Category Archives: Wellington

Picton

The view from our AirBnB in Picton.

It was a beautiful morning when we woke up in Picton. The aspect out of the windows at our digs was divine, with wooded hills, serene water, and picturesque boats. My husband had outdone himself with picking our lodgings during the trip. The plan was to do some light sightseeing and then check out EcoWorld and Aquarium.

The ANZAC Memorial at Picton.
Getting our ducks in a row.

Picton is a pleasant town, with a lovely waterfront. The park has quite the collection of wildlife: seagulls and ducks. Ducks are charming creatures, because they are always hopeful of a free meal. They ask, politely. Seagulls demand!

One of the Tuatara at EcoWorld and Aquarium.

I was delighted to discover that EcoWorld had several tuataras on display. My cup runneth over, seeing more of these delightful animals.

The May/December romance.

In one of the aviaries there were a couple of the biggest, fattest rabbit brothers I’d ever seen, but – as a Queenslander – I have to admit to seeing very few pet rabbits. Rabbits are banned in Queensland, as pets, and we have a rabbit-proof fence to keep them out of the state. In the same aviary was a couple of indigenous small parrots. One was an elderly male, and he had been provided with a much younger mate. She flew around the cage with gusto, managing to scare the bunnies. He never moved the entire time we watched him; staring into the abyss (their food bowl). Outside the building were more aviaries containing more of the same species of parrot. They had no penguins – they only have those when they are ill or injured.

The most friendly inhabitant of the aquarium.

The aquarium was tiny, particularly compared to the Seaworld or the SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast aquariums. However, it did have several rockpool exhibits and a two larger tanks. The tragedy here is that all the inhabitants of the aquarium are under threat. The Picton council wants to take over the building containing EcoWorld and the Aquarium (it’s also the local cinema). If that happens, the land animals can be rehoused, but the water life cannot. They will have to be put down. They have a petition to try and save the business, and the owners of the business is running for council.

Lower Buller Gorge

The plan had been to avoid the upper reached of the Northwest of the South Island, but the highway we had planned to take was no longer viable due to flood damage. This meant a longer drive as we detoured through Nelson and took the coastal road to our next destination – Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks. We saw some lovely scenery on the way, but the detour meant we drove into town in the dusk, not late afternoon as planned. This meant we had less opportunity for sightseeing. We were both tired after the drive, and we were pleased that our lodgings were excellent, right near the beach. We could hear the waves breaking as we drifted off to dreamland.

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Filed under Adventures, New Zealand, Personal experience, Picton, Tuatara

Weta Workshop Wellington

The Hobbit Hole Door at the Weta Workshops, Wellington.

For our last day in Wellington, we went for the tour of the Weta Workshops. These are completely different to the exhibit in Auckland, being less ‘theatrical’. You can’t take photos of everything, because much of it is still under copyright. You get a much better understanding of how wide-ranging are the efforts and output of the workshops. Because it was the weekend, the workshops were mostly deserted. Mostly – we did get to meet their aluminium foil sculptor, Warren Beaton. He did a skull in under a minute.

We were shown how they constructed the helmets for the Lord of the Ring movies, from sketches to the final product. It was explained that the helmets had a specially weighted ruff or spine so that they would move like an actual helmet. When you consider how many different styles of helmets were in the movies, it was eye-opening how hard they worked to get the details right.

I love pointy things. One of the exhibits we were allowed to photograph.

We were shown the mirror sword used in the live-action version of ‘Mulan’. It was much too long for the actor to fight with, but it needed to be large enough to reflect her face. Most swords and weapons are plastic, with a metal core to give them a realistic heft. There must be warehouse full of the armour and weapons from LOTR.

As mentioned, the workshop had supplied the gigantic sculptures of the people in the ANZAC exhibit in the museum. They use yak hair to recreate hair, beards, eyelashes, eyebrows, and even hair on your arms and knuckles. They thread each hair individually. So you need an artist who is also a hairdresser.

The second part of the tour was inspecting the models used in the Thunderbirds reboot.

Thunderbirds are go!

