Noni Did NZ: Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

IMAG0240
(I am running out of location-based selfies at an alarming rate.)

It’s been a little over a month since I touched down for a week of wonder in Wellington, and I’m still raving about it. This post is one in a series where I tell you how bloody great it was, from the brilliant buses to the incredible individuals I met, and plenty of other stuff that was absolutely positively delightful. 

If you want the full list of #NoniDoesNZ posts, this is the place to find them.

*****

Most of the time I had in Wellington was spent sleeping, mathematically speaking. But a significant proportion of my waking hours were spent wandering up and down the streets of the city without a guidebook, seeing where the roads would take me… you know, all the clichés writers use when they’re talking about visiting a new place. I did them all.

It wasn’t really my intention to head to the usual tourist stops, but somehow I ended up doing it anyway; they’re just so delightfully accessible that I ended up running into one after the other. The list below is nowhere near exhaustive as to things you should see in Wellington, nor are they the full list of things that I saw on my trip, they’re just the first ones that spring to mind for a myriad of reasons.

Te Papa

Source: NZ Museums
Source: NZ Museums

WARNING: do not do what I did and try to get around this beautiful place in half a day. Unlike the National Museum of Australia, doing a quick whip around of this incredible museum is absolutely impossible. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and make sure you’re well rested before you start – there’s a lot of ground to cover, and my feet were screaming at me by the end of the day.

When I say Te Papa is incredible, I bloody well mean it. The scale of some of the exhibits is absolutely breathtaking, and the sheer amount of stuff I learned was amazing. (This includes discovering that the kakapo is adorable and being brought back from the brink of extinction by some awesome people, some of the ways you can reduce damage from earthquakes, and that New Zealand is home to Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transexual MP.) There is no doubt that when I eventually head back to Wellington, I’m jumping in for a second visit, and I’ll be far more prepared this time!

Although if this happens again, I don’t know how I’ll cope:

https://twitter.com/NoniDoll/status/478745499579600897

https://twitter.com/NoniDoll/status/478749441910771712

https://twitter.com/NoniDoll/status/478753417171435520

Hey, Te Papa. You’re pretty damn great. Keep on being awesome.

 

The Embassy Theatre and The Roxy Cinema

The Roxy Cinema, Miramar
The Roxy Cinema, Miramar.

It seems Wellington has a thing for having really goddamn beautiful movie theatres.

I initially thought it was just a one-off when I went to The Embassy Theatre for the What We Do In The Shadows premiere, but then Jane recommended that I head to The Roxy Cinema in Miramar for my second viewing the Saturday before I left.

Walking into both is like wandering back into the Golden Age of film. I am very glad that both times I was wearing a nice-ish frock, because otherwise I would have felt thoroughly underdressed. Everything about them was absolutely gorgeous. The seats were comfy, the sound and vision was remarkable… I think I’ll have to travel a long way to find a city lucky enough to have one cinema this beautiful, let alone two.

Inside The Embassy. Source: Specialty Cinema
Inside The Embassy. (We sat in the row before the railing and walkway.) Source: Specialty Cinema

It’s a bit tricky trying to remember the things about The Embassy that weren’t completely intertwined with the premiere, but I do remember the sweeping staircases in the foyer absolutely taking my breath away, and being absolutely lost for words at the detail in the bathrooms! (And sure, the chances that you’ll run into Wellington’s mayor in the loos is quite slim, but somehow that happened to me? She had a lovely dress on.) That was before we even got into the cinema itself, which is also phenomenally beautiful. Even in the closer seats, we had a fantastic view of the film.

The most notable features of The Roxy were easily the art deco statues and decor that ran through the interior, but I couldn’t help being tickled by some of the little things, like how lollies come in little paper bags just like the old days, and how cute the little ticket office is. It seemed like more of a community hub, and is easily the fanciest building in the area for a fair stroll, like a grand and glamourous matriarch looking over her little ones.

It may seem strange to spend a couple of hours of your holiday watching a movie you might have been able to see at home, but trust me, this is a Wellingtonian experience you have to have.

The Cable Car-Garden-Parliamentary Stroll

Okay, so that isn’t an official title, but it is really easy to run these different attractions into each other, because that’s exactly how I did it, mostly by accident.

If you would like to replicate my experience of this Thursday afternoon walk, follow these simple steps:

Aaaaah-mazing.
Aaaaah-mazing.

1. Take the Wellington Cable Car from Lambton Quay to the Kelburn lookout and the Cable Car Museum. If it’s winter, be a little bit grumpy that the nearby café is closed because you’re really bloody hungry and it’s quite chilly up here. Marvel at the incredible view from the lookout, and take a photo.

