Bossa’s Trip to Hong Kong

Barbarossa a.k.a Bossa is my cat. Bossa’s first trip abroad was to Hong Kong in April of this year, when he attended two Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) licensed shows there. Bossa has been competing locally in our local Malaysian CFA Cat Shows since the start of the 2014/15 Show season which begins in May 2014 and ended in April 2015. He obtained the Grand Premiership (GP) title at the start of the show season. At that time, both the breeder, Zikhafri Maine Coons and I decided to show Bossa until the end of the show season as we wanted to gauge how far he could go. Bossa himself is such a natural show cat and enjoys the attention from the judges, breeders and the cat-loving public.

At the beginning of this year, Bossa was ranked 7th in the Premiership category for Malaysia. Both the breeder and I thought that this was the highest that he could attain. As it is, being ranked seventh is quite an achievement as he always have a tough time finalizing in the All-Breed
category due the large numbers of Maine Coons competing in Malaysian CFA Cat Shows.

The next title after GP is Divisional Winner (DW) awarded to the Top cats of both categories. The number of cats eligible for the DW title is decided by the management of CFA. Malaysia, being a small country, (compared to China for instance) have very few sanctioned CFA Shows. As a result, normally only the Top 3 Cats of both categories would be eligible for the DW title. In February 2015, CFA announced that the Top 5 Cats of both categories would be eligible for the title. That was the start of our mission to ensure that Bossa gets the DW title. After further discussion, we decided to send Bossa to the Cat shows in Hong kong as there were two shows in HK against one show in Malaysia in April (there were no shows in March, both in Malaysia & HK. There was a show in Bangkok, however if Bossa participated in that show he would have to be quarantined for 6 months before his next overseas trip).

Once this was decided, it was a mad rush to prepare for the trip. Cats entering Hong Kong had to be micro-chipped, be up-to-date in terms of their vaccinations and also had to be vaccinated against Rabies. Bossa was mico-chippped when he was five months old and his vaccinations are current, but he was not Rabies proofed. We were lucky that there were about 6 weeks before the first show in HK, as the shots had to be administered at least one-month before entry to HK. Once that was done, it was another rush to compile his export/import permits (to re-enter Malaysia), to reserve his air passage (they travel as cargo on most airlines), my air tickets and also our accommodations. Accommodations which are pet-friendly are very limited in most cities. We were lucky to have found a very good pet-friendly apartments on HK Island called Chi Residences 138. The apartments overlook Victoria Harbour and the views are magnificent.

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Views of the Harbor from the apartment and from the roof-top
Views of the Harbor from the apartment and from the roof-top

Needless to say, Bossa did well in HK. In the first show, he went on to the finals for two out of the five rings.

Rossettes from the first show.
Rossettes from the first show.

He did even better in the second show, finalizing in five out of the six rings.

The show hall at MacPherson Stadium
The show hall at MacPherson Stadium

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Bossa in action in the ring, his wins and the rosette collection.
Bossa in action in the ring, his wins and the rosette collection.

At the end of the last show season, Bossa obtained his DW Title, being ranked 4th in Malaysia and 15th for Asia in the Premiership category

New Zealand Trip Highlights

I have not been blogging since my retirement. This was so different from what I thought will be happening, that is I would have plenty of time to blog. However the last three months have been spend reorganizing the house, as I have been accumulating things and not really sorting out the clutter. The clutter is still there though. I wished that I’ve been sorting out the clutter bits by bits, which would’ve made for an easier spring cleaning. Now its a MASSIVE clean-up which may take months and involves a ruthless discard of anything I have not been using or don’t need to use anymore. Other than the spring cleaning, I have enrolled at a Baking School to seriously bake and maybe set-up a new home-based business. I was planning to blog about my culinary adventures, but I thought that I should sort of complete the NZ trip blogs by summarizing the highlights of the trip before moving forward with the culinary blogs.

