Rediscovering Wellington in the ‘new normal’

Over the last few months, it feels like life in New Zealand has been returning to normal – or as normal as it can be – with the threat of covid-19 lingering around the borders. While foreign visitors are still unable to enter the country, that means there’s been a shift in getting people already here to see more of the country.

As you might expect, I’m happy to do just that! This has to be balanced with work, however, while I still can. While there are a lot of places to see once the time comes, I’ve been spending time seeing as much of the local area as I can, and there’s still more to come.

Whether it’s trying some of the beautiful walks around Wellington, or ticking Weta Workshop off the list, I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface.

The Weta Workshop

Let’s start with this one. It had been on my list since day one, and many people will know of it from the fantastic work done on The Lord of the Rings films – but they’ve done work on so much more, which you can see on their website.

There are two tours available, and I did them both, as well as a very cool shop that you can see whenever they’re open. If I had the money, I’d buy all of the things and regret nothing!

The first tour goes through some of the many films and projects the teams have worked on, with knowledgeable guides to answer questions. You’ll see some props used in the films alongside replicas, find out the process that created them and see into some of the areas this is done. There are also examples of what each team does and a small demo on how to get started with doing some of this yourself, on a very basic level.

The second tour moves into the world of miniatures and uses the show Thunderbirds Are Go as an example. The process of making miniatures and the sets are brought to life and you’ll see some the sets used in filming. Even though the show might look full CGI, this isn’t actually the case – which is pretty cool!

Photos are only allowed in certain areas but it’s definitely worth the paying for both tours if you have the time.

Wellington Museum

No, I don’t mean Te Papa, although you should definitely spend at least half a day in there – more if you can – but the Wellington Museum, which is further along the waterfront. This fills in more of the history, not only of the country but Wellington specifically, and more on the arrival of the Europeans to New Zealand.

It’s an interesting place to visit, and it’s free, too! Right now, there’s an exhibition focusing on Mittens, the cat who’s become a celebrity (seriously, if you don’t know about Mittens, you’re missing out. See Facebook for more info).

Zealandia

A gem of Wellington you don’t want to miss, especially on a good weather day, is Zealandia. This eco-sanctuary is a world-first and encompasses a huge area, with a lot of conservation work for the forestry and wildlife living there.

A lake and surrounding forest at Zealandia
A lake and surrounding forest at Zealandia

You’ll see a huge number of birds throughout the area, and there are plenty of walking routes to keep you busy. Views from the dam and hilltops are breath-taking – it’s hard to appreciate just how big the sanctuary is until you reach one of these vantage points – and it brings to the forefront just how much good our society can do with the right motivation and goals.

Petone

Compared to Wellington, and some of the nearby areas, Petone is easily missed. Just a short bus or train ride from the city and you can reach the northern shore of the bay. There are some great eateries and shops to explore – with a British food shop if you need to satisfy some home cravings – and a walk along the esplanade is great when the wind isn’t trying to blow you away.

The Waterfall at the Percy Scenic Reserve in Petone
The Waterfall at the Percy Scenic Reserve in Petone

Close to the train station is the Percy Scenic Reserve, and there are a few trails to explore here, one of which ends at a waterfall. It’s a short walk, so easy to fit in and you can easily forget about the urban setting on the other side of the motorway bordering the area.

Eastbourne

Found on the other side of the bay, Eastbourne is a quirky place on the shore that offers some relief from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s easy to reach by bus but for a real view, take the ferry from the Waterfront across the bay. It’s a relaxing and inspiring journey. The walk along the water is pleasant and if you continue south, you’ll reach the Pencarrow Coast.

The easiest way to do this is by renting a bike and cycling as far as you’re comfortable doing. On this trip, we made it to the Pencarrow Lighthouse, but the trail goes much further south, and there are lakes and other trails you can choose, too.

Island Bay and the Red Rocks

Island Bay, to the south of the city, is another coastal area that has a more relaxed atmosphere than other areas of Wellington. The main allure here, at least for me, was the walk to the Red Rocks, which is also a seal colony during the winter months.

Seals basking in the sun at the Red Rocks Seal Colony
Seals basking in the sun at the Red Rocks Seal Colony

It’s a trail that shifts from gravel to sand to path without warning and you’ll be accompanied by waves breaking over the walks the whole way there and back. This is a raw, untamed coastal walk and while not hard – or long – it’s not one to be underestimated.

This is just a snapshot, though. Wellington has so much to offer for a city of its size, but it’s been a while since I saw anywhere else in the country. Time to change that with a trip to Dunedin!

I’ll see you when I get back!

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