The Quiet Traveller: Day 27 – Wellington

I awoke in the morning to the sound of the German language, and I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and reached for my phone to check the time. I had planned to head up Mount Victoria today with Steph from the Stray bus, who was still in town for another day or two.

As I clambered down from my perch and began to sort out my stuff for the day, the sound of the German language turned to laughing. Not just a chuckle. Proper throaty laughs. I attempted to tune in to what they were saying, but as is often the case with listening to foreign languages, they often sound too fast to understand to the outsider. However, I managed to pick up on several words, including breakfast (Frühstuck), chocolate (Schokolade) and what seemed to be an English word with a lot of emphasis on it – Loser. The final word was slightly disconcerting to hear, but I put it out of my mind and headed out to meet Steph.

Mount Victoria is not as mountainous as it sounds, but it still takes considerable effort to ascend, with the warm Wellington sunshine necessitating several bench stops en route. I chatted to Steph about her cabin crew job as we walked, learning about the importance of always wearing your seatbelt on a flight. She informed me that on occasion planes can simply drop from the sky for a short time, meaning anything unsecured will get thrown upwards. I believe this is due to air pockets or something air related. Anyhow for the rest of my flights I kept my seatbelt on.

Reaching the summit, we were rewarded with some absolutely stunning views. The whole time in New Zealand, you go round a corner and think you’ve seen the best view of the whole trip, and then another view comes along blowing your mind again. It’s like your visual processing brain bits are being repeatedly blown to pieces but in the best kind of way. Unfortunately, being the professional writer/blogger/content creator extraordinaire that I am, I took precisely zero photos of the summit.

That evening, I stuffed my face with a bargain Domino’s deal (a couple of dollars for a pizza), and reflected upon the past week. It felt like I had exhausted all of Wellington’s activities, and as much as I was enjoying New Zealand, I was looking forward to the new challenge of the USA. I had been in Wellington so long and seen so many people come and go from my dorm I felt like a piece of the furniture. Not that you could fit much furniture in said room. I was also a little tired of meeting new people constantly, and as nice as most of them were, my energy levels for them were at a low. A recharge period was needed.

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Note the lack of English flag – probably something to do with these three.

What wasn’t tiring about my situation was the pace of life in New Zealand. I have long held the view that we should learn from the sloth as a human race; well the UK should learn from the Kiwis when it comes to societal pace too.

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The Quiet Traveller: Day 26 – Wellington

Wellington seemed much more alive today, probably because it was a Saturday. However rather than hitting the shops look at stuff I couldn’t afford or carry (you forget you have to carry anything you buy with you around the world), I decided to sign up to a free tour of the NZ parliament for later in the day.

Now the design of the NZ parliament is an acquired taste. The building is known the ‘Beehive’, but quite frankly I think it looks like Dalek with a meth problem.

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This upturned paper waste basket is home to New Zealand’s MPs.

On the other hand, the beautiful Parliament Library building looks like this:

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Clearly, design consistency was not on the agenda of the New Zealand government.

After signing up for the tour and doing all the usual security checks, I exited the building and to my surprise, I was greeted with a small (around 10) group of protesters wielding a number of mostly black banners with what I think were skull logos with ‘RWR’ above them. I gathered they were some sort of neo-nazi white supremacist group, and a quick google later revealed that the ‘RWR’ meant ‘Right Wing Resistance’, which confirmed my suspicions.

Two things struck me about this display of stupidity. Firstly, it was so strange to actually encounter neo-nazis. It’s just one of those things that you don’t physically see day to day. Secondly, at what point do you, as a neo-nazi, look at your BLACK banners with GOTHIC text and SKULLS and not think ‘Are we the baddies?’ Not that all black, gothic, and skull stuff is evil. But in politics, it probably is.

As security began to move them away, I did a Ross Kemp on Gangs and got out of there ‘before things kicked off’.

