Apr 2010
15

What I did on my Holiday (pt 6) – Wellington

I’m not doing a very good job of getting this done in a timely fashion. Thankfully my readership is 2 3, so it doesn’t matter too much…

A sunny Sunday in Wellington…

It’s probably an apocryphal tale, but there is a famous story about the Brits and the Merkins playing war games in the North Atlantic against a computer controlled enemy. The theory was simple enough – one team against the other and if your ship was ‘destroyed’ you shut he hell up and played dead. The computers aim was to get supplies from one side of the battleground to the other, while the humans had to stop them.

It all went well enough, and everyone had lots of fun and drank lashings of ginger beer with their lunch. Until they tried to work out what the computer had been up to. Statistically it was getting through more frequently than it should have done. And it was always losing the same boats early on in the battles.

It took time, but they worked out what the computer had been up to.

It had ‘realised’ that its convoy was as strong as its weakest member. So it was intentionally sacrificing the same weak ships over and over again so that the rest of the convoy could hammer on ahead unhindered.

You may be wondering why I’m telling you this. You’d not be alone.

I started writing that thinking about how it was an apt metaphor for our visit to Wellington. Part way through I realised that was complete balls, but I like the story too much to delete it again.

What actually happened was a repeat of our all too frequent membership paralysis, where our decision making abilities go down as the number of people goes up.

With an extra member in our group, we were crippled. Should we get up at 8, 8.30 or 9? We discussed this (drunk) and remembered three different answers. Should we eat breakfast here, there or elsewhere? We dithered so long we walked past all of our options. Should we do this, that or something else. “Yes”. Oh dear…

After getting Steven up half an hour earlier than he wanted, we walked through the city, talking rubbish and wondering where all the people were. As the shops opened we settled down in a café and ate our breakfasts. The fact that it was fuelled by the 4th cup of coffee so far this year did not help the decision making process. It was a double espresso…

Eventually, it was decided that we would go to the Botanic Gardens and walk around in the sun for a few hours before it got too hot for our poor English skin. Which meant a cable car ride up the cliff face from a small shopping centre, past the university, to the gardens themselves.

Now, I love my University – Leicester, if you care – but Wellington wins hands down. The view from just above the campus is an incredible one across the city and the bay. It’s windy as hell when the daily breeze kicks in, but until then it’s peaceful and beautiful.

Wellington from the Botanic Gardens, by GB

The Botanic Gardens

As you may have guessed, the gardens are at the top of a hill. And the bottom of a hill. This made it a somewhat interesting experience for a group of three hampered by having three knees, two spines and one brain no idea where they were going. It’s not that we didn’t know where we were in the park – we had a map – it’s just that we knew we were in three different places at the same time…

So, this park is flat, right? (by GB)

He's smaller. And further away. And lower down. Honest. (by GB)

The gardens wander down the hill in long sweeps, past the most vertical lawns I’ve seen and specimen plants, before delving into an ancient native wood complete with ancient gravel foot paths and plant markers so old that they’re written in Latin…

I have no idea...

I have no idea what the tree above is now, but they’re everywhere. They appear to grow by throwing out leaves from the top. Each time the leaves drop, the root of the leaf turns into the next put of the trunk and new leaves appear just above it. It’s how I’ve always imagined a pineapple tree looks.

And then, just as abruptly, you leave the native forest when you stumble upon Ye Olde Ducke Ponde. It’s fed from the stream that we followed through the forest and which I failed miserably to take photos of because I forgot my cheap polariser has hefty f-stop issues…

This could work in the back garden...

Note to self - when shooting water, remember your tripod...

The rest of the gardens arr mostly small glades laid to beds of solid colour. It’s something that has always bored me silly, but the colours here are just incredible. Other than a little white balance correction, these are unmolested photos…

I think it’s something in my DNA, but I’ve always loved fuchsias. My dad and grandmother both loved them. My brother still does. I’ve just planted some next to my front door…

Actually, for a pointless punny detour, I always liked the idea of starting up a band with a metal flower as our symbol, just so that we could be called ‘Fuchsia-Ristic’. Sadly my inability to play any instrument at all got in the way long before the pun stopped amusing me.

We walked back through the gardens to the city centre, through the old colony cemetery, and back down past the parliament buildings.

Lunchtime had come and gone, so we walked back to the hotel, discussing where we should go for some lunch and where we could find some cool and shade for the afternoon. How this turned into us driving out to the Zealandia wildlife preserve is somewhat beyond me.

Zealandia

Before I tell you about Zealandia, however, I want to tell you about Zealandia. Yes, I know. So instead I’ll refer to it by its other name – Tasmantis…

Some 80 million years ago the Australian continent broke – with a ‘micro’ continent separating from the main slab of rock. We’re talking about a slab of rock bigger than Greenland or India here, so ‘Micro’ is something of a relative term, but split it did. As you may have noticed, there’s nothing India’s size hovering off the coast of Australia. Because it sank.

New Zealand itself makes up a relatively small chunk of this mass (there’s a couple of good maps at the GNS site) perched on the highlands of the continent. But it’s all pretty unstable here – the Maori legends tell of the northern island being a canoe from which a god was fishing and pulled the south island up with his line. It’s disconcertingly accurate too, as the south island is significantly younger than the north island.

The whole of New Zealand is a geologists dream, and it’s still doing it’s thing – just 150 years ago Wellington was hit by an earthquake that jolted the western side of the city 1.5 meters up in the air, creating a ridge that cuts through the old cemetery and is now home to the main motorway into town.

Which rather neatly links me back to the Zealandia that we visited.

Back in 1873 some bright guys decided that Wellington needed a fresh water supply, so they dammed a local river with an earth bank dam (and later a concrete gravity dam) to store water coming down off the mountains. Sadly these bright guys didn’t have much of a memory, because they built their damn right on top of the fault that had shifted 1.5 meters less than twenty years before hand.

Anyway, the dams were finally decommissioned in 1998 and the water in the top reservoir was massively lowered. With nothing much else to do with the land, it was turned into a ecological island. You see, until the Maoris turned up with rats and dogs, the islands had been completely free of any mammal lifeforms, instead being home to a vast array of birds, lizards and insects.

In 1999 they completed building a mammal proof barrier and quickly started a program to kill or remove all mammals from inside the boundary. They did a pretty good job too, with only a few house mice making it back through a couple of damaged fence links.

The result is truly incredible – within a few generations the native wildlife has lost its mortal fear of humans and behaves more as it would have when the maoris first arrived.

The lower reservoir and the pump house

Old Pipework

A Tagged Tuatara

While the lower reservoir feels like a man made lake in a valley, the upper reservoir feels very much more man made – partly because of the concrete bulk standing proud of the half drained reservoir and partly because it’s so much higher up than the first reservoir…

Walkway to the upper dam

Its worth mentioning at this point that I hate heights with low barriers. And that, at six foot five, all barriers are lower for me than they are for you…

Oh god...

This was hell for me. Seriously, I’d have rather spent an hour in the dentists chair than an half an hour stood on this thing. I know it couldn’t have been swaying in the breeze, but my senses were telling me otherwise. I’d have held onto the barriers if it hadn’t meant walking closer to the edge.

Apparently these things are strong enough to let to look in through a blonde woman's bedroom window...

The views from this place are incredible – partly because you’re effectively hovering 100ft in the air. (And every muscle in my body tensed and I wrote that…)

View from the upper dam

Panorama from the upper dam

Finally, a misleadingly long range shot back towards the lower dam and the city beyond. Remember at this point that a major fault line runs right through these two dams and down into the city…

Water lotta... no, I can't finish that 'joke'

You might have noticed something about the reservoirs that says something rather significant about our planning skills – there’s a distinct lack of shade or lunch. Which wouldn’t have been a great problem if we hadn’t headed off to Zealandia in an attempt to shelter from the hottest part of the day. Or if we’d eaten lunch. Never mind.

By this point it’s about 5pm and Zealandia is understandably concerned about letting people wander its grounds after they close. We head back through the shadiest paths we could find. We get taunted by Tuis who refuse to pose for the camera and little sparrow sized fellows who actually follow us through the wood, keeping a safe distance but clearly trying to work out what we were doing.

This was an armada of disappearing ducks. But they... disappeared...

The last thing I’ll share with you are the disappearing ducks. There were about two dozen of the Scaup when I first saw them. Two seconds later, they’d all gone, diving to the bottom in search of food. The thing is, they don’t do a dramatic lift and dive like English ducks do – they just vanish as if someone has grabbed their webbed feet and pulled. To add to the confusion, they dive down three metres to the bottom of the reservoir and stay there for up to 30 seconds, grazing the plant life. Now, 30 seconds is an incredibly long time to wait when you are trying to convince yourself the ducks really exist…

Anyway, it’s time to move on and to return Fanny to her subterranean hidey-hole under the Ibis.

Evening…

I promised that I’d not bore you all with the minute details of what we ate. It’s not exciting to read about and it would just show up how little I remember about these things, but Sunday was a good night.

After various attempts to get rid of the grime, suncream and memories of cave wetas from our skin, and headed back out of the hotel. We made it three doors down before the decision-making paralysis kicked in again…

The Featherstone Bar & Grill did a damned good job of filling us with bloody good food. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we ever had bad food in New Zealand, and even little roadside cafés had great food selections that shied away from our all too predictable panini selections, but this was special.

I can’t speak for the others, but I had a huge hunk of lamb rack (with lamb medallions just in case there wasn’t enough food) cooked to perfection in a fennel seed rub, with garlic mash and asparagus. This was followed by a frankly incredible steamed lemon pudding that the waitress proudly told me was by far their best selling desert. Oh, and it was served with Hokey Pokey ice cream. Throw in a pint of Mac’s Gold, and my wallet was lighter by an entire £15.

How does any Kiwi ever cope in the UK? Ignore the countryside – the food just can’t compare to what they have at home. If nothing else, how does a Kiwi in the UK cope without Hokey Pokey?

The theory behind Hokey Pokey is simple – it’s a vanilla ice cream (made with cream mind you) with little fragments of cinder toffee scattered through it. That’s it. I had it in my life for less than two weeks, and I want it back godamnit!

If I’ve got to go cold turkey, I think I need a sponsor.

What was I talking about? Oh yes… the restaurant also gave me another fantastic opportunity to embarrass the waiting staff by offering them a tip…

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