Windy Wellington

Part Five: How windy?

We, along with several hundred other Wellingtonians eager to ring in the New Year, swept out onto the sidewalks and streets, braving gale-force gusts for the sake of seeing some midnight fireworks over the harbor.

After the short burst of cheering and kissing and hugging and picture-taking, we started to hear things like, “Wow, it’s windy.” ” Where are the fireworks? I was promised fireworks.” The dark harbor churned, its surface whipped and slapped by the uneven gusts, but no fireworks illuminated the water. We started to sense that even for locals, this kind of wind was ridiculous. Back in the hostel, we learned  that the fireworks were canceled because of the danger of them being blown sideways.

Wellington is notoriously windy, partly because it lies on the southern tip of the northern island, where it’s exposed to the Cook Strait winds that rush between the two islands that make up New Zealand, and partly because of its position on the globe. Wellington’s latitude is 41 degrees South, placing it in the “Roaring Forties” that have aided sailors passing along this consistantly windy band.

Over three nights in Wellington, I’d drift off to sleep with the wind shuddering at the windows, only to wake up suddenly with the snap and howl of a furious gust. It made me feel cold even though the room was warm. It made me feel small and vulnerable, and I thought of all the small children in reach of the storm, awake in the night along with me.

The wind was truly out of the ordinary, part of a huge low pressure system that was wreaking havoc further south, down by Christchurch and across the Southern Alps by Greymouth…

But during our stay in Wellington, we filled our days brimfull. We saw The Hobbit at the Embassy Theatre where it had its world premiere!

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We visited the Botanic Garden, where I smelled the rose named Land of the Long White Cloud:

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And this beauty called Sheila’s Perfume:

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The kids were excited to be in the first capital city of a country ever in their lives. Fun fact: Wellington is the most remote capital city in the world (meaning, furthest away from any other capital city).

We went to Te Papa, the national museum. It’s six floors of great stuff–natural history, art, interactive displays. I like to think of museums like this as magazines, and I do best when I’m moving quickly through, stopping to really take something in only when it grabs me. Otherwise a strange museum malaise takes hold–fatigue and sensory overload.

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I experienced quite the opposite  in Katherine Mansfield’s house–her birthplace, where she spent her earliest years. The house has been refitted to reflect what it might have looked like when Katherine was there and is also in use as a sort of art gallery for the work of artists inspired by KM.  I learned that her maiden name, Beauchamp, was pronounced “Beecham.”  I saw the doll’s house that inspired her short story of the same name, and looked at several of her hand-written notebooks. Fascinating.

Compact, beautiful, filled with public art. I began this post with a whine about wind and I’ll end it with a love note. Wellington, I’d come back to you.

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