Wilkommen im Westen

The bus from Nelson to Hokitika was long and the driver was grumpy. Normally, the InterCity bus drivers have been friendly and helpful, but this guy was very stressed and lashed out at one or two passengers for no real reason.

Hokitika is a small place, and one I wouldn’t have visited at all, were it not for the lovely German lady I met at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua, who told me you could do Jade Carving classes there. New Zealand Jade, or Greenstone (Pounamu) is a type of gemstone found on the west coast of New Zealand. It is very easy to carve as it is quite soft and has been used by Maori for centuries. Maori jade carvings are considered to be treasures and gain prestige as they are passed from generation to generation.

I arrived in Hokitika and checked in. It was hot again, I seem to always be bringing the good weather with me. I got food and began to cook. While cooking, I met Iris, a lovely German lady, who later invited me to come and see the sunset with her and some other Germans. In New Zealand, there are loads of Germans travelling – it would be very unusual for a person to travel round New Zealand and not meet anyone German!

We walked out to see the sunset. There is a lovely long beach at Hokitika, with a driftwood sculpture of the town’s name. It was beautifully silhouetted against the sky.

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The Hokitika Sign

We strolled up the promenade a little more, then crossed down onto the beach over some large rocks. We walked along, admiring the sunset, the sea winds making me glad of my hoodie. The sun shone brightly on the sea and illuminated the clouds opposite in a delicate pink.

After watching the sunset, we went back to the hostel and played cards. They taught me a game called “Schwimmen” (swimming), where you get three cards, then you can swap one out at a time and try to get a high scoring combination. The one with the lowest score at the end of the round loses a life. You get three lives, then you are “swimming”, hence the name. If you lose while swimming, you are out. It was pretty fun.

The next day I had my Jade Carving class. Turns out it was more casual, one on one. I had decided I wanted to make a fish hook (Hei Matau) which means strength, good luck and safe travel over water. It took a lot less time than I thought it would and was a very easy process – I think it’s a must-do for anyone visiting New Zealand!

Here is the process:

1. Draw a template of what you want it to look like.

2. Draw around that onto your chosen piece of Greenstone.

3. This gets roughly cut out for you.

4. Grind it down to the lines (the grinder wheel is very safe – you can touch it without hurting yourself).

5. Drill the hole for the string and for any internal parts that can’t be reached by the grinder.

6. Use a dremel (little whirry cutty tool) to hollow out any internal parts.

7. Sand the whole thing. A lot.

8. Buff the stone using the buffer wheel.

9. Dip the final piece in oil, to seal any tiny cracks.

10. Tie on the string.

I was very happy with my finished piece, even though it was a bit rough.

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In the afternoon, I went for a walk on the beach with Liza, another German lady who was staying in the same room as me. We discovered a stone armchair, which was placed by the sea as a memorial to someone. We went all the way along to “sunset point” where we hadn’t managed to go the night before, when it was actually sunset.

After dinner, the Germans and I decided to go to see the sunset again, this time from the actual sunset point. We also took Lukas, a Swiss guy, with us. Spending time with so many German speakers made me realise how much German I remembered (and how much I forgot)!

The sunset was equally beautiful as the previous night and we spend some time taking some lovely cliché photos (like the featured photo for this post).

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Sunset two!

After watching the sunset, we returned to the hostel for drinks, then headed out again to see the glowworm dell, down the road from the town. It was dark when we went out and the dell was pitch black, apart from the bluish glow worms shining brightly all around us. A lot of people were taking photos. It took a lot of messing with the settings to get something good.

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Glow worms

The glow worms were beautiful to just look at, so I didn’t spend the whole time taking photos. As much as I love photography, I don’t want to have only seen something through my camera lens.

We returned to the hostel and continued drinking – I may have accidentally finished a whole bottle of wine! Oops!

