MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “April, 2017”

Hosier Lane Revisited

Whilst I have no great like for the majority of what constitutes as modern art these days, I have acquired a taste for street art or murals that dot the otherwise bare and drab walls of many modern cities worldwide. Whilst there will always be those that think of it as graffiti, to me there is a big distinction between the two. My home city of Christchurch has been brightened in the aftermath of some devastating natural disasters and the longstanding rebuild that follows, by the colourful, changing and varied depictions that have popped up around the city. Now, when I venture further afield, I notice similar splashes of colour either hidden down alleyways or out in the open for all to see. Melbourne in Victoria, Australia is one such place where I always keep an eye on the walls, and one of its most famous laneways for artwork is Hosier Lane. I visit this place every time I go to Melbourne because the imagery is constantly changing. New images are painted over old, or neighbouring images are incorporated into each other. My last visit was over 2yrs prior, and few of the images from that last visit were evident on this most recent of visits.

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57 hrs in Melbourne

There are always places that capture your heart from the minute you reach them, and then there are those that just don’t cut the mustard or just don’t gel with you. Melbourne in Victoria, Australia was one such place for me. On my first visit in 2012, I arrived there straight from Sydney, a city which I adore, and although I enjoyed some of the things I saw and did there, Melbourne just wasn’t for me. I’d read so much hype and it wasn’t living up to my expectations. A return visit in 2015 was a vague improvement but it still didn’t excite me. When Sir David Attenborough, a man I’ve grown up with on my tv screen, announced a ‘Down Under’ tour, I quickly realised that getting to his one and only New Zealand show in Auckland just couldn’t happen. I was disappointed until a new date was added in Melbourne that just happened to be on my long weekend off work. I pounced on the ticket, secured a reasonably priced flight and waited till it was time. So in mid-February I headed across the ditch, the Tasman Sea, unenthusiastic about Melbourne and not sure what I was going to do with myself aside from the show. As it turned out, I fell in love with the place, and had a totally different experience than the two times before. Third time really is the charm.

I found myself at Christchurch airport at stupid o’clock on the Saturday morning, but it meant I arrived in Melbourne early on in the day. I had pre-purchased my bus ticket into the city so I could jump one of the queues and was on the bus with little waiting around. The traffic was reasonable, so I alighted at Southern Cross train station where the Sky Bus city stop is, and from here it was just a short walk to the YHA Central hostel, my bed for the couple of nights. The sky was grey as it always seems to be when I’m there, but it was nice and warm, so although I couldn’t yet check in, I made use of the lockers to dump my stuff, and was soon changed for the heat, and off out in search of breakfast. There’s a ridiculous amount of choice when it comes to eating out in Melbourne, and the city is famous for laneways, hidden treasures and quirkiness when it comes to eateries and cafes. I went with a recommendation from the hostel, and found myself in a crowded little espresso bar squeezed in amongst the locals.

I had arrived in the midst of the Chinese New Year celebrations, and following breakfast, I crossed the Yarra River to Southbank where there was all sorts of festival related performances and food stalls set up to mark the year of the rooster. The banks of the river are a popular place to be, especially the Southbank. It is a nice view across to the city skyline, although the grey skies turned the water a depressingly murky colour. I continued under the main bridge of St Kilda road to where the boat houses were, and being a Saturday, there were many rowing teams out on the river training. Past them, I cut up through Kings Domain and on to the Shrine of Remembrance. I’d been past here before, but hadn’t gone inside, and it was free to enter. Particularly worthy is the viewing platform on the roof offering a 360o view of its surroundings. It was busy and I spent some time just wandering around, and before I knew it, the grey skies had split open and I was being bathed in glorious sunshine. I’ve not really experienced Melbourne in the sunshine and it was radiant. Down in the basement, there is a war museum which was also very popular, and this too is free to wander around.

 

Not far from the Shrine of Remembrance is the Royal Botanical Gardens. I love walking around public gardens, so usually seek out the Botanical Gardens in any city that I go to. I had lunch at the cafe next to the entrance before heading down the slope and round the familiar lawns and borders. It was by now roasting and the park was full of families and groups of friends hanging out and wandering around. I found a quiet spot next to a pond and duly lay down on the grass to sunbathe. There was just the orchestra of birds and insects (and the occasional passerby) for company. No matter how many times I visit Australia, I’m always taken aback on my return by the cacophany of birds there. Even in the city, the sounds of raucous cockatoos screech at each other, and I’m reminded of how quiet the New Zealand wildlife is in comparison. After a while I moved on, but after my early morning flight, I didn’t need much encouragement to lay back down when I came across another inviting piece of lawn in the shade of a large tree. It was the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday morning.