I have always enjoyed visiting New zealand. this was after all my third visit. However, if I were to pin-point the highlights of our 12-day New Zealand Trip, these came to mind:

1. Viewing Auckland from up above the Sky Tower. We did that at night and the view was still awesome. It would have been fantastic during the day!

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View of the Sky tower during the day and night; and; my sister and I at the viewing deck of the Sky Tower
View of the Sky tower during the day and night; and; my sister and I at the viewing deck of the Sky Tower

2. Looking up and imagining a dark night full of stars in the glow worm lit cave of Waitomo.

Boarding the boat to view the glow worm at Waitomo
Boarding the boat to view the glow worm at Waitomo

3. The violent landscape of mud pools, geyser & sulfurous smoke alongside the English charm of Rotorua.

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The peaceful English town scene Vs. the violent  volcanic scenery of Rotorua
The peaceful English town scene Vs. the violent volcanic scenery of Rotorua

3. Getting a feel of what drives New zealand: Farming, its native flora and fauna and the latest industry – movies.

A peek into farm life at the Agrodome
A peek into farm life at the Agrodome

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Natural flora and fauna at the Rainbow Springs
Natural flora and fauna at the Rainbow Springs

Hobbiton where the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbits were filmed.
Hobbiton where the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbits were filmed.

4. A visit to the Te Papa Museum in Wellington for a further insight into the history, the landscape and all things New Zealand.

The outdoor section of the Museum which depicts NZ's natural forest and landscapes.
The outdoor section of the Museum which depicts NZ’s natural forest and landscapes.

5. Whale-watching and savoring fresh crayfish and seafood in Kaikoura.

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The pristine blck pebbled beach and the cray fish in Kaikoura
The pristine blck pebbled beach and the cray fish in Kaikoura

6. The splendor of Mount Cook and the Fiordland National Park

Mount Cook
Mount Cook

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Mirror Lake and Mitre Peak at Fiordland National Park
Mirror Lake and Mitre Peak at Fiordland National Park

7. The majesty of Milford Sound.

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Majestic Milford Sound
Majestic Milford Sound

The breathtaking Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound

We saved the most awesome and breathtaking sceneries to the last. On Day 10 of our New Zealand tour we took the Great Sights tour from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back again. The coach left the coach stop at 7.30am, before making its way to Te Anau. This is the starting point of the tour and also walks to the Fiordland National Park. After Te Anau, it was picture perfect scenery all the way!

Lake Te Anau at the boundary of the National Park
Lake Te Anau at the boundary of the National Park

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One of the Photo Stops at Fiordland National Park
One of the Photo Stops at Fiordland National Park

The road through the Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound was narrow, winding and downhill at certain places. We even had to pass through the one-lane Wilmot Tunnel. Nevertheless, there are photo-stops aplenty including at the Mirror Lake, Waterfall and The Chasm. There was a stop for us to taste the spring waters too! The water was cold and taste great!

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake

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The Waterfall, spring water and the Chasm, Fiorldland National Park
The Waterfall, spring water and the Chasm, Fiorldland National Park

We reached Milford Sound at 12.00pm and boarded our boat for the cruise at 1.00pm. The Cruise last about 2.5 hours. The boat itself has passenger seating areas, a cafe and outdoor viewing decks towards the front and back of the boat.

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Milford Sound Reception Area, Our boat and boarding time.
Milford Sound Reception Area, Our boat and boarding time.

The fiords or Sounds as the Kiwis called them are the result of glaciers. There are three fiords/sounds at the Fiordland National Park: Doubtful, Dusky and Milford Sounds. The most visited is Milford Sound and I can see why, as the views are simply out of this world!

Our first view of Milford Sound with Mitre Peak on the left
Our first view of Milford Sound with Mitre Peak on the left

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View of Milford Sound from our boat and photo of another cruise boat with the Sound in the background
View of Milford Sound from our boat and photo of another cruise boat with the Sound in the background

Besides the wonders of the fiord itself, there are waterfalls from the ice and snow melting from the mountains. The boat will stop at one of the waterfall where you will get its sprays.