The next day we travelled on to Franz Josef, a very small place with a famous glacier. After checking into the hostel, we had a little walk around and saw the tiny town, with the beautiful snow capped mountains towering above. The first evening was spent drinking and chatting with the German crew.

The following day, my only full day in Franz Josef, started with meeting Iris and Lukas to go to the Glacier. It is about an hour’s walk to the glacier valley track from the hostel, but Lukas had a car, so we could get there much more easily. We walked up to the glacier. It is a nice walk, through a stony valley with waterfalls coming down the sides and a milky river running through.

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Franz Josef Glacier

The glacier itself is impressive, if very far away. It had receded so much in the past ten or so years, that the walk is no longer a very good way to see it. The best way is by helicopter – they take you right up to the top and then you hike on the glacier itself for a few hours. Given the money and the time, I want to return and do this!

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Look how far away!

The rest of the day was spent souvenir shopping, appreciating happy hour and sitting in front of the hostel in the evening.

One of the wonderful things about travelling alone is the people that you meet – I had so much fun hanging out with the German speaking crew over those few days. Sadly, I had overlooked staying at Wanaka, where they were all heading next and booked straight to Queenstown, so our time together was at an end. Thanks so much to all of you for keeping me company on my west coast adventures!

 

Sounds Scenic

I left Wellington at 9am on the ferry. The ferry port is very hard to get to as a pedestrian. You can get a bus, but then you have to cross a busy road (there are no crossings) and there is minimal signage, so the port is good easy to miss. I found it eventually though and enjoyed the journey across. It was quite a still day and the weather was good, so the journey was very comfortable.

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First views of South Island

The scenery as we arrived at south island was stunning. The Marlborough sounds, a beautiful section of the south island made up of river valleys, now flooded with sea water are stunning. The ferry entered south island down Queen Charlotte sound and docked in Picton.

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The view across Picton’s Harbour

In Picton, I was greeted by Nikki, one of the hostel owners and taken to the hostel in a minibus. The hostel was very cool. A place called Tombstone Backpackers – they had a beautiful building, comfy rooms and free scones in the morning. I settled in, got food and had a walk around Picton in the evening – it’s a pretty little place.

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Tombstone Backpackers

The next day I went out to the Queen Charlotte Sound Track, which is one of New Zealand’s great walks (Tongariro is also one – there are nine overall). To get to the track, you have to take a boat. The boat was called “Sounds Exciting”. It took us along the sound and dropped people off at different points along the track. I got off at Resolution Bay, the second stop on the track, and walked along to Furneaux Lodge, the third stop, which took about two and a half hours.

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“Sounds Exciting”

The track runs along the coast through lush bush. The views are just gorgeous. I took my time and took lots of photos. I also saw some Weka, which are another native bird, often mistaken for kiwi.

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A pretty Weka

The walk  lovely, but quite short and soon I found myself at the end of my day trip, waiting for the boat back to Picton. When I have time, I want to come back and walk the whole thing Рit takes about three days.

The next day I had the whole morning before I had to get on my bus to Nelson. So I decided to do something a bit drastic. I went to the hairdressers in Picton and got my head shaved! Annoyingly I have lost the immediate before and after pictures, due to my dropping my phone in a creek a few days ago (more on this later), but there are still photos.

People have asked me why I cut it so short. The main answer is that I felt like it, which is why I do most things (that don’t involve other people). I also really wanted to see what it looked like and it is very practical while I am travelling.

There are cons to the hair too I suppose. I think some men can be intimidated by it and not want to talk to me as opposed to girls with long hair (kinda noticing this already – I am being ignored slightly by males compared to long haired girls, even when I am in shops or whatever). This is really weird.

Regardless though, I love it and I am happy I did it! It’s freeing. I would recommend it to anyone considering it – give it a go,it’s a great feeling to shed some weight! Likewise, I completely understand why you would never want to do this – long hair rocks too!