2. Head into the Cable Car Museum. It’s full of really interesting exhibits, like models, refurbished old cable cars, documentaries about the history of cable cars and how some Wellington residents even have their own private ones on their properties (!). Be confused as how you’re meant to respond to the mannequins scattered through the museum, as some of them are sitting quite close to the Uncanny Valley. Get freaked out by the one downstairs because the lighting and angle made you think it was a real person for a second. (Just a second.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3. Once you’re done with the Cable Car Museum and its “inhabitants”, spot a sign that points to the Wellington Botanical Gardens and to Parliament House and decide, “Hey, that sounds like a great way to wash the image of those mannequins off my eyeballs! I think I’ll do that.”

4. Wander through the Wellington Botanical Gardens and reflect on how New Zealand is about as close as one can get to being in an actual fairytale. Take lots of photos, because you’re pretty sure nobody back home will believe you if you try to tell them how magical it was.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

5. Buy a necklace with a Tui on it from the Gift Shop. You will wear this almost every day until you write this blog, and possibly beyond. Also, buy some postcards that you will keep in your bag for the rest of the trip and forget to send, and souvenirs for family members you won’t see for weeks.

If this was where my dentist worked, I would have the best teeth in the world.
If this was where my dentist worked, I would have the best teeth in the world.

6. Start to walk down Tinakori Road. Marvel at the beautiful old houses and shops that line it. Wonder what it would be like to walk this street with a handsome young man. Wonder what it would be like to kiss him in front of these houses. Giggle and smile to yourself at these silly romantic daydreams. Silently wish they weren’t just daydreams.

7. Be far too engrossed in the architecture around you and your ridiculous imaginings to take anymore than one photo of this beautiful street. (See right.)

8. When the buildings around you become more modern-looking, start looking at your phone to work out how far away you are from Parliament House. You are not that far away, but you have been going the wrong way for a number of blocks.

9. After tracking back and putting yourself on the right road with the help of a whole lot of Google Maps, find a whole lot of official looking buildings. Keep walking, past the gum tree, until you can see the roof of Parliament House between the buildings.

10. Arrive on the lawn out the front of The Beehive, and feel thoroughly underwhelmed (see image at the top of this post). Mutter to yourself that the Australian Parliament House is much prettier and try to ignore the really nice old buildings that are right next to The Beehive which are arguably nicer than anything within the Canberra city limits. Find a pile of stones at the foot of a statue and come to the conclusion that it was a delightfully weird discovery to make.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

11. Sit down and rest your feet before heading for the bus home. You should have left time for a tour of Parliament House. Silly you.

Like Te Papa, I really should have allowed more time for this part of my trip, but since it took me by surprise, I didn’t really get the chance. Again, definitely going to take another look and draw it out so I can really soak it all up next time I’m in town.

The Waterfront

I went down to the Waterfront in the last hours of the afternoon. I sat at the top of a hill and looked down across the water. The colours were clear and crisp and comforting. The water looked cleaner and clearer than any Sydney Harbour could ever provide. The winds were light, but I could smell no salt on the air. I sat and I watched the ocean, then wandered to its edge and wished I had worn something I could climb rocks in.

I found a piano and sang the lyrics to the songs I played, but only I could hear the words washing around in my head. I walked away and watched a six year old boy perform classical pieces, the notes rattling out from their prison of keys and out-of-tune strings.

I read the stories of those who had come to the city on boats, written on walls. I felt a bitter taste rising in my mouth as I remembered how the government at home was treating people like these in our own time.

I walked down to the waterfront and drank deeply, not with lips but with eyes and ears and soul. The afternoon was a tiny wave of joy lapping at my bare feet. I felt light and soft and cool as I let my mind wander with the breeze out to sea.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*****

In the next edition of #NoniDoesNZ, it’s the post you’ve all been waiting for: What We Did At The Premiere

Also coming soon: most notable eateries and bars, and why scrapbooks beat social media.

Noni Did NZ: When in Wellington, Take the Bus.

Me at the "Vellington" sign.

This time last week, I was marvelling at the fact that I had just come off the most incredible week of my life. Tonight, I’m struck by the bizarre thought that all that magnificent stuff happened a little under a fortnight ago. I’m pretty sure that it’s going to take another week for it to sink in that it’s all flitted off into the past, so I’m dedicating the next few posts to the week I spent in Wellington earlier in the month.

Each post will look at a different aspect of my trip: the people, the places, the premiere and the picture that made it all happen. And you know, some other shit too. And it will probably be out of order. Sorry about that.

If you’re looking for the full list of entries on this topic, you can find them here.

The first entry is about something that is incredibly important to me: public transport.

Shut up. This is serious stuff. Pay attention.