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Views of the Waterfalls at Milford Sound
Views of the Waterfalls at Milford Sound

Milford Sounds is also home to the fur seals. We saw a colony basking on the rocks. We even saw dolphins swmimming in the waters.

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Fur seals basking on the rocks and dolphin in the waters of Milford Sound
Fur seals basking on the rocks and dolphin in the waters of Milford Sound

Our cruise ended at 3.30pm and we boarded the coach for our return journey to Queenstown. We arrived at Queenstown at 6.30pm with all these wonderful memories of the breathtaking beauty of the Milford Sound.

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Our final views of Milford Sound
Our final views of Milford Sound

Aoraki/Mont Cook, the Cloud Piercer of South Island

On Day 9 of our New zealand Trip, we took the Great Sights coach service from Christchurch to Queenstown via the picturesque Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Aoraki is a Maori word for a person but it has been romanticized to mean “cloud piercer”. Indeed, it is the highest mountain in New Zealand at 3,724 meters.Our journey began at the Armagh Street Coach Stop of Christchurch at 7.30 in the morning. As in my earlier post, I was sad and disappointed to see the earthquake damage in Christchurch. I hope that their reconstruction efforts are successful and that the city can regain its previous momentum and glory. After leaving Christchurch, our next stop was Lake Tekapo. It is the largest and highest lake in NZ, at 710 meters above sea level. Unlike the North Island where its terrain is shaped by volcanic activities, the landscape of the South Island is shaped by Glasiers and Ice/snow. This is obvious from the lake waters which are deep blue in color and its cold temperatures. At the edge of Lake Tekapo, there is a bronze statue of a sheep dog to commemorate the role and usefulness of this hardy breed. There is also the Church of the Good Sherperd close by. This Church was built in 1935 in memorial of the pioneers of the Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mackenzie Region. Besides the lake and the church, there is also the famous Mt. John Observatory for star gazing/astronomy.

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Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd.

We then proceeded onwards to the Aoraki/Mont Cook National Park. This is one of the 14 National Parks in New Zealand. The landscape also changes to mountainous terrain.

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Mountainous Terrain on the way to Aoraki National Park
Mountainous Terrain on the way to Aoraki National Park

We reached the Mount Cook Village at 12.00pm to drop off some passengers who were staying at the Youth Hostel and Hotel. We had a long lunch break here and were able to enjoy the splendor of Mount Cook. A helicopter ride is also possible to enable you to view the two glaziers of Mont Cook, that is: the Tasman Glazier and the Hooker Glazier.

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Mount Cook in all its glory and majesty
Mount Cook in all its glory and majesty

After lunch, we proceeded to Queenstown and anly arrived there in the late evening at about 6.30pm. The journey via Mount Cook provided a picturesque and pleasant change from our normal coach journey. Everytime, I travelled through such a magnificent scene, I always thankful to be able to see and experience such wonders of nature.

Whale watching in Kaikoura

Our next stop was Kaikoura. We made this stop-over on our way to Christchurch to do whale-watching and to savor some sea food especially cray fish. Kaikoura is a small sea-side town on the west coast of South Island with a population of about 2,040. Kaikoura comes from the Maori word “cray fish meal”. We arrived by the Coastal Pacific at 20 minutes past three in the afternoon. There is a taxi service available every time the train gets into the station (once per day!). Our motel which was the White Morph is within 10-minutes drive from the station and within the town’s esplanade. After checking-in and resting, we explored the beach and discovered that it is made up of lava stones and black sand, common in volcanic areas.

