We had heard that Wellington was windy. Little did we know. When we disembarked from the Seabourn Sojourn in Wellington, N.Z., our toil done and our three weeks work on the World Cruise complete, we were confronted by a day which, anywhere in the world, could only be described as wonderful. Sunny skies, mild temperatures, light breezes and crowds of Kiwis everywhere, cavorting in the sunshine. We passed the time with the Salvation Army chaplain at the Seaman's Center on the pier as we waited for our taxi. Even he warned: "This is not our usual weather". Little did we know.
We spent the rest of the day walking the waterfront and worrying about sunburn, since I had forgotten my hat. It seemed the locals, though, had thrown caution to the wind (no pun) and were worshiping the sun on the sidewalks, beachfront, playing fields. People were everywhere. We felt fortunate in that our Kiwi friend in the desert, Lindsay Fenwick, had provided us with a list for a pub crawl. We knew it to be authoritative as it had come from his cousin who had been a career Kiwi diplomat, spending large amounts of time in New Zealand's capital: Wellington. Wellington is largely in the shadow of its big brother to the north - Auckland. But it is the capital city, it is located on a lovely bay and surrounded by rolling hills. While its population is only a third of its big brother's, is seems filled with friendly Kiwis. Little did we know.
I had always regarded Kiwis as something akin to their national bird and namesake: the flightless bird of the forest floor with the long beak. Friendly, harmless, even cute. Sort of like down-under Canadians, as it were. You know, those polite, mild mannered people who live just north of the U.S. The lad who once described Canadians as "...unarmed Americans with health care..." was bang on. So Kiwis were viewed in the same light. After all, a people who insist on their islands being both nuclear free and smoke free must be high minded. Then we discovered the Backbencher.
The Kiwi Parliament building is only a few blocks from the waterfront, easily accessible to citizens who wish to disembark their ferry and march straight up Molesworth Street to lay their case before their elected representatives. Lurking directly across the street from the Parliament stands the Backbencher, ever ready to lend support to protest, Parliamentary outrage or, on a bad day, downright civil disobedience. One senses this before one even enters its doors. What other pub, directly across from a parliament, would have the cheek to bill itself as "the House with no Peers". Hmmmm. There was obviously something going on here. Stepping inside the pub one's gaze is diverted from all those taps by the oversized puppets of New Zealand's political leaders hanging from the walls. At least they weren't hanging by the neck.
But the slicing and dicing continued with the menus. Each of the fine menu items is named for one of New Zealand's finest politicians. The dish is then described by said politician's lastest faux pax or more memorable quote. So. Obviously the Kiwis take their politics seriously, if not their politicians. Sort of like rugby played with razors. Ouch. Certainly entertaining from the outside but deadly if one is actually in the scrum.
Oh yes, the wind. It isn't all in Parliament. We arose the next morning and peered out from our harbor front hotel into a different world. Low overcast skies with clouds fleeing before that wind, which had returned to reclaim its empire. It seems Wellington resides on the south end of North Island. And the north end of South Island is separated from Wellington only by Cook Straight. The Straight is a mere 14 miles wide and bordered by high hills on each of the islands. As a result those winds of the 'Roaring Forties' have no place to go but through the Straight. Here they meet Giovanni Venturi. Venturi, an 18th century Italian physicist, described how air, when passing through a restricted space, increases in velocity and decreases in pressure and temperature. And, boy, does it. Wellington, at forty degrees south latitude, is well into the Roaring Forties, those latitudes famous for their strong and constant winds. Shove those already strong winds through a 'Venturi', the Cook Straight, and watch them howl.
At least the Wellingtonians have a sense of humor about it. The First Mate decided to emulate the waterfront art iron sculpture "Solace in the Wind". Neither sculpture nor First Mate were ever in danger of falling into the harbor with that wind blowing.
Windy or not, the locals take small note. One is reminded of a Londoner, with umbrella tucked tightly under the arm, even on a sunny day. Same for Wellington - wind or no wind, press on. The same should be said for visitors: press on and the the sights of Wellington are yours in just a day or two. Take the Cable Car from downtown. Exit that short ride and turn right into Wellington Botanic Garden, camera at the ready. A pleasant stroll, downhill, is eye-popping. An astute photographer can capture his subject here in any number of settings, all of which explain why Peter Jackson chose his home town region for scenes for his Hobbit movies.
Being an inveterate museum creature, I was compelled to spend the afternoon in that fabulous place called Te Papa. It could easily have been all day. If the Kiwis were striving for a world class museum they certainly reached their goal. And it has two of my favorite things, as a time pressed tourist, for any attraction: free entry and open every day. That's every day as in 365. But one is well advised to make a plan. The place is huge and diverse. And there is further good news for the family that are not museum creatures. Te Papa is right on the harbor walk almost in the center of town. It's easy to escape the museum and disappear into one of the harbor shops, cafes or pubs. Just ask the First Mate.
The final bit of good news: Wellington is foot friendly. It is possible to go almost everywhere and do almost anything on foot. The only time you will need wheels is for that short drive out to the Wellington airport for the first leg of your onward journey. Little did we know.