 

The lower section of the gardens contains a large Ornamental Lake where there was plenty of bird life to watch and plenty of people-watching to be had. From here I returned to the Yarra River bank, and followed it back towards the city. Crossing the St Kilda Rd bridge to the north side, there was an ecological and sustainability market taking place, and I took a wander through it down to one of the many kooky statues that lines the river bank. From there, I cut through Federation Square to visit Hosier Lane, one of the city’s famous laneways. Every time I come to Melbourne I visit this lane as I am a fan of street art, and with every visit there are newer artworks painted over the previous ones. It is an ever changing gallery. From another recommendation from the hostel, I ate dinner at nearby MoVida Next Door, a tapas-style eatery that was small but popular. The only seat was at the bar, but I very much enjoyed the food and drink that was brought to me, and I watched with interest as they went through their ritual of cocktail making.

 

That evening I retraced my steps to the Botanical Gardens for an outdoor cinema experience to see Disney’s Moana. With no forward planning, I had little of comfort to sit on, but it’s not an experience that I get to have often so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I arrived in the late evening, and found a spot on the hillside with a reasonable view of the giant inflatable screen. As the sun set and dusk set in, I was quietly surprised to see an ever-increasing number of fruit bats fly over. I’ve seen them before in Australia, but they were another thing I had forgotten about here, and I was mesmerised watching them silently flock over us as I waited for the movie to start once darkness had taken over. I wouldn’t have gone to see this movie in the regular cinema, not being particularly attracted to it, but I actually enjoyed it. By the time it was finished, the city was alive, and I wandered back to the hostel through the bustling city streets.

 

One of the things I loved about Melbourne this time, which was new since my first visit, was the free tram service within the boundaries of the Central Business District (CBD). For any trip within the CBD borders, travel on the trams is free, meaning I could save walking from one corner of the city to the other. I still had my MyKi (public transport) card from my previous trip but in the end I didn’t need it. On Sunday morning, I took a couple of trams to reach the Queen Victoria Market which is on the northern limit of the free tram zone. On my last visit, my partner and I had gone to the summer night market here which was my favourite thing about my last trip to Melbourne. Since my visit to Adelaide a few years ago, I’ve been jealous of the awesome food markets that these two cities have. I wasn’t going to be around for the Wednesday night market this time around, but although the Sunday market wasn’t as open or as filled as the night market would be, it was still a bustling and fun place to wander around. The outdoor area was set up to celebrate Chinese New Year, and there were performers playing drums and dancers and warriors showing off their moves. This was the one place where I got caught out for not having cash on me. Australian cities are a paradise for card payments, so I didn’t bother bringing any cash on the trip, swiping away with my Pay Pass foreign currency debit card everywhere I went. But here, it was predominantly cash-only and I was forced to get breakfast from one of the few places that accepted my card, and unfortunately the food was disappointing. All around me I could see and smell delightful food, but it remained outwith my grasp.

 

Whilst Melbourne was already starting to get under my skin and win me over, I was ecstatic to find myself in a giant branch of H&M, my favourite clothes store from when I lived in Scotland. Last year, New Zealand finally got its own branch in Auckland, and I can’t wait for the Christchurch branch to open as part of the rebuild when the new city mall opens, but in the meantime I have missed it. When I was back in Glasgow last year, I made sure to include a shopping trip in the branch there, and I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity here either. With my H&M hunger satiated, and my card balance a little lighter, I headed back to the hostel and then onwards to the Plenary on the South Bank.

 

As part of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the Plenary was a large auditorium, and I excitedly walked along the river bank in anticipation of the coming show. For this was the whole reason I was in Melbourne: to listen to the legend that is Sir David Attenborough. The tickets were not cheap, and I had purchased the cheapest seat I could get, meaning I was as far away from the stage as it was probably possible to be, and I was at an awkward angle for seeing the tv screen. When the man himself came out, he was so small he could have been an imposter and I would never have known. But when he spoke, there was no mistaking him, and he commanded our attention with his intriguing stories about his life and his work across the decades. I have grown up with this man on the tv, and for me his voice and his face are synonymous with any BBC nature documentary that has been made in my lifetime. I have previously read his auto-biography which is definitely worth getting a hold of, and when it comes to opinions on the natural world, climate change and conservation, his is an opinion worth listening to.

