Life's a beach

Life's a beach
Life's a beach

Wellington – Trolls, cable cars and a museum to end all museums

Wellington Harbour front
Our crossing of the Cook Straits was uneventful, if a little lumpy. The weather gradually deteriorated the closer we got to the North Island. Undeterred we checked into our apartment on The Terrace, a long road on the hillside above the city. This caused Fo some consternation (she hates hills) until the concierge pointed out a short cut to sea level via a lift (elevator) in a hotel opposite. It dropped 7 floors straight into Lambton Quay, the city's main shopping thoroughfare making somebody very happy.

Our first day was very lazy. I have a sense that I have repeated that last sentence a little too often of late. In my defence we'd been on the move for a few weeks and it was good to flop; indeed we slept until 10.30am on the first morning. We did manage to stagger to the local supermarket, but that really was as exciting as that day got.

The Kupe Group

The following day we explored Wellington's harbour front and were blown away by the architecture and the design of the public spaces. Maori carvings and sculpture was everywhere. The most prominent was an imposing bronze of the Kupe Group occupying pride of place on Taranaki Street Wharf. It features Kupe Raiatea, the great Maori explorer and discoverer of Wellington harbour, and his wife Te Aparangi among others. My favourite piece, though, was Solace in the Wind, a two-metre-high iron figure leaning forward into a cross-harbour gale with eyes closed and arms held back. Local topography means that the wind is funnelled through Wellington; most days it blows and, more often than not, it's fierce and cold, even on sunny days. On such days you need to be over two metres and have an iron constitution.

Maori Pa within the Te Papa Museum
Not far from here was the Te Papa Museum, the city's flagship museum. Its 6 floors of highly interactive exhibits were amazing. So much so that in 5 hours we managed to explore only two levels. My favourite section was Awesome Forces, an exhibit covering geology and plate tectonics. Its main attraction was a mocked-up house in which we experienced an earthquake. We loved the museum and, unusually for me, returned the following day to visit those sections we had missed. I had seen nothing like Te Papa before and could only assume that museums have moved on a lot since last I visited a major one.

The only thing better than one Fo is two.

As we left Te Papa, it occurred to me that it was almost entirely Maori-centric. Indeed, I realised that all of the museums I had visited in NZ were similarly biased. Perhaps it was coincidence but I did wonder at the lack of European (Pakeha) history. Admittedly, Maoris have probably been here for 800 years but modern NZ has been created by a fusion of many cultures, so it’s strange that this isn't reflected more in museums etc.

They like their garden gnomes big in NZ.
On another day we met up with Maureen, a friend that Fo had met at her regular writing group in the UK. She and her husband very kindly collected us from our apartment and took us to the WETA Cave. WETA is the digital and physical special effects company set up by Peter Jackson and a few other young film-makers around the time of Jackson's first major film, Heavenly Creatures. As part of the studio complex, the group has created the Cave. This was really nothing more than a retail outlet for replicas of movie props and other merchandise. However, it did have a small museum (standing room for 3 only) and a small theatrette running a short promotional film about WETA and some of its work. The highlight for me was three lifesize trolls on the lawn outside. 

The Roxy Cinema in Wellington.
From here we visited the Roxy Cinema, a wonderfully restored art deco theatre. The refit cost $6m and much of the work was done by WETA. If we had such a cinema back home I'd go every week. Sadly we weren't able to see a film but our hosts did treat us to lunch and took us on a long drive around the beautiful bays and headlands of Wellington harbour before returning via their lovely house for a well earned cuppa. We are hoping to meet up with them in March when our paths cross again, on that occasion in Melbourne, Australia.

View from top of cable car across Wellington.
Wellington has a working cable car that provides an easy and inexpensive route to the top of the hills behind the city. It was originally built to provide easier access to new residential suburbs on the outskirts of the city. These days it's largely a tourist attraction that provides a direct but sedate route to the botanical gardens, the observatory and the cable car museum at the top of the hill. We spent a leisurely two hours exploring all three before tucking into our packed lunch in a shady spot overlooking the city.

We had planned to do so much more in Wellington but, as usual, a lack of time defeated us. We'd found another place that we could have all too easily stayed at for a couple of months, not simply for four short days.

View across Wellington Harbour

No comments:

Post a Comment