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The stony and black sand beach of Kaikoura
The stony and black sand beach of Kaikoura

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The Tree lined esplanade to the town centre
The Tree lined esplanade to the town centre

Just past a small memorial park which commemorate local residents who died in the second world war, we reached the town, which comprised of one row of shops on both sides of the main street. The ornaments used for the bus stop, park pathway as well as shop’s name represents what the town is famous for: whales! Besides whales though, there are other marine attractions, you could view like the dolphins and fur seals.

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Park Pathway with arches shaped as Whale Bones and the Memorial Plaque
Park Pathway with arches shaped as Whale Bones and the Memorial Plaque

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The shops at Kaikoura
The shops at Kaikoura

Our dinner was of course cray-fish followed by tom yum soup. The cray fish was fresh, sweet and delicious and worth every dollar of the NZ$95. As for the soup (which we ordered from another restaurant) was tasty and had the tom yam taste as we know it back home! All in, a satisfying dinner for the three of us.

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The cafe where we had the cray-fish and our cray-fish dinner. The cafe is also known for its fish and chips.
The cafe where we had the cray-fish and our cray-fish dinner. The cafe is also known for its fish and chips.

The Tom Yum Soup
The Tom Yum Soup

The next morning we checked out of the motel and headed for the Whale Watch Office by cab. The Whale Watch Office is conveniently located at the Railway Station. They will store your luggage for you while you go for your whale watch trip. The whale watch trip lasts about 3.5 hours and costs NZ$145 per person. Our trip was for 10.00am. The staff will check you in only after 10.00am and therefore you need to be at the office at exactly 10. They will then usher you to the briefing room at 10.30am to be briefed on safety procedures and what to expect during the whale-watch. If you have travel sickness and are not accustomed to choppy waters, it is best to prepare yourself with travel sickness medication, which is available at the office. we then boarded the bus and make a 20-minute trip to the jetty to catch our boat for the whale watch.

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The Whale Watch Ticket and watching out for whales from the open deck of the boat.
The Whale Watch Ticket and watching out for whales from the open deck of the boat.

I was initially skeptical as they have provided assurances that you will be able to get at least one whale sighting. On the boat, we were informed that the male sperm whales will come to feed in Kaikoura during the summer as there is an undersea basin which is rich in food for the whales. However because of the low temperatures of the water which suits the male sperm whale better, only male sperm whales will come to feed in Kaikoura. Sperm whales are named after the spermaceti found at the head and is used to provide buoyancy and regulate its body temperature while diving in the deep. The males are on average 16 meters and can be submerged for 90 minutes, after which they will re-surface to re-oxygenate. The first sign of this happening is the plumes of water arising on the water surface. They will then take in oxygen before plunging back into the ocean with its tail flipping upwards. On our trip, we saw two whales surfacing and it really was a sight to behold! Besides the whales, we also saw fur seals in the water and albatross flying past.

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The Whale surfacing and its tail flip before diving back to the depth of the ocean
The Whale surfacing and its tail flip before diving back to the depth of the ocean

We continued our journey by the train to Christchurch and arrived after 7.00pm. I was saddened to see the devastation wrought by the earthquake. Although it was dusk when we arrived, there were still signs of destroyed buildings and new construction on sites where buildings were destroyed. In fact, I think the hotel that I stayed in the last time I was here was destroyed in the earthquake. We did not venture out of our motel except to get dinner at an Indian restaurant close by, as we will be departing very early the next day for Queenstown.

As for the short stay in Kaikoura, it was a new and great experience to see the whales in a natural environment. I hope that the the whales will continue to come to Kaikoura for many years to come!