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View on the walk to Bob’s bay

After my drastic haircut, I went for a walk to Bob’s bay, just round the corner from Picton, before going to my bus. The journey was very beautiful – the scenery is so big here, mountains and forests and lakes. South island is much less populated than north island and it shows (especially as I went further south).

I arrived in Nelson and checked into the multi-building palace backpackers hostel. It was very quirky and had another cat living there! I had some trouble checking in as I had only booked the night before and over the phone, so I was down as “Millie Norton”.

I went for a walk around Nelson. It is a pretty town, with flowers lining the streets and a lovely church. I had a relaxing evening in with pizza, while the rest of the hostel had a boozy party in the courtyard – thankfully I am a heavy sleeper!

The next day, I headed out to go paragliding for the second time in my life so far. I was picked up by Stew – the very laid back paragliding instructor and we headed out to Stoke to go flying. We also picked up a guy who was learning to paraglide solo and his girlfriend.

We drove up the mountain to the launch site. At the top we got ready. I loved how casual it was this time, everyone knew what they were doing, but it was very informal. The first time I paraglided was in Switzerland and it ran like clockwork, but was less personal.

Stew set everything up and we took off. I remembered just how much I loved paragliding the first time! The views were stunning – we could see all the way out to Abel Tasman national park (further round the coast – the location of another great walk). We rode the thermals higher and higher, Stew explaining how it all worked.

After a while, Stew decided to take us down to land back where we started. This was not the original plan, but the guy learner to fly solo was struggling to take off. After we landed, Stew rushed over to help him and he took off rather messily (not that I know how to either, obviously).

Stew and I took off again, and after some more flying around, we headed out to our intended landing site and descended. I took control of the glider for a short while, which was fun, before we headed into our final descent – Stew spiralling us downwards at high speed!

Paragliding is so much fun and it’s chilled compared to skydiving. As soon as I can afford to, I am going to learn to paraglide solo – it’s the only way a human can truely fly and it’s just the best sensation!

After the paraglide, I had a lazy evening and went to bed early as I had to be up to go to Abel Tasman.

The bus left at 7:30 and took us to Kaiteriteti, a small place on the edge of the national park. From there, we checked in and got on the boat which takes you along the national park, dropping people off on the many gorgeous beaches on the Abel Tasman track route to go walking.

I took the extended cruise option, where ale the cruise the whole way up the coast – including going past a fur seal colony! The crew gave us a commentary about some of the features along the coast as we went.

The day had started a bit rainy, with lots of clouds, but grew brighter as we headed along the coast. It was, however, still incredibly rough (for me at least) around one section of the journey.

After seeing the whole coast, we headed back and I was dropped at Medland Beach to do a four hour hike back to Anchorage. The walk went through bush and looked out on the sea – absolutely breathtaking views! The walk took me three and a half hours, including doing a small detour to see Cleopatra’s pool, where it looked like it would be lovely to swim.

There was also a really cool bridge, which could only hold five people at once, spanning a river which led out to the sea. I spent a lot of titime there, taking photos.

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The Swing Bridge

As I finished early, I had some time to sit on the beach at Anchorage and paddle in the sea. It had turned into a beautiful day and I got some great photos of the lovely inlet.

The boat came to pick us up and I was sad to leave Abel Tasman behind. Another one to walk in full someday!

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Oyster catchers

Back in Kaiteriteri, I got on my bus back to Nelson, driven by lovely George, an older gentleman who chatted to me the whole way back to Nelson, pointing out aspects of interest as we drive by – another example of the limitless friendliness of Kiwis!

Wonders of Wellington

I had a long bus journey from Napier to Paraparaumu (a suburb of Wellington where I was staying with family), but it all went smoothy. When I arrived the weather was nice, so after lunch my second cousin (Lana) took me to the beach and ice cream. It got windy very quickly, so we retreated back to the house.

I went out for a drink with my mum’s cousin and her husband (Rhiannon and Wayne), after which we picked up fish and chips for tea which we ate in front of a film.

