February 28 - March 7, 2010
The ferry ride from Picton to Wellington was nothing if not breezy. Luckily we found it was bearable, because Gerry absolutely had to be out on deck to soak up all of the sights and sounds and Jan had to be on deck to be able to fix the horizon with her eyes to keep the motion sickness at bay. Lots of people ask why she doesn't take dramamime. She has read that such medications can be dangerous for asthma sufferers and so she desists. Guess she'll never be a cruise holiday fan. The crossing was mercifully calm until the last half hour at which point we really got the effect of the winds tearing through the straits between the two islands.
We drove off the ferry at about 5 pm and with good directions were quickly on the main highway out of town to the north. We were headed to Tawa, where our friend Virginia lives. The cellphone sure helps in these circumstances and pretty soon we were driving up the long driveway to park in front of Virginia's little house. The reunion was warm. We hadn't seen one another since 2001 when Gerry was working in Shenzhen and Virginia was still a HK resident. We visited back and forth across the Chinese border quite a few times. Since then, Virginia had returned to her native New Zealand to spend the last few years of her working life in the bosom of her family.
We were made royally welcome with a slap-up steak dinner and a nice bottle of wine. We whiled away the evening talking about memories of Hong Kong in days of yore. We learned how and why Virginia ended up there, arriving not too, too long before us, but staying long after our departure.
After a very welcome day of rest, with nothing more important to do than walk across the street to buy some contributions to Virginia's fridge, we made our first trip into the CBD (Central Business District) as the Kiwis like the Aussies call the downtowns of their major cities. We took the train from Tawa and spent a very pleasant day exploring the city on foot. We even did a bit of shopping, buying a Lonely Planet for Japan, our destination after NZ.
The following day, we drove the Serena, now empty of most of the stuff we carried around in it, and parked it in the parking lot of the Te Papa Museum. Wellington's most famous museum, it is packed with Maori artefacts items related to the immigration of whites and then pieces related to the history shared by the nation's two peoples since then. It seemed to us that the Maori play a much bigger part in NZ life than do the Australian Aborigines in their countries life. Perhaps it has something to do with the level of culture the Maories had achieved before the British invasion. There is still some friction, with some whites thinking that the Maoris have been given too much land or too many privileges with respect to fishing and hunting, and some Maoris believing they have not been adequately compensated, but on the whole New Zealanders seem to have found a recipe for peaceful co-citizenship. In any case, the museum kept us very happily engaged for the best part of a day.
We spent a lovely afternoon walking around the CBD, visiting churches and public buildings. We got ourselves a tour of the parliament building and wandered around the park outside the building. Then we visited the particularly impressive Old St Paul's Cathedral. It is a gorgeous church built entirely out of wood by the early colonial settlers and only just saved from demolition by a group of determined citizens and parishioners. It is a quite small church as befits what was, after all a small colony. In the mid-20th century, the church authorities decided they needed a bigger cathedral to match the growing population. Hence the plan to tear down the old cathedral and replace it. Well, they did build a new cathedral, but thankfully the old one still exists and is a natural favorite for family occasions like weddings and funerals. And if you look at the photograph you will instantly understand why.
We drove in another day just to drive around different parts of the city. But the biggest treat was a day spent with Virginia and her brother Jeff. We started off with a terrific yam cha lunch to remind us once more of Hong Kong days. Then Jeff drove us up to the highest point in the city from where we got simply fabulous views of the city, the Cook Straits, and Wellington's harbour. It was a bright sunny day with a strong off-shore breeze, but that just added to the attraction. There can be no other capital city in the world that has better air quality than Wellington. Chinese cities like Guangzhou, Beijing, and especially Xian must eat their heart out. We also took a walk down memory lane, visiting the different parts of Wellington in which Virginia and Jeff had grown up.
Finally, of course, we had to get on our way, because we had a plane to catch in only three more weeks and to catch it we had to drive to Auckland and still have time left to sell the Serena. Would we manage it? We didn't know, but we said goodbye to Virginia on Sunday morning, a week after our arrival feeling relaxed and refreshed from our stay.