I was – and still am – a fan of the original Thunderbirds series. The creativity used in creating these sets – often using junk – was phenomenal. They had a lovely story about the sets from the original series. Some man complained about the use of a plastic juicer as part of the set in one episode, so they then used as many juicers as they could. They kept the tradition going when making the new sets. They also used washing machine bits, vacuum cleaner parts, computer boards, the caps from bottles and tubes, just about anything could be adapted for the futuristic settings.

The human-sized set of Thunderbird Two, complete with Scott.

They replaced Lady Penelope’s martini glass and cigarette with a pug. In keeping with that theme, pugs decorate her mansion inside and out. So cute! I remember wanting to be Lady Penelope when I grew up … but never managed to smoking part.

Late in the afternoon, we caught the ferry to Picton. I was excited to discover that you can see both the North and South Islands at the same time when crossing the strait. It was a smooth, uneventful trip, much to my relief. It was dark when we got into Picton, so didn’t get to see much until the next day.

Goodbye to the North Island.

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Filed under Lord of the Rings, New Zealand, Personal experience, Wellington, Weta Workshop

Wedding Anniversary in New Zealand

Exhibit at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. And a wonderful view of my rotundity.

This was the day of our 27th wedding anniversary – and my husband’s birthday. So, we did out favourite thing and visited the museum across the road from where were staying: The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. We ended up spending six hours there, including meal breaks. We didn’t take many photos; most exhibits requested no photography.

The museum is also an art gallery. We started in the portrait gallery, which has a computer set up to explain who the people were in all the portraits. It also gave random facts about the restoration of the paintings, some of the meanings and symbology within the paintings, and historical context. Brilliant stuff. There was also a gallery showing by Robyn White.

The more traditional exhibits were about indigenous animals, the Maori way of life, the tectonics of New Zealand, and a tribute to the ANZACs with large human sculptures done by Weta Workshop.

We also visited the Wellington Museum, about four blocks away on the same street. It is a much smaller museum, set into an old wool storehouse. My favourite piece there was the memento mori wreath made from the hair of scores of people – very Victorian era; my Steampunk persona was fascinated by its complexity. Most hair used in this manner was preserved in lockets, brooches, and rings. There was a clever use of the hair colours to pick out the details in the wreath.

Human hair woven into a floral wreath.

There was an exhibit about the wreck of the ferry, Wahini, which made me cry due to so many little bodies lined up on the beach afterwards. Later on, I remembered we were taking a ferry to Picton and had anxiety over that. I kept checking the weather apps on my phone.

They also had an exhibit about the UFO panic of the late 1950s. Wellington has been paranormal for decades, it appears.

Victorian era baby carriage at the Wellington Museum.

After being on our feet for hours and hours, we headed back to the hotel for a nap. There was sparkling white wine on ice and little cakes waiting for us … the staff knew it was our anniversary. That night, we had a romantic dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. I love my husband more every day, and was pleased he had a fun day for his birthday.

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Filed under Adventures, Art, New Zealand, Personal experience, Steampunk, Steampunk Art, The Museums of Wellington, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion, Wellington

Falling In Love With Zealandia

A Tuatara in Zealandia

I wasn’t expecting to be as delighted with Zealandia as I was, as I hadn’t really heard of it until we got to New Zealand. My bad. Zealandia is the previous town dam that has been converted into a conservation area, with high fences and the removal of nonindigenous species. They have also added a colony of tuatara to improve the chances of the species survival.

Now, I’ve always had a soft spot for tuatara, which look like a lizard but are actually in their own distinct Order. The animals have a third eye, which is covered in skin and scales, but does have a lens and retina and rods. I never thought I would see one on our trip, as they as close to extinction and found mainly on islands that don’t support a population of nonindigenous predators like cats and weasels. I saw them here and in Picton! In Zealandia, I saw them in their natural habitat, sunning themselves, as craggy and spiny as in any photos I’ve seen of them. I was as excited as a three year old at a party.

Still suffering from winter torpor. Or posing for photos.

The only weta we saw was crushed and dead; a female with an egg shooter. She might have been attacked by a bird, or stepped on unknowingly by a hiker. She was a big girl – I’ve only seen stick insects that were larger than her.

