Aotearoa: Wellington, Continued

Having been in Wellington for a week, I came to the following observation: At 32, I'm a bit old for staying in hostels. Not that hostels have an age limit - not most of them, anyway. But they do cater to the young and penniless crowd, who are rather more numerous than the older and penniless crowd, and so there are, generally speaking, more partiers than researchers at any given hostel.

Photo of downtown Wellington
More of my walk to the library, from a previous and not so sunny day
Photo of Wellington cathedral
The Wellington Cathedral
Photo of downtown Wellington
A small municipal park near the government buildings

Now, I'm not saying that's a bad thing. A decade ago I probably annoyed my share of hostel dormmates by coming in and making noise late at night, and everyone should have the ability to do that. I just wish that I had the money not to stay in hostels at age 32, when my response to my neighbors' nightly pot-smoking party is not envy, but earplugs.

Photo of government buildings
The Government Buildings, which is according to my guidebook one of the largest wood buildings in the world
Photo of government buildings
The details of the building - look at the corners - are designed to make it look like stone; you don't realize it's wood unless your guidebook tells you.
Photo of New Zealand National Library
Once again, the library, my new home. That's Maori, below the English name of the library; as far as I have seen, all public buildings and offices have Maori names as well as English ones, and offer Maori-language service. Maori is one of Aotearoa New Zealand's two official languages.

It's probably not even so much my age as it is the purpose of my visit. I'm not here to see the clubs or sample the nightlife. (I did go out two nights last week, but both I and the librarian I was with didn't make it much past 9:30 pm at the latest. And before you roll your eyes, hey, he's a FUN librarian! No, really, that's not a contradiction in terms...) I'm not even primarily here in Wellington to see the sights. I'm here to research. And to get the most out of my time here, I need to be at the library and archives much of the time they're open. Which is 9 am to 5 pm, more or less.

So I get up early, and unless I want to spend the day staring at my notebook in a wholly unfocused manner, which I can ill afford with only two weeks at the library, I have to be in bed early, while my neighbors are still playing music and visitors keep drifting by to knock on their door and join the fun.

Photo of downtown Wellington
This fountain is, apparently, a clock. Every so often, water is released, and various of the buckets will drop water down into the next bucket. The bottom one fills up and dumps its water out every hour. Neat - on paper. In action, you get wet if you walk too close, and the sound the buckets make is fairly grating.
Photo of parliamentary library
The parliamentary library, I think.
Photo of Victoria University
Victoria University's school of architecture, right close to my hostel.
Photo of grafitti saying "The System Likes You and Wants to Be Your Friend"
Hee. This grafitti made me laugh.

The bonus, of course, is that when I get up at 8, the kitchen is almost completely empty and there's never a wait for the showers. I don't begrudge my neighbors their party, especially as the hostel has thick walls and earplugs muffle the sound pretty thoroughly. (And before I left I made sure to buy a travel alarm clock that I can hear through my earplugs.)

Nevertheless, when I got an e-mail from the daughter of friends of my parents - not H-FOMP, a different set of friends - who lives in Wellington and said I could stay with her, I was pretty thrilled. Not having endless supplies of money (the primary source of travel funds for this trip is a small research grant, and I want to stretch it as far as I can before I have to use my own, er, credit cards...), hostels are by far the economic choice, particularly when you're on your own, but staying with someone in a real home beats that hands down. And jeez, how nice is it of a perfect stranger to offer me her home? That's fantastic.

Photo of downtown Wellington
This theatre right here will be buzzing with activity in December 2003, because this - not New York, not L.A. - is where the world premiere of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King will be held!
Photo of downtown Wellington
More of Wellington.
Photo of Wellington street
A more residential part of the city, at twilight.

(And best of all, the room I'm now sleeping in has a small but very effective heater!!! Yesterday I walked in to go to bed and thought it was swelteringly hot at 65 degrees - ah, how frames of reference change. Back home in Texas, I swear I'll freeze to death if the thermostat is set to lower than 68 degrees.)

But in spite of not primarily being here to see the sights, I did get to do some touristy things today, because it's Sunday, and the archives are closed and I can't actually go do research. (Yay!) First order of business was to buy some warm clothes; only two sweaters and a sweatshirt will not get you through a New Zealand winter, not if you're planning to go to the South Island. So I meandered around central Wellington and sort of looked for warm tops, and sort of just looked.

