A weekend in Wellington

It’s a fact that while Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, Wellington is New Zealand’s coolest. It’s something to do with the geography – the compact city centre – and that it’s the capital city. Somehow this all adds up to a being lovely place to live.

So when I heard rumours of a Wellington shindig encompassing the Annual Wellingtonista Awards and the Public Address Christmas do, I quickly booked some flights to have a long weekend in the capital.

Out the window

Thursday

When the day came, I almost missed my flight after the airport bus didn’t show up, but thankfully the flight was delayed due to bad weather in Wellington. Yay for bad weather in Wellington!

As soon as I arrived at my hotel (top floor, corner, wall-to-ceiling views – hey, cool) I got ready and headed down Cuba Street to Mighty Mighty, where the bar was full of cool Wellington people.

First on the line-up was “It Doesn’t Give My Opponents Much Time Either” – a quiz about the politics and culture of the Muldoon years. While the proper teams answered on stage, I showed off my awesomeness to my tablemates by knowing that the 1480 Kroozers were skateboarders.

Next the Annual Wellingtonista Awards were presented, honouring the best of Wellington. (During my Wellington weekend, I got to experience a few of the winners and nominees, and I’m confident that the best things did win.)And then – yee-yah – Blam Blam Blam played. I reckon it was even better than their gig at the King’s Arms back in September. Even their less known songs got a good audience reaction, and there was much jumping around. “Don’t fight it Martha it’s bigger than both of us” was a full-on emotional experience, while “There is no depression in New Zealand” took on an extra special dimension being played in the nation’s capital.

Over the evening I met lots of cool people I’d only previously known online, as well as a few nervous fanboys who were lovely to meet.

Eventually Joanna, the wonderful hostess, rounded up the remainders and we headed off to the Hawthorn Lounge, a superb cocktail bar disguised as a gentlemanlady’s club. Um, I can’t remember what we drank, other than that it was good.

Finally for the evening a late-night food mission, but this is where Wellington lets itself down. There was a kebab shop on Courtenay Place. They would sell us inadequate felafels, but they didn’t want us to eat there, so we had to resort to trickery to get a table. They ended up booting us out. Man, all I wanted was a kebab.

Shoe and bag rescue 2

Friday

I decided to take it (relatively) easy on Friday. I went to Te Papa and saw the Toi Te Papa exhibition of the history of New Zealand art. I’m glad they’re taking their responsibility as the national gallery seriously now. It seemed like the one part of Te Papa that wasn’t all geared up to be fun and educational 4 kidz. It’s just a whole lot of good paintings.

I went for a walk along the waterfront (it was windy) and came across the new Meridian building, as recommended by Tom.

Later I went along to the Thistle Hall, which was having a fund-raising event, selling a number of artworks for $100 each. I found a watercolour that tickled my fancy so I bought it. (But now I feel like I need something… darker to balance things out. Hm.)

After an unpleasant experience being crammed into the hotel lift with a bunch of office workers dressed in 1920s gangster costumes, I came across Tom and Kowhai going to the Madame Fancy Pants VIP evening. MFP is a shop that sells clothing and accessories, and I bought a cool badge that says “Reading is sexy”, which, as you know, is true because you are reading this and you are sexy.

We finished the evening by having a polite, well-behaved drink at Superfino. I had a poached-pear punch, which was just right for an early summer night. Are there even bars like this in Auckland?

Poached pear punch

Saturday

I met up with Mike. I’ve known him now for 11 years. Crikey! We walked around and he showed me where Wellington’s finest graffiti and sticker art could be found. We wandered up Aro Street, then all the way down to the waterfront, where we had fried crap from Viggo Mortensen’s favourite fish and chip shop.

We were meeting Mike’s friend Shannon in Civic Square, which was also the setting for a climate change festival, so we were entertained by a hippy choir singing those sorts of songs that only hippies sing (the kind that involves self-congratulatory rhythmic clapping).

When Shannon showed up we wandered off, pausing only to put a Green Party sticker on a campervan (lolz!!! irony!!!!), then having a coffee at Fidel’s. That seems like a lot of walking, but I think it’s much easier to walk around central Wellington because it’s so flat. You can’t go far in central Auckland without hitting a steep, demanding hill.

Then I met up with Jo and Tom. We had a drink at Floriditas (srsly, Wgtn is all about the booze), then dinner at a Thai restaurant and coffee and Ernesto’s. Jo went off to see the Gossip (which, from all accounts, was brilliant), and Tom and I were joined by Stephen, and we had more good cocktails at the Hawthorn Lounge.