Upon returning later for my tour, I wondered if they would still be there, but by the time I got back the Beehive they had disappeared, and I was free to enter the building. The parliament tour itself turned out to be rather interesting, though I suppose it helps having studied political systems and being a bit of a geek. Different to the UK system, the NZ parliament has no upper chamber, and voters vote separately for the party in control and their local MP, which seems to me like a good way of doing things.

Something I have always wondered is how many introverts there are in politics. On paper, extroverts seem to be the ideal, but listening is also an important part of being a politician. I wonder what the relationship is between the popularity of a politician and their personality type.

As well as politics, the tour guide also discussed the earthquake-proofing of the building, including the base-isolators, which technically speaking, dramatically reduces the wibbly-wobbly dynamic in the event of an earthquake. Earthquakes, much like quicksand, are one those things that you think are going to be much more of a problem throughout your life. Southern England doesn’t get many of those.

After the conclusion of the tour, I headed back to the hostel for a bit before going out to meet some Stray bus people who were in Wellington for the night. It was good to see my Austrian friend Veronika and to find out how the deep south of the South Island was. Apparently I didn’t miss much as it rained the whole time, which made me feel slightly smug. Well, quite smug.

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 25 – Wellington

‘To awaken in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world’ – Freya Stark. This is printed in my travel journal at the bottom of page of Day 25, and I cannot agree more. There is a unique buzz to waking up in somewhere yet to be explored, much like when a new biscuit variant arises in the nibbles aisle.

This morning I planned to hit up Wellington and New Zealand’s main museum, Te Papa. Several things stood out here; I was particularly impressed by the Gallipoli exhibit, which consisted of telling the story of the New Zealanders who fought there through human sculptures 2.4 times the size of your standard edition human. The attention to detail was incredible – you could see individual hairs on an arm and the beads of sweat dripping down their face.

Another section of the museum contained Maori history, detailing the culture and society of the native people. In some ways, the modern Maori culture reminds me of the Welsh, in that they both have rather niche languages and unique cultural histories. Or maybe it’s just the rugby.

The museum also hosted a ‘Colossal Squid’, which consisted of a giant squid in a glass box. Sadly for the squid, it seemed long dead.

Unfortunately I soon got tired of the museum, as despite on paper being an ideal introvert-friendly place, it really wasn’t. This was mostly due to it being half-term or whatever the Kiwi equivalent is, meaning there were lots of children being very loud and hogging the interactive exhibits. The human child insists on pushing flashing buttons, despite a complete lack of interest in the consequence of pushing said button. A bit like the Donald with the nuclear button. I understand the need to make museums interesting to pull in punters, but sometimes it would be nice to have a simple museum where you just read stuff. Maybe I’m just getting old.

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A wall of people saying nice things. The opposite of Twitter.

After a brief lunch stop for a much needed sandwich, I headed off to my afternoon destination, the planetarium and observatory on the hillside. Very aptly, it is named the Space Place. To get up to the Place, I took the cable car, which took me through a hillside tunnel that seemed to be set up to simulate the mental state of ‘tripping balls’. The cable carriage took me through gently pulsing rings of light cycling through different colours, giving the impression that we were moving a lot faster than we actually were.

I wandered around the astrology exhibits whilst waiting for the planetarium show, which was a refreshing change from the loudness and chaos of Te Papa. The main piece in Space Place was the ornate Thomas Cooke telescope, taking up the whole space of the dome.

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Shiny scope boye.

The show itself was excellent, but I have to say I kept getting distracted by the Kiwi accent of the narrator. Maybe it’s a bit picky, but I think Brian Cox or David Attenborough would have been much better.

As I walked back down the hillside towards the hostel, I pondered how far away from home I was. Literally the other side of the world. Interestingly, I felt rather comfortable and rather in control despite this. I think this was because I had more freedom to get away from people when I wanted, and the fact that my aims of being in Wellington were simply to explore it and have fun. And with a week to do so, there was no rush whatsoever.

