City Travels - Wellington
From Rotorua, I headed to Wellington.
I was there from June 16th to June 23rd.
All prices are given in New Zealand dollars.
I booked another bus with Intercity for about 30 dollars. I got a very small discount on my bus ride as I used my reward points from my ride to Taupo by being a member of their Intercity Rewards program. I haven't received any spam messages or anything from being a member of this program, so I would recommend joining it if you're traveling with Intercity. Joining this program also grants you easy access to your bus tickets via the InterCity App on your cell phone.
This bus route was running late. I was on the southbound version of the bus that I took from Taupo to Rotorua. While it was only 5 minutes late *gasp; horrors* picking me up, that was because I was at the start of the route. We arrived an hour later than expected into Wellington. This bus also for some reason was labeled 'Tranzit' instead of InterCity, which is fine. But the cell phone app has a feature saying 'This is what your bus looks like!' This feature said it would be a normal InterCity bus. Why have that feature if it's wrong? Also, this bus didn't have wi-fi, even though the northbound bus did. Not a big deal, but inconsistent.
A Place to Stay
I stayed at the YHA Wellington. I ended up in Wellington on the weekend of a very important rugby game taking place in town: The All Blacks VS Wales. I, by luck, got one of the last beds in the city. This YHA has many, many bed: six floors worth. There were eight beds left in all of Wellington when I booked a week in advanced. Because of the lack of options, I paid more than I usually would for a bed, and my total for seven nights was ~$230. Keep an eye on those rugby games: they'll book up an entire town.
I'm going to start off by complimenting the hostel and just New Zealanders in general with the handeling of the rugby game. Going into town, I didn't expect to sleep Saturday night knowing this game was going on. The hostel had signs up warning people not to get crazy, especially under the influence of alcohol, if they wanted to keep their room for the night. That certainly would be an issue during a big football game, and I expected it to be. I figured people would be crazy, and everyone would be drunk and rowdy.
I didn't hear any shouting from the streets; I didn't hear any craziness in the hallways. There weren't even people watching the game in the TV lounge. I ended up watching Sweeny Todd with a handful of other girls. There is no way that night would have been so smooth in America. Well played.
And this wasn't because it's a super quiet hostel. I stayed in a six-bed mixed dorm, and people rotated through the room fairly quickly. The doors to the bathroom and the rooms slam quite loudly, and the hostel has this on a list of things to fix within the next month (which is a nice list to see!). You can also hear people talking in the rooms next to you, and in the hallways quite clearly. That being said, people are pretty good about being quiet at night.
The beds were comfortable, and the rooms were warm. The bunk beds shoot a little when they were climbed, but they weren't the typical flimsy black metalic bunks. They had wooden poles that made the beds a little more stable. It was somewhere in-between the bunks you'd find at a Haka Lodge and those flimsy black bunks. There was also a desk in the room with a surprisingly comfy chair. However, there was absolutely no in-room secure storage. They wanted you to pay for a locker on the first floor: using your own lock wasn't an option. Also, considering the size of the hostel, there weren't that many lockers. But, I didn't notice the lockers being used heavily either.
The bathrooms were kept clean. There were gender-separated bathrooms on each floor, and there were two toilets and two showers. The toilets and showers are kept in their own little 'rooms' rather than stalls, with a full wooden door as a barrier. Because of this, each nook even has its own light switch. There are three sinks to the side of the toilets and showers, but not a lot of counter space. However, they have rails you can hang your clothes from. They also provide a hair dryer AND a hair curler.
The showers have a mirror on the back of the wooden door (which is awesome) right beside the changing area. There is also a bench you can pull down if needed in the changing area, but I didn't use it. The shower is separated from the changing area by a curtain and a fairly tall metallic plate, so the shower cannot flood into the changing area. This is a very good think, because although the shower was clean, it did not drain well. I ended up having to shut off the water while bathing to make sure I wasn't walking around in a footbath. And it took a while to drain: it wasn't fully drained by the time I finished changing (and I don't take long showers, maybe 7 minutes). On the positive, the showerhead is also one that you can hold in your hand and aim wherever you please, and otherwise clean.
The hostel has many amenities, which is quite awesome. They have a TV and a beautiful view in the laundry room and a small sitting area with two couches and another view on the sixth floor. Unfortunately, you will spend much time sitting in there, because the dryers are terrible: it took 120 minutes and $8 to dry my clothes.
On the ground floor, they have a game room, a separate TV room, and a separate reading room. I didn't check out the game room, but the reading room had a 'take a book, leave a book' shelf, mostly filled with foreign language books, and two couches. The TV room had many DVDs to choose from, and several couches to relax on. There is also a couch in the dinning room, and a couple in the entry way of the building. These are great for lounging on and watching YouTube at night.