Ferry Crossing and Rail Journey across the Marlborough Region

On Day 7 of our New zealand Trip, we took the Interislander Ferry to cross over the Cook Straits from Wellington to Picton on the South Island of NZ. The InterIslander Ferry is the only road and rail links between North and South Island. It is operated by Kiwi Rail and employs three Roll-On and Roll-off Ferries, which can carry passengers and vehicles. The largest of these vehicles is the Kaitaki (Maori word for Challenger), which is capable of ferrying 1,650 passengers and 550 vehicles. If you are traveling using the InterCity Flexipass like what we did, the cost of the ferry journey is included in your pass. We checked out of our hotel at 7.00am. Our booked cab arrived early at 7.15am and send us to the Coach Stop at the Wellington, Cental Railway Station.We were lucky as I had got the wrong departure point for the ferry. It was supposed to be the Wellington Interislander Ferry Terminal at Aotea Quay. Luckily there is a shuttle service from the Station to the Terminal which departed at 7.40am and cost NZ$2 per person.We arrived in time for the ferry where we checked-in our luggage at the check-in counter for the train service. The staff will ask to check your reservations for either the rail or bus services and they will then sort out your luggage which will be automatically loaded on your designated services. Due to baggage handling and check-in procedures, passengers are required to be at the Terminal 40 minutes before departure time. We boarded Kaitaki at 10 minutes past 8 and by 8.30am, it has left Wellington. Kaitaki has several cafes, games room and movie theaters to keep you occupied on the three-hour crossing. We arrived in Picton on time at 11.30am.

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View of Aotea Quay from Kaitaki, The Observation Deck of Kaitaki and the sun coming up on the horizon from Kaitaki
View of Aotea Quay from Kaitaki, The Observation Deck of Kaitaki and the sun coming up on the horizon from Kaitaki

Our next stop from Picton is Kaikoura. I have opted to travel on the Coastal Pacific Rail from Picton to Christchurch with a stop-over in Kaikoura. The Coastal Pacific operates from Picton to Christchurch with six stops in-between as follows: Blenheim, Seddon, Kaikoura, Mina, Waipera and Rangiara. It costs NZ$138 per person but was worth it because of the scenic views it provided. We boarded the train at 1.00pm. The train has two passenger bogies, 1 buffet bogie, 1 luggage bogie and an opened observation bogie.

The observation bogie of the Coastal Pacific.
The observation bogie of the Coastal Pacific.

The views from the train was fantastic. Immediately after Picton, the scenery became all mountain range as we were traveling close to the Kaikoura Range.

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Mountain range after Picton
Mountain range after Picton

As we approach Bleinheim, the scenery changes to vineyards. We also passed Lake Grassmere which is being mined for salt.

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Vineyards, close to Blenheim
Vineyards, close to Blenheim

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Lake Grassmere
Lake Grassmere

Leaving Blenheim, the scenery changes to farm lands with sheep grazing in the fields.

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Sheep grazing on the farm lands
Sheep grazing on the farm lands

As we got closer to Kaikoura, we caught the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean and the coast-line. You would be able to sport colonies of fur seals basking on the rocks and also watch sea gulls and albatross flying past.

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The Pacific Ocean and the coastline near Kaikoura
The Pacific Ocean and the coastline near Kaikoura

We arrived at Kaikoura on time at 3.28pm. It was a wonderful change from our normal coach travel as we got to view scenic and varied landscapes.

Windy Wellington, Capital City of New Zealand

After Rotorua, our next stop was Wellington. As informed by one of our guides, towns in NZ are given either Maori or English names. Wellington is named after the first Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. It is the capital city of NZ and the second most populous urban area with a population of 393,600. Wellington is called the “windy city” because it is affected by strong gales due to its location, which is within the narrow Cook Straits. We left Rotorua at around 8.50am on the Inter-city regular route the IC7701 which was from Tauranga to Wellington. Along the route, we passed by farm lands and small towns similar to the coach journey before (as per my earlier post on coach journey across the Waitaki). We arrived in Wellington at around 6.30pm in the evening.

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The sceneries along the way
The sceneries along the way

As soon as we arrived we checked-in at our hotel, the James Cook Grand Chancellor, situated at The Terrace. After a short rest we ventured out to Victoria Street via the hotel connection. Most hotels located at the Terrace would have their own connection for guests to go straight to Victoria Street and Lampton Quay area. This is the main shopping area for Wellington. However, when we were in Victoria Street, none of the shops were opened as it was a Sunday. This really disappointed us as this is the only time we have to check out the shops.

