Palmerston North, NZ to Wellington, NZ

2.6 mi / 10.0 mph / 25 ft. climbing
Home: John’s AirBNB

The Capital Connection train to Wellington has only one run, departing at 6:15am. That meant we were awake and packed and out of our AirBNB far earlier than we usually are, but we figured that early departure hid an advantage: if we somehow failed to get on the Capital Connection, at least we could then immediately begin a two-day ride over the mountains to Masterton, where there is a shorter-distance, more-frequent Wellington metro train we could try, and we could still arrive in Wellington by tomorrow evening, the night our AirBNB booking begins.

The Palmerston North train station was just over a mile from our AirBNB, and we got there shortly before the waiting train repositioned itself for boarding. In addition to 20-some commuters, there was a father-and-son with (lightly-loaded) bikes. The train’s website said that the bikes would be loaded into the baggage van, but that information is out-of-date; the train had gotten completely-new carriages in July, and there is no longer a separate baggage van. Instead, it’s more of a standard city-metro setup, where there is simply a section of one car with fold-up seats designated for bikes/prams (strollers)/wheelchairs. There was a single step up into the car, but it was fairly easy for me to lift our fully-loaded bikes up and get them seat-belted in place. Then we just got seats in the same car, where we could have easy access to all of our stuff and keep an eye on the bikes. So overall it was quite simple and even better than the baggage-van setup would have been. I’m not sure what would have happened if four more bike tourers had been trying to get on this train, but they weren’t, so we were going to make it to Wellington today!

Our bikes heading to Wellington on the Capital Connection train. There are three on the other side, so it’s possible that one or two more could have been finagled into the space (especially if we took our bags off), but I think we were getting close to the practical limit.

The downside of our first-try success is that we would now be arriving in Wellington this morning, more than a day before our AirBNB check-in. We immediately messaged our host (who we knew was heading out of town today), and yes, we would be able to add another day and check in today! We figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find another place in New Zealand’s 3rd-largest city for a night, but now we had booked the by-far easiest place. That meant we could fully exhale and enjoy the 2-hour train ride. Watching the early-morning sun play across the fields and forests and mountains was easier when we didn’t need to watch the road too. For a section the rails ran right along the coast, but it was too cloudy for us to see any views of the South Island.

Happily onboard the Capital Connection.
The 5000-foot peaks of the Tararua Range to the west. If we had needed to cross over to get to the train on the other side, we would have done so over a much-lower gap, but we’re still glad that we didn’t need to do that at all!
The Wellington Railway Station immediately gave Wellington a more classical and historic feel than Auckland. A tremendous outflow of people would regularly burst forth from the columns as the morning commuter trains arrived to the Central Business District from further-flung suburbs.
“The Beehive”, the New Zealand Parliament building, shows that the architectural style of Wellington is far-from-uniform, however!
The art deco Prudential Assurance building felt like it could have come from downtown Chicago.

Our first stop was a city-center Starbucks, where we dallied for an hour or more, working on various computer-things, but also watching the bustling pedestrian traffic comprised of a mix of business people, tourists, and a few holiday shoppers. Just as we were about to wrap up and find another place to spend a few hours, we got a surprisingly-early message from our AirBNB host that he was clearing out and we would be welcome to come over at any time. Excellent! So we headed straight over, and now would have nearly two weeks in our central holiday base.

Rett working in Wellington’s Starbucks. No more Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and while the employees were dressed in Christmas outfits, and Christmas music was playing, there was much less Christmas decoration than an American store.

Through Christmas

We spent the first couple days just settling in, and then shopping for Christmas meals. Unlike the last two years, when we were lucky enough to be able to spend quality time with family over the holidays, this is the first time of our nomadacy that we’re truly on our own. But both of our families have established strong traditions around special holiday meals, so one way to feel a connection would be to carry on those traditions as best we could in this new country. One of the main reasons we selected this AirBNB is because its owner normally lives here, so that meant we would have a full complement of kitchen tools to help execute our creations.

Before all the cooking we made an outing to Garage Project Brewing’s “Wild Workshop”, likely the best brewery for us in all of New Zealand, sitting just a few blocks from our AirBNB. There we enjoyed a very Portland-Xmas-feeling sitting amongst the barrels and giant oak foeders aging their wild and sour beers.

Almost two months ago, when we were still in Auckland, Google fed me a segment from John Oliver about his joke/serious campaign to get the pūteketeke (pictured, center) elected New Zealand’s “Bird of the Century”. His show put actual money into the joke, putting up billboards in China and Manitowoc, Wisconsin among other places. So it was a fun surprise to walk past this mural on Ghuznee St. in Wellington (Oliver is on the bird’s shoulder). I wasn’t sure if it was part of his initial campaign, or done after-the-fact, but I now found the artist, who created it after the pūteketeke (unsurprisingly) won in a landslide. Our “dinosaur chicken” is at the bottom right, and I might campaign for it next year!
Two flights of sours, saisons, and Belgians at Garage Project’s Wild Workshop. We also took home a growler fill, since our host had an empty growler on the shelf!

Later that night we were able to expand the holiday spirit a bit beyond the two of us, when our new cycling friends Anna and Moritz came over for a visit! Seeing them for the third time in the third different place across the last week has given us a much-appreciated mutual anchor in this untethered life we’re all living.

Anna, Moritz, Rett, and Neil on Christmas-Eve-Eve.

I had baked my not-very-holiday but still home-feeling oatmeal chocolate chip cake/brownies, and then as we moved closer to the main event, Rett did her mashed potatoes and a version of my mom’s cauliflower and tomatoes. Egg nog does not seem to be available here, so Rett made some from scratch! The main course was a challenge though. We have done a goose for many of the years we’ve been together (a tradition of our own), but geese seem to be completely unavailable in New Zealand. Turkey is slightly more available for Christmas than it was for our November Thanksgiving, but baked ham seems to be the main thing. Until I saw leg-of-lamb in a refrigerated case at the store! That’s certainly something “special” for us, it’s particularly “New Zealand”, and unlike most Christmas centerpiece dishes, a 4 lb. bone-in leg cost a mere US$11, less than a six-pack of beer! We saved the lamb for Christmas Day (and after), and stuck with the “New Zealand” theme and did grilled venison steaks for Christmas Eve. For extra treats I made Rett’s mom’s cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast, and walnut crescent cookies that both of our mothers passed down to us. Overall we did a pretty satisfying job of bringing old holiday traditions into our always-new experiences.

From-scratch egg nog. It was good!! The “fire” behind is just electric light, without the heating element turned on. The temperature has stayed comfortable inside for the week, but that’s with the balcony door and window open 24/7, we definitely don’t need any extra heat, especially with all the baking!
Christmas dinner, eaten at the table like civilized people!
Merry Christmas from Neil and Rett and Lamby (who was not too happy with our dinner choice)!


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