 

After a thoroughly pleasant few hours listening to Sir David, I meandered around the local river bank, admiring the skyline from a slightly different viewpoint. I continued along the south bank unhurried before stopping for dinner at a food court near the St Kilda Rd bridge, then under the clocks of the Flinders Street Station, I met up with one of my previous work colleagues who now lives in Melbourne. We went off in search of cocktails, but instead ended up sitting outside an Irish pub enjoying a pint. It was cloudy again, but it was still warm enough to sit out and enjoy a drink. Despite being a Sunday, the city streets were still mobbed as we headed back through town after our catch up, and I was excited to discover a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar as we approached the train station. After my friend left to catch her train, I back tracked to get myself an old favourite which I enjoyed before heading back to the hostel.

 

In the morning I had to check out of the hostel but my flight wasn’t until the evening so I had plenty of time to explore some more. Leaving my belongings in the lockers, I decided to take up the suggestion of my best friend who lives in Sydney, and make use of the rental bikes around the city. She had noticed them on her last visit there, and this was another new initiative since my last visit. For a daily fee, you can rent a bike from one of the many city bike stations for up to 30mins at a time, and unlimited times during the day. Whilst the bikes were heavy to manoeuvre and not very comfortable to ride, I loved my day spent cycling around. Following a back injury whilst mountain biking 3.5 years ago which has left me with chronic back pain, I’ve barely been on a bike since. But I felt it was time to get back on the saddle, and decided I’d use the bikes to go to St Kilda which was outwith the free tram zone. Unfortunately, due to a combination of a couple of bike stations being out of order at inconvenient locations, as well as heavy traffic, it took a little over the allotted 30mins allowed to get to St Kilda. If you go over the 30mins, your card is charged extra, and so I had to pay an overtime fine both to and from the city. Whilst there are plenty of bike stations around the CBD, they are fewer and further between to the south. St Kilda is also as far south as the stations go.

 

St Kilda is a worthy excursion from the city on any visit to Melbourne. With enough time, I would recommend heading even further south still, towards the Mornington Peninsula, but with a small beach, marina and a cute little town centre, St Kilda is a nice wee place to visit. I noticed some street art as a I wandered towards the town centre, where one of the tram lines terminates in the main street. I had a coffee and cake in the oldest bakery in the town, an eclectic mismatch of furniture and equipment, and then set off to the small St Kilda Botanical Gardens. After reaching the waterfront, I picked up another bike from one of the stations and set off as far down the coast as I could manage before turning around to be back within the 30min limit. It was blowing a gale here and the sea looked stormy, and there was a clean-up process under way for a music festival that had taken place the day before. Being a working day, it was however relatively quiet.

 

Jutting out from St Kilda is a long pier which acts as a breakwater to shelter the local marina. Near the end is a large cafe, access to the yachts and boats moored there, but also a small colony of Blue Penguins, also known as Fairy Penguins. These are the smallest of the penguin species, and normally spend their day out at sea feeding, coming in to shelter amongst the rocks during the night. Still, there were plenty of eagle-eyed tourists nosying around the rockery looking for a sighting. As it turned out, there were a few of them hunkered down in the rocks if you had a beady eye to spot them. Frustratingly, despite the barriers and the signs stating not to disturb them or clamber over the rocks, there were still plenty of people ignoring these to stick their phones right up into the holes to get a close up photo. One really irritating English guy was loudly shouting down his phone to his mate about how he’d found some penguins. When he wasn’t loudly yelling down his phone, he was up over the barrier, jumping up the rocks to take a photo of them. I was livid, but I’m too introverted and self-conscious to pull strangers up about their inappropriate behaviour so I stewed internally. Ironically, as he left with his girlfriend, I overheard him say to her that he hoped people wouldn’t abuse the access to the wildlife and scare them away! But from an acceptable distance and quietly, I was able to spot about 6 little penguins and also some water rats which are also a rare sighting. Then, when heading back to the cafe, my attention was drawn to a small crowd of people looking down to the rocks below, and there in the broad daylight, completely exposed and unfazed by people, there was a solitary penguin out in the open preening itself.