F heart

Sunday

I had a few hours to spare before my flight, so I visited the Wellington City Gallery, which had a Bill Hammond exhibition – his epic paintings of unusual animals – and a couple of montage films by Tracey Moffatt. I only saw one – “Love” – a montage of clips from romantic films showing the different ways women are treated in films. It’s really unnerving to hear a succession of leading men shouting “Whore!” (Hollywood is still male-centric.)

Finally I left Wellington, a hot and sunny day, and flew back to Auckland, which was being all grey and rainy and moody.

I figured out why Wellington is so good – it’s not just the geography, it’s the people.

Chill

Yesterday I had to get out of my car park, so I went for a drive around Wellington. I love how major routes in the inner suburbs consist of winding, hilly street. I managed to find my way along these winding, hilly streets to the Chapel of Futuna in Karori. It’s magnificent.

So then I headed back up north. I used to be able to do Auckland to Wellington in a day, but in these post-9/11 days, uh, it’s nice to have a break along the way.

Just north of Foxton (no longer New Zealand’s Foxtown, but all their signs seem to be shaped like the local water tower, which ain’t no Hawera water tower), I saw a snow peaked mountain range. I was trying to figure out what it was until I realised it wasn’t a mountain range – it was just some hills.

As I drove on, the snow-covered landscape increased, until I was driving through one of those winter wonderland things. My previous experiences with snow are: Ruapehu once in the ’80s, and Palm Springs on Christmas Day in ’93 (true!). So to drive through landscape entirely covered with snow was really cool.

So I stopped off in Taupo. It’s bloody cold. -4 degrees last night, but fortunately the motel was geared up for chilliness. I’m rather looking forward to getting back to rain old Auckland.

Straight outta Lambton

One is in Wellington now!

I drove here via the Manawatu Gorge (which is windy, twisty, perilous, but thankfully brief), and remembered to turn off at the right place in Woodville.

I stopped off at Masterton and visited the museum/art gallery, which was celebrating the Wairarapa Embroiderer’s Guild’s diamond jubilee. A large hall was filled with all manner of embroidered crap crafts, including the “bag challenge”, in which the guild members were challenged to make a bag with embroidery. My favourite piece was an embroidered scene showing a bride looking in the mirror and seeing herself as a little girl reflected back. I would have taken a photo, but I suspect the guild ladies knew I was up to no good.

I passed through Carterton and Eketahuna. My great-great grandfather (or something like that) came from Carterton. As for Eketahuna, well, it had a really, really big sign with the town name, which appears to be its quirky town feature. (Stratford = Shakespeare; Dannevirke = Vikings!; Eketahuna = has a name).

Then I stopped off at Greytown, which is apparently where Wellingtonians go for weekend getaways. I visited the Shoc chocolaterie, which I highly recommend. Located in a small historic building, the smell of warm chocolate gently greeted me. I bought enough choccie delights to last me a while.

Next I had to contend with the Rimutaka Ranges. It was raining and the road was twisting. Two Mercedes overtook me at points along the way. I listened to the only audible radio station’s broadcast of the Maori Queen’s funeral.

Finally I reached the Hutt Valley and I detoured to Upper Hutt because, um, well, I wanted to see what it looked like. Having seen it, I was trying to get back on SH2, when I found myself going down a road by a school. It was home time and the street was chocker with parents’ cars. Then it started to hail. This will be my lasting memory of Upper Hutt.

Lower Hutt was slightly nicer. My main purpose there was to check out the civic buildings, which are build in a fine post-war modern style. They looked good, even in the rain.

So finally I made it to Wellington. It turns out the best time to come here is the weekend, because hotels have lots of cheap rates. Well, I know that now.

Robyn, 31, Sagittarius

I was planning on another day in Palmy yesterday, but just after I wrote my last LJ entry, I logged into MSN and Regan Idolblog messaged me with the news that not only was he in Wellington, but he had tickets to the Sunday taping of the NZ Idol performance show. OMG OMG OMG.

So I hopped in my car and hooned down to Wellington, and – as if by magic – the rainy grey skies turned into brilliant blue skies and golden sunshine along the Kapiti Coast. When I arrived in the capital, I was reminded of how happy Wellington makes me. It’s just such a cool city.

I wandered around town for a bit before heading over to the St James. I have to admit that part of my decision to go to the Idol taping was because it was in the St James. I’d never been there before and I wanted to check it out. It is indeed a nice old theatre, although I’m not too sure about the barn-like new foyer that’s been build on next to the old theatre.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see any of the current Idol series and I don’t know who anyone is, but I did learn the following: there is this one guy called Ben and he is quite cute, but he is also a really good singer and if you say he isn’t you are just jealous.

