but I stay up a little later to work on my entry to an essay competition. At just past ten o’clock, the ground starts to vibrate. The sliding wood door that separates my room from the rest of the apartment starts to bump frantically against its frame. From deep in the other side of the apartment I hear, “AILISH?!”
I leap up out of bed, stoked to be experiencing my first earthquake since the little one my freshman year (which hardly counts since I would have slept through it had I not been up late studying), but also remembering what Lena told me about the big earthquake that hit here a few weeks ago: it started small and then built up until she and Noel could hardly stay standing. Already, this one started small and built to what it is now…I slide open the rattling door and poke my head out.
The shaking stops.
Across the living room, Lena and Noel emerge from their room looking…well…shaken. “You alright?” Noel asks. “Yeah,” I reply. “Wow that was crazy! You guys alright?” They both nod. After their last earthquake — which literally shook them from their beds — I think this has rattled them more than it has me, the idiot cousin for whom a Kiwi earthquake is practically another tourist attraction. All the same, Lena and I hug it out in the living room, both our hearts pounding, before heading back to bed for good.
After days of early mornings and tight schedules, we take it easy this morning. Noel makes omelettes for Lena and me (and of course for himself), and they are unbelievably good. Normally I’m not much of an omelette person (probably because they always turn into scrambled eggs when I try to make them…), but these are really out of this world. Afterwards, I work a little on my laptop while Lena heads into town to mail some work forms and then we regroup, grab our things, and set out to hike to up to an overlook of the city together.
I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but may I just say that New Zealand is gorgeous everywhere, all the time, forever and always?
The hike is short but sweet: a narrow dirt path with long grass and wildflowers on either side and big, leafy trees towering overhead. I run my fingers through the grass and breath in the fresh air.
Noel doesn’t like hiking (ahem, nerd!) but Lena and I are outdoors soulmates. We traipse up the mountain, chatting between bouts of labored breathing until at last we reach the top and I’m rendered speechless — breath taken away altogether. Up here, we have a panoramic view of all of Wellington: from horizon to horizon, green, gently-sloped mountains tumble into the city and sea; to the left sparkles the glassy, modern buildings of downtown and to the right glitters an unbroken expanse of turquoise water.
I scamper around the concrete platform snapping pictures and sputtering about how unreal this is before finally just giving up and standing there gaping at the view. Having snapped a shot from every angle imaginable, I cozy up to Lena and we get the one shot that matters most…
We take it slow on the hike down, stopping frequently to admire the view of the city and the extraordinary meadows of unkempt grass and wildflowers.
Rather than retracing our steps down the same old path, we decide to take a new trail down to the bottom of the mountain that leads us through a neighborhood of huge, beautiful houses with views of the harbor. The trail, which by now is more a quiet, suburban road, deposits us beside a stretch of beach at the base of the mountain.
We walk along the harbor’s edge, happily enjoying each other’s company and the sound of waves lapping happily at the shore while keeping an eye out for the perfect cafe. It doesn’t take long to find one: within minutes we’ve stumbled across a boat that’s been converted into a cafe. Lena says she’s never been in before, so why not try now?
The interior of the cafe is seriously cool, with steep steps leading every which way and a cozy-looking bar dominating the center of the irregularly shaped room. We’re feeling wild, so we order a slice of flourless chocolate cake to go along with our coffees and grab the best seats in the house: a little table on the ocean-facing side of the ship that lends the feeling of being suspended off the side of the ship (without the obvious dangerous — and rather wet — implications that such a feat would entail).
The coffee and cake are delicious and it’s lovely to just kick back, relax, and enjoy each other’s company, especially in such a trendy (or…erm…“nautical chic”?) venue. I know this is my last day here, and so, though everything is tinged with a sort of bittersweetness (though mostly sweetness, thanks to this truly fabulous cake…), for now life is bliss. We sip our coffees and savor our chocolate cake and watch the waves splash up against the big wall of rocks that first spelled disaster for this boat, which, fortuitously, is now home to enthusiastic young Kiwis and latte foam art rather than lawless mariners and brine-sodden cargo.
Bellies full and minds sharp with caffeine, we decide to return to the museum we explored yesterday. It’s such an amazing museum, you don’t want to skip anything, but since Lena and I both get museum fatigue and can only handle a few hours in a closed, albeit highly enlightening, space before going a bit stir crazy, we’ve split the museum up into multiple visits: we did one floor yesterday, we plan to do one floor today, and then…well…then I have yet another excuse to come back to Wellington soon!
The day today is perfect: breezy and cool and just cloudy enough to keep me from having to worry about getting sunburnt. The sky has brightened a bit since our hike and so our walk over to the museum is absolutely gorgeous, making it almost difficult when we arrive to duck back indoors, away from the sun and the breeze (almost…but truly, this museum is just astounding — I have no complaints).
As anticipated, our chosen floor of the museum blows me away, yet even though we’ve chosen to do just a floor, after a couple hours, we still haven’t seen all of it and have to leave on a cliffhanger about immigration to New Zealand in the 1900s and its implications for indigenous people and the descendents of early settlers….like I said: all the more reason to come back soon.
Next on our last-day-in-New-Zealand agenda is to stake out some good seats at Lena and Noel’s favorite bar, wait for Noel to join us, and then head back to Lena’s apartment in shifts to get cleaned up. Much like the amazing nachos place yesterday, this bar is adorable, with a trendy, locals-only sort of vibe and an cozy, shaded lawn full of small, weather-battered tables and cushy beanbags to sit on.
We stake out a patch of grass, pouncing on abandoned bean bags as our fellow bar attendees come and go, until we have a pretty solid setup. Noel arrives within a few minutes and Lena gives me the key to the apartment so I can go back and make myself look like less of a sweaty mess. Quick-like-a-bunny, I shower, change, pack up everything for my early flight tomorrow morning, and stride back through the busy city streets to the bar with the kind of self-congratulatory swagger one only gets from successfully not getting lost.
Lena and Noel’s friend Sarah and her boyfriend are there when I get back, and I pull up a beanbag and join in on the conversation…and the sangria (I’ve never had sangria before now but wow this stuff is good). We while away the late afternoon with drinks and laughter and then, when our stomachs start to rumble, hike through the lively downtown Wellington crowds to the second-best pizza joint in Wellington, which happens to be closer / less crowded / more open than the first-best (though Lena assures me it’s a tight race and the pizza is still delicious, to which I reply that pizza is pizza and all of New Zealand is perfect, so I’m sure I’ll love it).
I would just like to say that if the second-best pizza joint in Wellington is this good, I don’t even want to know what they put into pizza at the first-best place…by the end of the night I have single-handedly eaten eight slices.
Thus ends my perfect last day in this perfect country. It just about breaks my heart to have to leave my beautiful cousin and her beautiful new home, but there are exciting things waiting in Brisbane — my final destination in what has been a crazy, hectic, inspiring two weeks of adventure. Without a doubt though, I’ll be back. I have hikes to hike, two and a half more floors of a museum to peruse, and some first-best pizza calling my name.
Until next time, New Zealand.