Wellington, New Zealand

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Civic Square
I was really excited about Wellington, the first major city in New Zealand. Unfortunately, I don’t think Wellington was so excited to see me.

It’s a very windy city. I woke up late on Saturday morning, ready for the day and all that the city had to offer, only to step outside my hotel’s doors and be hit with hurricane-force winds and rain. Later, I asked a girl working at a café whether it was always as windy, and she pretty much confirmed that it was. Bummer.

I stayed in the Central Business District (CBD as the Aussies and Kiwis like to call it) of Wellington, and I arrived on a Friday afternoon. By nightfall, however, it was dead as dust. Most of the “restaurants” were closed, with a sprinkling of convenience stores and fast food chains open at 6:30pm. Saturday night was worse -- by 6pm, not even Starbucks was still open.

So I trekked all the way to the Te Papa Museum to grab brunch (a savory pie) on Saturday morning, and was pleasantly surprised. Food in Wellington is significantly cheaper than in Australia and even Queenstown. And Te Papa is a magnificent museum.

First off, it’s free. Second, there’s free wi-fi, an extreme rarity in New Zealand. Third, they were having some sort of Maori (aboriginal) festival/commemoration, and there was a concert going on all day, which was wildly popular. Everyone was in high spirits, and it was contagious.

Te Papa (or Museum of New Zealand) is probably the most extensive museum I’ve ever been to. Of course, New Zealand is a small country with a relatively short history, but it had it all -- the history of New Zealand and its natives, the migration of European settlers, Maori arts and crafts, modern day New Zealand, and the top levels of the museum (I think there were 6 levels in total, in a beautifully modern building) were devoted to art -- pottery, photography, painting and contemporary art. I love my modern art, but by the time I reached the fifth floor, I was ready for it to be over!

Normally I’m not so big a fan of history museums, but I was somewhat fascinated by how integrated Maori culture is with everyday New Zealand culture, or so it seems. I wanted to know more about the Maori, so I made sure to read as much as I could about how they came to the country and their traditions.

The Maori seem to really revere the land, which shouldn’t be such a huge surprise. They believe in gods and goddesses behind nature, like many other aboriginals seem to.

After spending over three hours at the museum, I realized the sun had come out (though it was no less windy), so I made my way over to take the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens. It was eerily empty, probably because it was so windy and dreary, but then again, the girl told me it was pretty typical weather.

The view from the Botanic Gardens

Wellington Cable Car Museum

A delightful date scone (a staple in New Zealand, I was told) while waiting for the cable car.
I shared this with some little birdies ...

My initial impressions of New Zealand were that it was much more English/British than Australia, and I was surprised. I’d expected Australia to be a lot more British than it turned out to be, and I’d expected New Zealand to be more similar to Australia. Well, turns out it’s because the majority of its European settlers were English, Irish and Scottish. I haven’t yet been to an Australian history museum so I don’t really know who originally settled there, but it seems Australians tend to separate themselves from the British a little more than New Zealanders do.

Seriously windy.

Capital E area

Customhouse Quay

At night, nothing was open so I resigned myself to my hotel room with some convenience store food … ready for the last leg of my KiwiRail ride, looking forward to breakfast on the train … Wellington is nice, but I couldn’t live there. The wind is enough to turn me away (literally -- I nearly got blown away a few times), but everything shuts down way too early. On the upside, art is inherently present around the city, and the city seems to be extremely culturally aware, and appreciative of what it has.

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