Wednesday 29 October – Saturday 1 November
Wellington, North Island, New Zealand
Wellington has two nicknames: “Windy Wellington” and “The Coolest Little Capital in the World”, and the reasoning behind both was very much in evidence during our visit!
Having briefly toured the city with Doug on Tuesday, we had a pretty good idea about what to expect. In addition, we had the huge advantage of having received an email from Simon’s colleague, Jenni, who is a Kiwi with family still in Wellington. She asked her partner’s sister, who is apparently something of a foodie, for some restaurant recommendations for us, and boy, did she do us proud! We had some amazing meals during our time in the city, so please forgive me if this post is mainly about food…!
Ombra, Cuba Street
We caught a train from Doug’s place into Wellington on Wednesday evening, and, after checking in at our hotel, visited Ombra restaurant on Cuba Street, which is the city’s main destination for food and bars. The theme here was cicchetti (which is apparently Venetian tapas) and we shared a fantastic meal including broccoli and ricotta fritters, a rocket and pear salad and three (count ’em!) desserts between the two of us. We loved the menu here so much that we had to resist coming back another night, but we thought that we should trust in The Email (as we had come to know Jenni’s sister-in-law’s recommendations) and try some more places – and we were delighted that we did!
Sculpture Walk and Havana restaurant
The weather on Thursday was lovely, as you can see from the hotel room view that we woke to (below), so after a wonderful breakfast/brunch at Ti Kouka (thank you, Email!), we explored some of the “sculpture walk” around the harbour area.
The photo below is from an installation dedicated to the memory of the New Zealand men who went off to fight in the First World War. 10,000 of them left New Zealand just over a century ago – in fact, Saturday 1 November was the 100th anniversary of the date on which they, along with the Australian troops who were also part of the ANZAC expeditionary force, left the Australian port of Albany, bound for Gallipolli and, later, the Western Front. In total, 100,000 Kiwi men fought in the First World War, which is incredible, given that the population of the country at the time was only around 1 million.
On Thursday evening, we indulged in tapas once again, this time with a modern Spanish theme. Havana is a very cool bar and restaurant where we tucked into delicious food including Moroccan-inspired lamb and chickpeas and a fantastic salad of lentils, smoked beetroot and goat’s cheese.
Sightseeing and Floridita’s
Friday was a somewhat busier day, as we had a lot of sightseeing to fit into our last day in Wellington!
We started with a tour of the Parliament buildings, which was very interesting. The round building, known as the Beehive, houses the executive functions, the NZ parliament sits next door, and the final building is the parliamentary library.
The two older buildings had work done on them in the early 1990s, to retro-fit them with earthquake protection, using base isolation technology developed here in New Zealand. Three hundred cylindrical rubber and steel “shock absorbers” (known as bearings) were installed under the buildings and then engineers cut away a horizontal section of the original foundations, so that the buildings now sit solely on the bearings. In the event of a ‘quake, the bearings should allow for 30cm movement in any horizontal direction, without the building above being shaken too much.
A number of the traditional aspects of the Westminster parliament on which it is based remain, including such anachronisms as Black Rod and 2pm – 10pm sitting times, but NZ does have a history of being somewhat more progressive than its mother country: in 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote and there is no appointed upper house (the Kiwis abolished it in 1950 because it was undemocratic).
The other participants on our tour were mainly from France, Germany and Brazil, which meant that we did not get a chance to discuss one of the burning issues of the day with any locals: that morning, we had seen a newspaper article explaining that it is likely that New Zealand will vote next year on whether to change its flag. Currently, the flag consists of a dark blue background with the Union Flag in the upper left corner and four stars (representing the Southern Cross constellation) on the right – which may surprise rugby fans, who would be forgiven for believing that the flag is black with a silver fern! Various ideas are under consideration, including the simple removal of the Union Flag.
During the afternoon, we visited Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, where I was particularly interested to learn more about how the Maori people had come here from various Pacific Islands some time between AD1000 and AD1200.
We also saw a brand new display (only opened on the day that we visited) about Shrek the sheep, who apparently became quite famous here in NZ a few years ago. He was a merino sheep who escaped the “muster” several years running by hiding out in the mountains, living in a cave despite the freezing conditions. By the time he was eventually captured and sheared, he looked more like a cauliflower than a sheep! He then became something of a celebrity, travelling around the world raising money for sick children (although he didn’t like to talk about his charity work, according to the display…). Shrek sadly passed away in 2011, by which time he had retired to a luxury shed, but he has now been stuffed so that he can be kept at Te Papa for posterity.
On Friday evening, we tried out one final recommendation from the Email, Floridita’s, which was, predictably, excellent. Wellington is definitely a foodie’s paradise!
Final impressions, Wellington
Everything about Wellington is cool, even the airport that we departed from. In addition to the amazing displays based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (below), the airport sign facing out onto the runway did not say “Wellington” but instead read “The Middle of Middle Earth”!
Video of the day
In honour of our tour of the Parliament buildings (and also because it is one of our favourite YouTube videos of all time), this is the public gallery breaking into a Maori love song after the NZ parliament voted in 2013 to make gay marriage legal: