We arrived into Wellington at 6.45am, so I went out on the balcony just in time to see the ship pull in to dock! I made the most of the fact I was awake to ring a friend, and then watched the sun rise behind the hill at the side of the harbour. We had breakfast and then went to meet for this morning's tour - Forests, Flowers and Cable Car.
As we left the ship we saw just how close we were to the Westpac sports stadium - we could have watched a game from the top deck! We boarded our coach and drove through the city, with the driver pointing out some of the main landmarks, before climbing the steep hills behind the harbour to the first stop - the Otari-Wilson's Bush reserve. This 100 hectare protected area is made up exclusively of plants which are native to New Zealand. We had a guided tour through part of it. Firstly we saw the collection of beautiful ferns of all shapes and sizes, then a forest area of larger trees. We saw one fascinating tree which started as a seed which fell onto the top of another dying tree of a different variety - it then let down roots to the ground which branched, thickened, and formed a pseudo-trunk over the old tree which slowly died and rotted away underneath. You can now see the two trees as one. The next area was an alpine garden, complete with a rock pool and small waterfall. We were then taken to the canopy walkway which was a wooden bridge through the treetops where we could look down (a little scary!) and into the distance at the amazing views over the reserve. Finally we saw the memorial to the founders of the reserve, and a pretty garden with winding paths.
We left the reserve and drove back into the city, with a nice view of our ship on the way, and then we queued up for a journey on the historic Wellington cable car. Not an overhead one, this is a funicular which takes people 120 metres up into the hilly outskirts of the city. We got seats right behind the driver so got to watch the other car heading straight for us, until the two cars parted in the middle. At the top we had views over the city, and a bit of time to look round the cable car museum (and shop of course!).
We then boarded our coach again for a drive to the Lady Norwood Rose Garden and Begonia House, one of the most beautiful parts of the Wellington botanic gardens. There was a gorgeous outdoor rose garden, with a fountain in the middle, and indoor greenhouses full of orchids, begonias, lilies, and other flowers and plants. Just next to the gardens was the Peace Flame Garden, a lovely oasis with a waterfall and duck pond, in the middle of which is a lantern containing a flame which originated in the fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and is now there as a sign of the fact that Wellington is a nuclear free city, and as a symbol of hope that one day the world will give up all nuclear weapons.
The last stop on the tour was Old St Paul's Cathedral, an unusual wooden cathedral, with amazing dark wooden carvings all over the inside, and impressive stained glass windows.
The coach then took us back to the ship, where we had a spot of lunch, before setting out again on foot. We went back to many of the local sights we had passed during the morning in the coach, in order to look at them more closely and take some photos. We started with the railway station, with its columns and statue of Gandhi outside. Then to the parliament buildings, including the famous Beehive structure. The story goes that the plans for the site were a long symmetrical traditional building with columns like the partially built one that stands in the middle today, but they ran out of money and ended up building the very modern looking conical structure instead (which has been voted the fourth ugliest building in the world!). From here we walked to the New St Paul's Cathedral, which was interesting but nowhere near as beautiful as the old one we had seen in the morning. We then walked to the old government buildings, made entirely from wood to be earthquake proof, and from there past some more traditional buildings, along some shopping streets (much to JL's delight!), to the modern civic square with its interesting sculpture and unique City to Sea bridge (which JL thought was earthquake damaged but is actually designed that way!). We stopped briefly to look at the Maori war canoes on display near the waterfront, before making our way to New Zealand's National museum - Te Papa Tongarewa. This is a fascinating museum on 6 floors, with interactive exhibits about the geology, history, culture and natural history of the country. You could have spent a whole day there, but we did a very quick look round! I particularly enjoyed the earthquake simulation, the preserved giant squid, the life size models of New Zealand wildlife, the recreation heart of a blue whale (which is so big you can crawl inside the tubes!), and the intricate Maori carvings. There was also a wonderful outdoor exhibit called Bush City which had a treetop walkway, ancient volcanic rocks, replicas of caves and a fossil dig. Before we left we spent a bit of time in the coffee shop (with free wifi!) and I spent my remaining NZ dollars in the gift shop. We then walked back to the ship along the very pretty waterfront walk, which sadly I don't have any photos of as JL was so stressed by this point that we were going to miss the ship that was leaving in an hour that I didn't dare stop to take any! Needless to say, we got back with plenty of time to spare!
We went to dinner, listening with great interest to the captain's message to tell us that in order to avoid the worst of Cyclone Pamela we would be taking a different route - rather than heading out North-eastwards across the Pacific, we would instead be going west through the Cook Straight and round the west of the North Island before heading out into the ocean, hopefully then just catching the tail of the storm rather than the brunt of it. There will still be some 'dancing on the waves' as he likes to call rough seas, but we will be perfectly safe he assured us. Sounds like fun... [JL: no worries... Emma had two $ left and asked me to put them in one of the charity boxes in the reception. I chose the life boats thinking they might become handy in the next couple of days...]
We had a bit of time after dinner before our first concert, so went to the Crows Nest to watch the transit through the passage between the North and South islands which was really pretty, especially with the sun setting in the background. We then saw the clarinetist and pianist play their next set, and then I went to see a lady called Anna Stolli perform a range of theatre classics - very good indeed.