A Winter Weekend in Wellington
It’s always a good idea to take a break away from your home city once in a while. Gritting my teeth in earnest for the end of winter last year, I boarded an early morning flight from Christchurch to the country’s capital, Wellington. The last time I’d been there it had been a rather stormy New Years, and sadly the forecast wasn’t looking the best for this weekend either, but still, it was a break away and that was all that mattered. Taking off from Christchurch, the plane was quick to ascend above a thick cloud bank which covered the entire South Island, obscuring any hope of a view out the window. Just as we reached the Cook Strait, a few gaps in the cloud gave a brief peak down to the island slipping out of view. As we descended into Wellington, I was really confused by the sights that appeared below as we lowered back under the clouds. An island appeared and the coastline was unfamiliar and nowhere could I see the usual approach into Wellington. It turned out we’d flown up the south-western coast of the North Island a little before taking a wide arc back to approach over the harbour. It was as grey here as it had been at home but at least the water looked still so that gave hope that the city wasn’t living up to its Windy Wellington moniker that day.
The early arrival meant that we couldn’t check into our hotel yet, so we dumped our bags and went for a wander, first through the nearby streets, and then down to the waterfront. A few murals caught my eye but sadly we were soon joined by a drizzle as I went to explore an old boat that has been completely transformed into a floating mural. We continued towards Te Papa, at first circling around it past the statue of the naked man leaning over the water’s edge, but then briefly heading inside to escape the rain for a bit. The rain mainly remained at drizzle level thankfully, so even though it wasn’t completely dry, we were able to keep walking around the city streets, grabbing some food before taking the train out to Khandallah to visit a relative for a few hours.
I was woken in the early hours of the Sunday morning by a loud bang, followed by yelling and a general disturbance outside. We were several floors up, but the sounds from below still drifted upwards and they sounded urgent and distressed. I sleepily rolled out of bed, and pulled back the curtain to be greeted by smoke billowing up from below. I was jolted awake, aware there was a restaurant directly below, and in a panic yelled at my partner to get up. His voice of reason at the lack of smoke alarm sounding and the fire wall that would separate the eatery from the hotel did little to calm me, but there was no suggestion of anyone else in the building moving, and in little time at all, the fire brigade arrived and I was able to watch the light show of sparks that regularly flew upwards as they dampened down the flames. When we eventually got up properly and headed downstairs, we were greeted with the shell of a burnt out car in the hotel’s driveway.
A Sunday market was in full swing at the Te Papa car park, and it was packed full of locals buying their fresh fruit and veg. We were at that point weeks away from an indoor market opening in Christchurch, and I was secretly hoping we’d be getting something as good as this one. Wandering round food markets in any city in any country is always a cultural insight and something that I love to do. It’s a snapshot of local life, local cuisine, and local businesses. Thankfully it was dry as there was no cover whatsoever here, but it was quite windy and the sea in the harbour was showing a good bit of chop. After a while we headed off to spend the afternoon with some relatives near Mount Victoria. By the time we returned to our hotel in the late afternoon the burnt out car was still sitting there looking sorry for itself.
Another grey day welcomed us the next morning, and having checked out of our hotel and grabbed some breakfast, we caught the shuttle to Zealandia, the ecosanctuary that nestles behind the city. I’d been once before on the New Years trip, so was happy to go with the suggestion to go back. Despite the lack of sunshine, there were still incredible reflections on the lake at the bottom end of the park, and the nearby hillsides had mist trailing along them. We saw some spotted shag by the waterway, and beyond there some rotund takahe, one of New Zealand’s flightless species of birds. We took the walking track that leads through the forest and up to a dam in the middle of the sanctuary, before skirting round to return on the large loop track. The poor weather meant the bird life was relatively quiet compared to my last visit. Despite how successful the kaka reintroduction here has been, we didn’t see any. Nor did we see any tuatara as it wasn’t warm enough for them to be out basking and I was disappointed to see that the caves where the weta live, had been closed. But we did see the usual forest birds, including the ever inquisitive New Zealand robin who always loves to follow people through the trees.
When the rain drove us back to the visitor’s centre, we grabbed lunch before heading back to the city. Again we went into Te Papa to look at one of the exhibits before deciding to walk to the airport along the waterfront as we had plenty of time to spare. I love the walk round Oriental Bay, and on my first visit to Wellington back in 2012 I had continued into Evans Bay round the headland. The long stretch up towards the airport mainly hugged the road so was noisy but once we reached Greta Point, the parks and marina made it much more enjoyable. We had made good time to the airport so wandered among the World of Wearable Art exhibits that were dotted around the terminal. It’s a popular event in the Wellington calendar but never anything that excites me and I looked at the metallic wasp costumes with a raised eyebrow. Before long though, it was time to head south again and home.