First Up, A Quick History Lesson
New Zealand was discovered by Europeans in 1642. More specifically, it was discovered by a Dutch explorer named Abel Tasman who was working for the Dutch East India Company. Prior to that, the Maori people lived here for around 300-400 years, having come over from other islands in the South Pacific. When they found New Zealand, they called it Aotearoa, which means "long white cloud" in Maori. Today, people of Maori and European descent both live in New Zealand and you can see influences from both cultures as a visitor.
Next Up, Wellington
We spent last weekend visiting the city of Wellington! It is smaller than Auckland and sits nestled in between hills at the very southern part of the north island. To me, it felt a lot like San Francisco --- narrow streets, houses close together painted bright colors, and a feeling of everything being on top of each other.
There are some awesome things to visit in Wellington. We took a cable car up to the beautiful (and free!) Botanic Gardens. We checked out the really well done Te Papa Museum (aka the Museum of New Zealand) (also free!). We walked along the waterfront and tried not to get blown away in the wind -- they do call this city "Windy Welly." We drank beer and sampled some artisan specialty foods -- yum! We toured NZ's parliament building and learned about the government. We visited filming sites for Lord of the Rings. And we toured Weta, the company that did all the special effects for the LoTR movies.
If that sounds like a lot....well, it was. I found we didn't have much of a chance to relax in Wellington and that was getting to me by the end of our time there. There were so many things I wanted to do, it was hard to skip activities in order to relax for longer than an hour or so at a time. By the time we reached Sunday afternoon, I wanted a coffee shop and a book. Unfortunately, hardly anything was open! We wandered past a dozen cozy cafes that were ALL CLOSED. Booo. We went back to our hotel to relax instead before heading out for dinner.
The South Island
Come Monday, it was time to head to the south island. We flew to Christchurch and spent some time exploring the big, beautiful park in the middle of the city. Then it was laundry time!
Part of being away for three months means doing laundry and this was the first experience. It was pretty much the same as doing laundry at home. : )
On Tuesday we hooked up with a group tour we'll be traveling with for 10 days. It's a bicycling trip of the southern island and so far, it's great! We biked along the beach at the Tasman Sea, inland to a small gold-rush town (Hokitika), and now to the Franz Josef Glacier Township. Seeing the sites this way helps me get more up-close-and-personal with the country.
We'll continue exploring the south island on bikes for the next week. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!
PS. Again, I apologize for any typos, I am focusing on content rather than spending too much time proofreading on this trip!