Going back through my older photographs, I noticed I had not shared a drive along one of our favorite places in Wellington; the Miramar Peninsula. On this particular trip, I decided to stop and capture a photograph of the “Windy Wellington” sign. The sign is on a hillside shortly before one can turn onto the seaside road that encircles the peninsula.
“Windy Welly” is a moniker that many may have heard, but just how windy is Welly? Is it windier than the “Windy City”; Chicago? From all sources I have checked, it appears that Wellington is, in fact, the windiest city. The table below makes a comparison, including several of the cities in which we have lived. These statistics are from Wind Finder. Try the site to check on other towns of personal interest.
Average Annual Wind Speed
Wellington, New Zealand
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Grand Junction, Colorado
La Paz, Bolivia
The average annual wind speed seems so insignificant. So, what is the record wind speed in the same locations? Now, these are some numbers! Bear in mind a category 1 hurricane begins at 74 mph or 119 km/h. Based on that, the record wind speed in Wellington equates to a category 2 hurricane! The records are from the almanac section found on My Forecast.
Record Wind Speed
Wellington, New Zealand
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Grand Junction, Colorado
La Paz, Bolivia
Luckily our day was not blustery in the least. It began as a bit overcast but cleared to a beautiful day.
The first community one passes through is Shelly Bay, a collection of World War II-era buildings. Some are in disrepair while others have found new life as a café or an art gallery. Other than taking photos, we did not stop on this trip. It has a lovely charm.
Our next stop on this trip was Point Halswell and the lighthouse. Lighthouse seems a rather grandiose term. It is a small, automatic beacon. At the point there were several seagulls around, periodically diving into the water. As I got closer, I could see there was a fish carcass just under the surface near the shore. The seagulls plunged in grasped the body, and with the whip of their head, they tore off bits of flesh. It was fascinating to watch.
Kau Bay was our primary destination that morning. After finding a place to park, we walked down to the beach with our folding chairs. We had never been to that beach before, but we were up for some beachcombing. We found a surprising amount of sea-glass on the pebbly beach. When we had our fill, we sat in the folding chairs and observed the world. We are so fortunate to be able to live in such a beautiful country.
Our next stop was the beach at Scorching Bay. It is a lovely public beach. At the beach is a small café, the Scorch-O-Rama. Other than stopping once for some bottled water, we have never sampled the offerings. Before we depart, we need to try breakfast there just once. Some friends go frequently. They say it is terrific.
We were not the only people out that day. We saw joggers, bicyclists, people fishing, scuba divers, and surfers. The peninsula seems to have something for everyone.
When we stopped at Moa Point, we were very near the south end of the runway at the Wellington International Airport. I heard a jet taxiing. When I looked up, I saw a jumbo jet from the Islamic Republic of Iran. The plane was a huge Airbus A340, no wonder it looked so big.
Other than the occasional aircraft distraction, we busied ourselves with beachcombing. At Moa Point, we are always assured of finding paua shells. The shells we found range in size from about one-inch to nearly eight inches. Neither of us knows what we are going to do with these when we leave. Regardless, it sure is fun to collect them!
Over roughly the last 24 hours, I have made nearly 300 photographs. Readers, please do not despair. This entry does not contain that many!
Leslie and I intended to travel to Point Halswell on Miramar Peninsula to capture the sunset. Once the sun was down, I wanted to photograph the lights of the City of Wellington across Wellington Harbour. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the conditions did not lend themselves to either endeavor. It was very windy. The wind gusts were about 78 km/h (48 mph). That meant there was a lot of haze in the area.
Even though Plan A was off, I moved to Plan B; taking advantage of the beautiful colors courtesy of the late afternoon sunlight. Part of Plan B included using my wireless shutter release remote. I had never used it before…as the photographic evidence attests! Before I made the first shot, I knew the shadow of my tripod was in the view. However, I thought my body might be far enough away so that my shadow was out of sight …wrong! My next brilliant idea was to use the two-second delay. Surely that would be enough time for me to run my shadow out of the frame…wrong! Apparently, it takes quite a while to relocate this mass. Oh well, it is all about learning, I guess.
Once I got my wings, so to speak, I noticed a flock of water birds. The birds hovered on the wind above the water and then dove into the water. There was a shoal of fish there that was on the birds’ menu. It did not last long there. That makes sense. If I were in a shoal, I would continue moving along, trying to get away from those pesky birds.
When the flock flew behind me, there was a male and female seagull that remained behind, perched on a rock. I can only assume they had had their fill of fish. They just stood there, watching everything else unfold. After a while, another female stopped on an adjacent rock.
Leslie and I turned around and drove back home.