After lunch in a St Kilda eatery, I picked up another bike from a bike station to pedal back to the CBD via Albert Park. This was a little more direct than the roadway I had followed on leaving the CBD, but I was still tight on time to get the bike back to a station. I still had a few hours before I needed to get the Sky Bus to Tullamarine airport, so I grabbed another bike next to Federation Square and biked up and down the river, dodging the crowds on the busy Southbank promenade. I had an absolute ball using the bike system in Melbourne, and it was well worth the daily fee. The only downside was the 30min restriction per bike use, and the 5min downtime between consecutive bike rentals but I loved it, and the Yarra river particularly lends itself to exploring on wheels. Eventually though, I had just one more thing I wanted to do before leaving, and that was go to the Lindt cafe which I had noticed the day before. I wasn’t even hungry but I ordered one of their special summer sundaes and forced myself to eat it just because. Reflecting on my trip, the spots of sunshine and lack of rain had definitely made a big difference over my previous two trips to Melbourne, but with the addition of convenient and free public transport, and the bike rental network, as well as the vibe of the city celebrating the Chinese New year, I had felt totally different on this occasion, and I was sad to leave the city behind. Finally, I could see what all the hype was about.

Mount Herbert via Packhorse Hut

Once upon a time, two large volcanoes stood side by side on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. As they eroded, the craters formed two large harbours which today are known as Lyttelton harbour and Akaroa harbour. The volcanic remains have become the mountainous playground of Banks Peninsula, a stark contrast to the flatness of the Canterbury Plains which sit immediately to the west. Christchurch, the south island’s largest city, nestles just the other side of the Port Hills, making the peninsula a perfect spot for getaways from the city.

Standing proudly behind Diamond Harbour, Banks Peninsula’s tallest peak, Mount Herbert is a great choice for hiking. With a choice of four main routes up, I am slowly but surely working my way through the route options. I first summited Mt Herbert via Orton Bradley Park, a track that requires private transport to get to the starting point, and since then, I took the most popular route up from Diamond Harbour which can be reached by public transport from Christchurch. I later found out about another route up from Kaituna Valley and this again requires your own transport to reach the starting point. Unlike the other two routes which start from the northern aspect, this third route starts from the south.

From Christchurch city centre it is a 45min drive curving round the side of the Port Hills on the Akaroa road before cutting up the Kaituna Valley road past open farmland, eventually arriving at Parkinson’s Road. It was a hot sunny February day when I pulled up around 11am and there was barely any space left to park. I had planned on setting off earlier to beat the heat, but as often happens on a Sunday, I’d enjoyed a bit of a lie in before eventually getting out of bed. So as I stepped out my car, the dashboard thermometer was already reading 26oC. It was going to be a scorcher.

The track I was kicking off on was to take me to one of the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) huts called the Packhorse Hut. Even this hut itself has a few options to reach there, and being within easy reach of Christchurch, it is a popular destination for people to go for a night. As such, it requires to be booked. The DOC sign stated a 2hr walk to reach the hut, and the track starts off across private farming land. Stiles are provided to cross the fences meaning gates don’t need to be touched, and at the time I was hiking, stock was everywhere. It is important not to worry stock when passing over private land, but sheep being sheep, they often make it very hard to get past them without them getting spooked.

 

There is quite a long and relatively gentle meander across the farmland before finally the wide track zig-zags across a stream and starts climbing. And once the climb starts, it just keeps on going. The summer just passed did not offer much opportunity to get up into the mountains unlike the summer before, so despite hiking the Queen Charlotte Track just 2.5 months prior, I was out of shape once more. The gradient of this hike should have been well within my capabilities but instead I found myself huffing and puffing in the heat and needing to stop often. Once the trees parted though, the view opened up more and more and looking behind me the Pacific Ocean was glinting in the sunlight through a gap in the hillside, and in front of me lay the distinctive peak of Mt Bradley. Now I started to enjoy the hike.

 

There was plenty of other people on the track heading both up and down, although most people had been sensible enough to head off hours before me, so most of the people I saw were on their way back from the hut. When I reached the Packhorse Hut there were several people milling about inside and out, and others still could be seen on the track up from Gebbies Pass to the north. Directly in front was the Port Hills across the harbour, behind which lies Christchurch, and just peaking into view was the head of Lyttelton Harbour.