I also wondered what I was going to do next in Wellington. Having consulted the god of travel, his mightiness TripAdvisor, it wasn’t promising that a top attraction in the Wellington area was the train out of the city. That’s right, apparently one of the best things to do in Wellington is to leave the city. I would have to search a bit harder for things to do in the next few days.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 24 – Wellington

Helped by the feeble attempts of a humming fan, which served to circulate the hot air around the room more than anything else, I managed to survive the night in what can only be described as a sauna with bunk beds.

Today was the start of a full week in Wellington, so I decided to smash through some travel admin in the morning before properly exploring the city. This essentially meant doing some washing, doing some shopping, and generally making a nest for myself in this new city. After moving around constantly for several weeks, it was refreshing to have a bit of a routine and the opportunity to relax.

To my surprise, the laundry room was a great experience, which is something that cannot be said of the majority of hostel laundry rooms. The majority of hostel laundry facilities look like a detergent bomb has gone off in them, and there’s always something out of order. And of course there’s the laundry room whiff.

Located on the top floor of the building, it had stunning views out over Wellington Harbour. As I stuffed my honking socks into the industrial machines, I gazed into the distance, and couldn’t help notice a slight sway to my frame of vision.

Infamous for its wind, the Wellington weather was making the building move ever so slightly. Upon returning to my dorm, I noticed an addition to the usual health and safety waffle – what to do in the event of an earthquake. It seemed that despite the built up nature of Wellington, nature itself was the overlord here.

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Oh yeah there might be an earthquake. Have a great stay though.

With my shopping and domestic chores out of the way, I headed into the heart of Wellington. My first impressions were one of a generic and heavily business based city, thanks to a number of corporate looking buildings that make up the CBD (Central Business District). However, I managed to escape the corporate jungle and soon found myself down by the harbourside.

At the water’s edge I encountered the Hikitia, a floating steam crane dating from 1926. Now I like history. But it was hard to get excited about a floating steam crane. I doubt anyone has ever got excited about a floating steam crane. I appreciate the efforts that have gone into preserving said steam crane. But at the end of the day, it’s a steam crane.

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Seagull: ‘Now who would like to hear a good story about a steam crane’

Wandering along the shoreline, I came across a much more interesting vessel, the RV Sonne, a German science research ship. It looked sleek and efficient, the epitome of German engineering. Given the location of Wellington and New Zealand itself, I imagine it would have been carrying out science in the Antarctic regions. I like to think that a research ship would be a good place for an introvert to work, given that in the Antarctic the only noise and crowds are breaking ice and penguins.

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Home for the next week.

Upon return to the hostel, I busied myself making some haricots sur le pain grillé. What amazed me was the people faffing with various avocados and concocting complex dishes. As an introvert, and especially as a hungry introvert who has been out all day, I just want to make my food as quick as possible when in a hostel kitchen so I can get to my book and digest and recharge. This was not always the case, sometimes I would stay and chat to people when I had the energy, who are of course generally friendly. I think we often forget that 99% of people are actually quite nice, it’s just the bad ones who get all the media attention. That’s you Donald.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 23 – Wellington (via Cook Strait)

I want to be a seal. No limbs, no responsibility. Kaikoura coastline seals know how to live.

Seal Schedule: (Sealdule)

Wake up, roll into sea.

Roll out of sea, go to sleep.

Repeat.

Departing Kaikoura for the second time, today we were bound for Wellington via the Cook Strait crossing, which meant switching from a four wheeled vehicle to a sea-going vessel. The Cook Strait is the gap of briny deep between the North and South Island, and is notorious for its unpredictability and often rough conditions. The Bluebridge ferry company would be given the honour of shuttling myself and others, vehicles, and cows across the strait on a fine grey day down under.

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Looking out for pirates. Spoilers – there were no pirates. 

Leaving the South Island, the vessel crept through the sea inlet, passing through lush green land on either side. Upon reaching the open ocean, I could see and feel why the Strait had earned its notorious reputation – the wind kicked up, and I clung a little more tightly to the railing. It was a refreshing way to travel though, having spent many hours on buses and planes in the past few weeks. I spent most of the voyage up on the helicopter landing deck, as it provided some shelter from the wind but still had great views.

