I'm going to do a little backtracking to catch everyone up on our goings-on since Jessa's arrival on the 10th. I'll do it in sections, to try and keep the length of my posts down, but I'll probably end up posting them all at once!
Matt and I drove partway to Wellington on Sunday evening, and camped up the Whanganui River, at a beautiful free campsite. Although sleep was interrupted by possums going through the rubbish bins near our tent, we were in fine shape to drive south the next morning, and excited to see Jessa.
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Driving south, with Mt. Taranaki out the window
These toilets were all along the highway, made from recycled feed shipping containers.
Matt at our campsite
The Whanganui River Valley: breathtaking
Driving into Wellington (note the giant cruise ship)
Driving down the Kapiti (KAH-pit-ee) Coast north of Wellington, we could see to the South Island!
Because Jessa arrived on a domestic flight from Auckland, we had the pleasure of going right up to the gate to meet her- something we haven't been able to do in the U.S. for ten years!
Jessa was fairly well rested after sleeping on her flights, so we decided to see a bit of the city that afternoon. On Graham's recommendation (he used to live in Wellie), we went to the Maranui Cafe in Lyall Bay and enjoyed ourselves over some snacks, and then went up to Mt. Victoria, a beautiful wooded park that overlooks the city.
Lyall Bay, Wellington
Matt and Jessa on Mt. Victoria
Before her trip, Jessa had requested that we go to some Lord of the Rings filming sites, so I did a little research on sites in and around Wellington, and on Mt. Victoria we went in search of the site that served as the "wooded road" in the first movie, where Frodo and the other hobbits stumble upon mushrooms and then hide under tree roots from the black riders. And, success!:
Photo Credit: Jessa
"Get off the road!"
The Black Rider approaches! (*snicker*)
Matt tolerated our LOTR geekage quite well, and we had a very nice afternoon. We stayed the night at the Cambridge Hotel backpackers, which I would highly recommend, and then spent Tuesday on foot, seeing all of the sights of Wellington and enjoying the gorgeous, if windy, weather. Here's a bit of a photo essay (slightly out of order):
The Beehive (parliament)
Heading downhill from the Botanical Gardens on the cable car
The Embassy Theater (where the LOTR premieres were held)
Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand
At the Botanical Gardens
We found this awesome human sundial. I'm standing on January 11th, at 4 o-clock- it's very accurate!
Matt and Jessa, having lunch on the water front (Te Papa is in the background)
Matt's going to kill me for posting this, but I think it's an awesome photo! Credit to Jessa.
The old houses of Parliament
Team Oregon in the Botanical Gardens
Victoria University Law School, one of NZ's oldest wooden buildings
Tailpiece of a waka, or Maori War Canoe, at Te Papa
Giant Ammonite fossil at Te Papa- really awesome to see if you've read "Remarkable Creatures"!
The National Museum, Te Papa, is so very well done. Provo and I spent several hours there on our visit 4 years ago, and I was equally impressed this time. We saw all kinds of exhibits on New Zealand's history, walked through the art galleries, heard the sound a giant moa (extinct flightless bird) might have made, and, one of the highlights for me, we saw the Colossal Squid that was one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last few years. It was hauled up in the Antarctic by a New Zealand fishing vessel in 2007, and weighed half a tonne alive. It has now been preserved (pickled) and is on display at Te Papa. It's current size was a little underwhelming (it has shrunk with preservation), but the videos of it being hauled in alive were really amazing.
At the end of the day, we drove out to Upper Hutt, and after a bit of a wild goose chase found the park where the scenes between Gandalf and Saruman in the gardens of Isengard were filmed. To get there, we drove into a residential cul-de-sac, walked on a pathway between houses, and then across a suspension bridge over a beautiful river.
No wizards, but amazing trees!
Also, the park turned out to be home to a fantastically fun cable run, known in New Zealand as a "Flying Fox." Of course, we all had a go:
We camped Tuesday night at a gorgeous free campsite in the Wairarapa, on the banks of a river I can't pronounce, near the forests of Lothlorien. Despite the discomfort, sleeping with the three of us sardined into our tiny tent on very thin camping pads made for a great adventure! Here's some scenes from our camp: