New Zealand – Wowed in Wellington

I arrived in Wellington after an overnight trip with Naked Bus. It cost me $25NZD to get from Auckland to Wellington. I genuinely can’t fault Naked bus service or value.

I am fortunate enough to have family in Wellington so was greeted warmly at the bus stop and whisked away in a car. I did circumnavigate Wellington using public transport and found buses, trains and the cable car reliable and regular. The snapper card system is in use on busses but paying the driver is a very viable option too.

Wellington’s architecture is an interesting mix of awful and beautiful. There seems to be no happy medium. One of the buildings I thought was stunning is the old parliamentary building seen here.

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The new parliament building is hideous and resembles an air filter you might find in a bagless vacuum cleaner. You can see the very edge of it creeping into the left of the photo above but I’m not posting a picture of it because it offends me.

There’s plenty to see in Wellington. The streets are littered with sculptures, art works and intriguing buildings. Something to do which I cannot recommend highly enough is Zealandia.

Zealandia is an area of the City which has been fenced off for preservation. This means all introduced predators have been removed in order to reintroduce native species. It’s a really beautiful area and worth the entrance fee as you have the opportunity to see New Zealand nature as it was before settlers.

The animals range from feathered and noisy to scaled and silent. One of the scaled and silent types is the Tuatara.

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The Takahē is a flightless bird which was critically endangered a few years ago. Zealandia had a successful breeding pair who are contributing to the repopulation effort.

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Another native at Zealandia is the Tui. It has a distinctive white feather tuft on its chest and has an interesting song.

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Most New Zealand birds are muted as far as colouration goes. Take the Kaka, a native parrot. It’s colours are nothing like the vivid birds of Australia. The kaka has much more subtle brown and red tones.

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Zealandia really is a wonder to walk around and so close to the city that you simply have to go. There’s even a free shuttle bus that departs from the cable car terminal. No excuses.

New Zealand is famous for being the location for Lord of the Rings and Wellington is the home of Peter Jackson’s film studios. This means that much of the filming was in and around Wellington. I took the ultimate, full day tour with Wellington Movie Tours (www.movietours.co.nz). It took me to Helms Deep, the gardens of Isengard, Hobbiton woods, the production studios, Rivendell and the WETA cave workshop.

At Rivendell, you can compare heights with this handy post. I’m Gandalf amounts of tall.

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The whole day tour includes a sandwich lunch, collection from/return to city accommodation and all aspects of your tour. The tours use a mixture of movie clips and pictures on location so you really get a feel for what you’re looking at. There was also instances of posing and dressing up. It really was amazing fun and I’d recommend Wellington Movie Tours to anyone.

An extra I paid for was the ‘window into workshop’ tour at the WETA cave but before I gush about that, this is what greets you outside of the WETA cave.

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Anyway, the window into workshop tour is basically a treasure trove of WETA work. It’s not just Lord of the Rings in there; it’s District 9, The Chronicles of Narnia, Halo and a wealth of other interesting creatures and props. We were guided around by a bonafide painter who works there. He explained the processes involved in designing and producing props. It was incredible. If you’re a movie geek with an interest in special effects and props, pay the extra $20 and do the tour. You will be delighted.

During the day we also found a real New Zealand silver fern. Green on the top side, silver on the bottom.

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The day finished with us watching the sun set behind the south island. Beautiful.

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I visited the national museum of Te Papa too. It’s free to get into and had some interesting exhibits. I found the most informative to be the earthquake section. I really didn’t know much about fault lines, earthquakes or after shocks before visiting Te Papa and now I do. There’s an earthquake experience which gives you an idea of what an aftershock feels like. It really is very well done. The museum as a whole is very good and you should visit if you can.

One day, I took a train up the cost and explored an area called Paraparaumu. The train journey itself is scenic and enjoyable. Once in Paraparaumu, I walked the cost from Raumati beach to Paraparaumu beach. On the walk, you get great views of Kapati island. Very pretty!

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It’s a very lovely area of coast and well worth a trip on a good day. The beaches are clean and the cafés plentiful so you can relax with beauty surrounding you.

My time in Wellington flew by. Before I knew it, I was heading back to Auckland for my flight to Australia. I was utterly spoiled and taken care of in Wellington and it left me raring for more Aussie adventures.

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Australia – Immigration Issues

Having decided I loved Melbourne, and that it wouldn’t do if I didn’t live there for a bit, I began wanting to apply for my Australian working holiday visa. This visa is offered to British passport holders under the age of 30 as a way to travel around Australia without breaking the bank. The process can be completed entirely online with the only major catch being that you cannot apply whilst in Australia. As a result, quite a bit of my time in Auckland was dedicated to visa logistics.

Normally visa approval is incredibly fast owing to the online automated system used by Australian immigration. You fill in the form at http://www.immi.gov.au, pay the several hundred pounds fee (£227 for mine I think) and within a day have your visa authorised. Unfortunately, mine was not this hassle free.

I had no idea that Hong Kong was a high risk area for tuberculosis and, as I’d lived there for 8 months, I required a chest x-ray to go along with my application. The Australian immigration folks only have two approved centres in Auckland which are able complete this as part of the online system. Luckily one of the centres was in the CBD and therefore not too far away.

