A note from H&J: We’re experimenting with how we approach/organize these blog posts. If you have an opinion one way or another as to what works, please let us know! Otherwise, thank you for your patience while we get the hang of this blogging thing while we’re on the road.
After our scenic drive down the 45, Jeremy and I were jonesing for some beachside camping for the night. We were headed for Martinborough, which is a small wine-producing region about 1.5 hours east of Wellington, but we pulled over for the night since Martinborough was still 3 hours away. Our map showed that Otaki Beach, which is about 60 km north of Wellington, had a holiday park where we could stay so we pulled off the main road to settle for the night. I believe you can officially mark this as the point at which we became holiday park snobs. After our gorgeous beach-side camp spot in New Plymouth, the holiday park in Otaki, while perfectly adequate, was not close enough to the beach for us (two blocks away from the shore rather than directly wave-side). So, we decided to find a nice spot along the shore and “freedom camp.” This is what Kiwis call it when you just pull over to the side of the road and settle in for the night, and we haven’t done a lot of it since our van doesn’t have a toilet or shower. But hey, life’s too short for two-blocks-from-the-beach camping.
In general, it seems that the further south we go, the nicer the holiday parks get in terms of location, amenities, etc. At this point, the holiday park in Raglan seems almost like a dump compared to some of the other locations we’ve stayed in!
For our first time freedom camping, we did a pretty darn good job picking a spot. We sat on the beach, cooked our dinner, and watched the incredible sunset over Kapiti Island. We’ve subsequently seen this exact same scene replicated in art prints and paintings! Hey, when it’s good, it’s good.
The next day we headed straight for Martinborough. This area is mostly known for its Pinot Noir, but like Marlborough (on the northeastern side of the south island), it also produces a pretty darn good Sauvignon Blanc.
It was a very different experience tasting here vs. the Northern California wineries. First of all, the wineries are tiny here! You can walk from vineyard to vineyard (though we were the only people doing so), and some of the wineries are as big as the Napa Valley parking lots! Overall, we didn’t love the Pinots here…they tasted young to us, almost grassy. And while we don’t usually like the super-bold Napa or Sonoma valley varietals either, we wished there was a little more richness to the wine in Martinborough.
We tasted at Schubert Winery and the popular Ata Rangi, but the one standout was Alana Estate, where we stopped for lunch as well. They had a 2006 Pinot and a 2008 Pinot they were tasting, and both were incredible. I was skeptical about the 2008 since I am usually suspicious of wines produced in the same year you are tasting them, but for a hot summer day, Alana’s 2008 Pinot was perfect. The food here was great too.
BTW, we stayed at Martinborough Village Camping (www.martinboroughcamping.com), which was fantastic. Though it was not beachside, the grounds were in a beautiful rural setting, and the place was super clean and well kept.
The next day, we headed for New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington. Wellington is a super compact little city (they advertise that you can walk from one end of the CBD—Central Business District—to the other in 20 minutes), and it is known for having a thriving arts culture. As you can see, they really do pack those buildings in there:
Our first day in the big city, we checked out Te Papa museum (www.tepapa.govt.nz/), which is a museum about the history, art, and culture of New Zealand. The exhibits and signage are all in English as well as Maori, which I thought was really cool. The art floor is really well curated, and I loved seeing historical colonial vs. Maori art and how each influence the other. The interesting thing was that colonial art from New Zealand was executed in pretty much the same way as it was in Europe (just with a different landscape), whereas Maori art immediately began taking on some European flavor. There was some really interesting modern art in the museum as well.
We also really enjoyed the floor with native Maori art. The photo below was taken in a reproduction of a Maori hut:
The city of Wellington is really cool. We walked up and down Cuba Street, which is a long street full of vintage shops, design stores, and boutiques full of refashioned clothes—very similar to the Haight. I LOVED this street, though it was a bit torturous, as there were tons of cute clothes and design-y type curios but I couldn’t buy anything. In particular, I loved Iko Iko (cute design store), Hunters & Collectors (amazing vintage shop), Madame Fancy Pants (all handmade goods), and Frutti (really amazing refashioned clothes).
The coolest part about this cool city was its proximity to an amazing coastline. Jeremy and I drove along the shore out of the city, along several different bays. When we got to the end of the road, there was a large park with hiking trails and an incredible rocky shore. Jeremy and I kept saying that if Wellington was in California, a gorgeous place this close to the city would be overrun with people (on a Sunday, no less!). But the beach was practically empty. Jeremy went for a run down one of the trails and I hung out, checking out the tidepools.
We adore Wellington and of all the places we’ve been to in New Zealand so far, this is the one place we could see ourselves living. Hmm…maybe when we retire?