We have spent the past couple of days in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. It is a rather small capital with only around 400.000 inhabitants. The city is located in a “pot” with mountains at all sides where it does not meet the ocean. The total, geographical area is limited, which makes it an easy and foreseeable holiday destination. You will only need about a day to get a good feeling for the layout and to know where all the major highlights are located. 

And Wellington really has a lot to offer its visitors! Its size taken into consideration, I am actually impressed at the variety and range of attractions! The Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, is not very big, but modern and with many engaging and interesting exhibitions. The displays are cleverly built up, so that the visitor won’t get bored in themes and scientific “stuff” that otherwise easily gets very dry and soporific. On top of that, the museum has the best children’s corner - by far - that I have ever seen in a museum! Other museums could really learn a thing or two here. We could hardly drag Anton away, and have had to go to the museum one extra time just to let him play there once again! 

Needless to say, we have also tried one of the most iconic attractions of the city: Wellington Cable Cars. A small, cable driven railway that runs from the bottom of the city up along the hillside above. It doesn’t take more than about 5 minutes to get to the top station. The view from up there is fantastic and even though we visited on a grey day, we could see for miles and enjoy spectacular views of the bay area and Wellington Harbour. 

The city of Wellington reminds me a bit of Oslo in Norway, with some elements of San Francisco. Much smaller, yes, but in spite of the steep hillsides it is remarkable how buildings, roads and bridges all together create a vibrant and living city layout. Some of the smaller side streets and alleys are REALLY steep, and I have to wonder just how they were able to build anything there. I guess that, like on any building project in Norway, you have to incorporate substantial costs for blasting rocks and making a solid foundation, before you can even consider building any walls. 

Wellington is also home to one of modern New Zealands great new exports: Movies! And this in a BIG scale! The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, King Kong and Avatar are just some of the few examples of recent major films produced here in Wellington. The Wellington native Peter Jackson is the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit trilogy and King Kong, and american James Cameron, who recently moved to Wellington, is the creator of Avatar. He is planning another 2-3 Avatar movies, all to be made here in Wellington. What attracts the worlds greatest movie creators is the fact that pretty much everything here is more “down to earth” than in Hollywood, but also that everything they need for a total movie production is within walking distance: Film studios, sound studios, outdoor locations, wildlife locations, post production, special effects etc etc. In short, everything is easier to monitor here.

I am a Tolkien fan, so of course I went on a “Lord of the Rings” location tour with one of the local guides. We drove around Wellington to see the places where some of the scenes were shot. It was an 8 hour tour, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. For me it was good entertainment. We also went to see the special effects workshop, where many of the costumes and props were made. Alexandra and Anton wanted to spend their day in central Wellington, just enjoying the sun, the harbour front, another museum and a few playgrounds. A Lord of the Rings tour like this one would not have been for them anyway. It was a feinschmecker tour!

Before arriving in Wellington, we made a stop for a few days in Taupo, which is almost in the middle of the North Island. It is an area with volcanic activity. Hence there are also many hot underground springs. We went to a few “Hot Pools” with their mineral water, which is supposed to be good for your skin. It was a fantastic experience, costing only little. Every time I have EVER tried anything containing the word “spa” or “wellness” it has usually meant ridiculous, out-of-proportion rates for even minimal treatments. Here in New Zealand there is a “finer balance” and they only charge reasonable fees, similar to what I am used to pay in my local, municipal swim arena back in Denmark. 

In Taupo we stayed at a resort where guests could purchase a three-day pass to the hot pools, which made the experience even more affordable and reasonable. 

While staying here, we went on a longer road trip to Mount Ruapehu one day. With its 2797 meters it is the highest point on the North Island. The east side of the peak was used as “The Mountain of Doom” in Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. And when driving on the east side, it really does look rather grey and sinister. The west side, on the other hand, is home to one of the best ski areas in the country, Whakapapa Ski Area. Accustomed to alpine ski areas as we are in Europe, we were curious to see what all the fuzz was about and how they do this here in New Zealand. 

The area certainly wasn’t very large. But the terrain was quite steep and with an impressive number of slopes. Some of them VERY “black-rated” and not at all for newbies! A somewhat curious experience to stand there with your feet in meter high snow dunes, on the same day that started in a hot pool... and while friends and family back in Europe could enjoy some warm days of indian summer.

We made a total loop around the whole central “mountain area” of the North Island that day. Apprx. 250 kilometers and we spent most of the day doing it. With many, long breaks for exploring (including the Whakapapa Ski Area). On this trip we really saw just how many contrasts the wild nature of New Zealand has to offer. In films like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit you may think that it is all manipulated and artificially made. Well, it is not! It is 100% authentic and 200% stunning! Clear blue skies. White, snowy peaks. Gray and brutal marshlands. And lush, green rainforest. All in one picturesque photo-shot! This is jigsaw-puzzle scenery at its purest!

And everyone tells us that the South Island is even more spectacular. We look forward to start exploring this in the coming week.

Click here for a collection of pictures from the North Island.