Christmas Day

It’s a beautiful day here in Wellington – a nice surprise as the weather hasn’t been so great over the past few days. After breakfast we hiked up through the Town Belt to Mount Victoria lookout in an attempt to walk off a mild hangover from the traditional Christmas Eve over-indulgence.

[View over Wellington City with the Marina in the foreground]

The views over the city and the harbour are worth the trek up the hill. The wind was pretty fierce though, and I didn’t envy anyone doing the crossing today on the Inter-Island ferry we saw departing the port.

[The Ferry with hills in the background]

On our way back we walked along the sea front at Oriental Bay where there were a few people relaxing in a suitably festive manner on the new and improved beach (which hasn’t quite washed-away despite some predictions and has been the subject of some fascinating controversy over municipal spending priorities).

[Three sunbathers in Santa hats]

It really doesn’t feel like Christmas Day, despite all the decorations, Santa outfits and our own best efforts to be as festive as possible (can’t have a roast, though – the oven here is broken, so we’re going native and having lamb and fried kumara instead). I think that it’s the climate. Even though I’ve spent Christmas in hot places before, I think there’s something hardwired into me that just can’t quite believe that it’s the right time of year. Ungrateful it might sound, but part of me does pine a little for a bit of frost (cue cries of disgust from friends and relatives back home). OK, well, maybe not that much. Have a good day, wherever you are.

Wifi Wellington

Turns out that Wellington has quite extensive wireless coverage in the CBD. A local broadband access company, CityLink, which already provides a fibre-optic network also operates an 802.11b network called CafeNET. Turns out that today the whole of Lambton Quay has gone live as a ‘Hot Zone’.

The company is a commercial concern, so you have to pay to log on. They charge on bandwidth usage, NZ$20 for 70 Megs, NZ$80 for 350 (c. 7.50 and 30 pounds sterling), although they are doing a free promo each weekend in Dec. I have no idea whether the rate is reasonable or not, but if it ain’t I might find the motivation to install the gzip plugin on this site to try and cut back on bandwidth, seeing as I reload the damn page about ten times every time I update.

So, motivation to get the wireless card on the laptop working! And after an hour or two fiddling, a bit of head scratching, a trip to an internet cafe and a forehead slapping later, it’s all done, and I’m posting this from the laptop, sitting in the Courtenay Central Entertainment Complex! More details in a separate post in a more appropriate category when I get around to it – tomorrow, maybe.

Lord of the Rings – The Final Post

I promise. Well, at least until I see the film itself. The weather held out for Wellington’s big day on Monday, and the sun beamed down on the thousands of people who turned out hoping for a glimpse of their favourite LotR actors. Most weren’t disappointed, as despite the crowds it was possible to see what was going on even if it proved more difficult to get any good photos.

[Elven Warriors make their way through the crowd]

The parade, which ran all the way through the centre of the city, made me think of a US ticker-tape parade or a Royal occasion back in the UK, but with far less security than you’d expect given the numbers involved. Interspersed between groups of costumed extras, the stars of the film slowly made their way to the cinema for a round of speeches and the Premiere itself. They all looked pretty blown away by the whole event, and all seemed to have big smiles on as they drank in the adulation surrounding them.

[The Black Riders attempt to terrify some fans]

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get any good shots of the stars themselves. I had a reasonable vantage point, but the sheer frenzy that greeted them proved beyond my capabilities to penetrate. I’m not too bothered really, as I’m sure we’ll all see plenty of them all over the coming weeks as the hype continues to build for the film’s general release. In the mean time here’s another shot of some of their escort.

[The Men of GOndor march past]

The parade was fun, and seemed to live up to the city’s expectations. There was a general sense of carnival throughout the day, and I don’t think anyone really expected to get a lot of work done (I had a job interview rescheduled for Tuesday). Even the phone company got in on the act (I hope you can make out the screen, it says we’re in ‘MiddlEarth’)

[The cell is renamed MiddlEarth (sic) for the day]

Should you think that the whole country was united in LotR celebration, I should mention a few signs of dissent that were present, albeit almost swamped, on the day. As the band which concluded the parade marched past the spot I’d found for myself, a handful of people unfurled a large banner:

[Banner reading 'Our Mayor Jailed Homeless People For This']

A little further down the road was another small group standing around some graffiti-covered cardboard boxes haranguing the crowd on the same issue. There was some debate with a few of the surrounding crowd, but I didn’t stay to watch for long. There weren’t many people protesting – a tiny number compared to the crowds happily watching the parade go past – but it’s worth a mention, especially as the latest issue of The Package mentions something similar in a short piece on some of the consequences of increased tourism to NZ. There is some concern over these issues here, even if it doesn’t seem to rate much of a mention in the mainstream media outlets.