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Departing the South Island. Feat. cows.

I didn’t have much time to look round the city upon arrival, so I hit up the supermarket opposite my hostel and found my room. Being in Wellington for a week and not being on the move every meant I could save some money by making use of a fridge and freezer – something which I was very excited about as it meant I could have a proper brewski, especially after the debacle at Rangitata.

My room was for six people and to be fair, was fairly roomy. But it was hot. It might have been too hot. I could feel the moisture in the air. This was gonna get sticky. Despite the immediate temperature issue, I was looking forward to exploring a new major city tomorrow. And to have a lie in – lie ins are actually a rare thing if one is moving everyday on the Stray bus.

This time roommates consisted of a couple of northern lads from Derby and Newcastle who were off to the pub, and Eden, a hippy Canadian girl who had with her a skateboard and a copy of ‘Big Magic’, a self-discovery book written by the author of ‘Eat Pray Love’. You shouldn’t judge people, and I myself was on a self-discovery expedition of sorts, but this person was a walking, talking, cliche.

I appreciated the AESTHETICS of carrying a skateboard around whilst travelling, but the impractical nature of it irritated me beyond belief. Firstly, hostels rarely have half-pipe facilities. Secondly, they’re fairly heavy. And finally, practicality > edginess. Maybe I’m just getting old.

I was being slowly roasted like a chicken in the room. Imagine those slowly roasting rotisserie chickens you see at the Tesco’s that do hot food, except the Tesco’s is in geostationary orbit around the Sun. That was me and my roommates enduring the sweatbox of a dormitory.

No amount of twisting and turning would provide relief from the crushing humidity. I turned my thoughts to icebergs, closed my eyes, and attempted to sleep. Tomorrow I would seek out a fresh oasis, one liquid version from the corner shop, and one quiet introvert one, within the bustle of the new city.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 22 – Kaikoura (2)

Due the circular nature of my route around the Southern Island, I was now re-entering previously explored territory on my way back up to the ferry terminal in Picton. This wasn’t such a bad thing though- it meant traversing through Kaikoura once again; a fate I was more than happy to accept.

It was a horrifically early start leaving Rangitata. So early that it was still dark outside. So early that it was 6:15am. No-one should be awake at such a time. This early arising put me in a miserable mood, and combined with the lack of a shower, multiple insect bites, an overly warm room, and a general fed-upness with being around people, it put me in the foulest of foul moods.

So I thought to myself, ‘you know what you need Simon? You need a cup of tea. That’ll sort you out.’ And my internal monologue version of Simon was right. I did indeed need a cup of tea. So I queued up with a cup and waited for my turn at the hot water boiler. To clarify, the tea was free and provided by the lodge.

I was just dropping my bag in the tea, when I noticed the woman next me draining the last of the milk into her own tea. ‘There might be some more in the fridge’ she half-heartedly muttered.

Picture the scene. I’m standing there with my milkless tea, after being told by a fellower traveller that I should go find some more milk. This traveller in question was another Brit. So naturally, I go and check the fridge.

Luckily there was another carton of milk in the fridge, so I opened it up and poure- THERE WAS NO MILK LEFT AND THIS PERSON CLEARLY KNEW AND DIDN’T CARE THAT I WAS GOING TO BE LEFT MILKLESS.

What sort of animal uses the last of the milk when it’s clearly in short supply. And it’s 5:45am. And the person in question is fellow Breton, from a country where tea is known to have magical healing properties that go beyond the known dimensions of the space-time continuum

This is why we have lost our humanity.

To add to my misery, when we got on the coach an absolute gogglemoose in front of me was on their phone with full brightness on. This meant it reflected off the window next to me, blinding me and preventing me from seeing the stars unhindered by light pollution. Some days people are just too much. Luckily I knew that at Kaikoura I could get away and do introvert stuff by myself. That kept me going that hideously early morning.

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Kaikoura looking lush. Look at that sea fog. Love a good sea fog. And a bit of bush.

