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Around 3pm I reached the Waterfront – a stunning, pedestrianised path stretching the length of ground where Wellington City meet the Bay. Positively Wellington Tourism had kindly arranged with the YHA to give me 4 nights complimentary accommodation, and so this was to be my first destination. On a trip such as this, those long, cold nights in a tent on a hillside are what make me feel alive in so many ways, but the need for a warm bed and some comfortable sheets once in a while cannot be underestimated. My private room was a little slice of perfection and after unloading my belongings I went to see about getting my video camera fixed. Unfortunately the news was not good – it may have to back to Sony. But this is a story for another time; the bottom line is I can still make my documentary, so all is not lost at all.
After unloading my worldly belongings to their new home, I set about meeting Bryn, my Wellington Tourism contact. It was a real pleasure to hang out for a little while, and just as enjoyable to hear about the city from someone who really knew how to fully unlock it’s charm. So often on my journey I have arrived into places which I know have lots to offer, but without a guide I cannot access them fully and so leave having missed certain opportunities. Not so in the ‘coolest little capital in the world’ as Lonely Planet have recently dubbed it.
Friday morning found me outside Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand. I was looking for Michael Tuffrey, an artist from the area who was going to show me around some of the collection rooms in the belly of the building, where the public could not venture. ‘I know you, bro! I saw your picture on the internet!’ From that introduction onwards, I had a fascinating couple of hours with Michael. I tagged along as he helped some visitors select items from the collection room for use in upcoming exhibition to be held in Porirua. Michael had a wealth of knowledge as well as artistic skill, and I could have spent many more hours looking at war weapons of the Pacific Islanders with him.
Later in the day I made my way to Toi Pōneke, which it soon became clear was the artistic hub of the city. As well as gallery space and workshops, the area has over 100 rooms, which contain artists in residence. What this means is that spending any amount of time in the building exposes one to a very diverse range of artistic peoples and mediums. In my short time there I met jewelry designers, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, costume designers and notably Shane, who had made a giant zeppelin out of material, which he was going to cover in ladies underwear. The place was fantastic! Gathering one or two creative minds together can produce incredible results, but to have so many sharing the same air is very exciting indeed. There was a tangible air of inspiration and ambition, and it seemed like the residents could feed off the energy of their peers. I have never quite seen a place like it before, and I’m not sure there can be too many around. It’s definitely a good model for any community of artists to follow.
Zealandia was the next stop in my quest for a quintessential Wellington experience. Claiming to be ‘the ultimate nature experience,’ I find it hard to disagree. The very fact that an eco-attraction can retain it’s popularity speaks volumes both about how well set up the park is, and how in tune the Wellingtonians are with green issues. The fully fenced urban wildlife sanctuary allows endangered flora and fauna to thrive in conditions that have not been possible since mammals were first introduced to New Zealand. My guides for the day were enthusiastic and heavily invested in the project – something which really brings home the importance of the endeavour. If you’re the type of person that likes your eggs free range, your rubbish recycled and your transport sustainable, then this is the place for you. And if you’re not that person…well, I recommend you should be!
Acting out a Wizard fight!
Now, for many of us Wellington, like New Zealand, really made it’s way into our consciousness via one thing. You know where I’m going, obviously – Lord of the Ring. Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films based on the J.R.R Tolkien books were simultaneously filmed in the country over a period of 14 months, and since then it seems New Zealand has never been the same again. Many tourists come exclusively to see ‘Middle-Earth,’ and it is very few who do not partake in at least some ‘Rings’ related activities. As a fan of books, films and being a tourist, I couldn’t miss out. A full day tour of the locations in the capital and surrounding area seemed like it would suffice perfectly. Rover Tours do a full day trip, which takes you in the footsteps of the cast and crew, and our guide for the day was wonderful – not once did he refer to the films as a work of fiction. Living and breathing Middle Earth was his daily life and more than once it did slip my mind quite which reality I was operating in. The day was predominately wet and windy (and I mean windy, anyone who has experienced a Wellington southerly wind will know what I mean!) but cleared up just enough for us to enjoy the outdoor aspects of the tour. As well as the inevitable LOTR related facts, it was interesting to hear as well about the natural history of the ground we were covering – Planet Earth that is, not Middle. I must admit that despite the fantastic views from Mount Victoria, and the vast Kaitoke regional Park, my highlight was visiting the WETA cave, famous for creating much of what the costumes, creatures and backdrops we see in the films. Turns out I am a geek – I can live with it.
Roger tells a crowd about the Giant Squid
While in the capital, no visit would be complete without a few hours spent at Te Papa – the national museum of New Zealand. I unfortunately only scraped the surface of it in my two hours there, but under the guidance of tour host Roger Gascoigne I at least made the most of that time. Roger had been recommended to me as fitting in with my search for ‘people with a passion’ to appear in my documentary – I think I could travel around the world multiple times before finding someone who takes as much enjoyment from their job as he does! The museum spans five areas: Art, History, Pacific, Māori, and Natural Environment, and really does require a significant amount of time to make your way through. The beauty of the place however is, as well as the amazing collections and artifacts, the experience is very much based around interactivity. My personal favourite was the Earthquake house – step inside and feel the world shake!
View from the InterIslander Ferry
Monday morning came quickly, and I was off on the Interislander for a new experience – first the ferry trip cited by many as one of the nicest in the world, and then onwards to the South Island (or the ‘mainland’ as the locals like to call it!)
Wellington is unique in many ways – surrounded by hills on 3 sides and the bay on the other it is permanently restricted to its current size. This compact aspect is a large part of its appeal – the manageable nature facilitates the highly discernable artistic and cultural vibe that pulsates through the city. Places such as Te Papa, Zealandia and Te Poneke can be much more effective within the community because of just how tightly knit the neighbourhood is. Added to this the city boasts immense natural beauty – from the steep hillsides that enclose the centre, out to the rugged coastal features which lie past the bay. There is a lot to love about this place, and plenty to make one wish for a return visit. It’s definitely on my list.