Windy Wellington

There’s a lot to love about Wellington. Everyone told me this was the case, the first time I went to NZ and skipped the nation’s capital. ‘It’s like a windy Melbourne by the sea,’ they told me, where all of the art and culture is. ‘You’ll love Wellington,’ was the oft-repeated promise. When planning this year’s trip, ultimately giving ourselves just a week in NZ meant ‘doing the south island next time’ and spending just a few days on the north island – including a couple on Waiheke Island. We zeroed in on Wellington.

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Like Canberra, Wellington is often forgotten as the country’s capital city by those of us inclined to recall the more visible cities (Auckland, Sydney etc) but it’s a deserving capital. Sitting at the bottom of the north island, it curves around Wellington Harbour, its classic white timber houses, and pretty, clean CBD spooned by lush, green forest. Its beautiful Botanic Gardens, reachable by cable car, are set against this very backdrop – endlessly rolling green.

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Despite having an excellent public transport system – as a Sydneysider, the first thing I notice about any new city is its public transport, and how extraordinarily better it is than Sydney’s – it’s an entirely walkable city. Indeed, it’s by walking that you get to duck down the Melbourne-esque lanes and alleys and find delicious places for breakfast. The Kiwis, I especially noted this trip, seem to love breakfast, particularly eggs benedict and a flat white. (I did one eggs benedict and was reminded of the specific feeling of fullness Hollandaise sauce always results in, one I first encountered in Münster.) Gotham Cafe and Bordeaux Bakery are both worth checking out.

In fact, in general, Wellington has excellent food and coffee. Cuba Street is bumper to bumper with cuisines from all over the world. We had what SG has deemed, the Best Indian Ever on one night, then sensational Malaysian the next (one forgets the slow burn that is unique to Malay curries, my God). We also got to the cafe that’s home to 2013’s best barista in NZ. It was a splendid brew. In fact, all of the coffee we had in Wellington was excellent. SG has already bemoaned his return to Germany’s beloved filter stuff.

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Wellington's Parliament - the Beehive.
Wellington’s Parliament – the Beehive.
St Paul's, a significant church not only because of its age, but because it is made entirely of timber.
St Paul’s, a significant church not only because of its age, but because it is made entirely of timber.

We happened to be in Wellington on Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day that marks the signing of the Waitangi treaty. The city’s fantastic Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa – was where we spent the afternoon, learning about New Zealand’s history, one that is so different to Australia’s despite our proximity, common language and erroneous global perception that we’re pretty much the same. We aren’t. We really, really aren’t. And it was so rewarding, as a fellow Antipodean, to learn about our neighbours alongside SG, and how their country came to be what it is today. There is also the world’s largest squid to behold, and the skeleton of Phar Lap. Honestly, it’s a museum worth checking out.

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The winds blew us out of Wellington after a couple of days, and we caught a punctual bus with free wifi, back to the airport. But a couple of days was enough to know they were right about this windy city by the sea, with its weatherboard houses and wide clean streets. It is is by far and away, my favourite Kiwi city.

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Hobbit Holes

I have finally found the requisite cute, fashionable cafe with wifi, in which I can it with my unfashionably-sized laptop and type. (Does anyone else get driven crazy by tiny phone keys and screens? Is there anything better than sitting down at a good old giant keyboard and bashing some things out?) So, despite the fact I am perched up in sunny Sydney sipping on a ginger beer, let’s go back to New Zealand for a little bit …

Three hours south of Auckland is a town called Matamata. It’s small, with a main stretch that features the key shops; fish and chips, Chinese food, a pub. Back in the late 90s, when Peter Jackson was location scouting for a certain trilogy of films, he flew over a sheep and cattle farm that lies about fifteen minutes outside Matamata. It was perfect. There was a huge tree that was of utmost importance (something about a party) and plenty of rolling hills that would make perfect homes for small people with large, hairy feet. He knocked on the farmstead’s door, interrupting a game of rugby on the TV, and the rest is cinematic history. Indeed, contemporary New Zealand history.

Nowadays, Matamata also goes by the name Hobbiton and from the town’s thatched information centre, you can hop on a guided tour bus and drive out to The Shire, through some truly beautiful New Zealand landscape.

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The Shire was originally constructed for the LOTR trilogy, but the hobbit homes tucked into grassy hills were just white doors, the rest taken care of by special effects. For The Hobbit trilogy, The Shire was brought back to life, this time in full, stunning detail. Coloured wooden doors, round windows, front gardens with rocking chairs and clay beer steins, a big community vegetable patch that is tended to by a team of gardners, winding paths, a well. It is magical, as if the Hobbits have left for the day and let you roam through their patch of Middle Earth.

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Of course, for the real fans (for example, SG, who has seen each film approximately ten times) the home everyone was keenest to clap eyes on was that of the Baggins family, Bag End, at the end of Bagshot Row. Above it sits that beautiful oak tree which is, in actual fact, a fake, each leaf painstakingly woven on by hand.

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Past the party tree and over the bridge, we stopped for a refreshing ginger beer at The Green Dragon pub.

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It was sensational weather for the beer garden.

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Islands

Coming to you live from a very small island nation that is extremely good at rugby and claims the pavlova as their own. New Zealand. It’s good to be here. And it’s as good a place as any to get writing again, having been wifi-on-a-laptop-less since arriving in Australia two weeks ago.

Our family gathered on Waiheke Island this past weekend, for the wedding of my cousin. Waiheke Island, covered in vineyards and hemmed by expansive bays and little beaches, hosts something like 64% of all New Zealand weddings.

And, you know, you can kind of see why.

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Wine flowed, family danced – it was spectacular, and everything you fly halfway around the world to get to.

Melbourne and Sydney prefaced our NZ jaunt, and Sydney will come around again after our time in NZ. The weather on both islands – Australia and NZ – has been stunning; big blue skies, hot sun. Jetlagged in Melbourne, we caught some fantastic Aussie Open matches and a curry at our favourite Indian place. We breakfasted with dear friends and met their new baby. In Sydney, we were overwhelmed by family and friends, seeing who we could, while helping Mum and Dad pack for their own international move. Change, huh, the only constant we have.

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The German is sinking more and more into Australianness – he asked me to explain the rules of cricket, and now watches it intently – and I am realising more and more how much Germany has influenced who I am, now, at 29 (that also happened in Sydney. Aren’t I still 25 and trying to figure out the Münsteranians?) several years after I first moved there. There is always something in flux, and that something is usually us.

It’s another beautiful summer’s day out there. The cicadas are singing, the sun is waiting to get its hands on my pink nose and burnt shoulders – one forgets how bloody strong the sun is down here. I am going to go out into that day, start it with a fantastic coffee – one doesn’t forget how good coffee is in Oz and NZ.

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I’ll see you guys very soon.

 

New Zealand Road Trip

A few years ago, in the summer of 2009, I went on a road trip around New Zealand with one of my closest friends. New Zealand had, admittedly, never really been on our list of places we had to see – we were both still in the throes of Europe-love and not nearly as appreciative of our hemisphere as we should have been. But there was a special on the plane tickets and we wanted to do something, so late one night, we clicked book and locked ourselves into a Kiwi road trip.

We spent two weeks driving around both islands in two 80s-esque cars that were an utter pain to hire because New Zealand seems to operate to the beat of an even more laidback tempo than Australia is reputed to. It was one of those trips you never forget, the kind you tell your kids about, the kind that comes with a dose of sweet nostalgia whenever you think about it.

I was thinking about it the other day when I realised I had never put any photos from the trip on this here blog. And I decided to remedy that.