Exploring New Zealand Part 2: The Route to Wellington

On Sunday morning I left Hastings and headed south. As you could have seen from the previous post on New Zealand, I had intended to go directly to Wellington but I happened to have a few stops and a little adventure on my way there. The first stop was in the southern inland Hawkes Bay region which I didn’t have a problem finding thanks to good signposting. On one of the signs there was an inscription “the longest place name of the world”. And it was long indeed, but not as long as the words you hear people using when you’re in Germany!

The second longest place name in the world

The word was:

According to Wikipedia, this means “the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as ‘landeater’, played his flute to his loved one”. It’s something you will never pronounce without getting tongue-tied, so the locals simply call it Taumata Hill.

By the way, this hill is only 305 meters high. This is the second-longest name in the world. Because the longest one belongs to Bangkok. It started off as a small trading post in the 1700’s, and its name was changed to Krung Thep when it became the new capital in 1782. But despite the name change, in the west, it’s still referred to as Bangkok. The name Krung Thep is actually just the first two words of the full city name which comes from a poem:

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

I continued my journey further south. I had intended to go there later but the plan eventually changed. The road brought me to a remote beach on the east coast (Herbertville). And it was definitely worth the detour. This place looked like some strange lagoon with the masses of foam washed up on the beach which I thought was sand at first (it’s funny to think that the sand could freeze in such a shape). Pictures will probably explain my amazement way better than the words. By the way, it concerns my next destination point as well.

The wild beauty of the East Coast

I drove the wrong way and found myself on some remote gravel roads in the middle of nowhere. The Wairarapa region in the southeast of the North Island is extremely sparsely populated. It’s a very hilly area with a few farms and a few small villages. Some of them are so small that they mostly consist of only one school and probably the houses of the teachers and a few farms. The New Zealand Government provided education for all, so the school bus goes everywhere, and the distance doesn’t matter.

Over the gravel roads, I came to the waterfall called the Waihi Falls. It’s a beautiful spot, but I have already seen so many waterfalls that it was quite difficult to impress me.

The waterfall in the middle of nowhere

The next point in my journey was the Castlepoint. This is a small place on the almost uninhabited southeast coast. This is where wealthy Wellingtonians spend their weekends and holidays. The place would also have a lot of potential for tourism, although it is of course quite remote. Castlepoint is approximately one hour’s drive from Masterton.

In fact, Castlepoint is a small coastal town, a home to a lighthouse that towers on top of the hill at the northern end of a one-kilometer-long reef. There is an island called the “seagull island” by the locals, obviously due to its large population of seagulls at the southern end of the reef. The southern side of Castle Rock is known as Christmas Bay.

The beach at the Castlepoint

On the one hand, there is a secluded bay where you can swim safely, and on the other, there is a raging ocean with high waves in this area. The bay is bordered on one side by a small rock where a lighthouse is located. I climbed up there and enjoyed the spectacular scenery (and the wind).

There is a stunning view of the sea, beach and New Zealand coast from the top of it. But be careful – the slopes are extremely steep at times. You need good shoes, a decent level of physical fitness and a lot of courage to get to the top. It was also very windy up there! But it goes without saying that the Castlepoint is definitely worth a visit. Strolling at the foot of the lighthouse with a 360-degree view overlooking the ocean, you may be able to see seals in search of food. Other wild animals also enter these seas. Those who are lucky can spot dolphins, killer whales, and even sperm whales!

The Castlepoint lighthouse

Wairarapa’s east coast is a dangerous place for ships. Over time reefs, winds and dangerous currents have conspired to wreck a large number of vessels. There is no large harbour between Napier and Wellington, and the ships caught in storms off the Wairarapa coast were often driven onto the shore. Due to the fact that this area had a number of wrecks, the government saw the need for a navigation light on the coast. They chose Castlepoint reef as the site of the last of the ‘watched’ lighthouses to be built in New Zealand. It was officially lit for the first time on Sunday January 12, 1913, sending out a triple flash every 45 seconds that could be seen for 35 kilometres. In fact, the lighthouse is composed of seven rings, each 3 meters high, and is the North Island’s tallest lighthouse. It stands some 52 meters above sea level.

The way to the lighthouse

The next destination point in my travelling plan was Cape Palliser. It took me another 2 hours to get there. First I had to drive through Masterton (the only real town in the Wairarapa area where you can’t do much), then Martinborough, which is famous for winemaking. More than 20 wineries are in the Martinborough area, most of which are within walking or cycling distance. There I had already looked for accommodation in case I couldn’t get to Wellington that day. Except for a few somewhat overpriced options I couldn’t find anything, so I made up my mind to drive straight to Cape Palliser.

On my way to Cape Palliser

As you may have guessed already Cape Palliser is the southernmost point of the North Island – and of course, it has a lighthouse as well.

The last part of the route is totally breathtaking. It stretches directly along the waterfront to Cape Palliser. But you also visit the Putangirua Pinnacles on your way there. This place is famous as perhaps one of the most impressive Lord of the Rings locations. The Putangirua Pinnacles depicted Dimholt Road taken by Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to find the Army of the Undead.