 

Built of local volcanic stone in 1914, the Packhorse Hut is one of four stone huts built as a resthouse for a proposed walking route between Christchurch and Akaroa. The brainchild of Harry Ell, a city councillor and member of parliament in the early 1900s, he was well known for his interests in recreation and conservation, and played a role in the creation of many of the reserves that now exist on the Port Hills. Whilst only three of his resthouses came to pass in his lifetime, a fourth followed after his death and all of them still stand to this day. The Sign of the Kiwi at the top of Dyers Pass road is a cafe, having recently reopened following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010/2011. The Sign of the Takahe lower down Dyers Pass road is a restaurant, although it still remains closed for repairs following the earthquakes. The Sign of the Bellbird off Summit road started life as a tearoom but now is really just a shelter. It is a great picnic spot, although unfortunately after someone set fire to the roof in 2015, it is now completely open to the elements. And the Sign of the Packhorse is what is now the DOC run Packhorse Hut.

 

After taking a quick look inside before stopping for a snack, I still had some way to go to reach Mt Herbert. It was by now about 1pm, the sun was high and the DOC sign related a 3hr hike to Mt Herbert summit. This was longer than I’d anticipated but at least there were still many hours of daylight ahead. From the hut, the track follows the Summit Walkway which has recently been renamed with its Maori name to Te Ara Pataka. The track followed the curve of the land towards a small section within the bush which was some welcome respite from the sun, but before long it was back out in the elements and the zig-zags began. About 210m (689ft) altitude gain is achieved through a series of zig-zags up the slope of Mt Bradley. Here I met a group of people coming back from the summit who seemed surprised to see me and enquired about how well equipped I was and how much water I had. It put a hint of doubt in my mind that somehow this hike was more than I thought it would be.

 

Finally though, I was on the relative flat below the bluff of Mt Bradley’s summit. The view from the track up had been impressive enough, but from this higher altitude it was stunning. Although it undulated, it stayed roughly around 720-730m (2362-2395ft) with lots of bush on either side although nothing above to shade from the sun. I was now on the lookout for a nice lunch spot but there was nowhere to stop and sit. Both ahead and behind me the track was empty of people. Most of the people at the hut turned back there, so this section of the walk was devoid of people compared to the lower section. After some time of hugging the mountainside, the track dipped slightly and went into a copse. The shade was welcome so I found a large rock to sit on to have my lunch.

 

I was in a total reverie munching away when a loud and angry yell made me jump. Somebody unseen had yelled an obscenity so loudly that I had a momentary fear about who was approaching. As the unseen man grew nearer I heard more anger, albeit at a lower volume and then round a corner in the path came a man in his 20s. He asked how far the summit was and although I wasn’t sure exactly, I surmised that it was probably 60-90mins away based on the DOC sign and how long I’d been walking for. He swore again, complained about the track dropping altitude when it was supposed to be going up and stomped off, leaving me in peace once more. As he must have also come from the Packhorse Hut, regardless of which route he took to get there, he will have passed at least one sign with a distance marker to the summit, so I couldn’t understand why he was so annoyed, when it is clearly stated the length of the hike at each stage. At least he was wearing proper shoes and had a backpack. I’ve seen many tourists hiking up mountains in jandals (flip-flops) with either no water or just a small bottle in their hand.

Finally moving on myself, it wasn’t much further till the path came out at a fence line on a low ridge past the far side of Mt Bradley. Crossing the stile, I could now see Lyttelton Harbour again, and as the path meandered on, I found myself at the junction with the track down to Orton Bradley Park. Now I was on familiar territory. Some way on I came across Mt Herbert Shelter, a small hut just off the path. It has a nice view from the front deck, but I was keen to get to the summit so I pushed on without stopping. A little up the track I passed the angry man on his return trip who still looked thoroughly grumpy, and finally I was at the familiar turn-off for the summit. It was the last push up to a relatively deserted summit. This is a popular mountain to hike, so normally the summit is busy, but after 3pm as it was, it was quite late on in the day. With a predicted high of 29oC, everybody else had been much more sensible and set off earlier in the day.

 

At 919m (3015ft), there is a beautiful 360o view over Banks Peninsula and Lyttelton Harbour as well as out to the Pacific Ocean. As always, Christchurch was under a haze but the Southern Alps mountain range was still visible in the far distance. It is a broad summit, so there is plenty of space to walk around to see different aspects and I noted that the DOC signage had been updated since I’d last been there to include its Maori name of Te Ahu Patiki. From here it is possible to continue hiking along the Summit Walkway towards Port Levy, and this is the 4th route up to Mt Herbert, and the only one I am yet to walk.