We watched the speeches in a bar, although for some bizarre reason the local media kept interrupting their coverage of the days events – even in the middle of the speeches – to report on mundanities such as the sports results, or some piece of dull local news. This was actually the subject of complaints in the letters page of the paper later in the week, so it wasn’t just us that found this a bit odd. After the speeches were concluded and the stars enjoying the fruits of their labours in the cinema, the crowds began to disperse. We headed down to Taranaki Wharf to watch some of the entertainment laid on, but it quickly became pretty cold and we ended up heading home to bed rather than sitting up to watch the Two Towers yet again – after all the bloody hype, we plebs still have to wait until the 18th to watch the damn new film ourselves!

Lord of the Rings – Premiere Day

The much expected day is here, and Wellington is well and truly gearing up for the fun. The parade is due to start in about half an hour and the crowds are already gathering along the rails marking the route, the sun is shining and there’s a carnival atmosphere throughout the city. Best costumes I’ve seen yet are the two Ents and the Elf Maid wandering up and down Lambton Quay.

I expect to see a few more before the day is out! Right, I’m off to join the fun.

Critical Mass Protest

This evening I witnessed my first Kiwi protest event! And all by accident, too. We were taking a stroll around the city to check out where I have to be for a job interview next week and to have a peek at the Cave Troll, when we spotted a poster exhorting the reader to attend the monthly Critical Mass protest, meeting in Civic Square at 5.30pm. As Civic Square is where you can find the aforementioned Troll, we ended up there at about the right time.

For those unfamiliar with modern protest movements, Critical Mass is the name associated with anti-car/pro-bicycle groups in various cities around the world. There are protests using the same name in London, some of which I’ve witnessed in the past. I don’t think that there is any overarching Critical Mass organisation – the name is adopted by different groups in different cities who have similar agendas but who may not communicate in any strategic manner, except for the odd occasion when an attempt to synchronise protests across the globe is made.

Unfortunately for the Wellington Critical Mass crowd, something kept the numbers down – there were only about 30 people on the demo. Perhaps this is a factor of population, or perhaps the fact that many students will have left the city for the summer holidays had an effect. Maybe no one in Wellington gives a shit – Heaven forbid! Still, top marks for pluck, as those that were present carried on regardless and braved the rush hour traffic. There were no police in sight, and the only camera I spotted was my own – so I felt homour bound to record the event.

[On the March.  The Banner reads 'Mobil Murders']

There were two main strands to today’s protest according to the leaflet I was handed. First off were the general principles of oppostion to a car-dominated society, with the specific Wellingtonian issue being the proposed construction of an inner city bypass. The flyer recommends a visit to the Campaign for a Better City for more info on this. The second strand was a protest against the Mobil Corporation, which the protesters accuse of having a part in crimes against humanity committed in Aceh, Indonesia. They allege that the corporation hired units of the Indonesian military to provide security for their assets in the region that were at some unspecified stage involved in “systematic torture, murder, rape and other acts of terror”. The leaflet recommends a visit to the International Labour Rights Fund for more information on this issue. I suppose I should take a look through ExxonMobil’s website to see if they have bothered to refute any of these allegations, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Lord of the Rings Mania

Wellington is currently in a fit of Lord of the Rings insanity. The World Premiere of The Return of the King is being held here on Monday, and the city is gearing up for the big event. The local papers are already full of gushing reports about stars being spotted in the city and many of the shops are sporting special window displays (regardless of what it is they actually sell in the normal course of things) as there’s a display competition being run by Positively Wellington Tourism. I reckon this well dressed Orc has got to be my favourite so far:

[Orc in a Shirt and Tie]

A set of commemorative stamps have been released to mark the occasion and these are the source of much of the more obvious decoration – from banners adorning the street lights to billboards to vast sheets tied across the fronts of office blocks. The largest depicts Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf, hangs down about eight floors from the front of the NZ Postal Service building and has become an icon of LotR-obsessed Wellington, but I prefer the (slightly) more subtle approach embodied by this three-dimensional billboard:

[Billboard in shape of an envelope addressed to Mount Doom containing what looks like the Ring]

There are two cinemas associated with the Premiere, the Embassy and the Reading Cinemas complex, and atop each building perches a Black Rider astride his dragon-like winged steed gazing down balefully on the passing throngs.

[Nazgul atop the Reading Cinema]

There is to be a great big parade on the day of the Premiere winding it’s way through the city to the final stretch of Red Carpet leading up the steps to the doors of the Embassy Theatre. Most of the inner city hotels and hostels are completely booked up and have been for weeks and weeks; had we not sorted a flat this week we might have faced a night in the park on monday!

