For our first two weeks in New Zealand, we stayed in Wellington, revisiting old haunts and meeting old friends. It was good to be back, although there were a few disappointments. The weather was good initially, but after a few days it turned grey, cold, wet and windy. Several of the places (bars, cafés, shops) which we used to frequent had closed since we were last here in 2010. And a different exchange rate meant that things seemed a lot more expensive this time round. But despite these problems, we had a good time, and found plenty to do.
We were fortunate to be able to catch up with many of our old friends from our previous time in New Zealand. We went into NZCER, where Sandie once worked, and said hello to some of her former colleagues. We visited the Ministry of Education, in particular the Research Division, and chatted to the staff there, some of whom joined us for food and drinks in the Backbencher afterwards.
We had dinner with members of Sandie’s folk dance group, after which she joined them for a nostalgic dance session. And we had several coffee, lunch or dinner dates with individual friends or couples.
Going for walks
Wellington is very picturesque, with (mainly white) houses perched on tree-clad hills surrounding the harbour. It is a relatively small city, so you don’t have to walk far to find yourself in wild countryside. There are a number of walkways (linked footpaths) which we tackled in 2008-10, but we were keen to repeat some of them.
On Sunday 2nd February we did the ‘City to Sea’ walkway, starting from the Bolton Street Memorial Park in the City and ending up at Island Bay on the coast. It is only 12 kms (7.5 miles if you prefer) but is mainly up and down steep hills, so quite challenging. The leaflet describing the walk says that you need ‘a good level of fitness’ to complete it in a day, so we felt proud of ourselves when we reached the end! The weather was perfect: blue sky and sun, just a light breeze.
Two days later, we did the Eastern Walkway, a much shorter loop walk from Seatoun over the hills to Tarakena Bay, and back by the coast road. Again, we had blue sky and sun, but a much stronger wind which at times almost blew us away. The following afternoon, the weather was not good at all, but later we caught glimmers of sun so decided to walk up to the Mount Victoria lookout. Unfortunately the weather deteriorated as we walked, and by the time we reached the lookout the wind was howling and visibility was poor, to say the least.
The weather – and other commitments – prevented us from doing other walks. However, on our last afternoon in Wellington the sky brightened and we decided to go for a walk along the Kaiwharawhara Stream through Ngaio Gorge. In addition to being a favourite spot of ours, it has the advantage of being reasonably sheltered from the wind!
Three cinemas and a theatre
One thing we really like about New Zealand is what we call the ‘quirky’ cinemas: small and comfortable, and you can go in with a cappuccino or a glass of bubbles (sparkling wine to non-Kiwis). During our first week in Wellington, we revisited our two favourite cinemas. At the Penthouse in Brooklyn we saw The Railway Man, and at the Lighthouse in Petone we saw Mandela: long walk to freedom. In Petone we ate at the Fireman’s Arms, which thankfully still produces the best pizzas in this part of the world.
At the other extreme from the small quirky cinemas is the Embassy, a huge cinema with an elaborate interior (grand sweeping staircases, ornate design in the auditorium, beautiful tiling in the toilets etc), which is where Peter Jackson has staged all the premiers of his Lord of the Rings films. We went there one afternoon – the weather was so bad it seemed the best option – and saw 12 Years a Slave. We sat in the seats reserved for Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee at the premiers!
Wellington is not so well off for active theatres (the two biggest are rarely used) but it does have the Circa, and we went there one evening to see Kings of the Gym, a Kiwi comedy set in a secondary school.
The Wellington Sevens
The Wellington Sevens is one of the biggest annual events in the city; for two days crowds of people dress up in silly costumes and roam the streets and bars (some even go to see the rugby matches). Before the tournament starts there is a parade of the teams through the city, with marching bands and supporters from the different countries – including (this year) can-can and flamenco dancers.
The tournament started on Friday 7th, and we were waiting by the Westpac Stadium (aka the Cake Tin) to take pictures of the fans arriving in costume. Then we moved to the waterfront, where the bars were crammed with more people in costume.
That day the weather was bright and sunny, but on Saturday it turned cold, wet and windy. People still roamed the streets, some in very skimpy costumes, mostly oblivious to the weather. Late at night Courtenay Place was closed to traffic and filled with revellers braving the rain. We watched them from the front window of one of the pubs.
Work – is there no escape?
Asked whether we were going to New Zealand for work or a holiday, we assured everyone that it was just the latter. But then, when we were on our way, we had an email putting us in touch with someone in Wellington whose company is in a consortium bidding for a project from OECD, based in Paris. They needed more psychometric expertise. We met for lunch the day after we arrived. Then Ian wrote a short paper, and had a telephone conversation with the consortium partners.
Finally, at 11 pm on Friday night, in the middle of the Sevens madness, he took part in a conference call to London, Paris and Abu Dhabi to discuss the project. We wait to hear whether the bid was successful. We also received an email informing us that the Ghana project may go ahead after all. And Ian agreed to do some analysis for Omega schools when we return to the UK. Being retired is perhaps not a full-time occupation.