Monday, April 19, 2010

Winding our way to Wellington

PhotobucketSo last week was school holidays and we packed up for a quick jaunt down to Wellington, New Zealand's illustrious capital city. I hadn't been there in 10 years, since my very first trip to NZ. It was good to get on an old-fashioned road trip, too. Geography here kind of means you can't drive most directions without hitting the sea before too long, but the 8-hour drive south to Wellington is one of the longest treks you can take on one island. And sometimes, this American just misses the lure of the open road.

Of all the NZ cities I've been to Wellington reminds me the most of my beloved San Francisco -- jammed into a tight bay, hilly, perched over the tempestous ocean, with lots of nifty architecture, narrow, charming timber structures wedged onto vertical spaces. And Wellington is WINDY. Not just mildly breezy but incredibly windy, with winds pouring into the U-shaped harbour at varying degrees of severity. It wasn't even particularly gusty while we were there but after a couple of days of it I thought yeah, this could be tiresome.

PhotobucketThat aside, though, Wellington is a fine place -- the city centre is compact and has that "government town" feeling most capitals do, with lots of folks in suits and ties. Compared to the 1.2 million or so people in the Auckland area, Wellington feels like a small town. You've got the Parliament (which I toured last time I was in town so we didn't go today), plus the huuuuuge national museum Te Papa, which we took the boy to. It's full of art, buttons to push, flashing lights, holographic maps and even a giant dead pickled colossal squid.

As I mentioned before, Wellington is VERY vertical (many houses have long steep steps going up to them, and some even have little motorized cable cars to carry them up). I love the steep scale of Wellington, with so much packed vertically into small space, it's got a cozy feeling. There's some excellent shopping -- big ups to Slowboat Records where I found a rare Alex Chilton CD I've been hunting, and the awesome Sweet Mother's Kitchen, a New Orleans-inspired restaurant where we ate twice in once day (and I had hush puppies for the first time in yeeeears). Another nifty spot to visit was Weta Studios' small museum/shop out in the burbs -- Weta is the special effects studio who work with Sir Peter Jackson on films such as "Lord of the Rings" and "King Kong" and they had tons of interesting props on show. We also drove along the Wellington peninsula which had marvelous views out into Cook Strait, and full of beautiful little isolated beach communities that don't feel like they're 10 minutes from downtown. You could even park at the edge of the airport and watch planes come down into the runway.

'Twas a swell trip down to NZ's second city, and I'm hoping it's not another 10 years before we make it down there again!

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