This weekend, I utilized the beauty of efficient, economical travel: by way of train.
I’ve taken many trains before, especially when I was a college student. However, nothing quite compares to a train experience in New Zealand… and I only embarked on three of Wellington Railway’s train routes this weekend. KiwiRail also offers Scenic Journeys, which cater to a multitude of locations throughout both islands.
There’s something extremely calming about riding on a train: the smoothness, rapid speed, not having to worry about paying attention to the road as the navigator, the ease of looking out the window as beautiful landscapes pass by, the ability to listen to music peacefully while it choo-choos along quietly, its similarity to the Hogwarts Express…
Speaking of Harry Potter, this is at the Wellington Railway Station, as a clear-cut allusion to the Hogwarts Express platform, duh. Kiwis do have a cheeky, geeky sense of humor.
My Saturday consisted of journeying on the Kapiti Train Line, which runs along the following suburbs/stops:
- Takapu Road
- Pukerua Bay
I hopped off on the bolded stops and learned quickly that I could barely (and sadly) pronounce any of the locations I was exploring. Past endless amounts of greenery, some dry farmland, and a beautiful coastline… it was by far the best train ride I’ve ever been on.
Waikanae (why-ka-nai… basically the same sounds as Japanese/Hawaiian), my first stop at the end of the hour-long route, seemed to be a suburb mainly surrounded by bush and lots of homes scattered about. I didn’t spend much time here, but I did walk around the neighborhood to admire some of the beautiful homes and landscaping, as well as the backdrop of stunning forest (well, “bush” to Kiwis) running alongside the train route.
Paraparaumu‘s train stop dropped off at the heart of the shopping center (Coastlands), which ended up being the first enclosed shopping area I’ve ever been to in New Zealand so far. It felt a bit strange, perusing an indoor mall, since it felt like I was back in California for a second… except that the entire mall was smaller than the size of Target, and far less crowded. In fact, I’m guessing there were less than 100 shoppers in the mall altogether. Goes to show just how quiet some of the suburban areas truly are.
I chuckled a bit while hearing 80’s music playing throughout the mall, especially since I was told by several people that New Zealand was stuck in the 80s (fashion, music, everything-wise). In the more “hip” fashion stores for the younger generation, such as Factorie, contemporary American tunes weren’t playing- they were streaming tracks like “Beautiful People” by Chris Brown, which, is years old by now. Oh, New Zealand. So laidback and behind the times. 🙂
Rather than wait another hour for the bus to see the beach, I wandered off and eventually found an offpath through a preserved wetlands area that led to a short cycling/horseback riding trail. It was like walking through farmland, similar to my experience in the Bay of Islands, and a bit similar to Frodo and Sam trekking through this:
I even passed a few people horseback riding… oh, the irony of me working for Equestrian Sports NZ and never having ridden a horse yet. Blasphemy, there should have been something in my contract about getting to ride a horse every week at my leisure. 🙂
A few tiny planes few overhead at one point, in which I realized I was next to the airport landing strip. Yeah, the Paraparaumu (Kapiti Coast) Airport was literally just separated from the farmland trail by a mere chainlink fence and a few “DANGER: DO NOT TRESPASS” signs. Talk about cool and up close.
However, even after shlepping through the fields for less than an hour, I realized I needed to get a better pair of hiking shoes… and $130 NZD later, I did just that. My one pair of Merrell shoes are great, but they’ve taken a beating in the past four months and also are flat as pancakes. These new babies better last me a LONG time.
Paekakariki was my favorite suburb of this route… it wasn’t in the wops (middle of nowhere), and the train station was literally 5 MINUTES FROM THE BEACH. Anything within short walking distance of a beach is immediately my favorite.
Oddly enough, it seemed like another ghost town at first: especially with this building as the first large business seen after getting off the tracks.
Yet, further up the hill, this was the view:
Paremata had some wonderful views and a short trail that led to a beautiful view of the marine harbor, as well as the highway (completely free of cars… typical NZ). Three supersonic jackrabbits also scampered in front of me while walking, which was a true highlight.
Porirua ended up being my last stop before I headed back to the train station, since I soon realized that I somehow went seven hours without food (all the adrenaline, excitement of exploring… I somehow always forget about nourishment unless I’m really hungry).
And it was in that small town that I realized that, my God, everything is either (a) closed or (b) closed by 5pm on weekends. Including practically any and every takeaway (that’s “to go” meals in American speak) spot, which have the cheapest food.
There was a beautiful park with a lagoon and a short, cool-looking bridge I ran across just for photo opps (I basically travel for the photos, let’s be real), but I was quite disappointed that my search for food in the shopping center was unfruitful. Markets were open, but I was craving some fresh fish n’ chips.
Fast forward a sleepy 25-min. train ride back to the Wellington Railway Station, and I walked everywhere – everywhere – downtown in search of the perfect fish n’ chips spot. Bars and restaurants were open, but even the bars on the waterfront didn’t even have fish n’ chips on the menu.
“WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?!” I kept thinking to myself. Always happens when I’m drop-dead starving.
