Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city, and with a population of 395,000 is only slightly larger than our hometown of London, Ontario. That is where the similarity ends. London has done to itself what many towns and cities in North America have done: it has sold itself to the highest bidder, usually Walmart, and abandoned any pretext of urban planning in order to line its greedy little pockets. The result is a dangerous downtown of shuttered offices and stores, and sidewalks lined with refuse, both material and human. Sporadic attempts to “revitalize” the core are often inconsistent. Bell Canada was encouraged to locate downtown, but then permitted to build a barricade between itself and the street, blocking any public access or social discourse with the street. Where is the civic vision, you may well ask?
Well it is alive and well in Wellington! The core of the city is packed with pubs, cafes, restaurants and nightspots. The streets are jammed with people strolling easily down the avenues wandering in and out of the countless stores and shops. The waterfront has live bands and skateboard parks, museums and art galleries. The parks are spacious and well kept, lanes and paths are lit and swept. Buildings have been artfully preserved and renovated. We particularly liked our little hotel, the Comfort and Quality Inn, not only for its location on the lively Cuba Street, but for its wide staircases and deep, enamel tubs.
We caught the morning ferry (having missed the one the afternoon before; an almost unheard of mental lapse!) to Picton, and enjoyed the cruise across a very placid Cook Strait and up Queen Charlotte Sound. About New Zealand car rentals had our vehicle ready for us and we were on our way in no time, driving through the pleasant vineyards of Marlborough to Nelson and our campsite. After pitching the tent we grabbed our ‘coussies’ and headed to the beach for a swim in the delightfully warm waters of Tasman Bay. Supper back at the site was all we could afford in this very expensive country.
After another fairly cool night which required many applications of blasts of heat from our little appliance, we decided to look in Nelson for some warmer sleeping bags. In the tiny town of Nelson there were four outdoor stores, a testament to the popularity of nature in this beautiful part of the world. We saw lots of sleeping bags; we couldn’t afford any of them. A ‘fly’ for the tent to keep off the rain and keep in the heat cost $300. Just the ‘fly’! After a quick trip to the library (gosh how I miss those things in Southeast Asia) to get caught up on the internet, we hit the road again, this time to the west coast.
Our road began gently, but soon started to climb up into the hills with the switchbacks that have become routine in this part of the world. At the top we stopped for some pictures before beginning the long descent to the coast. This time the road ran through the valley of a river that was a deep aquamarine in colour and absolutely gorgeous. The road was dangerously narrow and down to one lane in part as it hugged the narrow gorge through which the river would occasionally run before widening out again. I loved the drive myself, but I did notice that Pam’s fingernails were pretty much buried in the fabric of the seat beside me. To her credit she let out only a few gasps on some of the trickier sections.
We arrived in Westport in time to pick up a few groceries and set up our tent before heading down to the beach. This time the water was like ice; clear and beautiful but bone numbingly cold. The sand is volcanic in nature, grey-black in colour, and with the white, sun-bleached driftwood logs looked beautiful. Pictures don’t capture it. We splurged on some steaks for supper, it being Christmas Eve and all, but tomorrow it will be back to canned tuna and salad. We have however, booked ourselves a hotel for the coming night to celebrate our Lord’s birthday, and we want to take this opportunity to wish all of our readers a very blessed Christmas Day. May it be a time of warmth and celebration to lighten your hearts.