There were many Ben fans sitting near me. They screamed a lot. My ears started to hurt. He’s probably a shoo-in for the top 10.

Then I drove back to my motel in Palmy, discovering along the way that since having Lasik, my night vision is quite shit and I probably shouldn’t drive at night.

Even though I wasn’t planning to go to Wellington, now that I’ve been there I think I’m going to have to go back and make that the last stop on my tour de North Island.

Well

As fate would have it – and fate had a lot this last weekend – I didn’t end up going to Mike’s birthday picnic. I went to ring him up to arrange details, but the only place I had his phone number was stored in my cell phone, and that wasn’t going because the batteries were dead from all the phone calls Mike had made on it the day before. Ha!

So I decided to be a tourist.

The Cable Car
The guy in the ticket booth was rocking out to Good Charlotte. “I don’t ever wanna be yoooo-ooooou,” he enthusiastically sang as I approached and stood by the ticket booth. “I don’t wanna be just like you! Hi. How can I help you?” The car did its duty crawling up the side of the hill. Up the top it was windy and the view was obscured by clouds. I visited the cable car museum, then went back down.

Parliament
When I was about seven, I went on a tour of Parliament. I remember my brother sneakily sitting in the chair of the then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon. I also remember that the tour included the Beehive. But now, according to the tour guide, the Beehive is “boring” and “only offices”, and therefore not worthy of being part of the official tour. I have this theory that when buildings get to be about 30-40 years old they’re considered to be ugly and undesirable. A couple of decades later this will pass, but at the 30-40 year stage they are at the greatest risk of neglect and demolition. There was talk a few years ago of the Beehive being relocated so that a “proper” wing of the parliament building could be built in its place. No, it’s time that people stop moaning and open their eyes and realise what an incredibly cool building the Beehive is and that it needs to be given some love and respect.

Te Papa
There’s mural of Liv Tyler (in character as that elf chick from “Lord of the Rings”) on a wall in the cafeteria. Ah yes, good old Te Papa. The exhibits still seem pitched at children, with descriptions written in a simplistic language, as if every paragraph ends with an invisible “… and isn’t that nice?” Fortunately I got to officially bitch about this when a lady stopped me on the way out and asked if I’d complete a visitor survey. There’s a really cool whare nui with multi-coloured, modern carvings, the centrepiece being Maui and his brothers slowing down the sun. I was excited by the exhibit on Japanese and Japanese-influenced fashion, and the selection of Kiri Te Kanawa’s gowns. But the most thrilling exhibit is still the shakin’ earthquake house.

The Waterfront
Only to say that all those pieces of poetry and prose about Wellington set into concrete aren’t quite as cool as they seem. It’s like, there’ll be this really hip and groovy looking piece of concrete with some writing in a cool font, but upon closer reading the writing ends up meaning nothing more than “I think Wellington is quite choice.” Oh wait, let me have a go at writing such a poem:

wellington is the
c cell battery in
the vibrator of my
soul that pleasures
me when my husband
auckland is overseas
on business

Wellington, represent

I’m in Wellington, and things aren’t going according to plan, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

The flight here was excellent. The inflight snack involved hummus, which was very pleasing. The plane flew over Mt Taranaki, so it was really cool seeing the almost perfect cone shape topped in snow.

I arrived at my friend Mike’s place ok. His flatmate was going to be away that night, so Mike told me I could sleep in his room. Ok, cool. Except it wasn’t cool with his flatmate. He arrived back today, walked in and discovered me in my pyjamas reading in his bed.

He’s a gay guy who doesn’t just like men, but really doesn’t like women, so finding a vagina in his bed was extremely disgusting for him. He was nice to me about it, making it seem that, y’know, it wasn’t my fault, but his punishment for Mike was declaring that I couldn’t stay there anymore. I’m not sure how this punishes Mike, but it certainly was inconvenient to discover at 9.30 pm that I had to find somewhere else to stay until I leave on Monday. I have no other Wellington posse, so I had to check into a hotel. And here I am.

But other than that little piece of drama (and to be honest, sleeping in a hotel is more comfortable than sleeping on two couch cushions on an unheated lounge room floor, but it’s a shame about the price), I have been having a good time.

I discovered the joys of the Regent Cinema. Big, padded recliner chairs “free” popcorn and drinks, and that excellent feature where you can order food and have it delivered during the movie. It seems right to be having an ice cream sundae in the middle of a film. We saw “Finding Nemo,” and it was fun.