*****

Not being able to drive can be an absolute pain in the arse. It can leave you in quite a spot of bother, especially if you’re in a place you don’t know and travelling alone. Unless you want to be shelling out regularly for cabs, you have to work out the buses and trains and timetables pretty quickly, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to be living in or visiting a place with any to begin with.

Luckily for me, Wellington’s all over it: their public transport system freakin’ rocks.

First and most importantly, like most major cities, they have their transport timetables integrated into Google Maps. It seems like a stupid thing to get excited about, but when you’re as navigationally challenged as I am, not to mention terrible at remembering what time things come and go, this is an absolute lifesaver. It means that even if you’re at a bus stop with no timetable, or are struggling to find a bus stop at all, you’re not stuck. Sure, you get the same thing in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, but it’s the little things that can make all the difference. Without this little bit of beautiful technology, my trip would have been a lot more difficult.

Look! Getting places is EASY. (Of course, I used it on my mobile, not the icky new desktop version. Yuck.)
Look! Getting places is EASY.
(Of course, I used it on my mobile, not the icky new desktop version. Yuck.)

The other thing that impressed me was how punctual all the buses were. Now, I’m not one to complain about services running late, as long as they don’t run early. After all, you can always catch a bus if it turns up after you do, but you’re buggered if it’s already left. I don’t think I encountered a single bus that arrived before its scheduled time or any that ran later than about 5 minutes behind schedule. As much as I love Canberra’s ACTION buses, they could learn a bit from the Go Wellington bus system.

At a number of the major stops, there were even automatically updating signs that told you how far away the next bus was, probably powered by some kind of black magic, or GPS or something, kind of like the ones at the Civic Bus Interchange except there were a lot more of them and they were all over the place.

And there were the trolley buses. I found them incredibly bewildering (“Wait, that bus has a power connector… thing?”), then comically endearing (“HA. THAT BUS THINKS IT’S A TRAM!”). Apparently they’re on the way out, so I feel incredibly privileged to have been blessed by their presence, even if I didn’t take the chance to ride one.

Seriously, Trolley Bus. Pick a side already.
Seriously, Trolley Bus. Pick a side already.

I only had a short trip around the bays to get from where I was staying to the city, but it can be pretty easy to mess up these things when you’re a tourist. Thankfully, all of the drivers were remarkably polite and incredibly helpful with directions and tips. I didn’t miss my stop once, and I didn’t have a single unpleasant trip. I was beginning to think that someone had sent out a memo saying, “There is a plump Australian woman coming from Canberra who is a bit of a bus aficionado; be sure to give her the best public transport experience she has ever had,” because it really was pretty damn good.

That said, like all public transport systems, there were areas that were less than brilliant. There were no services to the city from where I was staying on the weekend, but there was a stop about 30 minutes’ walk down the road (but holy crap, what a beautiful seaside walk it was)… The signage to find stops often wasn’t that great, and there were some really weird streets that were just for buses that were also deceptively dangerous for pedestrians. That said, it’s still a pretty damn good service, as long as you remember to look both ways, you bloody idiot.

IMG_0401
Me: “Seriously? That’s the only photo I got? Why am I even allowed to have a camera?”

But it’s not all about buses. The Wellington Cable Car initially seems to be just a gimmicky novelty for the tourists, kind of like Sydney’s Monorail (RIP), but it turns out that it’s also another cog in the public transport machine, if you’ll forgive the heavy-handed metaphor. Sure, there were a couple of families on board who were obviously out for the day to see the sights, but there were also a significant number of travellers who looked kind of jaded and were busy reading newspapers, most of whom got off at the stop for Victoria University. Whoever they are, I thank them, because they’re probably the reason why my little tourist jaunt to the top of the mountain only cost me $4! Nice.

So that’s the practical aspect of all the public transport options I sampled.

Then you get into the more ridiculous stuff that only weirdos like me care about.

https://twitter.com/NoniDoll/statuses/478653018011729920

Seriously, look! Look at the seats! They’re really pretty! Ferns! Fresh! Green! Lovely.

(Especially when you compare them with the seats of Canberra’s ACTION buses, which look like somebody murdered a Ken Done painting.)

ARGH. MY EYES. (Thanks to Ali for the photos.)
ARGH. MY EYES.
(Thanks to Ali for the photos.)

Basically, getting around Wellington was really bloody rad, from the buses to the cable car to the fact that there were effectively taxi spruikers when I got in at Wellington Airport. (Seriously, that was kind of weird.) Everyone was friendly and didn’t want to charge me through the nose and got me to where I was going with a minimum of fuss.

As a non-driver, Wellington is easily one of the most non-driver friendly places I’ve visited, at least in terms of the routes that I took. Sure, next time I head over, I’ll have to do a little more exploring outside the inner city area, but for now I just want to say well done, Wellington.

Image: Ed Jones via Getty. Click for source.
Well done.