Saturday, 23 March 2019

Wombling Around Wellington

We've only got one full day in Wellington so from the couple who brought you "24 Hours in LA", "An afternoon in Palma, Majorca" and our masterpiece, "A Bit Of A Look Round Toronto, On A 90 Minute Pay And Display Ticket", we bring you "Wellington, SpeedTourism Style".

To maximise our time we joined a walking tour to get the benefit of local knowledge and avoid the risk of exploring the city's various construction sites, car parks and dirty alleyways.

The tour started in a square containing a number of buildings surrounded by safety fencing.  One looked quite old and impressive, others were more modern and they were all closed. One of the buildings was the town hall and no one had been allowed in it for 6 years as, despite various bits of ornamentation being removed over the years, it no longer met the standards required for earthquake resistance. This was a common theme on the tour. Following an earthquake in 2016 and the devastation wrought by the quakes in Christchurch, this had become a big issue to Wellingtonians.

Many buildings no longer met the building standards and not just old ones - some new buildings were also closed until it could be decided whether to retrofit them with features designed to allow them to survive another quake, or to simply demolish them. The library opposite the town hall had been closed 3 days ago due to concerns from engineers that it "may not perform well in the event of a significant earthquake" - it was built in the early 1990s. There was a big hole on the corner of one street where a new building had been constructed by the Ministry of Defence less than a decade ago, only to be torn down again last year.

We walked across a road bridge towards the harbour. We'd seen the bridge as we drove in the night before - it was covered in elaborately carved wood in an assortment of Maori designs.

It was baking hot and the harbour was full of (mainly young) festival goers in Doc Martens and short shorts and the air was full of the kind of frequencies that made me wonder if anyone would notice an earthquake if it started right now.

Our guide kept us moving and at 11:00 we found ourselves in the former HQ of the New Zealand Bank, now reimagined as a boutique shopping arcade. We headed upstairs and watched a potted 5 minute history of Wellington on an animated musical clock.

As well has having this horological novelty, the bank itself had been built over the remains of the boat Plimmer's Ark which was grounded by an earthquake in 1855.

Next on the list was the parliament building known as The Beehive. It reminded us of the Bradford and Bingley Head Office building in its ugly brutal concrete skin. It was next to 2 older much more attractive buildings but the planning laws are all about building in the contemporary style of the day and the 70s were not a great era for building design.

Despite what had happened in Christchurch last week, it was still possible to walk right up to the front door of the parliament building, and security consisted of a couple of policemen, hanging around a discrete distance away.

New Zealand was (as all good quiz teams will know) the first country in the world to give women the vote, in 1893. One thing we might not have noticed if we weren't being shown round by a local was that the little green "man" on some pedestrian crossings was actually a silhouette of Kate Sheppard, the woman who led the suffrage movement here - she was originally from Liverpool, but we won't hold that against her.

Other crossings had figures of Maoris doing the haka, or Carmen Rupe, a transexual stripper who ran as a mayoral candidate. Quite a broad church there!

The tour finished and we were left to our own devices. One thing Jus had spotted was another funicular tramline going up the side of a big hill. This triggered memories of a childhood spent doing a jigsaw of New Zealand, which had various key pieces representing the major landmarks. The one for Wellington was this little red tram.

She had to see the tram - this had become a pilgrimage. Given that we had to queue for 2 hours to get on our last little red tram in Hong Kong, I was dubious, but you can't argue with someone who has whipped herself up into an almost religious frenzy, so I shuffled along obediently. Amazingly, there was no queue for this one. We bought tickets, got in to the carriage and were hauled up past little suburban stations (this was built to provide commuter access to the central business district) until we terminated at the top in the botanical gardens. Jus was very pleased that she'd sat on this iconic jigsaw piece of the past - there may have been tears in her eyes, or maybe it was botanical garden pollen?

We finished our day in the capital at the Te Papa museum. The top floor had a modern art exhibition where on entry we had to pick a confusing card from the confusing card producing machine in the wall - this would challenge you to achieve some task while looking round the exhibition. I think mine asked me to pick a wall and identify all the shades of blue in the art there. Justine had to find her favourite colour and come up with a new name for it... for some reason.

Some of the works on display were really cool, and I successfully identified a lot of blues.

Jus named her colour "Grue", which didn't take much imagination (but don't tell her I said that).

The last part of our museum tour was the Gallipoli exhibition created by Peter Jackson's WETA Workshop. This tells the story of the New Zealand men and women who went half way round the world in 1915 to the Gallipoli peninsula (now part of Turkey) to fight what turned out to be a losing battle. The most striking part of this exhibition was the 2.4 times life-sized models, incredibly detailed and realistic - these made a huge impact.

On leaving the museum you can go down some steps and see through a glass panel underneath the building the key to making this huge building earthquake resistant. The building is sitting on base isolators - foundation blocks made from a combination of lead, steel and rubber - these act as shock absorbers. This particular design was invented here in New Zealand and now is used in other quake-prone regions around the world.

We've crammed a lot in to our day, but tomorrow we're off to the South Island, so it's almost time to give Wellington the boot (sorry).

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