By Bonnie and Bill Neely
We don't enjoy big cities, but we had to see the capital of all New Zealand, Wellington, a big, thriving and pretty city with ocean bay all around it. We are always drawn to capitol buildings and docks, and both were in the City Center.
Sunday was a perfect time to go with no traffic. We were there in winter, when days are long, so there is plenty of daylight until about 9:30 p.m. We enjoyed strolling over the beautiful capital grounds where the Government House, Parliament and the Catholic cathedral are located. Gigantic trees spread their branches widely, some with old, gnarled arms in full bloom with fluffy red flowers. We walked along the Battery Docks for a good while until it grew cold and windy.
This city is on a long peninsula at the bottom of the North Island of New Zealand between the very large Cook Strait and Wellington Harbor, where ships and ferries constantly bring people and goods into the country. It was discovered by the British in 1770, when Captain James Cook was attempting to circumnavigate the world on the Pacific Ocean. He stayed here 100 days and climbed one of the mountains that form the backdrop of Wellington at the water's edge. He named this body of water Cook Strait and claimed it for Great Britain. Three years later he returned and sent a group of sailors from his ship in search of grass on one of the small islands to combat scurvy. The 10 men were killed and cannibalized by Maori tribesmen.
But New Zealanders are all very friendly now. The Maori live all over the country and have pride of their heritage, which everyone respects. New Zealand tourism adopted from the Maori language the motto "Kia Ora," or "Welcome," which we heard everywhere. Almost all the names of streets and many businesses have Maori names, and children have been relearning this native heritage and language in all schools since the 1970s, although for several decades prior to that it was forbidden.
We found food in all the restaurants and cafes to be very expensive. That being the case, we frequently stopped at the New World Supermarket and bought breakfast and fruit, at only half the price of the same items in restaurants. TV dinners and prepared foods are readily available, and motel rooms are little studio apartments with a small refrigerator, microwave, sink and often a two-burner stove. All the utensils and dishes are supplied also. Packets of instant coffee, sugar, instant hot chocolate and tea bags are standard, and the quick-boiling pot for water comes in very handy.
Each time we checked in the manager would give us a small bottle of milk for coffee or tea. All of the accommodations we reserved through www.bookings.com had the usual amenities — private bathrooms, comfortable beds, DVD players and free WiFi.
This modern country is one of the youngest in the world, and everyone is friendly and helpful. But U.S. drivers will find that driving is not an easy adjustment because it is on the "wrong" side of the street with steering wheel and gear shifts also "other-handed." Crossing a street by foot is downright dangerous because we tend to forget and look the wrong way. Winding two-lane roadways with no shoulders make for slow going, although they are in good condition throughout both the North and South Islands.
Crossing Cook Strait on one of the huge ferries from Wellington Harbor on North Island or Picton on South Island was really fun. We watched in amazement as a 28-car train was unloaded from the belly of the ferry, where there is a railway track. A dozen 18-wheel trucks were also unloaded from the same ferry's upper deck - thrilling to watch. We made the pleasant three-hour crossing in our rental car. The meals on board were good, too, and not as expensive as those we had encountered in other parts of the country.
WHEN YOU GO
Bonnie and Bill Neely are freelance writers. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.