Wow – this is going to be long! I haven’t updated in such a long time, and I don’t even know where to start.
I mentioned in my previous post about my November travels and here I am, back from my short trip to New Zealand – Wellington to be exact – for 5 days and 4 nights. All I can say is wow!
I took a lot of photos, and I also did a few videos to capture bits and pieces as mementos. This is my second trip “alone”, but like Hong Kong, I was really fortunate for having at least someone take me around places, show me things and direct me so that I am not lost. I must really thank J and his brother for kindly driving me to places I would have otherwise not have visited! I would not have been able to do so much in a day if it weren’t for you – at the same time I need to also thank you for putting up with my constant paranoia, nagging (?) and for feeding me throughout the trip. Only thing is I wish Australian Customs would let me bring some Arisun spicy fried chicken with cheese on board to NZ
Like I mentioned, I did get some help and this trip was made easy since I have friends who have visited New Zealand before, and I have someone I know over there to look out for me. The first thing that we all think of is currency exchange – and there are many easy solutions.
Go 100% credit card
I didn’t realise this until the last day, but when you select credit you have the option of choosing between New Zealand dollars and Australian dollars if you are using an Australian credit card. This is really handy because the screen will show you the exchange rate and you will know exactly how much you need to pay. In other words, you could probably go completely cashless to New Zealand because pretty much everywhere I have been has an EFTPOS/ card terminal machine which should accept credit cards. Note that New Zealand’s EFTPOS is not the same as Australia’s EFTPOS, so your savings card will not work over there.
I took a 28 degrees Mastercard with me since there are 0 overseas transaction fees – and I must say the rate is pretty damn good. Takes out the stress knowing that I can pay in Australian dollars as well.
Exchange some cash, because cash is always good
Cash is great because you know how much you will spend by limiting yourself to how much cash you have on hand. Only downside to cash is that it is something extra to carry and well, you may exchange more than you actually need.
A friend of mine who visited New Zealand a while back actually told me at the time that ANZ had cash packs that are available for purchase – these cash packs are $600 and have notes inside of different values to make it easy for you. Please note that if you do not have an ANZ account you will need to pay $5 as a service fee, so be sure to get a friend or someone who has an account to waive the $5 fee. The downside of these cash packs is that if $600NZD is not enough you cannot exchange for more… you will just need to purchase another cash pack (potentially an extra $5 fee, which I think sucks bollocks and is a complete rip unless you have an account or your friend has an account etc). In this case maybe going to just any ol’ regular money exchange place may do it better for you.
The cash pack exchange rate isn’t any much better than your standard 3% credit card charge and ANZ’s exchange rates are pretty bad. But rating in terms of convenience, I can’t be bothered let’s just do this – then the cash pack is not a bad option. They are available at all branches (or so they say all branches, but you should ask if they have it in case they don’t).
I was told that for about 5 days, $600 would be a reasonable amount of money to bring along and use. I ended up bringing back home about $100NZD (I had at least 1x $50, 1x $20, 1x $10, 1x $5, 1x $2, 1x $1, 1x 50c 1x 20c, 1x 10c as memorabilia and to use next time I go) so I actually only spent $400NZD – I paid $100NZD towards my hotel bill since it was spare cash on me that I had no use for and could go towards that. I tried my best to empty out as much as I could in duty free on the way back but I didn’t have much left to spare and ended up buying something for $15.50. You all might think it’s silly bringing back $100 in a foreign currency back home, but I did that last time on my Hong Kong trip, because you never ever know what can go wrong and having some extra cash is handy.
Note that I didn’t really come on a shopping trip (I made my purchases beforehand or duty free so I spent a lot of money in that respect) and the concept was really walking and sightseeing nature. Transportation cost pretty much less than $15 for the whole trip (more if I had to hire a car, but I was lucky I didn’t need to) and meals on average were probably $15 or less. If you wanted to come for a luxury trip with lots of shopping and eating at fine dining restaurants, then I suggest you go for that extra cash pack. I’m not saying New Zealand is terribly expensive (because my cheapest meal was like $7.60 or something), but if you’re out to buy a heap of stuff then you will need it.
Souvenirs on average are about $15 each – almost $20-30 if you are going to purchase soft toys or other things that seem nicer. I cheated and bought back souvenirs from a supermarket and are edible *cough* chocolate *cough* which made my trip a really cheap one. There are hand made chocolates (similar to Koko Black) in Wellington, but when I think of a chocolate block going for $15 and compare it to something from a supermarket less than $5 but also made in New Zealand, it kind of doesn’t really matter in the end. I probably would care in the past, but I don’t think I care much now as it’s just the thought that counts. I lugged over 2kg of chocolate in my luggage which makes it the most expensive considering how much $$/ kg luggage – but I think chocolate will make everyone happy regardless of where it is from.
