All is Wellington

Thursday, October 02, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Days 29 & 30:  Picton to Wellington
Wednesday began early as we packed up and made our way to the ferry terminal at 7 a.m.  Of the two ferry services operating on the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands of New Zealand, we opted to book passage on Bluebridge, the smaller of the two, but the only one offering free wifi service, a helpful feature on a 3 ½ hour trip.  Though the Hertz office was located at the terminal of the larger Interislander Ferry, this presented no problem as we were able to park the car at Bluebridge and leave the keys with a ticket agent.  Hertz would send someone to pick up the car.

Since we had saved $100 by not having to take the car island hopping, we opted to fork out $40 for a private cabin on the ferry.  With two beds, a full bathroom, table and chairs, it made for a very comfortable trip.  Though the Cook can be quite windy and choppy, we lucked out with a smooth voyage in calm water (pictured above).  After a bit of a mix-up upon arrival regarding where we were supposed to pick up our rental car in Wellington, we soon sorted things out and arrived by noon at our apartment hotel in the heart of New Zealand's capital city—At Home in Wellington, a name which created a bit of confusion when locals asked in conversation where we were staying.
The Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa
The compact and very walkable CBD (central business district) of Wellington wraps around the city’s harbor in horseshoe fashion.  After settling in at the hotel, we strolled over to the next block to visit Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum.  Situated on the waterfront, the museum houses six floors of exhibits dedicated to the country’s culture and environment.  In addition to the typical art and artifacts, Te Papa abounds with multimedia and interactive features, appealing to a wide audience of all ages.
When we entered this free admission wonderland, I made a beeline for the World of WearableArt exhibit while Ken wandered through some historical sections.  Though I’m certainly no fashionista, I do get a kick out of the creativity and competition of the Project Runway television show, and this exhibit featured the ultimate unconventional materials challenge.  An annual competition, Wellington’s World of WearableArt fashion show represents a collision of fashion, art and theater, turning traditional design on its head with wildly improbable costumes and clothing made from the most unexpected materials—cable ties, pine needles, twine, wood veneer, or whatever the artist conceives.  Te Papa’s exhibit features many of the creations from past shows as well as large video screens playing back the high drama of their presentations.

An exhibit of the works of New Zealand artist Billy Apple left us scratching our heads.  Leaning more toward the representative end of the art spectrum, though we do enjoy impressionism and abstract pieces, we are confounded by the vagaries and seemingly pointless nature of conceptual art.  A case in point is Billy Apple’s work Sold on exhibit at Te Papa.  It is merely a large receipt for a work of art sold to the National Gallery, except that there was no work sold.  The receipt, along with the transaction behind it, IS the art work.  You be the judge.  Is this a reflection of the museum curator’s gullibility, a tribute to Billy Apple’s marketing ability, or a brilliant work of conceptual art?  After several hours in the museum, we wandered back to the hotel, prepared dinner and made plans for Wellington, Day 2.

With a full agenda for Thursday, we began with a drive up the narrow one-lane track to Khandallah Park near the summit of Mount Kaukau.  During a short hike on the park's Northern Track, we found ourselves in yet another lushly verdant rain forest.  A chorus of raucous birds provided commentary and entertainment as we tramped along the deeply shaded trail.

Khandallah Park
From the park, we navigated around to the other side of the city in search of the Mount Victoria lookout.  As we were stumbling around trying to find the viewpoint, we encountered Dave, a friendly local refuse management operator, who pointed us in the right direction and took 20 minutes out of his day to offer us advice on places to visit and things to do in the Wellington area.

On the peak of the 650-ft Mount Victoria, we were reminded why the Kiwi capital is often called Windy Wellington.  Today's forecast called for wind at 25 to 35 mph.  Gusts atop this summit with its spectacular views of the city must have been a bit higher.  As in Chicago, Wellington's winds are intensified by nearby waters.  The city's prevailing winds accelerate through the Cook Strait, giving Wellington more than 170 days of wind in excess of 38 mph each year.

View from Mount Victoria
Returning to the city center, we found the winds a bit calmer as we stopped by our hotel for a FaceTime birthday call with our travel buddy Steven, who turned 12 today in Tennessee.  Actually it was already the day after his birthday in Wellington, but still his special day where he was.

