At Home Wellington City
Despite Auckland’s best efforts to be the country’s official chamber of commerce, Wellington is in fact the capital of New Zealand. Wellington is right on the water and boasts itself to be the windiest city in the world. I’m not sure if the latter is precisely factual, but I heard a local mutter something like that. Hayden and I would be staying in an apartment hotel booked using my Chase reward points, which are worth 25% more when booking travel. We were thus blissfully unaware of the steep costs associated with staying in Wellington.
Our hotel, At Home Wellington City, had no listed check in time, so Hayden called and heard from the manager that “check in is usually around afternoon, hm, let me see… looks like your room is ready now” at 10:30 AM. That was lucky for us, as we could just drive straight from Martinborough to the hotel. We arrived around 11:30 and found Wellington to be a stressful place to keep your car.
In Auckland, we had caught a glimpse of the urban parking problem through the car lift we’d used, but having an Airbnb apartment with a parking space had mostly sheltered us. At Home Wellington City was on the top floor of a 5-story building that housed commercial offices as well. We checked in by way of a 10 minute loading zone and then drove around the block to park in the lot behind the big building. It cost $35 (NZD) per day for that space.
My only consolation was that we hadn’t paid real money to stay in our room. I later saw the bill for the room, which showed that the normal cost of a room for a night was over $200 (NZD).
Since we’d be flying out the next morning, we needed to bring all our things upstairs to pack them in an airport-friendly way. The walk from the parking lot to the room was quite long when carrying a bunch of luggage, and Hayden hurt his back pretty badly while lugging the biggest duffels all the way there. However, I think this was more of a problem with Wellington being a Big City than with our hotel. The hotel was really nice inside and had a central location. And at least the building had an elevator.
It was about lunch time after we’d gotten all our things upstairs. We ate franks and beans. Some franks were consumed in the beans and some were consumed in a slice of bread like a hot dog.
The hotel was only a couple blocks away from the Wellington Waterfront, a popular tourist site in the city. After lunch, we set off to see the waterfront with Pokemon Go in hand. Supposedly there are a lot of small shops there, but they all seemed to be closed. It didn’t matter much, as we found many Pokemon that made the walk worth our while.
Hayden had started to compulsively pull at his hair again, which meant that it was time for him to get a haircut. We journeyed through the city to a barber shop, and I wandered around playing Pokemon Go while Hayden got his hair cut. I caught a Bulbasaur.
Right next to the barber shop there was a Pokemon gym, where a legendary raid was about to start. Hayden and I didn’t have an Entei yet, so we waited around for 45 minutes trying to battle the Entei. Unfortunately, we didn’t ever get enough people to defeat the Entei, so we just slumped home emptyhanded. I was disappointed.
Dinner was breakfast, consisting of pancakes, eggs, and bacon. The cheap syrup we’d bought was really yucky. While Hayden braved it and ate all of the pancakes, I made instant noodles to supplement my carbs. We watched the first half of Bounty Hunter (starring Jennifer Anniston) over dinner. Hayden is super into rom coms lately for whatever reason.
Zealandia by Night
It had been many, many months since I’d booked the Zealandia by Night tour. Hayden had found it out of interest to see kiwis, which are pretty hard to spot normally with them being both endangered and nocturnal. For some reason we’d both been under the impression that Zealandia by Night was a kiwi tour, but that evening we read that kiwi spottings are actually not guaranteed.
Though its name makes it sound commercial, Zealandia is actually a protected wildlife sanctuary attempting to provide a safe habitat for New Zealand’s native bird species. It gets its name from the land mass that broke off from Australia 60-85 million years ago and later became New Zealand. Zealandia has a 500 year plan to restore the sanctuary to what it was prior to human arrival, and they are currently 22 years in. The land has an expensive fence encompassing its entirety to keep predators out and staff members to progress the plan forward.
Neither of us knew what to expect from Zealandia, since we had initially expected a bunch of kiwis being rehabilitated in a box. Zealandia by Night is a special guided nighttime tour through the trails of Zealandia. The tour group wasn’t very big at all and the environment was not very touristy.
At the beginning of the tour, our guide showed us a video about how humans basically decimated the bird life in New Zealand. It was really sad and left me with the strong sentiment HUMANS NEED TO LEAVE, NOW. The video was part-animated and part-acted-by-humans and it was just so REAL to watch the poor New Zealand birbs have their homes destroyed, their eggs eaten, and just get killed in general.
For the guided walk through Zealandia, we were given red light torches (to see in the dark without shocking the nocturnal birds’ eyes) and tour headsets (to hear our guide talking without her shouting).
The beginning of our tour was during sunset, so we could still see the daylight birds. According to our guide, the birds in New Zealand used to be so loud sometimes that people couldn’t sleep at night. Lots of what the tour was about was hearing the birds at the sanctuary, kind of like how they used to be.
We heard a cute story about a duck couple that nests somewhere outside of Zealandia every year. Once the chicks are ready, the whole family treks all the way up to the front gate of Zealandia (since the chicks can’t fly) and waits patiently to be let in. They’re kind of silly for not just nesting inside Zealandia to begin with, but the ducks can’t be controlled.
Then we saw some “tui” either fighting or mating, according to our guide.
I forgot to mention that we had actually seen a bunch of shags during our kayaking tour in Paihia. We saw them again here at Zealandia, pictured below. Shags like to nest over the water because their young are extremely clumsy, so if they fall they won’t die. In that vein, shags are not great at flying and have to zig zag around to get where they’re going. Also, shags used to be two different species, white and black, and then they started mating, so now they’re all white and black combined.
The next birds we saw were a pair of mated takahe, flightless birds that were once thought to be extinct. In the 1940’s, a group of only about 200 takahe were discovered in a remote area. All of them were moved to a safe place and since then their population has risen to over 300. It’s been very hard to increase their population more than that because of inbreeding. Here are some blurry pictures of the pair we saw:
Once the sun set, we used our red torches to see, so all our photos were red from then on. We saw a couple adolescent tuatara, reptiles unique to New Zealand.
To many people’s surprise, we also saw a “tuna,” also known as a longfin eel. It was just hanging out in a stream. It was pretty big, too.
In the dark, we were able to see glow worms spotted throughout the bushes. This beat the socks off of our glow worm tour in Te Anau two years ago. Glow worms are pretty ugly up close. Our guide told us that their population is increasing naturally in the area because it’s becoming a stable environment.
Our tour was coming towards an end, and I was getting worried that we might not see a kiwi. Though we had heard lots of kiwis calling in the distance, we hadn’t seen any. Then suddenly, right at the very end, we heard a kiwi crunching its feet loudly down the embankment. It could have gotten farther away, but it got closer, and we saw it! A little spotted kiwi.
I didn’t get a picture of it, but it looked basically like this stuffed animal I bought at the gift shop:
Zealandia is definitely one of our favorite experiences here. It felt like such a natural way to see the wildlife and get a glimpse of how things used to be.
Also, the tag on our new kiwi stuffed animal advertised this:
That night, we finished Bounty Hunter and I made spaghetti.
In the morning, we hurriedly checked out of the hotel, returned the rental car, and got dropped off at the airport.
To the south island!
The Hall Report
At Home Wellington City
It had a great location and good views. The kitchen was pretty small but it did the job. Also, it was close to about a dozen barber shops, one of which I used. It was good.