After leaving Akaora, we continued to head north, up the east coast of the south island. Then we jogged west to reach Wellington, at the bottom of the north island. The red spot on the map below, is where we are…
Wellington was founded in 1839. The capital was moved here from Auckland in 1865, due to it’s centralized location. The population is 405,000. It has been named the “world’s windiest city”, for two reasons. First, it is firmly anchored in the Roaring Forties, which are strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere, between the latitudes of 40-50 degrees. The intense west-to-east air currents are caused by air being displaced from the equator towards the South Pole, and the earth’s rotation. There is nothing to break the wind here. Australia is the closest landmass to the west, at 1,200 miles away. Second, the already high winds often reach gale force because they are funneled through the narrow body of water called the Cook Straight, which separates the north and south islands of New Zealand.
But, get this. Mother Nature did not produce a single a puff of wind, all day. I was irked. I wanted to experience the legendary shrieking howl of the westerlies. The ones known to catapult ships into the jagged volcanic rocks that lurk in the harbor. But. No. Instead, we got a day that Wellingtonians fantasize about. Zero wind. 72 Degrees. Dazzling cloudless sky. What are the odds?
We had pre-booked a tour called “The Storm Coast”, which would take us to the easternmost point of Wellington Harbor along a very treacherous stretch of coastline known for shipwrecks. The last 3 miles of dirt road had huge chunks missing. Our guide told us that waves usually break against the windows of the bus, and he tried mightily to paint that dramatic picture for us. That’s a tough job today, but the views were splendid, indeed.
At the end of the rutted road, is Pencarrow Station. A 3,000 acre sheep farm. We had morning tea here, before watching a herding demonstration by a ragtag pair of sheepdogs. Okay, now I’m happy it’s not windy and raining. I admit it, I’m fickle. The views were extraordinary.
Back in town, we were dropped off on the waterfront. It is Saturday, and because of the bizarre weather, every single Wellingtonian was out relishing it. The promenade lining the harbor was packed. As we strolled along, we noticed a 20 foot high diving platform with a hefty queue of teenage kids. It was so odd, right in the city! Most of the jumpers were competing to see how thoroughly they could soak the spectators with their splash. The more serious divers could be future olympians. Keep an eye out for them.
We ate lunch in a spirited pub, and the locals at the next table starting chatting us up, when they heard our “strange accent”. We learned that Wellington was the backdrop for many of the scenes in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Very Cool. I will rent the movies when we get home. And, New Zealand was the first nation in the world to grant women the right to vote in 1893. That was 27 years before the USA!
After lunch, we happened upon a pedestrian mall lined with trendy shops and bars. There was not one single piece of trash on the ground, and no cigarette butts. Anywhere. Every single place we have visited in New Zealand is sparkling clean. There is a tremendous “pride of place” here that is unparalleled in any other country, included my own.
Even the tug and pilot boats that guided us out of the harbor are pristine. Not a flake of rust on either one.
As we left the harbor, we spied Pencarrow Station in the distance, just as the wind started to stir. Within 10 minutes, it was howling. Thank you Weather Gods. We had a perfect day.
Next stop, Samoa. Stay Tuned.