The next morning, we were on the road at 04:00. We drove to the Owhiro Bay area to experiment with star photography. My results were not “stellar”…but it was enjoyable. There is a reasonably well-lit foreground in many of the shots because there was a half-moon directly overhead. It provided a lot of light.
While we were there, we saw several ships moving through the Cook Strait. We also saw a lot of shooting stars.
Before we depart from New Zealand, I will find another opportunity to try night photography.
We waited at the beach for the sunrise. It was breezy and fresh which made it somewhat uncomfortable. After making a few more photographs, we piled into the car and headed to breakfast with warm coffee.
Yesterday, Leslie and I decided to go for a walk. Instead of the same routine neighborhood walk, we decided to drive to the Pencarrow Head trail. It only takes about 15 minutes to drive there from our house.
It was a mostly sunny morning with a temperature of about 12 centigrade (54 Fahrenheit). It was a perfect day for a walk.
There is a road that goes to Pencarrow Head and the lighthouses, but it is only accessible by authorized persons. That meant “not us.”
The road/trail to the lighthouses is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) round trip. The advertised walking time is four hours. That is reduced to 1.5 hours if one rides a bike. We did not ride. We opted to walk, but we knew we would not even try to complete the entire trail.
There are some sweeping views of the seaside hills and the entry to Wellington Harbour one can see while walking primarily south from the car park. As we walked, one car and several bicyclists passed us. Several of the bicyclists had a surfboard under their arm. We never did see anyone surfing, but we did see people fishing.
At Camp Bay, we saw several teepee type structures made with driftwood. We have seen the structures at other beaches; however, we had never seen so many in one location. I do not know if they are just for fun or when they are built, maybe covered with a tarp and used as a shelter. The wind and the sun can be intense at times.
As we walked along, we had great views of Miramar Peninsula. Typically, we are on Miramar Peninsula looking across to Camp Bay. It was a nice change of pace.
We spotted a white creature in the woods, well up the side of a hill. At first, because of the color, we thought it was a sheep. It turned out to be a goat. There was a black goat just a little farther up the hill, but it was much more challenging to see.
We both commented on how calm the water was. Now and then there were small waves striking the shore. Because of the angle of the waves and the shape of the coastline, the waves resembled a zipper. That mesmerized us for a while.
The shore was very rocky. Because of that, paua shells were everywhere. We must have been in New Zealand too long because we did not pick up any of the big paua shells. We did break down and pick up some of the tiny shells.
There were dozens of seagulls around, some perched on the rocks, and several spotted shags. All of the spotted shags were on the rocks. The stones were odd because of their texture. I had never seen formations like that before. I believe they are all sedimentary rocks, but they have some very unique textures. Some are pockmarked with dozens of small holes while others have raised, intersecting lines of stone. I am not sure of the cause, but they were interesting.
On several occasions, Leslie remarked how nice it was to be outside, walking along the beach. The sounds are so relaxing and calming. That environment seems to be good for the soul. In places, one could smell the ocean, but it was never overwhelming.
After about an hour and fifteen minutes, we were back at the car. From there, it was on to the rest of our Saturday!
Chateau Tongariro, Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand – March 28, 2018
What is it that makes a trip by train such a romantic venture? Maybe it is that it harkens back to days long gone. Perhaps it the ability to see the sights at essentially eye-level, not from 35,000 feet. Maybe it is simply the name of the train, The NorthernExplorer. Whatever it is, we were both looking forward to our trip to the Chateau Tongariro.
It was a drizzly, and sometimes rainy, morning. As soon as the taxi dropped us off at Platform 9, we got into the queue to check-in for the journey. The woman at the ticket counter gave us our tickets; Carriage D, seats 12A and 12B. We tagged our bags to our final destination, National Park, and delivered them to the baggage carriage.
Our seats faced two others with a table in between. Luckily our seats looked to the front of the train. It was the same configuration we had when we traveled on the Tranzalpine from Greymouth to Christchurch in February 2016. The seats are excellent except for the fact that it is impossible to stretch one’s legs if another passenger is sitting across.
I have always been fascinated with locomotives. The 7000-series model that was preparing to pull our train is one of the largest of the KiwiRail fleet. While it is impressive, it is nowhere near as aerodynamic as the locomotives used in Spain to pull the bullet trains. Regardless, I knew it would do just fine for our journey.
When I originally purchased the tickets for our trip, I also bought two breakfast wraps and two long-black coffees. Talking with the woman in the dining carriage, I discovered she would be able to serve as soon as the train departed. Since that was just a few minutes away, I decided to stand and wait.
