New Zealand With Kids - Day Six, Lake Taupo, Palmerston North, Wellington

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Up early, we got on the road after a Starbucks pick-me-up and headed off in the pouring rain, south on highway 1. We reached Lake Taupo (pron. toe-paw) in about an hour but the largest lake in Australasia was almost completely cloaked in cloud and rain. So disappointing, and our planned pitstop ruined.

On the road south again, about 40 mins out of Taupo, we hit flash flooding on the highway and our car had to wade through a few hairy dips in the road before things became a little less waterlogged. We were probably only minutes from being cut off, so we were lucky to get through.

In NZ, multilane roads and motorways are few and far between. Be prepped for undivided roads most of the time, making progress slow, especially as roads need to meander through town after town after town. Due to extreme weather conditions, particularly in the south island, roads are also prone to closure, so planning your holiday around weather (snow, ice, rain) is ideal if you can. We presumed the height of summer to be optimal for time on the road, but our trip was threatened several times, so be prepared for this. Carry food and water in the car!

South of Taupo, we stopped briefly at Taihape (pron. tie-happy, and the 'gumboot capital of the world') for a coffee – Brown Sugar was recommended to us but we overshot it and instead got a lattè from Laura’s Café. Go to Brown Sugar instead.

On the road again, we headed south to slightly clearing weather, driving in to Palmerston North (2.5 hours south of Taupo) and a short detour off Highway 1 to see the Te Manawa Museum Gallery which houses a gallery and the NZ Rugby Museum.

Unfortunately, most of it was closed for refurbishment and the Rugby Museum had not yet moved in, so it was a quick lap of the ground floor to see what was on show.

Palmerston North is small and is an industrial-looking university town with not much to see or do, but the gallery was a pleasant highlight.

There are lots of student art and visual art displays which were just fantastic… but overall the town doesn’t seem worth a detour - happy for someone to prove me wrong.

On the road again, we headed south to Wellington (1 hour 45 mins) and it was such a fascinating drive in, onto a multi-lane road (hurrah!) and through a series of cavernous hills, then dipping down into the harbour which comes suddenly and spectacularly into view.

When we entered Wellington, we accessed the city really easily from the freeway which runs along the western side of the city, super close to buildings – almost like an Asian city.

This is a teensy but world-class city. With a huge and beautiful harbour surrounded by boats and wharfs and buildings, and stunning houses dotting the tree-caked hills, Wellington certainly has a really hip, almost Euro-vibe. The city itself is small, easily walked through and experienced on foot, with steep hills running along its western backbone.

For such a hill-sheltered place, the windy city is indeed a wind-swept place – with its famous southerly lashing the harbour front, busy with people enjoying the array of sites on offer. Even on a hot day, the wind is refreshing and cool.

Frank Kitts Park right near Customhouse Quay has a playground for kids (right near the helipad where kids will oggle the bright red sightseeing copters) and there’s a perennial band of brothers jumping from the walkway bridge into the harbour below, even during that frequently cool gale.

This same bridge takes pedestrians over the small inlet to the glorious Te Papa Tongawera (NZ Museum) and Civic Centre which houses the City Gallery (closed), Library and Capital E entertainment centre which has a play area and fabulous activities for kids.

The main shopping and eating areas include the streets around Lambton Street, Cuba (a mall with great bars and eateries), Dixon and Tory Street which is near Courtney Place - a shopping centre and Reading cinema. It seems Wellington hosts every and any store you can imagine, including a typical line up of stores selling touristy paraphernalia. Whitcoulls is NZ’s answer to Borders, and has everything one could need books- or mags-wise (except Martha Stewart Living’s February issue, much to my chagrin).

Wellington has enough gorgeous and historical buildings and streets to be stylish and urban, but enough grunge and time-worn streets and facilities to give the place an edge (but of course, take away the polish that could make it really super beautiful).

Once checked in to our 'delightful' apartment (more soon), we walked down to the waterfront and Frank Kitts Park then along to Te Papa museum, stopping at the nearby Mac's Brewbar for fish and chips and a stunning glass of rosé, a superb draught beer and Mac’s lemon crush for the kids.

We loved this über chic wharf-side pub and went back every night for a drink and/or a nibble of something delicious. With upside down lamps hanging from the ceiling a là Philip Stark’s Lan in Beijing, comfy booths and large windows, we particularly loved the friendly service and the kitsch retro board games on each table.

We even ordered a fabulous round of local fish and chips. Scrumptious.

Back to our room... reluctantly.

Gillmer Serviced Apartments are nestled right in the middle of a thatch of office and hotel buildings, surrounded on all sides, but on a very high hill. To get to the main shopping street below, we were able to take a shortcut through the reception of the City Life Hotel next to us, then travel three levels down in the lift to street level.

Despite the great location, these ‘4 star’ apartments are – in reality – a grubby, ugly, dank establishment, coated in dust, with windows so grimy you could not see out. It was also under suffrance from some pretty lazy housekeeping staff. Not once did the staff wipe down a surface, which was pretty disgusting, and the smell of the apartment was appalling.

We do NOT recommend these apartments. To add insult to injury, they cost the same as any other [gorgeous, clean, well-equipped] apartment we stayed in during our time in NZ. They were so bad, they almost ruined Wellington for us. Luckily this amazing city had enough wonderful sights and experiences to keep our minds above it all.

New Zealand with Kids - Day Three, Auckland
New Zealand with Kids - Day Four, Rotorua
New Zealand with Kids - Day Five, Rotorua
New Zealand with Kids - Day Eight, Wellington
New Zealand with Kids - Day Nine, Inter Islander ferry, Picton, Blenheim, Christchurch
New Zealand with Kids - Day Ten, Christchurch
New Zealand with Kids - Day Eleven, Christchurch
New Zealand with Kids - Day Twelve, Queenstown
New Zealand with Kids - Day Thirteen, Queenstown
New Zealand with Kids - Day Fourteen, Queenstown, Glenorchy, Arrowtown, Wanaka


Anonymous said...

Hi Tania, I am really loving this series about your travels in New Zealand. We are going to Queenstown in August and I wont book anything until we read about your experience. Thanks so much!

howwemontessori said...

I am also loving this series. We started planning a holiday to NZ but got totally overwhelmed with all the options. Thanks for telling it honestly.

Tania McCartney said...

My pleasure, gals! So glad this series will help you learn a little more about this amazing place and carve out the best way to see it with kids. You simply must go! Marie - just you wait for my Queenstown posts - you will LOVE them!

Dani said...

Can them on Trip Advisor luv. That 'll teach them!

Tania McCartney said...

Already did it, Dan!

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