I was pretty desperate for a recharge. My mind wandered whilst on the coach, and I thought about castles for a bit. Don’t ask me why, they just popped into my head. Partly because of the lack of them. When I think about it, we actually take our castles in Europe for granted. The UK is chock full of em.

But in Australia, NZ, and the USA, castles are in short supply. And old stuff in general. The minster in my town is from the 1200s or something. And it’s strange to think that places like NZ are whole countries but they don’t have anything that we would really consider a castle.

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Here’s me looking awkward. What’s awkwarder? The couple sitting on the beach ruining my photo.

Occasionally whilst walking through Kaikoura, you will hear what can only be described as an impending nuclear apocalypse.

Upon hearing the siren the first time, my mind panicked, first assuming a nuclear attack (despite Kaikoura being of zero strategic importance), followed by a tsunami (much more likely), followed by a hasty google to find out the source of the screeching.

The googling revealed that the fire brigade broadcast a warning klaxon whenever its fire fighters are needed on duty. This means they can rush to the station, but it also means traffic (of which there is little) is aware that a large red rectangle may soon be appearing in their rear view mirror.

I think this klaxon could have a number of applications in England, and after much thought I have come up with a top five:

  1.  Klaxon for when it’s warm enough to go outside in shorts and t-shirt.
  2.  Klaxon for when schools finish, nightclubs kick out, and when old people emerge to collect their pensions. (Ok that’s 3in1).
  3. Klaxon for when McDonald’s Monopoly season begins.
  4. Klaxon for when a truly fresh and truly zesty meme has been created.
  5. Klaxon for when Vincent Janssen scores from open play.

 

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 21 – Rangitata

At Mount Cook, there was nothing there, and it was therefore glorious. At the next stop, Rangitata Rafting Lodge, there was nothing there, but it wasn’t exactly glorious.

This single night stop was so those who had signed up for the white water rafting could throw themselves down a furious stream of H2O. For everyone else however, this meant a lot of waiting around. The location was pleasant enough and isolated away from the nearest town – we were instructed to buy provisions on the way in.

In a certain twist of irony, I found myself missing the hustle and bustle of the city. At least in the city there are restorative niches and escape routes from people; out in the sticks I was stuck with strangers I had only just met. Which is fine, but not when you’re starting to get tired of people.

What surprised me the most about the accommodation was the triple decker beds. That’s right, TRIPLE bunk beds. Unfortunately being one of the last ones in, I ended up in a corner on the top bunk, with my face engaging in pleasantries with the ceiling. However, I soon discovered that this was actually quite a nice experience, as I was so high up it was like my own private area away from the street level below me. It’s always nice when something unexpectedly lends itself to your introvert tendencies.

I spent most of the day reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in anything. But then I always recommend all Bill Bryson’s books, so then who am I to say?

Whilst reading on the Lodge veranda, I noticed some new Brits who had recently joined the bus sitting on a bench further down the entrance path. How did I know they were Brits? Shirts off. Bucket hats. Stella. Fags. The traditional exports of Her Maj’s islands. In general the people on this bus were not quite as fun or interesting as the last. But hey, I wasn’t going to see them again so I decided to just get on with it.

I chatted with Cookie (the driver) for a bit, and discovered that he joined Stray as a driver simply because it was offered as an opportunity to him and he thought ‘why not?’. Apart from the fact that NZ is a lot sunnier than Donegal, I believed him. The opportunity arose and he took it. Being a driver seems like a stressful job at times, given that you have to shepherd an ever-changing flock of often smelly and sweaty tourists who never seem to be on time. But on the other hand, the view out the office window is unbeatable. And sometimes you get to join in the activities. And the beverages.

There wasn’t really a lot going on at Rangitata. But I had noticed that my note-taking was getting much better. It was becoming a habit, and I was learning to memorise useful observations in a much more effective manner than the first few weeks. And much like cocaine, the habit was rather addictive. First I did a line. And then another. And then before I knew it, I had a full notebook. Don’t do sentences kids.

(The featured image is from the journey to Mount Cook – that’s how boring Rangitata was – I didn’t take any pictures)