You can go to any centre you like but if they’re not on the immigration approved list, you have to courier the films to Tazmania in order for the officers at immigration to assess them. I didn’t fancy that so I registered for the online service and popped on down to the authorised centre in Auckland CBD.

The x-ray process itself was very simple. I handed in my form, passport, paid approximately $70 NZD and got x-ray’d. The results were registered online there and then by the radiologist and I left thinking “Fantastic! It’ll l probably be cleared tomorrow.” because the website had told me it takes 24 hours for online medical results to be processed.

The next day I was disappointed to see that my application status still listed me as requiring a chest x-ray. I wondered if someone hasn’t pushed the required button yet and decided not to panic.

After the weekend, I receivd an email notifying me I was required to get a chest x-ray to support my application. “Uh oh” was my initial reaction. I thought I’d probably confused the computers because I got the chest x-ray before receiving the relevant email (I’d taken my prompt from the application status checker on the immigration site). Bugger. Time to speak to a human.

After a decent amount of time spent on hold (about 25 minutes. It’s a good job Skype credit calls are so blooming cheap) I got through to a very lovely lady and explained the situation. She assured me it did not matter that I had completed the chest x-ray as they are valid for a year after you lodge your application. Phew. The kicker was that she advised it can take up to 2 weeks for medical information to be loaded into immigration systems. The 24 hour assessment period only applies once the info has been received. This wasn’t great news.

I’d planned to go back to Australia within a week of getting to New Zealand and to just see Auckland in that time. Instead, I was confronted with the prospect of 2 weeks and not much cash to play with.

I spent the rest of that day deciding how I would spend my time. I settled on a week in Auckland, diving at Tutukaka and then visiting relatives for a week in Wellington. I made all the necessary coach bookings and settled back resigned to the fact that I may as well enjoy myself and spend lots of non existent money.

I spent the rest of the day booking and paying for things to see and do in each place. At about 7pm New Zealand time I received an email from the Australian Immigration service. It advised my via had been granted. I was delighted and then I swore.

New Zealand – Perfect Poor Knights and Watery Whangarei

Whilst in New Zealand, I deemed it would be quite rude not to go to one of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s top 10 dive sites in the world. I left Auckland with Naked bus and traveled to Whangarei because that’s as close to the dive site as you can get on cheap buses. Naked Bus was not only cheap but it was also on time and efficient. No messing.

Once in Whangarei, I checked into the YHA after ascending a steep hill and waiting for their reception to open. The hostel was OK but nothing special (the bathroom was bloody freezing in the morning which I did not appreciate). I think it’s been sold now anyway so you probably can’t stay any more which is a shame as it had the only functioning VHS player I’ve seen in 10 years.

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Anyway, Whangarei is a picturesque enough town with cafes and souvenir shops. I managed to source a Kiwi charm for my bracelet and many other things to send home which I did at the post office in Whangarei town.

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There really isn’t a lot to do there though. I was in Whangarei simply because it is the main transit point before Tutukaka and Tutukaka is where you leave from to dive at the Poor Knights Islands.

My original plan was to do a live aboard trip but the weather scuppered that. Instead, I did a single day diving with Dive Tutukaka, possibly the nicest dive centre in the world. Firstly, every stupid question I posed via email or telephone was answered thoroughly and promptly by some of the friendliest staff I’ve ever encountered. Second, the dive boat (Bright Arrow) was great; It coped really well with some pretty choppy water. Third, the return shuttle from Whangarei to Tutukaka was very reasonable ($20 NZD). Fourth, the dive prices were very reasonable. Fifth, they provide pictures from the day free of charge via Facebook. Amazing!

Diving at the Poor Knights Island seems like it’s endless. On the dive boat there were 2 seriously experienced guys who had been diving over 20 years and they still haven’t been to all the sites at Poor Knights.

I had a lot to overcome on my 2 dives because it was cold water and I was in a full wetsuit. I’d never dived cold water before and never dived in a full suit, therefore, I struggled with buoyancy and body temperature. I did look like a superhero in the full suit though.

The first 5 minutes of my first dive (at Bird Rock) was spent hanging onto some kelp trying to sort my buoyancy out. I eventually got a handle on it and we set off. I saw the most beautiful school of pink maomao, many eels, scorpion fish, tonnes of nudibranchs and a plethora of more common fish. A superb dive that ended too soon. I enjoyed it.

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The second site (the Rock) felt better because I was used to the buoyancy change and borrowed some gloves to keep my hands warm. The marine life was superb as were the stunning kelp forests. The most unexpected treat for me was colouration seen on the rock faces. It ranged from black to lilac with blues, yellows and oranges in there too. Simply lovely. There were amazing overhangs which made me go ‘wow’. I had the pleasure of swimming against the flow of a large school which simply didn’t care I was there.

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Out of the water the view isn’t bad either. This is the highest rock arch in the southern hemisphere (I think).

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And this is just a wicked sail through cave thingy.

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Beautiful to look at and easy to marvel at how nature works. Don’t miss the Poor Knights if you’re in New Zealand.