Postcards from Abroad: Wellington, New Zealand

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Rob is a 3rd year geophysicist who really cannot stand being holed up inside, making New Zealand a great country to have ended up in. Caving and climbing are his two main jams, but he can be persuaded to do pretty much anything as long as it sounds crazy enough and can be done for not much money. Really has no idea what the years ahead will bring, though the draw of living in a van while trekking round Europe seeing stuff or cycling the length of South America sound pretty sweet: anything to avoid sitting in an office…

I’ve been in New Zealand since July 2nd now, and a lot has happened to me over this period: far too much for one blog to cover fully! So here are just some of the highlights from the 3 and a bit months I’ve been here so far.

Before I got to New Zealand, I was secretary of the University of Leeds Speleological Association (Leeds uni caving club which anyone wanting to have awesome easy adventures with great people should check out), and NZ has some of the best caving in the Southern Hemisphere, so obviously I was keen to get on board with that. After some asking about, I got in touch with a group of cavers based in Nelson, and within 3 weeks of arriving in NZ I was off on the ferry across the Cook Strait for the first time to see what the caves here would be like. I was not disappointed: since my first venture south I have been back and helped with local exploration as well as showing a couple of friends around some holes in the floor. Harwoods Hole was especially awesome, a massive 200m hole in the ground (quite sobering abseiling from 7am with minimal sleep: thin French rope and heavy bags made for quite a fast descent!) with some really beautiful stream passage at the bottom. Sport caving at its finest! Also saw some really beautiful gour pools and formations, and experienced quite sketchy passage (climbing up wall, rock the size of a telly falls into my arms) and ‘minimalist’ cave rigging. That’s exploration for you! Got quite a bit coming up on this front: this weekend, I’m off to the NZ Speleological Society AGM to party and see new caves, then the weekend after I have an underground camp from Friday to Sunday planned where me and a few others will push explored limits of a cave called Middle Earth-Greenlink – currently almost 40km long and shows no signs of stopping soon!

mountain biking (1)


Aside from being beneath the mountains on the South Island, I have also been exploring some tops. The North Island has three really aesthetic stratovolcanoes: Mt Ngauruhoe (better known to most as Mt Doom), Mt Ruapehu and Mt Taranaki. Since arriving, I have been on some good expeditions in the mountains, on the North and South Islands, but weekend siege assaults up the latter two in that list are by far the highlights. Myself and some friends, including Morgan (good beard, Mongolian throat singing enthusiast, loves pain), Rudi (really French Frenchman, good at everything outdoorsy) and Ivan (mad as a hatter and looks the part too) did a cracking weekend trip up Taranaki in September. The ice conditions were great (it is renowned for awful bullet-hard ice which makes for dangerous times) so were able to get some really fun pitches in. Ruapehu a month later was toward the end of the season so there was a lot of rotten ice around, meaning that protection was few and far between when climbing: not really worth lugging the rope and rack up there overall. I slept in a snow cave which was amazing (and really warm) and got up two of the main peaks surrounding the amazing and rather sulphurous crater lake, Girdlestone and Tahurangi (the latter being the highest point on the North Island). Sick times! Summer offers lots of opportunity for getting on rock and making vertical progress, but first operation ‘Get Stronger’ must happen…

Wellington is a very hilly city. This might be a bummer for some people, but if you enjoy going down hills silly fast on a bike, it’s pretty top biscuit. Soon after arriving, I discovered that there is a huge MTB trail network within Wellington city, and after exploring them on foot, I knew they were class and I would have to get a bike. I now have a nice, light hardtail which I use for general cruising and speedy trail blazing alike. Looking forward to getting better at this and continuing cut the forest to bits in future weeks.

Since I was a wee boy, I have needed morning coffee to make things happen during the rest of the day, usually supplemented by further coffee. Wellington is one of the coffee capitals of this planet, and I have been mega-stoked about the quality and variety of coffee available. The standout brewer is the Havana Coffee Works, from whom you can buy a kilo-bag of numerous excellent blends, ground specifically for plungers, percolators and espresso machines (I have the first two).

kahurangis river

Craft beer is also a huge thing here, and it’s often very tasty. Annoyingly, there is not really any such thing as a pub session here, mainly due to the fact that you are unlikely to get any change out of $10 for a pint (around £4.20). This came as a shock after being used to quality pints for less than £2 in most good Leeds pubs (the Brude, the Chemic and the Packhorse). Over here, cheap red plonk is generally a safe bet. Food also seems to be extremely expensive by comparison, though this may be due to the fact that I had my shopping tactics pretty dialled back home (knowing the best times to get reductions in Burley Park Coop combined with occasional raids of the Meanwood Waitrose bins made for serious food savings last year!).

Street art is all over Wellington, a lot of it commissioned work and often with a political motivation behind it: a piece on sharks was commissioned by WWF, for example.  Overall, aside from the sometimes persistent cold and wind, Wellington is an awesome place to live and great for students. The only cityscape that I have really enjoyed as much in NZ is Dunedin, which is a mix of the grandeur of Oxford or Cambridge with the grottiness and grey of Loughborough, and a full on student town which embraces this to the full.

Anyway, as it’s getting colder in the UK it’s getting hotter here, so do excuse me while I head off and enjoy biking over some beautiful hills down to the beach…

Rob Watson

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