NZ #5: Wellington on New Year’s Eve

By: | Post date: January 2, 2010 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Countries

With the necessary preamble that this yet again is terribly disjointed—I’m not managing the grand narratives this trip that I did in England, mainly because I’m not particularly goal driven this time around in where I’m going.


I beg leave to report that the one culinary establishment I was looking forward to in Wellington, as recommended by Lonely Planet—the Maori fusion establishment Kai in the City—has recently closed its doors. That is, unless the Maori fusion has extended to being 100% Thai cuisine. All that survives of Kai is a couple of letters of the sign indicating its bottle bar. The Bastille Bistro across Majoribanks St, which was to serve as my backup on Dec 30, likewise is gone, supplanted by a fish restaurant. (A little more survives of it: a huge PERNOD awning.)

I was rather looking forward to finding out what meat buried over coals tastes like. Yes, I know I’m supposed to be familiar with it through klephtiko, but I don’t think I’ve actually ever had klephtiko. Another Greek delicacy that hasn’t quite made it across to Crete.

When I realised Kai in the City is gone, I had a twinge of inauthenticity regret: the rest of my time in NZ will be on the South Island (already started as I type these lines), and with 5% of the Maori population living in Te Waka a Aoraki (Aoraki’s Canoe, aka South Island), any Maori food I’d eat from now own would be just for tourists.

As if eating at a restaurant is such an authentically Maori thing to do, I realised, and went next door to a Modern New Zealand Cuisine establishment.

There were people out and about after hours in Courtney Place—the booze and youngster epicentre of Wellington, down the road from Cuba St, the coffee and hipster epicentre. This iteration, I’d been staying near Lambton Quay, the retail and high tone epicentre.

Lambton Quay is high tone enough to terminate at the seat of New Zealand Government: Old Government House (which looked too much like the Old Government House in Auckland, including the surfeit of wood); Parliament Library (a pretty neo-gothic confection); Parliament itself (built at a time when New Zealanders finally realised the innate dignity of stone); and the controversial Beehive building. Conservative fuddy-duddies did not appreciate the bold modernist vision of a round concrete-and-wire tower, antagonising the marble parapets next door. Count me with the conservative fuddy-duddies: it’s arrogance, it’s an eyesore, and it’s dysfunctional. (As the taxi driver defending it conceded to me, a round government building does not allow hierarchical placing of corner offices; and the Civil Service cannot do without hierarchically placed offices.)

The problem with government offices precincts is, nothing much else is going on around them. There is a Backbencher Pub across the road from the parliament; and Kate Shepherd, whose lobbying made New Zealand the first country to give women the vote, is now an apartment complex—facing off the statue of Prime Minister Seddon who campaigned against it. And that’s it for the government offices precinct.

The problem with high tone epicentres is, they empty out after 5 PM; and with Cuba St and Courtney Place already set up, Wellington hasn’t felt the need to extend the nightlife to the retail precinct, the way Melbourne has. I made the mistake of getting stir crazy at 10 PM, New Year’s Day, and wandering out for a bite. I saw nothing for the next kilometre but shuttered shop windows and tumbleweeds.

Well, maybe not literal tumbleweeds, but it was certainly windy enough for tumbleweeds to blow in from the American Southwest. Strong winds. “This is no longer cute” winds. “Now you know why they call it Wuhndy Willington” winds. “Wuthering Heights” winds.

“You’re getting something from Room Service tonight” winds.

It hasn’t helped that the holiday season sees many of the shops shut down even in daytime. Still, I’ve been lucky with the weather so far; I’ve been in the vicinity of rain and wind, but haven’t yet had to sacrifice a daytime’s exploring to it. But unless you’re in the far north of the North Island, the weather so far has barely been springlike, let alone Southern Hemisphere December. I’ve packed shorts; I needn’t have bothered, and as I head from south to more south on Aoraki’s Canoe, there’s no prospect of the shorts being exposed to sunlight now.

That’s probably yet another result of the Weather Going Crazy, and us All Being Doomed. But it’s also because New Zealand is closer to the pole. The local vodka is called 42° Below, and as I was nursing a Gewürtztraminer last night at the piano bar, huddling from the gales and tumbleweeds outside, I realised why. That’s not a temperature of vodka refrigeration, and -42° vodka icicles would probably be something of a health hazard anyway. No, that 42°S Latitude. And with Melbourne at 38°S, that means I’m no longer in the equivalent of Milan, but Amsterdam. It gets cold here.

Just that smidgeon too cold for an outdoors New Year’s Eve to make sense, the way it does in Sydney or Melbourne. There was a concert underway at Civic Square, and families milling about the waterfront. Some on unicycles: apparently a grand unicyclist jamboree is about to start here. But not the critical mass of people to make me tarry. At least, not north of Courtney Place, but I don’t know that I was up for the wall-to-wall boozing.

Yes, yes, I greeted the New Year in a hotel room. Reading New Zealand history, no less.

And if I fell down in how I greeted the New Year, so did New Zealand TV. Movie finishes on TV2 at 11:59:50, five second countdown, Happy New 2010, roll credits for the next movie.

Now that is a cosmic error right there. TV is meant to have programming commensurate to the year change. Lame variety shows, at least. (Though TV1 was already plenty lame with their Year in Review show. Dramatic recitation of Lady Gaga lyrics is not pioneering comedy.)

I flicked around the channels to see if anyone was showing “the crackers”, the obligatory New Year’s televising of fireworks that happens in normal countries. The only channel that was showing the crackers? Sky News. Which is run out of Australia.

Wonder what was on Maori TV…

One Comment

  • John Cowan says:

    Wood may not be the thing for government buildings, but what's wrong with it otherwise? I sit at this moment in a sturdy house designed by my mother and built of wood (okay, the foundation's concrete, but you need to go a meter down hereabouts or you are screwed by frost-heave).

    As for tumbleweeds, they are intrusives in North America; they come from Siberia.

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