The next morning, we got an early start and drove out to Martinborough to go to a big craft fayre which had loads of stalls. There was furniture and art and clothing and jewellery and food. It was massive. We wondered round for a couple of hours, enjoying the sun and laughing at the announcement that someone had misplaced their dog and it was at the information tent!

After a couple of hours, we decided to head to a vineyard called Margrain and do a wine tasting. I have never done a wine tasting before, so was interested to note the contrast between the wines. Some wine was purchased, including a lovely Pinot Noir which we had later in the evening. We had lunch and stopped at a few places to pick up various food items: fruit, mushrooms and some lovely cheese. The cheese was from a herd of six cows. Each cheese was from a different cow.

The evening was spend eating tasty BBQ food and watching some classic Kiwi films: Footrot Flats (a farming based cartoon) and What We Do In The Shadows (a comedy “documentary” about some vampires living in Wellington).

The next day I took the train into Wellington and met Jason (Lana’s brother) and Kimmie. They showed me back to their apartment, then took me out to see some of the sights of Wellington. We had a lovely brunch, then walked around, with Jason and Kimmie pointing out interesting buildings, restaurants and cafes.

We headed back to the apartment and I picked up my camera. Then we went to the botanical gardens via the famous cable car (a funicular railway). There is a beautiful rose garden up there and great views of the city.

That evening, we went out again, picked up some fish and chips and headed for Mt Victoria. We climbed to the top (it is quite steep) and sat down to eat. The view is beautiful! It was quite hazy though, so it was hard to get a great photo.

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A hazy view of Wellington from Mt Victoria

After coming back and sitting down, Jason realised that we had discussed taking me to see the glowworms at night in the botanical gardens. We did want to keep sitting, but I also wanted to see them, so we went out again and climbed the hill as it was getting dark. We got to the banks where the worms lived just as they were coming out. The don’t photograph well, but are very beautiful.

 

 

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Glow worms in the botanical gardens

As the next day was Waitangi day (the anniversary of the day the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and a day off), Antrim House was open. Antrim House is a heritage building which is the headquarters of the New Zealand national trust. I met mum’s other Wellington dwelling cousin, James and a friend of his and we took the tour round. It was interesting, although the building is full of modern office furniture.

After this we got coffee and decided to reconvene in the evening to see a film called “Pork Pie” (another Kiwi film) at the Embassy Cinema.

When we met up, I discovered that you can take wine into the cinema here, which is magical. We got a bottle. The film was fun and showed off the great scenery of the south island – making me even more excited to go there! After the film we had dinner at a British style curry house, which was nice.

The next day was one I had to myself as all my lovely relatives were at work. I called Guy (my brother, who lives in Brazil), then headed out to the Te Papa museum. Jason and Kimmie had briefly showed it to me, so I was going back for a more detailed look around. I also bought some work clothes that day for an on boarding I had the next day.

Jason, Kimmie and I watched “Mirror Mirror”, a strange adaptation of White, in the evening. It was odd.

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Inside Te Papa Museum

On the Wednesday, I had my on boarding, then walked over to Mt Victoria again to find a Lord of the Rings filming location. It was easy to find as the path is marked as “Hobbit’s Hideaway”. This road is the one where Frodo shouts “Get off the road!” as the other Hobbits collect mushrooms.

After some searching, scrambling over a fallen tree on a side “path” and a quick go on google, I found out that the tree they hid under isn’t actually there as it was a fake brought in for the filming.

I walked to the top of Mt Victoria again, to see a less hazy version of the view. While I was admiring said view, a butterfly (a yellow admiral) landed on my foot and sat there for a while – I made a friend!

I walked back down the hill towards the sea. On my way, there were a few more butterflies lounging on the path in the sun. They flew up into the bush when I came towards them, but they were still very photographable!