I got as close as I could but the Pinnacles still required a small march. I accidentally deviated from the actual path, walked up a stony riverbed and ended up finding a wonderful spot with a view of the Pinnacles. There are simply quite a lot of needle-shaped rock formations created by erosion.

At almost 8 pm I walked the last 10km to Cape Palliser. It was quite an adventure, the last part of the path was actually made of gravel and was not even a meter away from the sea. I was the only one there, so I climbed the stairs to the lighthouse. There were approximately 300 steps of some 20m high staircase. It was extremely steep but cool. You could admire the steep coast, the stormy Cook Strait and huge ships sailing on the horizon from up there. By the way, you can’t see the South Island from that location – that’s because the Cape is too far east.

The steep stairs

This place is spellbindingly magical. James Cook named Cape Palliser for a naval friend of his, and the name was transferred to the great sweep of bay between the Cape itself and Turakirae Head in the west.

The view from the top

The coastal area there was well-endowed with kaimoana, that is why it was so important for Maori. As well as it was important for the European sheep farmers who came there next and who were driving their flocks around the coast from the Wainuiomata Valley. The Palliser Bay was their gateway to the Wairarapa plains. And the beach there was the main point of landing for their produce.
There is a small settlement near the Cape. It is called Ngawi. People there live from crayfish fishing. Beside that, Cape Palliser is the location of the North Island’s largest seal colony.

At some point, I went back and was really starting to worry about where to stay overnight. Unfortunately, I had no cell phone service there so I didn’t have an opportunity to call. That’s why I gave up the idea of staying at the campsite and drove even further to Martinborough. It was around 9 pm and it had already gotten dark and gloomy. I didn’t have normal glasses anymore which I actually needed to drive the car by night (sunglasses don’t really work at night).

I also had to share the gravel roads there with some four-legged friends sometimes

So I drove through Martinborough without any idea where I could have stayed for the night. There was nothing suitable.The only hostel on my way was already full – and the Holiday Park administrator was a little bit angry about my late accommodation request, for I should have rung him earlier, even though it was only 9 pm. To be honest, I didn’t even start doing my homework at that time when I was a schoolboy :D.

Anyway, I had no accommodation so I decided to spend the night in my car. It’s actually a common practice for lots of people like me. But I felt a bit uncomfortable being alone. And on the other hand, my car was too small to sleep in a normal position and because of the theft that had happened earlier, I didn’t have a sleeping bag or other really warm things. Despite it was summer, the nights there were quite cold most of the time.

In order to at least try to fall asleep in the warm car, I drove out of Martinborough, turned on the heating to the maximum and tried to make a few more kilometers to Wellington in the dark. Since the visibility was not too good, I crawled over the lonely roads and, when at some point it got too warm, I looked for a place to park the car. This was an even lonelier gravel road, where I was only surrounded by cow and sheep pastures. Crosswise in the car, my feet on the passenger seat, my head on the driver’s side on the window, with a sweater serving me as a pillow, I tried to sleep, and it more or less worked. I was woken up in the middle of the night by a long truck passing by. That’s when I realized that I could adjust my seat almost like a couch. So I did it and it turned out to be much more comfortable.

At about 2 o’clock at night, it slowly got quite cold in the car even though I had put on long trousers and a sweater. So I decided to drive a few kilometers further to Wellington and warm up the car again. The next stop I made was at the edge of a winding main road, in the middle of the hills before Wellington. With my new sleeping position, it was a little bit better, nevertheless, I woke up at 5 o’clock in the morning when it was slowly dawning. It was still relatively dark, but bright enough to drive on wearing my sunglasses, fast enough not to slow down because of the already quite dense traffic. So I drove on towards Wellington passing Hutt Valley first.

The beautiful scenery of the coast

Located in the north Wellington Region, The Hutt Valley encompasses two cities, Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt. This area felt like endless amounts of regional and forest parks. There are many, many locations in this area where the Lord of the Rigs was filmed – but since I was missing my location finder and there were no signposts, looking for them seemed to be a hopeless task. By the way, the night in the car seemed not so horrible when it ended. It was short and uncomfortable, but at least I could save a little bit.

Once I set off again, I didn’t go to the actual city of Wellington but decided to drive along the opposite side of the bay along the water, with a beautiful view of Wellington, which was just welcoming the daylight.

The way to the top of the bay was unfortunately still closed (because it was still too early), so I had to go back and this time straight to Wellington. A multi-lane motorway led to the city and I must confess that I mastered it quite well. As well as the drive through the city center with the high buildings (although small compared to Sydney) looking at my car. I also noticed that parking (which I generally had a problem with :D) could be difficult there.

But first I left the city behind me and drove through the suburbs, which were mostly on the hills behind Wellington, often up to 400m higher than the city itself so the cars often have to struggle up quite steep roads. Once you are up the hill, you have a nice view of the capital of New Zealand.

Not much bigger than Auckland, Wellington has a more central location. Weeks passed before people from the South Island reached Auckland in the 19th century. In addition, Wellington was also a better place to stifle the South Island’s burgeoning aspirations for independence. By the way, some of them still exist – a party that demands independence for the South Island has already run for elections several times, but so far it has had no chance. In fact, the differences between the South and North Island are quite big. I still felt as if I were in a different country, even though only the 30km wide Cook Strait separated the two islands from each other.

I was about to explore Wellington…