Welly weekends: Beaches and bush walks

From the little blue house to… the little beach house! I’m writing this from our new pad, an Airbnb in Houghton Bay. I’m sat at our table in the window about ten feet from the ocean. I can see rocks and cliffs and clouds, three little white lighthouses and watch planes coming into land and the ferry to the South Island crawl past. Yep, it’s pretty nice.

We moved here on Saturday afternoon. I feel like we’re starting to get into our groove a bit now – feeling like we live here, rather than we’ve just arrived, if you get the difference! We’re actually not that far from Red Rocks, where we walked last weekend. It’s a ten-minute walk to Island Bay to get the bus into town, and where there’s also a corner shop (“dairy”), a couple of bars and a retro cinema we’re going to check out next week! (I know it’s summer, but deep down October means autumn and that means getting cosy and watching films!).

We really enjoyed our weekend which, of course (I’m not even going to apologise) started with brunch, this time at The Beach House Café on Island Bay. If we ever emigrated (parents, I jest, don’t panic), I know exactly where my café would be: NEXT to this place. Seriously. It’s teeny and gorgeous and SO popular and apparently it hasn’t occurred to anyone to maybe… capitalise? There are enough gorgeous views to go round!

In the interest of “not just eating poached eggs all over the world” I saw Best Ugly Bagels on the menu and plumped for one of those, with mushroom pate, goats cheese, rocket and toasted seeds. Yep, THEY KNOW HOW TO BRUNCH down here. And while the name is fantastic, it is also misleading: ugly these bagels are not. Yum.

We headed into town via the incredibly windy coast road… not ideal after brunch I’ll admit. The land is so steep here; even right by the coast, it just goes straight UP. So it’s a coast road in the most literal sense: a squiggly ribbon right next to the sea, on the only flat bit available! So if sea levels rise even a little bit… that road’s a goner. Food for thought!

We had wanted to walk around Somes Island, also called Matiu, which is a nature reserve in the middle of Wellington Harbour. It’s a two-hour walk around the island, and as I’ve said so many times, when the weather’s good, you gotta pounce! Annoyingly, we got to the ferry office a bit late and wouldn’t have had time to do the walk before the last boat back. I know we’re embracing the outdoors on this trip, but impromptu camping trips are probs still a little bit beyond us… Next time!

The afternoon wasn’t a waste though. What would you do in the UK on the first sunny Saturday of Spring? That’s right – go and find a beer garden (in this case, Fortune Favours) and have a sunny afternoon pint. Marvel at the fact it’s warm enough to take your coat off (but not your scarf) and feel the sun on your face for the first time in a few months. Summer’s coming back around!! It also occurred to me this weekend that this year I am going to have a HOT BIRTHDAY for the first time in my life!..

Sunday was chocka: up early to Skype Team Taylor before heading off to find an 800-year-old tree (more on that in a sec). Though not without a coffee pitstop (again, I am not apologising: unashamedly caffeinated since September 2018). This time we went to Midnight Espresso, a Cuba St institution. The queue snakes down the counter and if you spot a free table, you gotta grab it! I was genuinely proud of Mr TG and his assertive table-pouncing skills. I’ve rarely seen him move so decisively. We really are on a voyage of self-discovery.

What kind of place serves brunch til 3pm, and dinner til 2am?! A pretty awesome kind.


So: the 800-year-old tree. This really is Middle Earth, right? We hopped back on the bus and 15 mins later were winding our way through ancient and fairly undisturbed bush. Whose bush? (Stop laughing at the back.) Otari-Wilton’s Bush to be precise. (Not, as R calls it, Irwin Mitchell’s Bush. As in… the UK solicitors firm. Haha!).

This is a 100-ha forest reserve and sanctuary on the edge of the city which is dedicated to NZ-native plants, some of which aren’t found anywhere else. And it was amazing!!

From the canopy walk all you can see is a wall of trees (it looks not unlike Jurassic Park… thankfully the scariest thing we saw was a kaka, or bush parrot!). Underneath, you really feel lost in the wilderness, like you’ve gone back in time – not 15 minutes from the capital! It’s not damp and humid like Borneo was (#clang), it’s green and cool and peaceful in there, with enormous tree roots to climb over and vines and creepers curling down everywhere. And it was so quiet: it’s actually school half term here at the moment, but we hardly saw another person!

(I do have to just interject here to vindicate myself: you may remember in Port Fairy, I heard a bird, and R laughed at me and told me it was in fact a windchime. WELL. I can confirm that we BOTH heard the same birdcall while walking in the Bush. Ha! Long live the Jangle Bird.)

The 800-year-old tree was a Rimu and was… wow. You can’t really fathom something that old. All the things that have happened, all the arguments and wars and stresses and nonsense in that time, and it’s just stood there. That’s quite reassuring, really. (Also, nerd alert, you can totally understand why the Ents in Lord of the Rings were totally not arsed about all that One Ring stuff. Silly tiny humans.)

We absolutely loved OWB. $2 on the bus to feel in the heart of the bush; it’s really something special. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods (literally), I would totally recommend it.

Continuing the bush exploration theme, we watched a gorgeous little film on Sunday night called Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I’d vaguely heard of it, but it’s quite well-known here; a modern Kiwi classic, in the way Gavin & Stacey is in Wales. Plus it’s got Sam “Jurassic Park / Peaky Blinders” Neill in it (who knew he was Kiwi!?) which is never a bad thing. It’s funny and sweet and very, very, Kiwi – worth a watch!

I’m pretty excited about this weekend as we’re off on our first Weekend Adventure. We’re hitting the road North and going to Napier and Hawke’s Bay. The town (they call it a city… it’s not a city) is best-known for the art-deco architecture (it was flattened by an earthquake in the 1930s and rebuilt), and like Welly, there are lots of murals around, but we’re also keen to check out some waterfalls and climb Te Mata peak. Hawke’s Bay is also wine country. Now, I’m supposed to be off the vino til the half marathon but I’M IN NZ… training’s already a bit upside-down. It would be rude not to, right!?

(Another realisation this week: my birthday is the Saturday, the race is the Sunday. Therefore I can’t have a drink on my actual 30th birthday. FFS. If that’s not worth sponsoring me I really don’t know what is. Thank you to the lovely Brennans for sponsoring me this week!)

Slang of the day: “think outside the square” – Omg you guys. The “Prue” on Aussie Bake Off said this about FOURTEEN TIMES on this week’s episode. Obviously it’s just their version of “think outside the box“… but good lord it was irritating!!


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