After a while it was time to head home. It had taken over 4hrs to summit, but as always the downhill is easier, and although the section below the bluffs of Mt Bradley felt like it went on forever, I was back in my car in just 2.5hrs. As I passed the Packhorse Hut, there was a family setting up a tent outside, and I met some people hiking up when I reached the flat section across the farmland. They were heading to the hut and back but had waited to escape the heat of the day. It had been a scorcher for sure, and I had worried I would run out of water, but in the end all was well. Of the 3 routes I’ve done, this is the longest one to the summit, but it was good to explore somewhere new and I always enjoy discovering New Zealand’s myriad of mountain huts.

A Capital New Year

Whether it be self-inflicted or societal in origin, I always feel an inordinate pressure to do something exciting for New Year’s Eve (or Hogmanay as it is known in my native Scotland). In the northern Hemisphere, this means either shivering outside in the cold with a thousand layers on, or packing into someone’s house or a local venue to share in the festivities. In the southern Hemisphere where summer is in full swing, for me at least, it generally means escaping somewhere for a holiday or mini-break to enjoy some warmth and sunshine. Or so was the plan, anyway.

On a clear day, the flight from Christchurch in the South Island to the North Island of New Zealand is always worthy of a window seat. Hugging the east coast, we flew over the Southern Alps and stunning coastline. The flight to Auckland usually takes in the sweeping expanse of Golden Bay and Farewell Spit, but on this occasion, on route to New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington on a lower altitude flight path, and with cloud hugging the west coast, this landmark point was out of sight. On arrival, we wasted no time at all catching the bus to Courtenay Place in the city centre (or central business district [CBD] as it is called here). It had been some time since I’d last been in ‘Windy Welly’, a city that I’ve always enjoyed visiting. Following the November 14th earthquake, although the epicentre was in the south island, Wellington such as it is, suffered some damage also. Here, on Courtenay Place, a whole facade of businesses was fenced off and closed down. Suddenly, Wellington reminded us of Christchurch, a city that for years has been defined by cones, fences and cranes.

 

After checking in, my partner and I took a wander along the main streets of the CBD and were shocked at how deserted the place seemed. We’d been there in summer and winter in the past and this was the quietest we’d both ever seen the place. It was a sunny morning though, although the cloud was building, and we took the famous cable car up the side of the hill to the top of Wellington’s Botanic Gardens. Next to the top station is one of those postcard views of the city and harbour, especially when the cable car slides into the view. Sprawled across a steep hillside, the Botanical Gardens has plenty of colour-coded options for walking routes, and we picked a route we hadn’t done before to get us to the bottom. Once there, a marked route leads back into the streets of the city.

 

On a whim, my partner suggested we jump on a train and go out to one of the suburbs. Not knowing what was there, but always eager to do something different when I return to a previously visited city, we checked out the timetables and bought ourselves a ticket to Upper Hutt. For 45 minutes we followed first the Wellington shoreline and then the Hutt valley to reach our destination. The scenery wasn’t particularly exciting and as it turned out, neither was Upper Hutt. My partner had been convinced there was something to see there but couldn’t think what it was, but as it turned out there really is no reason to visit as anything other than a resident. We did a circuit round the main streets, the outer park and then back to the train station where we then waited for the return train to Wellington. Still, not every new experience is exciting, and we laughed at ourselves for the randomness of our failed spontaneity.

Back in Wellington we took my favourite walking route round the foreshore to Oriental Parade. The sun was shining gloriously but unfortunately the wind that the city is famous for was so strong that we were being whipped by sand from the small beach as we walked along. We got our customary ice cream which is always a must at the beach only to find it hard to enjoy with the added flavour of sand, and in my case my hair blowing onto it all the time. In the end, we decided to retreat for a bit to have a rest ahead of the night’s festivities. Like many big cities, there was a public firework display to mark the coming of the new year. We wondered if the wind would put a stop to it, but we never got word to say it was cancelled, so as the evening wore on, we set about heading out for dinner.