I walked down and along the seafront, admiring the views and the street art. My favourite is a piece with loads of sharks, protesting shark finning (boo, shark finning).

James had organised a fun evening for us at Zealandia, a massive nature reserve near the centre of Wellington used for conservation. We met and ate dinner at a nice little cafe, then took a taxi up to Zealandia.

We were booked onto a night tour which started in the light. To start with, we saw ducks, shags, pigeons, kaka and other day birds as we walked along by the lake (an old reservoir).

We also saw (and watched getting fed) the extremely rare Takahe, a type of grazing ground bird. There are only a few hundred left in all. Zealandia is a safe environment for native wildlife as there are no mammals inside. There is even a specially designed fence the whole way round to keep them out as mammals tend to eat the babies of, or attack, the native wildlife.

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The male Takahe

After we saw the Takahe, it began to get dark, so we walked on, trying to find kiwi. We found one, but mostly saw his back end as he wandered off. We also saw a tree weta (in a special weta hotel), a massive longfin eel (who came to see us and received some food), some tiny frogs, some Tuatara and heard many Morepork owls overhead.

Near the end of our tour we saw some white stick insects on a tree. We also saw three more kiwi! One was quite far away and stayed for ages. Another was close, but ran off pretty quickly and the third was very close and stayed for ages, rooting for insects to eat and generally ignoring us!

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My sketch of us attempting to find kiwi!

It was such an incredibly special evening, which I will remember forever!

Many thanks to my wonderful Wellington relatives for letting me invade their homes and for showing me round so well! Hopefully I will see you all again soon!

 

 

Earth, Sea and Sky

A lot has happened since leaving lovely Rotorua. I took the shortest bus journey so far to Taupo, a small town on the shores of Lake Taupo – the largest lake in New Zealand.

I checked into my hostel and had a lazy evening in. On such a long trip, I don’t want to be rushing out to do something constantly, it’s nice to have a chilled evening in to plan occasionally.

The next day I decided to walk to the Huka Falls, a beautiful waterfall which is quite famous in the area. The walk wasn’t too long and took me past a hot spring where people were bathing. It was a sunny day so I enjoyed the walk.

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The Huka Falls

I arrived at the falls after about an hour. They are not your conventional running off the a cliff kind of waterfall. There is an area where the river narrows significantly to go through a steep gorge through which the water flows violently and with an icy blue and white colouring. The colour, I think, it what first attracted people to the falls.

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The river just downstream of Anatiatia Dam

From the falls, there us a longer walk on to a dam called Anatiatia. I didn’t have any other plans for the day and I thought the long walk might prepare me for the Tongarirro crossing I was going to be doing in a couple of days. The walk was nice, it followed the river down to the dam. It was a very hot walk as there weren’t many trees lining the path. By the time I reached the dam, I had finished my water. The dam was pretty and serene.

I was given some water by a couple who were sitting in their car, then I headed back to Taupo. The walk seemed much longer on the way back and my legs were very tired by the time I got back to the hostel. I had a very lazy evening after this.

The next day I got up feeling very apprehensive. The reason for this was, after a lot of indecisiveness, I had booked a skydive the day before. The morning dragged on (my skydive was at 1pm ish) so I read a book to distract myself and soon it was time to go. I was picked up by the obnoxious yellow stretch hummer and rode to the airport with the seven other nervous passengers (who were all German – there are a lot of German backpackers in New Zealand). We arrived at the airport and checked in, we were given our flight suits and our harnesses, then we sat down to await our fate.

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About to do this!

Before long it was time to get in the plane. I met my tandem jumpmaster Elad who took some photos with me before we got in the plane. I was first out! I sat by door and looked down as the ground got further and further away. At this point I decided I was an idiot for booking it, but there was no going back. Elad strapped me securely to him and we waited until we reached the height to jump. He opened the door and we moved into position to jump. I closed my eyes and he chucked us both from the plane! I screamed as loudly as I could, the opened my eyes.

