Other-worldly Day Trips from Wellington
Of all the places I’ve lived, windy Wellington has by far the best weekend getaways to refresh and recharge. If nature, ocean, and wine are your thing, then Welly and it’s surroundings are unparalleled, with good clean fun and adventure.
I spent time in New Zealand on a work visa and was employed with the city council. It wasn’t the best environment for making friends in the office; I didn’t fit the demographic and they seemed to me a bunch of politicians. So my weekends were lonely, and I sought to shake the cubicle off and get some fresh air first thing every Saturday and Sunday.
It is always a good idea to pack extra clothing in New Zealand, for it could be pelting freezing sideways rain one second and then the sun will peek out the next. You just never really know. The country is notorious for facing four seasons in one day. A common line (that becomes an eye roller after you’ve heard enough people repeat it) is “you can’t beat Wellington on a good day”. But it’s true.
The Wellington region extends far and wide, and the use of a company car had me searching out the borders. Close day trips around the capital include the spectacular, winding bends of Island Bay and Red Rocks. Whether walking, biking, or off-roading with a four-wheel drive, this stunner boasts incredible scenery of ancient volcanic pillow lava embedded in red and green siltstone. As you cruise around the coves, you will get a wonderful view of the snow-capped peaks of the South Island. The ferries transit back and forth across the Cook Strait. As you continue on, you will come upon seals sunning themselves and sleeping snuggled up to one another or sprawled out on the red rocks. If you catch the right season, you may see whales too.
It felt like I had travelled to a distant planet when saw the underwater world off Wellington. Huge boulders lined the ocean floor and I realized that the underwater scenery was nearly identical to that on land.
One night in Red Rocks, I attended a group led by famous astrophotography artist Mark Gee. With minimal light pollution and advanced professional equipment, we were actually able to see the rings of Saturn, which was mind blowing. Mark pointed out the Southern Cross and several other constellations. He explained the basics of his art and how to create a time lapse photo. I honestly can’t remember anything he said after I saw those rings on Saturn, truly a sight to behold. This mini getaway made me feel like I was on a different planet for the weekend.
After months of trekking Red Rocks and the surrounding bays I signed up for a freediving course with Dive Wellington in Island Bay. The course was a weekend long and probably my favorite experience during the two years I stayed in New Zealand. On the first day we practiced diving in a heated pool and training our respiratory system to allow us two minutes or more underwater.
On the second day, we were all in the ocean, fighting the nature of breathing to submerge ourselves in frigid water. I come from the tropics (Miami) and I had only ever experienced warm waters, colorful coral, and golden sands. The conditions in Wellington were the opposite. Stones and pebbles lined the shore, which made you wobble into the water like you had ridden a horse for too long, no sand to be seen. Seven millimeters of wetsuit guarded the skin from the freezing temperatures. The unfortunate few who did not hire thicker wetsuits immediately turned blue and shivered uncontrollably.
A common line (that becomes an eye roller after you’ve heard enough people repeat it) is “you can’t beat Wellington on a good day”. But it’s true.
Kelp as thick as ropes swayed in great lengths. Where the hell was I? Again, it felt like I had travelled to a distant planet when saw the underwater world off Wellington. Huge boulders lined the ocean floor and I realized that the underwater scenery was nearly identical to that on land. It was green and dense and impressive. It was also largely untouched compared to the tourist trap I grew up in. I floated there in the cold, dark waters, completely free of thoughts and worries. It felt like I was floating in the womb of the mother. I could feel the ocean’s ancientness and the water felt like an embrace. I have never felt anything like it.
On our third day, I floated along, really tired of the pressure in my head and ears from freediving. I was armed with our instructor’s Hawaiian hand sling for spearfishing. We picked paua off the rocks, which is an unusual shellfish delicacy found in New Zealand that remarkably resembles a vagina. All sorts of large, delicious-looking fish swam in the thick of the underwater forest of kelp. I aimed and fired. I caught one, first try. I was instantly hooked, just like the fish. I ended up with eight fish on the line and my instructor motioned me to bring my treasure to dry land so I didn’t attract sharks, but he could not get me out of the water. Normally, I obeyed his every command, but this was our last day and it was too much fun. Finally, I peeked my head above the waterline to see the entire class facing me from the shore just waiting for me to get out so we could wrap up our course. Reluctantly, I swam up to them and entered the chilly air with my loot.
Go enjoy Wellington on a good day.