Wellington, the southernmost capital in the world, was originally planned as an overnight stopover between Tongariro National Park and the South Island. However, I had failed to book the inter-island ferry early on because I simply assumed we’d be able to get on the ferry on day of travel. Luckily, the car rental lady in Auckland had advised that we book the ferry ASAP the night we arrived in New Zealand. By then, the earliest slot we could get was a 2AM sailing a day and a half later than I had planned to depart the North Island.

With the later departure, we got a chance to explore a little bit of Wellington, as well as fitting in a short hike.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa is free to the public, and currently hosts several exhibits, and is a good introduction to New Zealand history and culture. It is possible to spend an entire day in this museum.
This Waharoa (gateway), carved out of a 21-foot tōtara in 1906, greets visitors at the entrance.
Current exhibitions in the museum

The Gallipoli exhibit documents New Zealanders’ involvement in WWI fighting against the Turks on Turkish soil. It was essentially a losing battle for the Allies from the get go given the inferior strategic position they were in (Turks were on higher grounds). Another example of a senseless battle.

Continuing with the same depressing theme was the overview of New Zealand’s ecological history. Between the period when the first Māori arrived to when the Europeans settled, New Zealand lost 70% of all its forests, and along with it, the native species that have now gone extinct.

Aotearoa was 85% forest before the first Māoris arrived
The rolling grass lands we see today are the result of the vast deforestations for agricultural purposes.
Habitat loss and introduction of predators (stoats, possums, etc) and pests have contributed to the native bird extinctions.
The giant moa was hunted to extinction 500 years ago. There used to be 11 species of these flightless birds, with sizes ranging from 80-500lbs.
With feet this size, it’d be hard to take flight.
One of the few flightless birds left is the kiwi, which is nocturnal with poor eyesight, but has an excellent sense of smell from the nostrils at the end of its beak. The long beak is useful in digging up grubs.
There are five different species of kiwis in New Zealand. And given that these birds are nocturnal, it is rare to see them in the wild. Luckily, we did get a chance to see live North Island Brown kiwis in a dark enclosure up in Te Puia in Rotorua.
Animals weren’t the only ones on the losing side of the story. Similar to the indigenous population in the US, Māori in New Zealand have also lost almost all their land to European settlers.

On a more upbeat note, the waka (canoe) exhibit was a nice introduction to Māori traditions and culture.

Teremoe, a waka taua (war canoe) built in the 1820-1840s out of tōtara
Paddles occasionally serve as weapons
This stone anchor is a reminder of the achievements of the Māori Kupe, who discovered New Zealand during his transpacific voyage.
Mere carved out of pounamu (New Zealand nephrite jade) represent statuses of its holders.
Various fishing hooks carved out of stones and (beached) whale bones.

Finally, to complete our North Island Lord of The Rings circuit, we went to Mount Victoria, where a lot of the hobbit scenes were filmed.

Shot here, the scene where Frodo yells to his hobbit mates “Get off the road!” when they’re chased by Black Riders.
A bench marking the hobbit hideaway.

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