New Zealand with Kids - Day Eight, Wellington

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Today we dropped in to the Botanical Gardens once again to see the Lady Norton Rose Garden we had missed yesterday, and the chance to drop onto the indoor garden – so so soooooo worth it.

The outdoor garden was full to bursting with divine blooms. 10-year-old Ella took advantage of honing her photographic skills, and all of the above belong to her. I mean, how could you miss this garden? You can even sit outside in the sunshine with your dog and his silver bowl, have a cup of tea and soak in the blooms.

And if you're really lucky, you'll come across one of these astounding bumble bees - enormous, fat and juicy and fuzzy - like something out of a storybook.

We also wandered into the greenhouse nursery where I drooled over the heavenly 1920s garden tea party floral display of begonia – it was truly like a scene from an exquisite Deco film – I was breathless. My apologies, in advance, for the ensuing flower slide-show. It's a must-see.

Can you even believe how beautiful? Please dear God, can I have this at my house?

As 10 o'clock struck, we headed straight to Zealandia, an ecological wonderland of nature just south east of the city centre (about a 20 minute walk from the Botanical Gardens).

Essentially, it’s a nature sanctuary that has eradicated all introduced species and contains only native New Zealand wildlife, including endangered species. The wildlife is kept in check (or rather, introduced species are kept OUT) by a quite incredible mesh fence that runs for something like 8km around the parkland.

Zealandia’s new state-of-the-art exhibition, over two floors, hosts large screen films and beautifully presented visual and interactive information on New Zealand’s unique plant and wildlife species. The building itself – made of steel and wood – is stunning architecturally and there’s a touchingly beautiful line-up of wooden cut-outs featuring extinct animals lining the walls of the stairs between floors (above right).

Inside, there is some absolutely fascinating reading, short videos and interactive touch screens for adults and older children, and even a faux moa that can raise its head and bellow on command, but children under 7 or 8 will be lost and/or quickly bored.

Like most NZ attractions, entry to Zealandia is costly and I’m sorry to say not great value for money unless you’re a die-hard nature nut. Although quite beautiful, the sanctuary area is probably not much different to a walk amongst the trees in any of NZ’s myriad nature reserves (which, incidentally, are free) and you’ll need to be awfully patient and stationary and quiet to hear or see much wildlife (unless you’re keen to sight a moth, a duck or common minor bird).

Thanks to a thatch of noisy American kids and a band of mummies with babies and a toddler careening along the pristine trails on a thundering plastic push-bike (!?), there was little chance we could have seen some precious native wildlife, even if we’d had the time and patience to try.

If you’re still happy to pay the NZ$71.50 family entry fee and support this admittedly impressive cause (which is also supported by a notable list of corporate sponsors), Zealandia is indeed an opportunity to hike some inspirational natural trails over creeks, a lake, river and dam, take an electric boat ride on the lake, and the potential to witness local fauna (we saw caged lime-green geckos and caged weta, and managed to bear witness to just two naturally wild fauna – a moth and a parrot).

The aim of Zealandia, as self-stated, is to return this nature reserve to its pre-human-history state… a task they believe will take 500 years. When leaving the park, you’re encouraged to come back again to see how much it has changed. Although we did enjoy the experience and believe in what the owners are trying to achieve, we’ll be happy to wait the 500 years before returning again.

In the afternoon, keen to avoid our horrid Wellington (see Day Six) apartment at all costs, we jumped in the car and took off around the coastal road east of Wellington – a gorgeous drive starting at Oriental Beach just east of the city and continuing round in a big loop, past a stunning line up of bays and points – some areas coated with some extraordinary Cape Cod style homes clambering up the hillsides. We even passed a NZ movie making area with what appeared to be a miniature Universal Studios, right on the point.

the view back towards Wellington city
We stopped at Scorching Bay for a swim in the bracing water… well, the kids swam… with a stunning mountainous backdrop and the slow meander of ships and Inter Islander vessels passing by and through the heads to Cook Strait.

This beach is truly beautiful and although the water was quite cold (it was summer - January), the kids loved it, and it was quite surreal seeing them swim with such untouched natural beauty as their backdrop.

New Zealand has less than 4.5 million - less than the population of Sydney - and it frequently struck us how unpopulated and untouched the land is - even minutes from capital cities. Travelling around the country is quite a remarkable opportunity to see this rare phenomenon. 

look carefully - you will see the mountain south Island in this photo
After an ice cream, we continued on driving around the entire winding peninsula. At the very southern point, it was a joy to glimpse the arching mountains of the South Island, hazy in the distance. Such stunning coastal land - strewn with a collection of volcanic rocks, like crumbled chocolate.

Back in town, a 15 minute walk took us downtown to Reading cinemas where we ate sushi, drooled over books at Whitcoulls and bought tickets to Yogi Bear (don’t bother unless you’ve been raised on a solid diet of tacky, predictable writing and antithesis-of-funny US humour).

Afterwards, we headed to our main haunt, the Brew House, down on the waterfront and played cards in a booth, nibbled nachos and downed some more of that incomparable NZ vino, beer and lemon crush.

Back tothe hell house, we ungratefully settled our account (they had the hide to charge us for parking) then side-stepped the grime and packed our bags for a quick morning getaway. Hearts in our throats - South Island here we come!

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


Tiny Concept said...

OK I am officially too jealous to read any more - please tell me your wonderful trip is coming to an end!!!! It gives me some hope that trips will be this good when P & M are all grown up like E & R!

Rosalind said...

some of my favourite flower photos are in the Christchurch botanical gardens - I had my macro lense and went nuts! Got one of those bumble bee shots too :-) soo cute

Anonymous said...

beautiful - the water is so blue! I actually know someone who lives here!! TB

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