While I was waiting, I noticed several KiwiRail workers outside the train pushing empty shopping carts. They bring carts full of food and beverages from the storage area to the train to stock the dining carriage. When I walk to work from the train station, I had often seen the workers coming from a small warehouse in the train station building along Featherston Street. I had always thought they were stocking the restaurant in the train station building. That morning, I discovered the true nature of their business.
Just as she had promised, the attendant provided the wraps as the train departed, 07:55. The coffees were not quite ready. She said she would bring them to our seats.
I went back to our seats. Leslie and I both tucked into a delicious breakfast wrap of scrambled eggs and ham. While it may not have been haute cuisine, it was delicious. When the coffee arrived, the circle of our happiness was complete!
Above the aisle in the carriage were several video screens. The screens displayed a view of the North Island. The route of the train was visible, stretching from Wellington to Auckland. Our stop, National Park, was roughly halfway. We were to reach our destination in just over five hours. Quite frankly, I was delighted we were not going to Auckland. I am not sure I could have lasted an additional five hours.
Periodically, the video emitted a bell tone. That indicated an audio commentary was available. Each seat had a pair of headphones. One could plug in and listen to the explanation in a variety of languages. I listened a couple of times. While it was interesting, I spent most of the time talking with Leslie and watching New Zealand pass by the train.
By the time we reached the Tasman Sea coast, the rain had stopped. It was still cloudy, but not raining. I walked to the rear of the train to take photos. The last carriage is for observation. That carriage has no windows. That translates to photographs with no reflection from the glass. That said, it was very challenging to take photos while the train rumbled and bounced along at about 60 mph.
The good news is the observation carriage was nice and cool. The passenger carriages were intolerably hot. The internal temperature only got worse once the cloud cover cleared.
Even though the clouds were still quite low, Kapiti Island was easily visible. The dark, dreary photo I made sets the tone for what the weather we experienced. That lasted until we passed the Otaki stop. From then on, we had beautiful blue skies with a few clouds.
The Northern Explorer made two stops before our stop; Palmerston North and Ohakune. Other than that, awe-inspiring expansive sheep stations (ranches) and magnificent river gorges provided a visual treat. I am still amazed at how much of New Zealand is such a beautiful green.
The river gorge that was my favorite had to be Rangitikei. The white cliffs against the azure-green water were beautiful. The fact that the train crosses the canyon on a high viaduct adds to the stunning perspective.
On the outskirts of Otiku is The Wool Company. The only reason I noticed it is because two people were standing in front, waving at the passing train.
As we rattled through Taihape, I caught a glimpse of the large gumboot sculpture. Taihape is the home to the annual North Island championship gumboot throwing. The competitors throw rubber boots as far as they can. The best throw I could find for women was Kristen Churchward’s 34.35 meters (113 feet) in 2016. The best throw I could find for men was Brent Newdick’s 48.5 meters (159 feet) in 2015. That is quite a distance for a rubber boot to travel!
Nearing Waiouru, we got our first glimpse of Mount Ruapehu, one of New Zealand’s active volcanos. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most active; Ruapehu rates a 1. That is the same level we encountered with White Island when we were at Ohope Beach. New Zealand lists twelve volcanos; Ruapehu and White Island are the only two considered currently active.
In addition to being an active volcano, Mount Ruapehu is the highest point on the North Island at 2,797 meters (9,177 feet). In Maori, Ruapehu means “pit of noise” or “exploding pit.” It last erupted on September 25, 2007. Our destination, the Chateau Tongariro, lays at the base of Ruapehu.
After our stop at Ohakune, we crossed two spectacular viaducts; Hapuawhenua and Makatote. Hapuawhenua dates from about 1907. At its highest point, the 284-meter (932 feet) viaduct is 45 meters (148 feet) above the bottom of the gorge. The Makatote is not quite as long, 262 meters (860 feet), but it is taller at 79 meters (259 feet). They both demonstrate just how rugged the terrain can be in New Zealand.
It was about 13:15 when we arrived at National Park. I did not realize it until I wrote this blog, but National Park is the highest urban township in New Zealand (825 meters or 2,707 feet). Waimarino was the original name for National Park. In Maori, it translates to “calm waters.” In 1926, the railway changed the name to National Park.
A driver from ROAM (Rivers, Oceans, and Mountains) met a young woman at the train-side and us. It took about 20 minutes to get to the Chateau Tongariro. During the drive, we could see the clouds were gathering. What little bit of blue sky we had upon arrival was the last blue sky we saw until our return train trip.
Workers laid the foundation stone for the Chateau on February 16, 1929. As part of a government subsidy, the Chateau could not cost less than £40,000 nor more than £60,000. The other stipulation was that the project must be completed by March 31, 1930. The final cost was £88,000. It was a spectacular facility and setting for the time. To put those numbers into perspective today, it would be a range of £2,363,600 (US$3,312,569) to £3,545,400 (US$4,968,877). The final price equates to £5,199,920 (US$7,287,652).