 

Like Melbourne in Australia, another city famous for its eating and drinking culture, Wellington has a great selection of places to eat and imbibe, and like its bigger Aussie brother, wandering down an alleyway can often yield a secret and intriguing find. Down one such alley we found Little Beer Quarter, a neat, slightly grungy bar that served us a delicious pizza. After a while we headed off to catch up with my partner’s cousin who was working in a pub on the edge of the CBD. Even though there was no change in time zone and no jet lag to contend with, we were both tired, so decided that instead of going to the midnight fireworks, we’d go for the 9 o’clock display then head back to the pub to hang out. But with a cider in hand and some dessert in my belly, I found myself struggling to stay awake. During the process of drinking and chatting we found ourselves too late to go to the fireworks and shortly after 9, we decided to have an early night. It didn’t take either of us long to drop off to sleep, although I awoke to the sound of fireworks and was delighted to discover on looking out my window, that my room was facing the ocean and I had a prime view of the display. My partner slept through it, but I watched the flashing lights until they finished and promptly returned to bed. This was the exciting action-packed Hogmanay of a 33-year old.

Well waking up on the first day of 2017 was rather different to what we’d closed our eyes to the night before. It was torrential rain and blowing a gale. There was little incentive to get moving, but mid-morning, we found ourselves in a nice cafe near the hotel where we had a lovely breakfast and caught up with my partner’s aunt who lives in the city. Unlike me, who was off work for 4 days, my partner had to go back to work that night, so after brunch, he made his way to the airport to catch his flight home. The airport in Wellington has a reputation for some rather dramatic flying conditions, and with the rate of rain and wind, I was in no way envious of his flight that day. I on the other hand, sought out one of the city’s main indoor attractions, the Te Papa museum. I’d been there before, and worthy as it is of a visit when in the city, it is far from my favourite museum. But at the time of visiting, there was a temporary exhibit called Gallipoli: the Scale of Our War which I was very keen to visit. With models constructed by the Weta workshop (of Lord of the Rings fame), it had rave reviews, and although the exhibit was free to enter, it was so popular there was a queuing system to get into it.

Also on at the time was another special exhibit with an entrance fee, known as Bug’s World. With giant bug sculptures again thanks to the Weta workshop, this was an awesome exhibit even if it was largely aimed at children. With bug-related science experiments, and giant moving bugs, psychedelic colours and loud noises, it was busy, stimulating and very popular. From there I headed straight downstairs and joined the very long queue for the Gallipoli exhibit. Coming from Scotland, where history lessons revolved around the British army’s involvement in the two World Wars, I knew nothing about Gallipoli when I moved to New Zealand. But since then, between both Australian and New Zealand museums, I have picked up a lot of information about this famous battleground. At times when scenes of modern warfare are so rife on the daily news that it is possible to feel numb about it all, it takes a well-designed exhibit to grasp the frustration, heartache, and dizzying waste of life that is the reality of war. Spread through inter-connecting rooms, the main draw of this particular exhibit are the larger-than-life but amazingly realistic figures that depict particular people from the annals of history. A lieutenant, a medic, a nurse and a collection of other soldiers are impeccably detailed right down to the hairs on the legs or arms.

 

I hadn’t planned on staying at Te Papa beyond that exhibit, having seen the other unchanging exhibits before, but the weather was still diabolical outside so I ended up jostling with the large crowd that was also hiding out in the museum. But even having seen it all before, I managed to kill a few hours here before eventually having to brave the bad weather again. I found a nearby place to eat dinner which was understandably packed, before retiring to my comfy bed with a bag of junk food for dessert and an evening of holiday movies to watch.

The next morning it was still raining, although thankfully not as hard as the day before. Prior to coming to Wellington, I’d planned on spending a day out on Matiu Sommes Island, a bird sanctuary out in the harbour, but the poor weather meant there was no point, and I’d reluctantly canned the idea. My other desire for this visit was to go to Zealandia, a wildlife ecosanctuary on the edge of the city. Another outdoor activity, I toyed with the idea of canning this too, but decided that the rain was of a level that could be tolerated, and so I headed down to the visitor information centre in the CBD from where a free shuttle bus takes you to the entrance of the sanctuary. In the end, despite the drizzle, this was the highlight of my whole trip.

A 250-hectare fully predator-fenced ecosanctuary designed to allow a small spot of New Zealand to return to its wild origins sits a mere 4km out of Wellington’s CBD and as obsessed as I am with native fauna, for me it was paradise. For a country famous for its landscapes and its controversial ‘100% Pure’ slogan, the New Zealand of today couldn’t be more different from the New Zealand of the past. Before man invaded, burned forests for pastureland, and introduced non-native mammals, historically, New Zealand was a land of dense jungle-like forests filled with a cacophany of birdsong, and prowled by large creatures such as the Giant Moa and their equally large hunter, the Haast’s eagle. Now, thanks to industrialisation, farming and the ever-present bane of hungry predators, there are many woodlands and forests that lie eerily quiet, many rivers that have changed their course, and many species that have fallen into the abyss of extinction. The videos and displays within the visitor centre are a real eye-opener to the negative impact of humans on an environment.