While the hostel has free, unlimited wi-fi (even for non-YHA members, and, yes, no data cap; they've changed their policy, but not updated their documentation) throughout the hostel, it does not reach very far into the reading and video lounges, which is slightly disappointing. The wi-fi also tends to bog down horrifically after 9PM, but is generally fine.
There are two kitchens: a normal looking hostel kitchen and the flag kitchen. These kitchens are both on the ground floor, and kept fairly clean. I did not cook in the flag kitchen, but there are many dining tables in there and you are allowed to. The normal kitchen is very well supplied, including things like an electric can opener and a rice cooker. It also has gas stovetops...of which 60% don't stay lit. So, that's safe. Considering the size of the hostel, I thought the kitchen could be packed, but it never was. The food storage shelves weren't even halfway full. I think a lot of families and big tour groups stay here, and they don't tend to use the kitchen.
The building is very centrally located, about a five minute walk from Te Papa. However, it can be a bit of trek from the train station; it took me about 25 minutes to walk from where the bus dropped me off to the hostel. However, I was catching the Interislander ferry on the way out of town, and there is a $3 backpacker's shuttle directly to the ferry port that saved me from having to make that trip back.
Staying in this hostel kinda felt like staying in a college dorm, which I consider a good thing. I wasn't originally going to stay here because they don't advertise they have free wi-fi, and it sounded like it would be packed, just based on the size of the building. But I really enjoyed my stay here, and am quite impressed. I would stay here again.
I'd also like to note, for anyone interested, this is an extremely handicap-accessible hostel. There are two elevators, and my floor at least had a specific wheelchair-accessible bathroom, separated from the normal bathrooms, but nearby. If that is something you need to consider, you should certainly check out this hostel.
I started out my time in Wellington climbing Mt. Victoria. I continued my tradition of doing things the hard way by accidentally climbing up a black diamond mountain biking trail. Once again, I apparently enjoy walking uphill. Or I got lost. But I made it. My suggestion is to follow the trails to the left , not the right. Those are more walker friendly. But, the view was spectacular, as you can see all sides of the city. I do recommend going during nice weather though, as it is extra windy at the top of the mountain.
After climbing a mountain, I took a different way down and ended up on the walk along harbor. This trail is called Oriental Parade. There are many fancy homes, and this walk reminds me a lot of San Francisco. It can be a long or short walk depending, I didn't stray too far past the beaches. The views of the harbor and beaches are beautiful though, and I could see this being a popular place in the summer.
I also stopped by the i-site and the art museum. The art museum is small (and free), but they had an interesting exhibit called 'Bullet Time' which featured slow motion photography. The i-site also has a few things to look at in it, including a few movie props. These two locations are located in the same area, which you can reach by following the writer's walk.
The Writer's Walk is a outdoor trail, so to speak, outlined with quote about Wellington written by writers. Some quotes are harder to spot than others, but they can be fun to look for. If you want to be sure to see them all, download the Welly Walks app and follow the markers there.
The Writer's Walk will also take you past Te Papa Museum. This is a huge museum you can easily spend a whole day exploring, for free. They have nature exhibits, and information on the Maori, and information on immigrants. They also had a huge exhibit on soldiers fighting in WWI, and an art gallery on the top two floors. I'd certainly recommended this as a must see, although you may want to save it for a rainy day as it is a large, indoor activity.
There are other free museums in Wellington: The Wellington Museum is a well presented history of New Zealand culture, and some naval history as well. There is also the Cable Car museum, which is a small museum that had two cable cars and even the chamber where the rope that pulls the cable car is cranked. This museum is accessible if you take a ride on the cable car, however, the car was closed for repair when I was visiting the city. Instead, I visited the cable car museum when I was exploring the botanical gardens.
The Wellington botanical gardens are huge and fun to explore even in winter. Though there are less blossoms than in the spring or summer, the trees are well laid out and there are many signs describing what you are looking at. You could spend a whole day exploring these gardens. There is also a greenhouse that is open year round if you do want to make sure you see some flowers.
There were several markets to explore in Wellington. While I was there, there was a temporary evening Noodle Market, which had a bunch of Asian food available from 4PM onward. This may or may not be a re-occurring market, it was the first time they did it. There are several markets that occur weekly. On Friday and Saturday evenings, Cuba St. has a small market with a variety of street food and buskers to listen to, On Saturday mornings, there is the Wellington Underground market, which focuses on crafts, but there are also a few food stands. On Sunday, there is also a farmers market with a wide variety of street foods to try outside of Te Papa. Unlike in most towns, all of these markets were going on even though I visited in winter. I didn't buy anything, but they were fun to wander through.
If you visit the Cuba St. Market, you may also explore the shops and stores on Cuba, Manners and Dixon St. I would call those the 'cool' streets of the city. There's lots of shops and restaurants in an area that manages to not feel sketchy, Auckland. It can be fun just to walk around these areas.