At this point I realised that free fall is really cool! After the initial acceleration, you barely feel like you are falling and the view and adrenaline rush are both incredible. It was almost calm at the point, when I looked around and thought – this is amazing! The lake sparkled below, the mountains hazy in the distance, the curve of the earth more obvious than normal. Wow.

All too soon the parachute was opened, the view was still excellent, but the harness suddenly felt tight. Elad loosened the harness and gave me the steering handles for the parachute. He took some more pictures and I marvelled at the view. We spiralled down towards the ground. This bit felt similar to paragliding, but less comfortable. We landed in a sitting position and I laughed, the effects if the adrenaline rushing through me. That was insane!

After all the apprehension, I was so glad I did it and the feeling after I landed was incredible! I would recommend skydiving to anyone (unless you have extreme vertigo) – you won’t regret it!

After an afternoon lounging in the sun letting the effects of the skydive mellow, I went out to buy some Lembas (many many snacks) for my journey through Mordor (Tongariro crossing). I was a bit concerned, as on my extended Huka falls walk, I had got a large blister on my heel.
It was a very early start to get to Tongariro – the bus picked me (and two american girls) up from the hostel at 5:50am! The bus took us to the start of the trail and we began walking. I tried to pace myself as my legs were still hurting a bit from the other walk. The first bit of the walk is fairly flat and goes through a moist marshy volcanic field.

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Through the marshes…

After maybe four kilometers of this, there is a nice waterfall called Soda Springs, then you come to the stairs. There are a lot of stairs. This bit was the hardest section of the walk – so many stairs! But the view at the top was worth the pain. At the top of the stairs is the large flat crater, shielded by the mountains. There are great views of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom). You can climb Ngauruhoe from this point, but it is crazy steep and crazy dangerous!

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Up the stairs… (There is no tunnel for Shelob to hide in though)

After the crater there is a short, steep uphill climb to the highest point of the main walk. At the top I caught up with the girls from my hostel and we walked the rest of the way together. You can go along the ridge to the top of Tongariro, but we weren’t sure we had time to get back to our bus, so we continued on.

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Looking exceedingly fashionable at the halfway point

There is a very steep downhill with a lot of sand and scree descending to the Emerald Lakes – three small and beautiful green pools. I almost made it to the bottom without slipping, but took a minor tumble on one of the less steep parts (I am fine though).

From there the path led on round to the large blue lake which is so beautiful and desolate with only scrubby grass and small alpine flowers surrounding it. The descent from the mountain is a long path. To start with the view is stunning, looking back out over lake Taupo. It was sunny where we were but you could see clouds out in the distance – long white clouds!

The path is draped like spaghetti over the hillside, running through a lovely alpine landscape. I found myself thinking a direct zipline or slide would be preferable to return to the carpark, but this was mostly because my feet were hurting! After a long while, around an hour and a half, the path descends into trees with a little river running alongside. Then, another hour later, you end up in the carpark having completed the Tongariro Crossing! I was so happy to have walked through “Mordor” and the landscape up there was just stunning!

The next day, my tired legs dragged me back to the bus stop to go to the coastal town of Napier. I had a lazy evening in my pretty little hostel resting my tired legs and reading.

The next day was the only rainy day Napier has had in months (and also the only day I had there). I put off going out as long as I could and eventually went and got coffee at the lovely Six Sisters Cafe. I then headed to the bank and set up a New Zealand bank account. This was a lot more fun than expected as Nikki, the lady who helped me set up my account, gave me a lesson in New Zealand history while she was inputting the data into the computer.

The rain had subsided, so I went to say hello to the sea. The beach was made of small round grey stones, so it was very atmospheric out there. I wandered around for a while, then returned to the hostel for dinner. After dinner I had a little wander and saw some of the famous art deco buildings before heading home for bed.

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This blog took me a while to post, so there will be anpther one along shortly about my time in Wellington!