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Checking-in at our hotel and the hotel room
Checking-in at our hotel and the hotel room

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Victoria Street, empty on a Sunday evening and Statue at Plimer's Lane
Victoria Street, empty on a Sunday evening and Statue at Plimer’s Lane

We next ventured to the Civic Square to view the Town Hall building and the the I-Site office. This will be the location where we intend to purchase the Hop-on Hop-off service the next day to get an overview of what Wellington has to offer.

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The Civic Square and Town Hall Building
The Civic Square and Town Hall Building

We headed to the Harborfront for dinner, as my research indicated that this is the ‘happening place’ in Wellington. This was proven to be incorrect as well as the Harbor was relatively quiet. There were good restaurants at the waterfront. Unfortunately, when we inquired, we were informed that we have to wait for at least another half an hour or so, we decided to try having dinner somewhere else. As it so happens, we also met 4 Malaysian guys who were also out to get dinner. They were from our Cable network, Astro covering the World Cricket Game. We ended up with having dinner at Cuba Street (based on advise from them) and had Malaysian food of all things! Unfortunately, my Gado-gado and Sweet Sour Fish were nothing like those found at home. But my sister and sister-in-law enjoyed their curry laksa. Other than Malaysian cafes, there are loads of other International cuisine available at Cuba Street (we saw Thai, Korean, Japanese & Turkish!)

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Views of the Harbor front
Views of the Harbor front

The next day, we purchased the All-day Hop-On Hop-Off Tour from the I-Site for NZ$45. Unlike the other cities’ Hop-On Hop-Off (HOHO) service which used buses (sometimes double-decked ones), the Wellington HOHO service uses vans, as Wellington is hilly and the streets are narrow. The service then becomes more personal and intimate as during our tour, there were only 5 passengers altogether (my group + another couple). The HOHO service will do a 2-hour route service with 17 stops as follows: I-Site, Courtney Place, Mt. Victoria Lookout (photo-stop), Wellington Zoo, Weta Cave, Sheepskin Warehouse, Oriental Parade, Cuba Quarter, Cable Car/Carter Observatory (photo-stop), Zealandia, Botanic Gardens, Katherine Mansfield Birthplace, Old St. Paul’s (photo-stop), Parliament, Museum of Wellington City and Sea, Te Papa and City Gallery.
Initially we wanted to stop at Oriental Parade for lunch, as this is a beach front. Unfortunately it was raining and we changed the stop to Weta Cave. Weta Cave is NOT a Cave but the Design studio for miniature and life-sized models for the Lord Of the Ring, Hobbit, District 9, Avatar, King Kong and the Chronicles of Narnia movies. Unfortunately, the workshop tour which runs every half hour from 10.00am – 5.00pm were full when we arrived.
In the end we changed our stop to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The Museum is huge and is laid out on 5 different levels. The Museum even has open air area which depicts the fern forest, wet lands, waterfall, lagoon and even a glow-worm cave terrain of NZ! There are also exhibits on Maori culture, how NZ is created (volcanic activity and glaziers), how the European Settled in NZ, Modern NZ and even something on the Lord of the Ring. It is an interactive museum with displays such as the Earthquake House which replicate the effect of earthquakes. We spend an enjoyable four hours here, learning and experiencing the culture and all things NZ.

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Standing before an upset Orc and Views from the out-door section of the Musem.
Standing before an upset Ork and Views from the out-door section of the Musem.

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Photos of exhibits at Te Papa showing how NZ was formed, Maori Culture and also the Art Gallery on Level Five.
Photos of exhibits at Te Papa showing how NZ was formed, Maori Culture and also the Art Gallery on Level Five.

Our visit to Wellington was brief, but enjoyable and informative. i would especially recommend going to Te Papa as it was such an interesting place.