These days it is super easy to know the prices of menus and souvenirs simply by googling and finding places of interest and their official websites on the Internet. For Wellington, the tourism website is an excellent breakdown of what there is to do, visit, see or eat in Wellington: http://www.wellingtonnz.com/australia
Planning the trip, day by day
I was completely lost until a few days prior my departure date since I wasn’t sure of where I wanted to go and how to go about it. For me, opening Google maps and zooming right in really helps because it helped me plan how to walk to travel to places.
Basically for my first day I left it blank since I will be in Wellington in the afternoon at about 3pm. One day I planned to do the western half of the city, and next day the eastern half. I still had a day to either go to Wellington Zoo or Zealandia – or both – but I never fixed myself to go to any particular place depending on weather.
I was extremely lucky that the weather forecast went from 4/5 days being rainy days (rendering my whole trip useless for photos) to 4/5 days being clear or cloudy (huge improvement).
Draw a map, write down how you plan to travel (eg. A to B then to C) so that you don’t waste time wandering the streets figuring out what you need to do next or where to go.
Internet, SIM cards, technology
Again, luckily for me the Vodafone kiosk at Wellington airport was actually extremely helpful and had the answer to everything. They have a SIM card especially for travelers and the girl was really nice and set up everything for me and loaded on my credit so all I needed to do was just wait 3 minutes and then walk away with my phone ready to go. It was super easy and great.
You can choose from $19 (500MB, 100 minutes) or $29 (1GB, 200 minutes) – there must be a price for the SIM itself because I paid $35 (chose the $29 prepaid thing), but for convenience knowing you can be connected online to use your maps or receive messages or call home, I think it is worthwhile.
There were many places with free wifi spots and even my hotel was super kind to give me free wifi for the duration of my stay, which is amazing since it was a bonus and cost $20 a day for the service (I secretly thought to myself, had I known I would have gone for the $19 prepaid SIM- not that it really matters much since I abused the 200 minutes by calling home like 40 minutes each night).
Just make sure your phone is unlocked and everything.
Bring your phone charger, battery charger, hair straightener – whatever. New Zealand and Australia have the same type of power plugs so no problems there. Everything is so easy – problem solved.
Air tickets, accommodation and time differences
New Zealand is 2 hours ahead of Sydney so you will lose out on 2 hours (or so it feels like it – but not for long). I flew via Air New Zealand. The plane was a bit squishy and pretty packed (in my opinion anyway), but overall it was a good airline with reasonable prices. I did look into Emirates but it was like double the price and for a 3 ish hour flight, I don’t think there is much need to pay extra. I went for The Works which included a meal, drinks and access to their movies and the option for 1x 23kg checked in piece of luggage. I only checked in on the way back home, but I still needed to go for The Works because of the meal.
The meal on the way to New Zealand was so so as they didn’t have the option I wanted, and the baked potato that was part of it actually seemed raw. I wasn’t going to risk it so I largely left my meal untouched – so I was pretty hungry by the time I got to my destination. The meal on the way back was actually pretty good, though the chicken was still not as hot as it should be (I am paranoid if things are not heated enough) but I still finished it anyway. They also skipped me for drinks with my meal on the way back and luggage took forever to come out of the carousel. Overall Air New Zealand is not bad, but still not perfect – I guess you get what you pay for? It’s still a nice airline though.
After landing in Wellington in the afternoon, the first thing was catching a Valley Flyer bus to the city ($9NZD) and checking into the hotel.
As I mentioned earlier, I was kindly given free wifi access for the duration of my stay. I usually pick hotels that are 4 star or above because I once read this horrible review of a hotel bathroom giving their guest athlete’s foot (OMG YUCK NO). This time round I picked this hotel (a modest 3.5 stars) because it seemed alright and it was pretty cheap – $105NZD/ night which is a bargain considering that I will not be spending much time in my room. I mean if you think about it, you spend more money on a room because of a view… that you can see from somewhere else. You can’t take the view with you anyway, and you’re not going to stay in your room staring at the view.
Overall the hotel was pretty clean and cosy. The walls were a bit thin and the hotel a tad old (it has an 80s, 90s New York boutique hotel feel) – if my neighbours slammed their door the mirror on my wall would rattle and shake. The heater was also a bit old and thermostat would make clicking noises every 10 minutes (yes, this does disturb my sleep). Otherwise, I did sleep quite well and it was in a quiet spot that was well situated in the city. Everything was pretty much maximum 15 minutes away from me, so that was pretty good.
