24 August 2007

Wellington, New Zealand

We arrived in Wellington on my birthday. The evening we arrived, the famous Wellington winds were gusting to 120 kph and the windows of Paul and Robyn’s apartment were getting a good workout. By Sunday, the winds had calmed and given way to a beautiful, sunny day. In total, we had two days of rain and three of sun in Wellington…some of the best weather of the trip.

Wellington is George’s hometown and the city where he attended university. He had warned me about the “Wellington Principle.” It goes something like this: once one has lived in Wellington for any significant period of time, one cannot walk the streets of Wellington again without coming upon friends and acquaintances. George hasn’t lived in Wellington for nearly 10 years, but - nonetheless - we ran into people he knew every single day we were in town. For a city with more than 11% of the NZ population, that’s pretty impressive.

Speaking of impressive, we drank quite a lot of coffee in Wellington. The capital city was the original home of great coffee in New Zealand, and the phenomena has now spread across the country. Though we had superb coffee at nearly every stop in New Zealand, Wellington's was particularly tasty.

When we weren’t meeting up with George’s friends for coffee, lunch, or dinner (or sharing similar indulgences with his dad, stepmother, and brother), we were acquainting ourselves with the city’s treasures.

The museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, is located on the waterfront in Wellington. We spent one morning exploring the first two floors together, and I finished the top floor on a rainy afternoon later in the week. The exhibits range from an earthquake simulator to stuffed (dead) animals native to New Zealand to information about invasive introduced species to immigration trends to Maori traditional art and architecture. It’s a fascinating museum with a lot of interactive opportunities for all ages.

Probably my favorite discovery in Wellington was the accessibility of Parliament. We walked around and right up to the building on a few different occasions. We took advantage of the free public tour one day during the noon hour. One metal detector later, we were standing on the ground floor of the Beehive learning about the location of the cabinet’s offices and Helen Clark’s office. Because the session didn’t start until 2:00pm, we were even able to stand on the floor of Parliament. As if this wasn't enough, we returned the next day to sit in the gallery and watch a live debate at Parliament. No reservations. No invitation. We simply walked in, went through the metal detector, and asked to visit the gallery. We stayed for over an hour while I was mesmerized by the debate and opportunity to see it. The particular day we visited was the same morning the Air New Zealand controversy hit the headlines of the newspaper. Unfortunately, Helen Clark wasn't there for question time, but her ministers and the opposition were all on form. The Speaker even had to expel a member of the National Party. It was GREAT! I am still (more than a week later) in awe of the opportunity to march right into the very place where government is operating and see it first hand.

Much of our time in Wellington was spent simply wandering the city. The waterfront is gorgeous, especially on a brisk winter day where the sun reflects so brightly off the water that you can't help but squint. We cut through plazas, down pedestrian streets, and across busy streets. George showed me the building where he did his one year of law school (which, before the university bought it, housed Parliament and then a government ministry where his mother worked for a time) and the campus where he did his other two degrees. He pointed out the fountain on Cuba street that has never worked properly, but the people still love...and the lead cast members of Lord of the Rings used as a urinal. George and his brother, Heath, took me to Hell pizza to prove that Kiwis really do make a better pizza than Americans. Pandemonium with tamarillo and plum sauce - yum! George's father, Paul, took us to the lookout over the city and harbor for a truly spectacular view and showed us where he and Pat lived when George was born. It was really special seeing the city that has been such a large part of George's life.

To wrap things up, we celebrated Paul's birthday on Friday. Paul bbq'd and Robyn made the fixings and cake. Heath joined us for dinner. It was a very nice evening, and we look forward to celebrating Paul's milestone birthday next year (in Seattle?).

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