We had the best time when we hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The weather was perfect, the hike was challenging yet doable, and we were able to get away from a busy city and stay in a lodge for a couple nights.
Our accommodations outside of National Park
There were pros and cons to staying in a lodge in the middle of nowhere. Pros: quiet, peacefulness, calmness with nature, and opportunity to meet a lot of other people in the lodge without distractions.
The hallway of the lodge
Cons: No access to food except what you brought. Now this wouldn’t be a big deal if you planned well, but if you were like us and only considered your food for the hike (not the other dinners and breakfasts where you needed food) then you’d be screwed. And screwed we were.
A monster-sized table that was at one point going to be used for the Hobbit movies
The National Park is where we discovered the goodness of the Free Food box in hostels. The Free Food box is normally full of oils, rice, and other basic items. It’s the food backpackers leave behind because they either have no room in their bags to carry it to their next location or they’re just really sick of eating rice.
We ended up taking advantage of the free food box (rice and pasta FTW) plus the bread, bananas, peanut butter, apples, granola bars and tuna lunches that we brought. We weren’t eating much of a diverse diet for those few days; however, it was enough calories to get us through. We weren’t indulging, but we were fine.
Totally carb-loading for the hike the next morning
Also as a side-note: if we really did need food, we could have asked someone at the hostel to drive us 15 minutes to the store or hitch hike there. Hitchhiking is actually super common and safe in New Zealand. We wouldn’t have starved at the lodge.
Anyway, all of this is a long way of saying that once we made it to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, we were really happy to be in a city setting again where it was easy to find and walk to everything we desired.
Wellington was a really cool little city. It had a lot of things to do, but was small enough that we were able to walk everywhere. Wellington is situated at the southernmost point of New Zealand’s North Island on the Cook Strait.
We stayed in Wellington for two nights, but only had one full day in the city. We ended up fitting a lot within that day: we walked through Wellington’s Botanical Gardens, explored downtown Wellington, and then spent the evening along the waterfront and in the National Te Papa Museum.
At this point in our trip we’ve been to lots of botanical gardens, but Wellington’s still ranks right up there with some of the best. The rose garden, in particular, has been the best rose garden I’ve ever seen. I could have spent hours walking around and looking at the different varieties of roses. I started to take pictures and write down the names of my favorites, but quickly realized that the list would never be manageable. Instead I just stopped to enjoy all of the beauty of these sweet blooms.
In addition to the rose gardens, there were great plants and flowers within the conservatories and in other gardens throughout the area.
The peak of the botanical gardens overlooked the city. It was an awesome view. We were right by the location where the cable car runs up and down the city. Wellington is full of hills and steep streets, so the cable car would have been an easy way to get back to the waterfront. We chose to make the walk instead.
The walk down was steep. Again, I’m used to living in a place that’s totally flat, so any sort of incline is new to me.
Once we were in downtown Wellington and closer to the waterfront, we were on a mission to find some food. Doing what we normally do, we just chose a place based on the line out of the door. This ended up being a great plan. We found a sushi a’la carte restaurant where you can pick and choose pieces from a ton of rolls. Prices ranged from $1-$3 a piece. Another plus, since it was in the middle of the afternoon, it was half price sushi. We were both well fed for about $10 USD. This has to become a thing in the US if it isn’t already. Please let me know if you know of places with grab and go sushi.
Enjoying sushi in the park
After enjoying sushi, we explored the Te Papa museum, New Zealand’s National Museum. The museum was fantastic. We learned a lot about sea and wildlife around New Zealand, New Zealand’s history in World War I, past and future earthquakes, and general New Zealand history. At this point in the day my phone had died (I took too many pictures of flowers), but I just want to reiterate how great the museum was. We were really impressed. Admission was also free – another bonus.
Wellington was a great place for us to chill out and explore for a couple days. We were able to really slow down our traveling pace and catch our breath. One of the little things that made me laugh the most was spotting this magnet in our hostel:
It was good to know that fellow Cats fans approve of Wellington too.