Our room was nice. It was spacious, but most importantly, it had a gas fireplace. We placed our luggage in the room and went outside to explore. We ended up at Tussock, a restaurant about 100 meters north of the Chateau. We had a glass of wine on the front terrace, overlooking Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. They were beginning to be obscured by clouds.
Mount Ngauruhoe is the taller of the two at 2,291 meters (7,516 feet). Ngauruhoe translates as “the peak of Uruhoe.” Mount Tongariro is a mere 1,978 meters (6,489 feet). Tongariro translates as “south wind borne away.” They are both volcanos. Ngauruhoe last erupted on February 19, 1975. On the other hand, Tongariro’s last eruption was much more recent, November 21, 2012.
All three mountains; Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro, played parts in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They and the surrounding area were the shooting location for parts of the movie depicting Modor’s Gorgoroth region. Ngauruhoe, although digitally altered, played the role of Mount Doom. It seems that nearly anyplace one goes throughout New Zealand; parts of the films were made there.
The real draw to the area is the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is a one-way hike of about 19 kilometers (12 miles). Since parking at the trailhead is limited, shuttles take hikers to the start and then meet them on the other side. The trail begins at about 1,100 meters (3,609 feet), climbs to a high point of 1,900 meters (6,234 feet), and finally descends to the finish at a little more than 700 meters (2,297 feet). According to a brochure at the Chateau, the crossing takes six to eight hours. If Leslie and I had tried it, I am confident it would have been more like six to eight days, not counting the helicopter rescue!
After speaking with staff in the iSite, instead of the “long” walk, we opted for a couple of shorter walks; the ridge walk and the Whakapapa nature walk. It was a little drizzly while we walked, but it was not uncomfortable.
Just outside the iSite was a commemorative stone. That is when I realized the Tongariro National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I can see why. The park is beautiful, gifted to the people of New Zealand by a Maori chief in 1887. Visiting the park makes the 20th World Heritage Site Leslie and I have been fortunate enough to visit. Regardless, that is not much of a dent in the over 1,000 sites worldwide.
The ridge walk begins just beyond the iSite. The sign indicated it was a 1.2-kilometer return (roundtrip) walk, taking about 30 to 40 minutes. Nearly half of the trail goes through a forest. The remainder winds through alpine shrubland. On the way up, it is definitely up. We frequently stopped to gain our breath. Just after we began, a young man passed us, going up the trail. We were about one-third of the way up when he passed us again, going down the path. I assured him we would make the summit in time for dinner. The end of the trail offered a commanding view of the Chateau and the land around. The low cloud cover limited our sight.
Whakapapa nature walk was much, much more manageable. It is a sealed trail that winds through some of the beech forests. There were plaques near plants identifying many of the species and describing the plant. However, my favorite part was the two detour trails I took. Both led me down to the Whakapapanui Stream. I thought it provided some excellent photographic opportunities.
That evening we splurged, opting for dinner in the Ruapehu Room. We selected the Chateau Briand for two. I do not think I had ever had that before. I would definitely have it again. It was delicious.
The next morning, Leslie was not feeling well. I walked up the road to a small store to see if I could find something like Pepto-Bismol. They had nothing of the sort. On my way to the store, I saw the old building across from the Chateau was open. I had not previously seen it open. The sign out front touted “authentic Maori art.” I went inside. I immediately saw two massive logs lying on the floor. They were being carved for a display in the area. The wood had a diameter of nearly three feet, and each was about 12-feet long. The carving was very intricate, with numerous Maori themes. The man I talked with about the project said it takes them about four months to complete the two sculptures. There were some art objects for sale, but nothing interested me.
At about 12:15, a woman from ROAM picked us up at the chateau for our short ride to National Park to catch our train. When we arrived at the station, she explained that the station has absolutely nothing to do with the train. Instead, it is a restaurant. Our ticketing and baggage would be handled right at train-side.
The train was a few minutes late, but soon we were on our way south. At the start of this blog, I waxed poetically about the romance of riding the rails. Quite frankly, that had worn off for both of us. After all, with a plane ride of a similar duration, we could be in Tahiti. We were tired and ready to be home.
Our seats on the return journey were in Carriage D, 7C and 7D. These were much more comfortable than on our initial trip. These seats were akin to airline seats in that they all faced forward and they all had trays stored in the seatbacks. We were able to stretch our legs out with no problem.
The only problem we had to endure again was the heat in the carriage. We were both amazed at the number of passengers wearing heavy jackets. Regardless, the time seemed to pass quickly. We were back in Wellington by 18:30.