Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Zealand 2010: Wellington (Saturday, February 20)

Written on the ferry to Picton (on the South Island), 11:00 am on Sunday, February 21; and in the Sydney airport at 7:52 pm (Sydney time)

We started the day with a drive up by where the Interislander Ferry would leave in the morning, to be sure of our route and time to get there (about 10 minutes).  Then we went to the New Zealand Parliament buildings, including the one oddly architected one referred to as the Beehive.

We then drove by the botanic garden, but apparently it was walk-through only, so we couldn’t drive through.  So we went to Zealandia, the visitable part of the Karori Sanctuary, a valley once used as the water source for Wellington (when they dammed it), which a group is today attempting to restore to close to natural habitat.  This has included removing invasive non-native species, constructing a fence around the entire reserve intended to prevent rabbits, cats, stoats, hedgehogs, and rats from getting in, and re-introducing wildlife long gone from the mainland, including giant wetas (New Zealand crickets the size of a child’s hand) and tuatara (a lizard-like reptile largely unchanged in the fossil record from 60 million years ago).  We got to see a couple tuataras (tuatara? tuatarae?), but they were shy, so pictures came out lousy.

One attraction in the reserve was the remnant of a small gold mine (there had once been several, but this was the only one in the valley still safe to enter).  It went about 50 feet into the hill and then connected to a vertical shaft about 50 feet high.  The cave was usually just over 6 foot high, and we got to see a number of cave wetas and when the faint red torch (flashlight) was turned out, a handful of bioluminescent glowworms.

Pretty much every time we were out in a forested area such as the Karori Sanctuary, the bugs were out, too.  Not hopping around, landing on you, biting you bugs, just in the trees, making noise.  Lots of noise.  Loudest bugs I’ve ever heard.  We kept looking to see if we could see them (since it sounded like there must be hundreds of huge bugs in each tree to make that much racket), but we never saw the noisemakers.  I have this suspicion that they were really little ones which are able to make massively disproportionate noise.

Coming back to the hotel, Mom laid down for a nap while I went shopping.  I picked up albums from Barry Saunders (of The Warratahs) and a Noel Parlane (another New Zealand country singer) at Slow Boat Records.  Then I went looking for a scarf for Kent, as he had asked me to bring one back for him.  I finally got smart and started checking out the hiking and skiing stores and found one (part Merino wool, part possum fur), a short black one with a loop for tucking the end through.  I apparently snuck in just moments before closing, and by the time I had made a selection, they had closed the registers.  They called for approval to reopen one of them, and only did it because I was paying cash.

Heading back to the hotel, I picked up a small plastic replica of the famous New Zealand tiki for my boyfriend.  This weird design — the “pitau” version of “hei-tiki” (according to Wikipedia), it looks like a frog-man, with its head akilter and its tongue out — is one of the iconic images of New Zealand, seen on greenstone jewelry and t-shirts and so on all over the country.  Hei-tiki is technically a neck pendant, not quite connected to what Americans think of as “tiki (bar) culture”.

Mom and I then went on a drive up Mt. Victoria, the urban mountain in the middle of Wellington.  If you’ve ever had the chance to drive up Twin Peaks in San Francisco, you know very much what we got: very curvy urban drive, and a 360-dgree mountain view of all the surrounding cityscapes.  Mt. Victoria also has a Robert Byrd memorial, looking due south toward Antarctica (although you can’t see it from there; it’s hundreds of miles away).

They were gearing up for a rugby match in the big stadium we could see, but whether it was the wind or the geography, the sound all seemed to come from downtown Wellington instead.

Dinner was at Rasa, a Malaysian/South Indian restaurant across the street from the hotel.  I ended up having goat curry, and Mom had a dosa, sort of a south Indian burrito, usually done with potatoes as a breakfast food.  According to a restaurant review posted there, this dish is difficult to do right and only two restaurants in Wellington have it on the menu.

Updated on March 9, 2010
Added links.
Added travel map.
Added section on insects.
Updated on May 17, 2010
Added better travel map.
Updated on June 8, 2010
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

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