[Nazgul atop the Embassy Cinema]

It’s quite fun being in a city the size of Wellington when something like this is happening – it’s small enough for the excitment to get everywhere, and you can’t help get a bit caught up in it all even as a visitor. We even had a moments excitement ourselves the other day when we realised that we’d just strolled past one of the hobbits!

Napier, The Art Deco City

Napier is situated on Hawke’s Bay, on the eastern shores of the North Island. Looking out into the Pacific, you can get a little dizzy – it’s a long, long way to the Americas from here. The beach is made up of coarse pebbles and the currents make it too dangerous to venture into the water despite the almost Mediterranean climate and the picturesque nature of some of the sea front.

[View from the old skating rink at dusk]

But Napier is most famous for it’s nearly unparalleled collection of Art Deco buildings, so it’s inhabitants probably don’t lose a lot of sleep over the state of the beach. The Art Deco buildings were all constructed following a devastating earthquake – 7.8 on the Richter Scale – which took place at 10.47am on February 3rd, 1931. The centre of the city was almost completely flattened, and 162 people died either in the ‘quake itself or in the fires which followed.

[The Daily Telegraph Building]

It took only two years to rebuild the majority of the town, all in the modern styles prevalent in the 1930s. The main influence is clearly Art Deco, but there are elements of other styles of the time too; particularly noticeable are the examples of Spanish Mission and Stripped Classical, but even these buildings usually have a strong Art Deco influence apparent.

[Corner of the Hotel Central]

In recent times the value of this architectural heritage has become more evident to the local people, and there have been concerted efforts to maintain the buildings in good order and to prevent any demolitions – there were some unfortunate incidents in years past when some of the buildings were destroyed, often for reasons more to do with fashion and whimsy rather than necessity.

Although Napier is not a large city and the central district is easy to walk around, there is such a profusion of great architecture that it’s impossible to do justice to it on a website like this one. I’ve tried to select a few images that provide a sense of town, although I found it difficult to get good shots of many of the buildings. I did manage to get what I reckon are a few good detail shots of smaller features worthy of note, though:

[Fountain shape decorative detail from the Telegraph Building]


[Zig zag design along the top of a building]


[Detail from the Hotel Central]

One feature particularly worth mentioning is the use occasional use of Maori imagery in the decorative aspects of some of the buildings. Deco architecture often used designs drawn from the Mayan and Aztec cultures, due to the desire of American Deco architects to use local art as a source of inspiration rather than the more traditional European styles. Much of Napier’s architecture follows the American style wholesale, but some buildings show some Maori influence. A particularly good example is the ASB Bank building which uses such designs on it’s interior ceiling…

[Maori colours and motifs on the ceiling of the ASB Bank]

…and for decoration outside too, like these reliefs above the windows which mix a Deco-style zigzag with Maori pattern:

[Closeup of the Maori style bas-reliefs]

It’s not just the buildings which contribute to Napier’s 1930s feel. There are echos of Art Deco everywhere, from the manhole covers and drain grills to the old fashioned cars than seem to appear on the streets more often than elsewhere.

[Deco draincover - grill in form of a stylised sunburst]


[An old fashioned Green Car, possibly not 1930s, but I'm no expert]


[Deco manhole cover, decorated with sunbursts]

We only spent two days in Napier, and we had a great time. It would certainly reward a longer stay – just sitting and eating or drinking in some of the cafes and bars was an atmospheric experience in itself.

[An Art Deco Cafe Interior]

It was a great place, well worth a day or three looking around. I can recommend the Walking Tour run from the visitor centre on Marine Parade every morning at 10. It costs $8, and you follow a knowledgeable local around and get a pretty comprehensive rundown on the city and it’s buildings. If you prefer to be independent, you can pick up a leaflet with a map and enough information to wander around yourself for $2 from the visitors centre or the Art Deco Shop on Tennyson Street. Most of these activities are organised under the auspices of the Art Deco Trust. There is also an Art Deco Weekend at the end of February involving activities like dressing up in ’30s outfits and similar fun for the real hardcore Art Deco fan.

Bad Luck in Taupo

Taupo sits on the northern shores of the eponymous Lake Taupo, right at the centre of the North Island. The lake and surroundings are beautiful, clear blue water with the snow-capped volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park visible on the far shore on a good day.

[The shores of Lake Taupo]

As the bus drivers never tired of reminding us, the Lake has it’s origins in comparatively recent times – less than a blink of an eye in geological terms. It was formed in the aftermath of a massive volcanic eruption, the largest in recorded history, when some 24 cubic km of rock and debris were ejected into the atmosphere causing effects recorded by both the Romans and the Chinese. This has allowed the eruption to be dated accurately to 186AD.

