If there’s one thing I wanted to do in New Zealand (other than catch up with friends and family), it was a road trip. While I initially planned to go down south to Queenstown, my mum suggested a road trip from Christchurch to Wellington, invited my brother along, and suddenly it was a family affair.
We left on Friday, at 7.30 in the morning. My brother is on his restricted licence and needs the practice, so he drove a fair amount, giving me the chance to marvel at how dry the summer had been, and take photos along the way.
I hadn’t seen the sea in eighteen months, and after being lucky enough to live by the water for 24 of my 26 years, I hadn’t realised just how much I was missing it.
This was my first time taking the ferry across the Cook Strait, and my first time having a good look around Wellington. Last time I was there for a sports tournament and only got to see the inside of a hall, so I was pretty excited.
The ferry was surprisingly comfortable. I say surprisingly, because my boat standards are pretty low after traveling in Asia. There was wifi onboard, so we made a beeline straight to the bar and camped out with snacks and drinks.
The views were excellent, and it was the perfect day for leaning over the rail and taking photos.
Once in Wellington, we checked into the Abel Tasman Hotel. Our initial room was a bit dingy, and we were located in the worst possible place- surrounded by 18 year old backpackers. Since we were planning to do all our sightseeing in one day, we asked to switch rooms after being kept awake all night by drunken shrieks and bad ukulele playing.
Turns out it was a group tour, and the Abel Tasman kindly upgraded us, even leaving us a little treat:
The Weta Workshop Tour
One of the things I was most excited to do was visit the Weta Workshop. This is where all of the props for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were made, and the workshop itself is located in the suburbs in Miramar. The Weta Cave has a whole bunch of merchandise available for sale, and you can take a tour through the rest of the workshop.
Unfortunately you can’t take photos inside, as they’re in the process of making a lot of props, but believe me when I tell you it is well worth a visit.
Golly, golly Gollum!
Hobbit feet…just what every girl needs!
Our tour guide was a South African guy who swung a prop sword in his hand, made tons of dodgy jokes, and entertained our group with lots of information about the process, the company, and the films, including funny stories about the costumes and filming on set.
Te Papa Museum
Next up was Te Papa. This is a huge, free museum in Wellington, and while I’m not a huge museum person, this is one of the best museums in New Zealand.
The place is huge, and they had some excellent exhibits which were really interesting, including some about gay rights in New Zealand, refugees, immigration, and women’s rights. I especially liked the hands on approach they took, particularly this machine which tells you whether you would have been accepted into New Zealand in 1996. I wouldn’t have.
Riding the Cable Car
Finally it was time for a ride on the cable car. I had built this up in my head to be much cooler than it actually was (it’s a tiny hill in a residential suburb). If you’ve ever ridden the cable cars in San Francisco you may want to skip it, although it’s a nice view of Wellington if you’re lucky enough to get good weather.
Wellington is full of hipsters, which means great (if overpriced) coffee, weird, yet cool shops, and lots of men with beards. It’s definitely a good place for a weekend, although I found the prices shockingly expensive after living in Asia.
On the way back I made sure we constantly stopped for photo opportunities. New Zealand is incredibly beautiful, and you’ll kick yourself if you don’t bring a decent camera.
What you should know
If you’re driving from Christchurch to Wellington (or in the opposite direction), you’ll need to decide if you want to take your car with you. It costs a lot more, and most travellers who have hired a car or camper van will drop it off in Picton and then pick a new one up in Wellington.
You can book tickets for the InterIslander here, and there are plenty of sailings both ways each day. Be sure to leave your hostel or hotel an hour earlier than you think you need to, especially if you’re travelling during the weekend (an hour and half if it’s a public holiday) since you’re likely to end up stuck behind someone driving 80km in a 100km zone and passing lanes can be few and far between.
The drive is beautiful, so make sure you don’t need to rush and you can stop off in a few different places. The best spot to see the seals is just before Kaikoura (or after, if you’re driving North).
While the cable car ride isn’t that great, it’s only a few dollars and you’ll find a cable car museum and gift shop at the top.
We bought tickets for the Weta Workshop tour online on the morning we went, although in the summer months you’ll want to book at least two or three days earlier. Tickets were $24 and we managed to find a bus which left from the centre of town and took us almost right to the door, although you can pay a little more for a transfer there and back.