A couple of blocks east of the hotel, we came upon Allen Street, a cozy laneway with a nice variety of cafes.  A 2014 Trip Advisor certificate of excellence posted on the window had us studying the menu on the door of Istana Malaysia.  The door opened and a congenial server assured us of a plentiful variety of vegetarian options.  The food did not disappoint.  Some time later, fortified by our delicious lunch, we set off on foot to see more of Wellington's many attractions.

Another outstanding museum with free admission
Heading in the general direction of the Parliament building, we stopped in to check out the respected Museum of Wellington City and Sea.  Housed in a nineteenth century waterfront warehouse, the museum offers a compelling collection of exhibits celebrating Wellington's history.  Perhaps the most intriguing was on the museum's upper floor.  
In a room at the end of the hall, we found a small exhibit of artifacts similar to others we had seen in the museum—lanterns, books, baskets, bottles, shells.  Several benches sat on the floor facing the display, which was behind glass.  As we were speculating about the nature of the exhibit, the lights dimmed and a tiny woman walked from behind a basket, lit the lantern with a flick of her hand and began telling the story of the Maori creation legend.  
As she talked, she walked among the objects and even interacted with them, sitting on a book, leaning on a bottle.  We were mesmerized and learned later that this brilliant little hologram was created by an Australian company using green screen technology and a precision projection system.  At one point in her tale, the entire exhibit appeared to be engulfed in flames.  Simply brilliant!

Spectravision form of virtual reality
Tearing ourselves away from this captivating museum, we wandered on north toward the Thorndon section of the city, home to the national government.  Along the way we passed one of the world's largest wooden buildings, disguised to mimic stone.  
Built in the early 1870s, just twenty years after New Zealand became an autonomous British colony, the Government Buildings Historic Reserve was built to house the burgeoning government and served as the first Parliament House.  With widespread native kauri forests, wood was a plentiful building material.  Yet the government wanted this important symbol of its nationhood to convey a sense of strength and stability implied by the popular Italianate style.  Today the structure houses a law school.

Old Government Buildings
At last we reached Parliament House and the Executive Building, known for obvious reasons as the Beehive.  At the visitor entrance to Parliament, we underwent the standard security screening with a bag check and walk-through metal detector.  Security guards were friendly and welcoming.  Self-guided tours of the building were not permitted, and the guided tour came with heavy restrictions.  Because visitors are taken behind the scenes where ministers and members of Parliament are working, participants on the tour are not permitted to take any personal belongings.  This was similar to what we encountered at the U.S. Capitol.  
Where it differed was in where your belongings would be held.  Rather than in a secured locker with a key issued to us as in Washington, we were expected to surrender our passports and other valuables at the coat check, where they would be dumped into a plastic tub alongside those holding the possessions of other visitors.  Call us paranoid, but we were just not willing to comply with what we considered an unnecessary risk to our belongings, so we had to forgo the tour.
Beehive Building and Parliament House
After checking out the excellent exhibits in the Parliament House visitor center, we ventured over to Old St. Paul's Cathedral, another Wellington structure built from native timbers.  Constructed in the 1860s, the church served as the home of Wellington's Anglican congregation for almost 100 years.  Today it is a popular historic site and serves as a venue for a variety of cultural events.
Old St. Paul's Cathedral
When she learned we were American, the docent at Old St. Paul's pointed us toward a special exhibit of a U.S. flag and Marines flag.  During World War II, more than 20,000 U.S. Marines were stationed in the Wellington area.  With Japan so close by, the Marines' presence gave locals an improved sense of security, lacking since so many of their own men had been sent to foreign battlefields.

Heading back toward the hotel, we passed the National Library and couldn't resist popping in for a look.  We were treated to an outstanding exhibit on New Zealand innovators, free wifi, and a charming cafe, where we enjoyed a spot of tea.  Giving new meaning to "user-friendly," the library offered numerous cozy areas with comfortable seating where individuals and small groups could find a bit of privacy.

As we exited the library, rain began to fall—just the excuse we needed to flag a taxi for the return trip to the hotel, where we prepared a nice salad and began packing up to leave this charming city tomorrow.

Daily Stats:
  • Started in Picton, ended in Wellington
  • Mileage - 117   (Trip total: 15,103)
  • Weather - 42° to 58°, rainy, partly cloudy, WINDY
  • Miles walked -  wow, a bunch!

Our ride from South to North
Wellington Harbor and City to Sea pedestrian bridge