Taupo is a popular holiday destination among New Zealanders. There is the usual array of adventure sports (most notably several Sky Diving operators and the Taupo Bungee over the Waikato River), excellent Trout fishing, more geothermal stuff, water sports and boat trips, the Huka Falls (see below) and the Tongariro National Park, just round the Lake.

Tongariro was our main reason for stopping in Taupo. The Tongariro Crossing is supposed to be one of the best single day walks you can do in the whole of New Zealand. It takes you right through the volcanic heart of the North Island past the three great volcanoes – Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe. I say supposed because the good weather evident in the photo above did not last, and we were unable to do the walk as the companies who run day-trippers up into the area to do the Crossing weren’t operating due to dangerous conditions. We hung on for a few days, but in the end it seemed we’d be waiting forever so we reluctantly left for Napier.

This did put a bit of a dampener on our spirits, but we didn’t sit around moping all the time. We managed to get our and walk up to the Huka Falls one morning which you can reach on foot from Taupo by following the Taupo Walkway along the Waikato River.

[The Huka Falls]

Although the falls only drop about 10 metres, the Waikato is the only river flowing from Lake Taupo so the volume of water passing over the falls is massive, and it makes a fair amount of noise. You get the occasional nutter kayaking over the falls, but it’s not recommended unless you know what you’re doing.

The walk also gave me the chance to experiment with the macro close-up function on my digital camera. This spider was about the size of a fingernail:

[A Spider closeup]

Not bad for a fairly basic point-and-shoot type camera. I don’t think the spider’s poisonous – unlike neighbouring Aussie, New Zealand has only one poisonous beastie, the Kaitapo Spider. That’s described as about 6mm long, black with a red patch. Hmmm.

Zorbing

Zorbing is one of those activities that makes you shake your head and wonder what the guys who invented it were taking at the time. For the uninitiated, Zorbing involves climbing inside a large inflatable double layered sphere and rolling down a steep hill.

[Loadig Zorbs on a conveyor]

You can choose to be strapped in (the ‘Harnessed Zorb’), thus avoiding most of the risk of injury, or you can elect to have a bucket of water added for lubrication and go unfastened (the ‘Hydro Zorb’). If you choose that latter method you then get a choice between attempting to stay standing like some demented, amphetamine-crazed giant hamster in it’s exerciser, or merely trying to reach the bottom of the hill with all major bones intact. Not only this, but up to three people can pile into the same zorb for a rather wet, bouncy and potentially painful bonding experience.

[Zorbs in acton]

Believe me, the hill was a lot steeper than it looks in that photo. The whole experience was actually great fun, although it was over far too fast. We spent the entire time slipping around the bottom of the Zorb in the water wondering when we were going to hit something. The guys running the place took some photos of us in the Zorb with Pol’s camera, so you’ll have to wait until we get the film processed and the images scanned to see us lying in a soaking heap at the bottom of the hill with big smiles. Next time, I’m going to try and stay on my feet!

Wai-O-Tapu

The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, about half an hour south from Rotorua, is one of the two main out-of-town thermal areas featuring all the trimmings – Geysers, multi-coloured pools, bubbling mud and steaming hillsides. It’s all pretty impressive and the walkways and paths set into the landscape make it very easy, if somewhat touristy, to explore.

The main geyser action is provided by the decidedly contrived Lady Knox Geyser. I say contrived because at 10.15 every day the geyser is induced to erupt when a chap lobs a block of soap down the spout. I’m told that this reduces the water’s surface tension and allows the build-up of boiling water and attendant steam to escape at high velocity in an upwards direction. The effect is fairly spectacular, though.

[The Lady Know Geyser Erupting]

Having sampled the joys of Lady Knox, most people head up the road to the main attraction at the Thermal Wonderland. It isn’t inappropriately named, especially if you come from a part of the world with little or no geothermal activity – the various chemicals turn the rocks and waters into a variety of otherworldly colours.

[The Artists Palette]

The area to explore is fairly large, and takes at least an hour to walk around at a fair pace. There are slopes and steep climbs, but it’s worth going all the way round to the end to see the bright green colour of Lake Ngakoro.

[Lake Ngakoro]

Other highlights include the Champagne Pool, a steaming body of water lined with cracked red earth which constantly bubbles

[The Champagne Pool]

And the Devil’s Bath, another unworldly green pool at the bottom of a crater near the end of the walk.

[The Devils Bath]

That last one makes me think of rancid milk, but a pretty girl can liven up even the most bizarre place 😉

There are loads of other colourful and bizarre spots at Wai-O-Tapu, but I can’t put up photos of them all. It’s definitely a site that’s well worth a visit, although it is very popular – we were told that huge numbers pass through each day during the peak season, which might reduce the impact a bit. Especially since it seemed fairly busy to me already, and it obviously gets quite a bit more crowded.