After throwing down my stuff we proceeded to do a speed tour of the city and managed to pretty much cover everything within the city by foot in less than 2 hours. Even so it was pretty exhausting since I was wearing heavy boots and all. The first meal was a bagel from Wholly Bagel and Pizzas, which is a somewhat popular place for bagels in Wellington. The bagel itself was a bit dense because it probably needed reheating, but it wasn’t bad.
Somewhere in between I needed to grab water from the supermarket down the street, and I found to my surprise that there was a Korean supermarket just around the corner from my hotel. I ended up buying some banana milk (actually, its literal translation is banana flavoured milk) which actually was not as yummy as I thought.
We visited a friend’s place for a bit, visited a bar called The Tap Haus and then had dinner at The Oaks which is sort of like an all-Asian cuisine eatery. After that we were planning to watch a movie and ended up watching a bit of “Into the Storm” but didn’t finish the movie and called it a night.
My first breakfast was at a place called Pandoro which had a nicely decorated interior with a black sign. I must say the meal was pretty good.
Toasted sandwich with salmon and avocado and a mocha
Day 2 was the first installment of my crazy self composed walking tours where I ambitiously wanted to cover one entire half of the city by foot. The first stop was to the Botanic Gardens of Wellington. There are a few ways to get there, including walking, but to save the trouble we took the cable car ($4NZD one way) and decided to walk down from there.
Basically the tour was like this: Botanic Gardens > Beehive > Museum of City and Sea > Waterfront > Te Papa National Museum.
We ended up skipping the Museum of City and Sea, and we only did the first two levels of Te Papa in greater detail due to dying legs.
Here are some of my favourite shots of the Botanic Gardens. I took over 650 photographs on this trip and I noticed that out of that, only about 150 photos were processed. I can’t post everything, but here are a few:
I am so thankful for the clear weather because I wouldn’t be able to do anything if it rained! The Botanic Gardens were amazing (or at least I think they were) because it was just the right mix of different plants, a trail-type walk, mountains, ponds and gardens.
This was the view from the top of the cable car. The view was actually really nice – too bad I could not capture it well on camera. My photographs improved over the next day or so because it has been ages since I took photos in general. I eventually mastered the pano feature on the iPhone – it is a really handy tool and I highly recommend it to everyone who wants to just capture the entire view in one go. I think of work (since I work with camera equipment now) and I think it’s cute that some photographers buy equipment to do panoramic shots manually. I must say, it’s a pretty difficult and tricky task – but I am not so concerned about technique or whatever. Just an old iPhone and a pano shot in medium resolution will do it for me.
The bees there are actually really cute, and really big! This is the size of my top pinky joint! I took so many photos with bees and found it so hard to capture that right moment. Birds too – I really respect those who take insect or bird shots because these things are ninjas and are so hard to get on camera! I’m lucky to have a clear shot.
This was en route the city exit – rose garden/ pavillion. This is one of my favourite spots because I love roses.
No filters or photoshop used (well I had a UV filter over my lens but that is it). The roses were so large, like 15cm in diameter and they were all so beautiful! Smelled wonderful as well.
We passed the Beehive on the way (Parliament building) but I won’t post photos of it. Google if it you wish!
This is the waterfront on the way to Te Papa National Museum.
There are a few diving platforms and I was waiting for this guy to jump in. Luckily I managed to get him hitting the water as I was walking away…
This is actually the Wellington mayor diving into to promote a diving platform – she was in the newspaper the next day or so! I’m glad I managed to witness the dive as it is a part of “history” haha – and please do not get too confused with the photo, I just photoshopped her twice into the same photo to halve the work I needed to do (instead of posting 2 photos).
After 4 floors of Te Papa Museum (which is a really nice and informative museum – it’s kind of like Questicon but without as many puzzles and not about science) we had some rest at a cafe called Cha which sells your typical tea/ bubble tea/ smoothie. I ordered a hot pot of chrysanthemum tea… bland. I suggest going for something else.
Dinner was at a Korean BBQ Buffet called TK something or other which was just a block away from my hotel. Could have ate more, but didn’t. I think I already had quite a bit to eat – the choices and selections are limited compared to what we have in Sydney (about half of what we have here – namely because they had no seafood on offer at all) and it was a small restaurant. Cost was $30 per head – I must say, Shinara is much better value for money with many many more choices available.
That concludes the first two days of my stay in Wellington. I will leave you all with just another 3 photos from the Botanic Gardens (in no particular order) and I will be back sometime (probably soon) about the next two days or so (depending on how long the post it I may split it). This is a super long post already @_@ Hope everyone is jolly (because I am and Christmas is coming soooooon)!