I did end up at a bar, for a special event. I was in Wellington the week after the shootings at a nightclub in Orlando, which deeply affected the LGBT community. A cabaret bar in Wellington called Ivy threw a special drag show night as a fundraiser. The show was amazing, and the staff was friendly. However, I did not go on a normal night; heck, I was there on a Sunday evening when the bar usually isn't even open. So while I can't speak for Ivy's normal service, I can say that this special event was well hosted and recommend the bar if you're looking for a local gay bar. Also, they were totally playing Postmodern Jukebox as their background music, which is an automatic way to this girl's heart.
My last day, I went to Wellington Zoo. I really wanted to see a kiwi. I had chosen to go to the zoo over Zealandia, as I'm not that big of a bird person, and thought I'd see a kiwi for sure if I went to the zoo.
Ha ha haa, oh plans, how fleeting you are.
The kiwi house was closed for renovation, so that didn't work out. While a cute, little zoo; there's nothing that outstanding about it. But, I did get to watch a lion eat like right in front of the window, so that was pretty cool. The zoo has a student discount, meaning the trip only cost $16, which slightly made up for the disappointment.
Wellington is extremely walkable. I was dropped off by an InterCity bus at the train station, and could have easily taken a cab to the hostel, but I decided to be cheap instead. I would have taken a cab if it was raining, since I was hauling my luggage. There is a city bus system, but I never really felt the need to use it as everything is so close.
There is a shuttle provided by Interislander that runs from the YHA Wellington hostel to the Interislander ferry port. It only cost $3 and I would recommend it as that is an even further trek than to the train station. This shuttle is specifically for backpackers (and people the bus picks up at the train station.) You should take advantage of this if it fits your situation. You can book this shuttle at the front desk of the YHA.
There is a New World located right across the street from the YHA Wellington, and I did most of my shopping there. I bought a 5-pack of ramen, a thing of chicken sandwich meat, a 6-pack of eggs, spaghetti, Milo Cereal, milk and Mint Treats. Oh my Lord, if you like mint flavored things, those are amazing. They're like Thin Mints, but with mint frosting on top as well. That is a snack I'm truly going to miss. I also ended up buying two things of sushi, Tuna Thai Curry (it was OK), Irish Stew (which I mixed with ramen) and pear danishes. I am not a big fan of danishes, but those were also amazing.
BUT, I also started not feeling very well, and decided I needed to stock up on vitamin-heavy food. I bought a large veggie smoothie for ~$4.70. Then, the next day, passed the New World Metro closer to the center of town. The New World Metro is FAR cheaper than the one by the hostel, by like dollars a product. I bought another smoothie, same brand same size, for ~$3.99. I also got a reduced salad for $3.99, which isn't even an option at the New World close to the hostel. If you want to save money, venture into town a little bit and go to the metro New World instead. In total, I spent around ~$60 dollars on groceries. I could have done better, and that expense was mostly inflated by buying sushi and smoothies.
I also bought alcohol! I was thinking people would be drinking in the TV lounge and watching the game so I decided to look up a good liquor store and buy some cider. May I suggest to you Moore Wilson's? This store in interesting, as it's more like a grocery complex: it has a very fancy, Whole Foods like store. Then, it has a warehouse-like Costco store across the parking lot. Then, it has a separate liquor-store kinda nested behind the fancy part of the store. Very interesting layout catering to all types. Anyways, I got three individual bottles of cider: Doris Plum Cider, Feijoa Cider, and Dry Cider (ew, ew. Lessons learned: I am one of the people who like my cider sweet.), plus a ginger beer for ~$16 dollars. The liquor seemed cheaper here than elsewhere.
I also went out and had a few non-alcoholic drinks. My favorite spot was Six Barrel Soda Company. They make their own custom sodas, with interesting flavors like Celery Tonic and Pinot Noir. You can get a flight of three sodas for only $5! I ended up going here twice, and had fun both times.
If you'd like a warmer beverage, you can check out the Wellington Chocolate Company. There you can get a fabulous cup of hot chocolate. While it is $5 for a small cup of cocoa, it is very rich and the small cup ends up being worth it. I tried their Salted Carmel Cocoa, and it was the best hot chocolate I've ever drank. The richness of the cocoa requires that you sip it, so the small cup lasts quite a long time.
I also got Hemp Smoothie at Habitual Fix. I was really thirsty, and I couldn't turn down the opportunity to drink hemp. It sounded too interesting. While the smoothie cost $7.50, it was a good size, and I would try it again.
I also got a sub-of-the-day at Subway for $4.90. The day I chose to go, the sub was ham. I thought it would end up being a footlong sub, but it was only a six inch. But, for being food-on-the-go, that price still isn't too bad....I believe footlong subs are still called footlong subs in New Zealand, even though they don't use that term for measurement. Interesting.
Broods is playing July 17th, and I don't think I can make it. Darn it.
Wellington has been my favorite city so far, and if I had more choice in where I was working, I would have liked to stay and try living here.