I should also note that it was very funny watching “Space” last night and seeing Jo and Phil, having only just learned the news of Johnny Cash’s death, quickly dedicate the next video, The Datsuns’ “Motherfucker From Hell” to him, only to realise afterwards that maybe it perhaps wasn’t the best song to dedicate to him.

Ok, I’m feeling better now, stuck between a vending machine and a bunch of drunk guys boozing away their travel allowance.

Wellington

I used to live in Hamilton, and so did Mike. In 1997 I moved up to Auckland, and he moved down to Wellington. Ever since then I’d been meaning to go down there to see him, but was too slack to do so. Then Mike said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “I’m having a big piss up for my birthday and you’re coming down for it whether you like it or not.” Choice!

So a fine Friday came along and I jumped into my automobile and drove for eight hours in a southerly direction. I had considered flying down, but as much fun as flight attendants with peanuts and orange juice are, that doesn’t quite make up for such things as the moment when I was driving into Taupo and suddenly the snow-capped splendour of Mount Ruapehu popped up in the distance.

I eventually made it to the capital city. I really like how the motorway was built along a fault line (well, it’s not like there was anywhere else to build it). I negotiated the one-way streets and drove around in a circle until I got in the right lane to get to Mike’s spatial palatial house of desire. His street has a big hill with a tunnel at the end of it, but only buses are allowed through the tunnel. You don’t get that sort of thing in Auckland (or Hamilton, for that matter). In Auckland car parks have been provided so the citizens of the city do not have to lower themselves to use public transport.

That night a cornucopia of delights awaited me. First up was the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. It was claaaassy, but wonderful. We headed to a skanky arse bar for a Private Function. After eating all the dip we left and went to Barney’s, Wellington’s premiere night spot. I wish there were more clubs like Barney’s around where I live. It was totally going off. We entered as the Grease medley was playing. That was followed by that famous tune celebrating a famous gay hang-out, “YMCA”. Other delights to rock the night were “Venus” and “Blue Monday”. If you like watching old men get down and shake their booty in an attempt to impress 18 year old girls, then Barney’s is the place.

The next day was big party day which means, of course, that the guests of honour had to shave their hair off. We abducted Mike’s friend Darryl who was kind enough to shave off the hair of both Mike and his flatmate Helen. We then buried the hair in the garden and prayed to the mother goddess spirit*.

Then party time came at Glenn’s house which used to be a brothel. We know it used to be a brothel because there is a basin in every room. Cool. Mike claimed that I was guaranteed to score at this party, but I didn’t so therefore he is a bloody liar, and probably just said that to lure me there. In fact, I have serious doubts that there were any heterosexual guys there.

As the evening progressed all the fairy bread and jelly shots were heartily consumed. There was the token person-who-drank-too-much, but most people were relatively well behaved party goers.

Eventually the party ended and we went home. I was about to retire for the evening when a glamourous young lady by the name of Ms PollyFilla knocked on my door. She had come home from a busy night out. By then I was very tired so I quickly slipped into a coma and didn’t come out of it until the following morning.

Sunday was tidy up day, and it was discovered that a large amount of beer and wine was left over from the party. Hooray! That’s New Year’s taken care of.

A bit of sun bathing upon the brothel balcony (a.k.a. fire escape) took place, then I demanded that Mike accompany me to Te Papa. He didn’t want to go and said it was crap, but I made him go anyway. But after looking around, I agreed that the Museum of New Zealand was, indeed, crap.

Back to the brothel where cards and trivial pursuit were played and fish ‘n’ chips were eaten. Yay. Then back to Mike’s haus where we watched those boring Olympic sports that no one actually cares about (softball, anyone?).

The next day I bid farewell to the fine city of Wellington. Heading along the motorway I noticed that it didn’t quite look the same as it had on the way there. Then suddenly I saw a sign proclaiming “LOWER HUTT”. Great. I was hoping I could go through life without ever having to go to Lower Hutt. As soon as I could I turned around and got back on state highway one and made my way back up north.

I had lunch at Taupo on both the way there and back. On the way there I at at a skanky doris cafe that did not pretend to be anything else. On the way back I ate at a skanky doris cafe that was trying to be a hip deli. Even service station pies are better than skanky doris pseudo delis.

You know how all those small towns try and make themselves interesting by giving themselves slogans? Turangi is the “trout Capital of the world”, Hamilton is no longer the Fountain City, or “Where It’s Happening”, but now is something like “More than you’d expect”. But the best town motto is for Foxton. It proudly proclaims itself to be “New Zealand’s Fox Town.” What?

I drove through Hamilton without stopping (a first) and then back to my home in Auckland. Oh, what an enjoyable weekend!

* No we didn’t. I think it just got biffed in the rubbish.