Sorry for the absence (more on that later, related to entering an odd state of traveler's time, which is a good thing). After leaving Rotorua, we made our way on winding roads into the goat- and sheep-studded mountains. I've never been to Tuscany, but the landscape evoked that feeling. Maybe I'm just a sucker for Eat, Pray, Love. The variety of landscapes in New Zealand is striking, and it doesn't take long to pass from one to another, which is what we did as we arrived in Ohakune, at the base of rugged mountain peaks.
We only spent a night in Ohakune, which was more of a waystation, but it was a delight. Ohakune is a turn of the twentieth-century mining town now turned ski bum paradise, and we thoroughly enjoyed an evening walk through the temperate mountain forest, as well as the ambiance (and heated indoor pool) at the Powderhorn Chateau. On much of this trip, in fact, the smaller towns we stayed in proved the most memorable to me—more quaint and of the place, less crowded and more embedded in local idiosyncrasies.
It happened to be New Years Eve and Hawkins was determined to stay up until midnight. Marcy and I did not make it, nodding off around 10. Old people. Old, tired people. True to his promise, Hawkins woke us up five minutes before 2018 began, and we listened to a few random pops of fireworks and flipped on the television. On one channel, the Sky Tower in Auckland (tallest structure in New Zealand) exploded in colorful displays as a Lourde belted, "I'm waiting for it, that green light, I want it."
On another channel, Crowded House, who are still somehow giving concerts, led a crowd in a lyrical back-and-forth to songs the audience knew by heart. On yet another channel—dedicated to Maori culture—the video for "Let's Get Physical" by Olivia Newton-John made me laugh out loud.
The over-the-top cheesiness captured everything that was so-wrong-it-was-almost-right about the 1980s. I was raised on MTV, but I had forgotten how painfully awful some 80s music videos were. Then, we all konked out, exhausted, visions of feathered hair and leg warmers dancing in our heads.
The next day, we made our way to Wellington, a bustling but manageable city know for its tech, craft beer, and coffee skills. On the way, we made a point of at least brushing close to the Whanganui River. This river gained legal status as a person in early 2017, after decades of legal discussions. I needed to pay my respects.
Wellington is oftentimes compared to San Francisco, in part due to its hilly terrain. I got a first-hand taste of this, squeezing between homes on seemingly secret pathways up to Zealandia. (I'll say a word about New Zealand's predator-free efforts in a later post.) At Zealandia, the birds are the center of attention.
Our time in Wellington included a tour of Weta Workshop, the home of Peter Jackson's movie-making cadre of magical elves. Basically, he's transformed the industry in New Zealand and even pushed forward a number of global innovations. We got a behind-the-scenes look at various costuming and special effects techniques. I was most impressed by how they've managed to drive certain technologies forward that we now take for granted when we put our butts in a cinema seat. The level of creativity and commitment are truly inspiring.
All in all, Wellington was a very nice city, offering a good mix of cultural and natural attractions. But before we could settle in, it was time to move on...