About an hour later, I gave up and ended up caving in to a meal that broke my mouth and wallet: $23 fish n’ chips at this little Boat Cafe. I satisfied my craving, even though I wasn’t that hungry by the time I actually ate. Figures.
I ‘chugged’ along again on Sunday, this time venturing into Hutt Valley and Johnsonville. While the views were mildly calmer (mostly just trees and lots of residential communities), it was still enjoyable and exciting.
- Manor Park
- Upper Hutt
It was only about a 45-min. trip to the Hutt Valley, and the views were full of sprawling forest and tiny homes scattered on high mountainsides.
The only sounds to be heard were the occasional birds chirping alongside the shrill notes of cicada bugs (sidenote: Cicadas emit the loudest sounds in the insect world, with noises close to hundreds of decibels. Explains why my ears ring every time I come back from hiking).
I found the isolation and practically people-free suburbs to be absolutely beautiful.
Upper Hutt is home to some of the LOTR filming locations (well, the sets were torn down years ago, so the only one that was restored was Rivendell): Rivendell, Helm’s Deep, Isengard, and the Great River Anduin to name a few. Yet, those locations might require another trip, since I merely wanted to get a feel for the area this time around.
I ended up spending an hour in awe of the vast green mountainsides at Riverbank Park, which I found by sheer accident (just by heading toward the direction of the landscapes, obviously). The “river” that ran adjacent to the mountain scapes was quite dirty, but there was such a peaceful aura in the place. A highway also ran alongside the edge of the park, but there were hardly any cars that were driving past, even at 10-11am on a Sunday.
I hopped off the train to explore Silverstream a bit later, which parallels a smaller version of the residential communities in Mammoth or Big Sur. The views from the train station alone were stunning. There were trees upon trees upon trees, probably spanning miles, and the homes looked much larger and fancier than typical NZ homes. I was under the impression that this suburb is a more affluent part of the Hutt Valley, especially with the number of reserves and parks that were pinpointed on the map.
In search of Witako Scenic Reserve, I ended up veering offpath to Ecclesfield Reserve, which inevitably meant I wanted to explore it first. There are probably thousands of reserves, forests and parks in New Zealand (spanning both islands), but each one is so different in its own way. This reserve was rather small, and yet it felt like a scene from Jurassic Park when roaming through the thick, tall trees and large roots. The cicadas were, again, deafening, so much to the point where my head was spinning because my ears could barely handle their piercing chirps.
And much to my dismay, I hit several marked “lookout points” with NO BEAUTIFUL VIEWS. There were picnic tables at the end of each “lookout,” and the thick trees were so tall and thick that I couldn’t even see anything even when I stood on them. Nuts.
There was a split second where the sun shone perfectly into a high peak of the trail, and even though I wasn’t on top of the trees, I could see the layers of forestry on the other side peeking out. I really felt like this (cue soundtrack from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug):
About 15 min. into this hike, I noticed these were some of the most narrow trails I’d hiked in NZ thus far. It’s never scary hiking up, but once you get to the top, you realize, “Well damn, now I have to get down.”
There were three instances in which I saw my life flash before my eyes when hiking down, but I (thankfully) didn’t tumble nor hurt myself: (1) a moth flew into my ponytail and I freaked at the sudden fluttering in my hair, causing me to swot and lose my balance; (2) my backpack was so heavy that when I turned to hike down, I lost my footing and almost fell on my back; (3) a cicada bug flew into my path of walking and hit the ground upside down- I was caught off guard and almost tripped, while realizing how HUGE (about the size of a quarter) this one was. Stupid traveler, hiking alone… 🙂
Petone was even better the second time around (the first time my flatties took me, it was incredibly gloomy with gray skies) since the water was crystal-clear. Petone Wharf has been the longest pier I’ve walked on in Wellington (considering how short the Seatoun and bay piers tend to be), and it made for some lovely photo opps.
The Johnsonville train line was a quick 20-min. route since I wanted to make the most of the latter half of the afternoon. It was a much different route than the other lines, since there were many tunnels and hardly any homes in the distance. Out the window, all the green looked like a huge trampoline… what I would give to be a bird. It must be amazing to parasail or hang glide in New Zealand!
- Crofton Downs
- Awarua Street
- Simla Crescent
- Box Hill
Johnsonville itself was a quaint town. It was very busy, as you can see through the highway *sarcasm*:
Three different trains, full days, and a weekend full of exploration: I truly do love traveling SOLO. It seems a bit selfish, but it’s freeing. It’s rejuvenating. It’s blissful. Unlike many other travelers, I don’t chat everyone up that often; I’m more of an observer. It’s not that I’m anti-social; I’ve just become a lot more in tune with myself and am at my happiest when I’m off on my own exploring and taking things in slowly, rather than up keeping conversations with others. A stark contrast to the girl who was desperate for friends in November…
Luckily to say, I love exploring new suburbs, but my heart remains in central Wellington… where I’m walking distance away from 10+ different bays. I wouldn’t trade this for the world. I praise the Metlink train system in Wellington; if I could, I’d take the train every day to and from work!