Photo of Civic Center
The street entrance to the Wellington Civic Centre - and also the cafe from where I often e-mail!
Photo of Civic Center
More of the Civic Centre. You can't see the wires, but that silver ball isn't actually floating there...
Photo of Civic Center
The Civic Centre, with some high-rises in the background.

Then I walked into the Civic Centre, which I'd walked past every day so far, but had not yet explored. It's a funky place, with some great architecture and sculptures. Wellington has some pretty funky architecture, on the whole, especially where public buildings and public art are concerned.

Photo of Civic Center
More funky architecture.
Photo of Civic Center and harbor
"It's true you can't live here by chance. You have to do and be, not simply watch and describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb." That's what it says on that grey stone.
Photo of Civic Center
Another quotation inscribed in stone here runs as follows: Then it's Wellington we're coming to! It's time, she says, it's time surely for us to change lanes, change tongues. They speak so differently down here. (from Vincent O'Sullivan, Driving South with Lucy to the Big Blue Hills. And no, I've never heard of it either.)

I walked around the plaza and took in the waterfront, where hundreds of Wellingtonians and tourists were enjoying the warm weather. (And, unlike most times I've gone near the waterfront, it wasn't deadly windy, either.) The waterfront offers impressive views of mountains in the distance and Wellington close by, and seems to appeal to just about all age groups.

Photo of Wellington harbor
Wellington harbor and waterfront
Photo of Wellington harbor
A small inlet (with a kayaker), very close to the Civic Centre
Photo of sea
A view of mountains in the distance...

Taking the path along the waterfront, I headed to Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. I'd heard it described rather vaguely as being "innovative architecture," and as I approached the building, not knowing whether it was indeed the museum, I thought, "Now, if I was Te Papa, that is what I would want to look like." Apparently I'm not the only one with that opinion, as it was, of course, Te Papa.

Photo of statue of Maori explorers
Kupe Raiatea the Explorer, his wife Hine Te Aparangi, and Pekahourangi the Tohunga, sight Aotearoa, New Zealand from their canoe Matahourua
Photo of waterfront
Crowds along the waterfront; in the background, Te Papa
Photo of ocean
Looking out across the sea

Te Papa is a funky building; I really like its lines and colors, its very distinctive look. Inside, it's about as modern as museums get, with a lot of multimedia displays (some of which are annoying - I'm not sure why I'd want to hear various children read me information about the country's plant life - and some of which are really good, like the movie on Maori ties to the land). What's impressive is the museum's scope; unlike many national museums, it's not just about the majority culture. There's a quite substantial component of the museum devoted to Maori culture, and judging by the way that the word "we" is used in the exhibits, Maori iwi (tribes) and individuals have played a substantial role in developing these displays. There is a very clear sense of respect for the sacred, of understanding and respecting the boundaries that tradition may impose on what is displayed in a museum, and the iwis tell their own stories, rather than - as in so many anthropologically-oriented museums - some "experts" telling their story for them. There's also an interesting critique of Maori imagery in souvenirs and the tourist industry, which does a fine job of pointing out what is offensive and why.

Photo of Te Papa museum
Te Papa, seen from the waterfront
Photo of Te Papa museum
The main entrance to the museum
Photo of Te Papa museum
This is the front of the museum, facing the street

The one thing I didn't see - and I was sensitive to this because the day before, I'd gone to an exhibit at the National Library on the poll tax, a £100 tax on Chinese immigrants imposed until 1944 - was much on Asian immigration to New Zealand. That may well have been because Te Papa is vast, and I couldn't get through all of the exhibits; but judging by the National Library's exhibit, that's also a history that's only now beginning to come under scrutiny (the National Library exhibit was part of the government's official apology (in 2002) for the poll tax as a racist measure), so it may not be fully represented at Te Papa yet. I'll have to look around some more when I go there a second time; one visit is just not enough.

Photo of Te Papa museum
More of the side facing the street; I took this picture after I left, which is why it's a bit dark!
Photo of Te Papa museum
View from the "bush," an outside area featuring native plants
Photo of Te Papa museum
Funky architecture or no, there should always be room for a duck pond.

Well, that's about it for now; it's back to the library tomorrow, and I also need to start planning the next portion of the visit, a slow, leisurely drive from here to Auckland with my friend, The Lawyer Formerly Known As Sarah, who arrives Friday.


13. July 2003


All text and images © 2003 NoAura Productions. All rights reserved.


Return to Travel section index

Return to main index