But outside was what I really enjoyed. There are a choice of walking paths to take, with most people following the main, low-level circuit to the upper dam and back. But in reality this is a mere fraction of the sanctuary’s size, and there are rougher hiking tracks heading further into the bush from here. I had arranged to meet up with my partner’s aunt again that afternoon, so I restricted myself to the main track and a few side tracks to places of interest. Firstly the track followed the lower lake to a lookout near where some shags were nesting, and some juveniles were evident amongst the adults, neither perturbed by the constant flow of people passing nearby. Near here, I was excited to see a sign saying takahe were nearby. A relative of the comical-looking pukeko, these stocky flightless birds are severely endangered, having already been thought to have become extinct before later being rediscovered. I’d never seen one, and struggled to contain my excitement when one came wandering down the path ahead of me.

 

Past wetlands and into the woods, I was acutely aware of the impressive volume of birdsong. Nowhere else in New Zealand had I heard this much life in the forest and it was incredible. More so than this was the sightings of bird species I’d never seen before including some Kaka, a species of parrot. I adore Kea, the smaller alpine parrot that lives in the south island, and it was a total joy to see the larger Kaka, another vulnerable species. They were loud and rambunctious and a total pleasure to watch. Skirting the upper dam where the surrounding vegetation was thick, I took a side track which was deserted in comparison to the main track, and there I came across the noisy antics of the North Island saddleback, another bird I’d never seen before. Reportedly recovering in numbers, I’d never even heard of them before, but one in particular, which given its behaviour I assumed it was a fledgling, was so unbelievably loud for such a little bird.

 

On my way back to the visitor’s centre, I spotted a tuatara, a native reptile that outlived the dinosaurs. Technically wild, all the tuatara in the ecosanctuary are tagged, and are known to reside in specific locations making them semi-easy to spot. Past them, a side track took me up the hill to a cave which is open for a distance to enter. In the darkness, you would have no idea what was in there with you, but the torchlight on my phone illuminated an expansive population of cave weta. Weta are a group of insects endemic to New Zealand which includes the Giant Weta, one of the heaviest and larger insects in the world. On my first sweep with the torch, the weta within the cave looked quite small, but as I turned round to face the opposite wall, I was suddenly presented with some rather large specimens that had been hair-raisingly close to the back of my head just moments before. Insects don’t normally bother me, but these large creatures with their swaying antennae were big enough and close enough to my face to make my skin crawl. Still, I was fascinated enough to suppress this sensation in order to look at them for a while.

 

Following lunch at the visitor’s centre, I was picked up and whisked away to the hillside suburbs to the south, first visiting the giant Meridian wind turbine overlooking the city, and then heading to the southern suburbs on the coast where the waves pounded angrily on the shore. It was cold and grey overhead as we drove round the coast briefly before I was taken to the renovated Roxy Cinema in Miramar, a beautifully restored building outside of which stood a statue of Ian McKellan as Gandalf the Grey from the Lord of the Rings franchise. Miramar is the realm of Peter Jackson, the film director, and round from here is the Weta workshop which I visited on a previous occasion and is well worth a tour around. But now it was time to retire, and my partner’s aunt cooked me a lovely dinner before I headed back to my hotel for the night.

 

The next morning it was torrential rain again. It had been such a frustrating trip this time round, and I really wasn’t feeling the love for Wellington on this occasion. Being a public holiday, it felt like large portions of the city were closed down, and zones of the city were like a ghost town. I was struggling to find things to fill my time with. I’m not a fan of art galleries, and with all the usual things I like to do outdoors, I found myself back at Te Papa where I once again waited out the rain. In between breaks in the showers, I took a brief wander around the marina, before eventually finding a movie to watch at the Embassy Theatre. This was the location for the grand premier of the Lord of the Rings trilogy movies, but unlike the Roxy Theatre which had been lovingly restored, the Embassy Theatre looked drab, old and greatly in need of some TLC. It was still raining when I left the movie a couple of hours later, and with nothing else to do, I simply retrieved my stuff from the hotel and headed to the airport. Taking off in the rain, the plane arrived back in Christchurch to relatively clear skies. With an approach heading right over the city, it was a welcome sight to be back home after a washout of a weekend in the capital.

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