Then there were the birds. My favourites were the Kākās, a type of temperate parrot like the Keas and the flightless Kākāpōs (New Zealand really favour names starting in K for parrots). Kākās are brown and resemble corellas. At one of their feeding stations, a single kākā flew close enough that I felt its wing brush my cheek. They aren’t tame, just fearless.

At the feeding station.
A better view of a Kākā’s plumage.

As well, we saw several colonies of shags – which were attacked by an eagle. There were three species of shags. They panicked as they were strafed from the air. This is why so many New Zealand bird are plain, they are camouflaged from predators that attack from the sky. There was a supersized eagle that went extinct when the moa went extinct.

Speaking of moas, we were shown vegetation that changes shape as it grows, due to evolving to avoid being eaten by the moa. While a juvenile, it is spiky to discourage grazing by the herbivorous moa. Once it grows above the head height of a moa, the leaves revert to their adult form. With moas extinct, will this species eventually lose this adaptation? The moas were the equivalent of our Australian kangaroos or European deer – their loss is still impacting the overall ecology of New Zealand.

Spiky for a reason.

The bush reminded me of Binna Burra, but with more fern trees and moa food plants. Many more birds but no ground mammals. The only indigenous mammals – before the advent of man – were bats; tiny bats, not flying foxes. We saw many local species of birds, and a gecko, and even saw evidence of the kiwi population.

The footprint of a kiwi

After spending hours at Zealandia, we took the shuttle bus to the Cable Car Museum, and then rode the cable car back to the city. it had been a cloudy, drizzly day, but who noticed the weather when adventuring? We walked through the city, and had a late lunch, before heading back to our hotel. I slept like a log that night.

View from the Cable Car.

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Filed under Adventures, Kākā, New Zealand, Personal experience, Tuatara, Wellington, Zealandia

Wellington Zoo

A Kea at the Wellington Zoo

As some of the readers of this blog might know, I trained as a zoologist and have a Bachelor’s Degree in Science. I love animals. I’m not the biggest fan of zoos, because many zoos are poorly run and detrimental to the health of their inmates. However, I do love a well-run zoo. Wellington Zoo isn’t the biggest or flashiest zoo but it was still worth the visit. I got to see Keas close up for starters!

Otterly adorable.

I have to admit, I did enjoy our day at the zoo. We saw lions and tigers and bears – oh my. My favourite nonindigenous animals were the giraffes, the tiger, and the otters. I could spend hours watching otters. The one species of animal I would have loved to have seen was the snow leopards, but their enclosure is still under construction. I did get to see the Keas, the real reason for coming to the zoo.

Those eyelashes!
Pretending they can’t see the crowd admiring them.

Zoos exist to educate and preserve, as well as entertain. I consider their entertainment value well down the list of what a zoo should be achieving. For me, being able to go into the aviary with the Keas and see them up close was not just entertainment. In Australia, our local parrots are very colourful: lorikeets, cockatoos, corellas and so forth. Seeing an alpine species of parrot showed the differences between tropical Queensland parrots and Alpine parrots like the Keas. Their beaks are much longer, they are a heftier bird than a lorikeet, and their colouring is subdued (their predators are also on the wing). Fascinating differences. They are still raucous like my local parrots, so some things are the same.

Handsome and LOUD.
A glimpse of the bright feathers under their wings.

We were feeling adventurous after visiting the zoo, and took a bus back to the city centre. This might not sound adventurous, but we were able to sight-see better from a bus (we took a taxi to the zoo). There are so many beautiful old buildings on the way from the zoo to the city centre. The city centre is quite modern by contrast.

The view from the restaurant at the hotel, where we breakfasted every morning.

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Filed under New Zealand, Personal experience, Wellington

Wellington Street Art

Even the manhole covers are art in Wellington.

The road trip from Rotorua to Wellington was the most interesting, scenery wise. We went from hot springs, through a rural paradise, through the ‘desert’ (it was very well covered in vegetation for a desert), into a modern city. The highpoint for me was seeing a snowy mountain. As a Queenslander born and bred, I’ve managed to miss seeing snow for sixty years.

Geothermal chimneys look remarkably like nuclear power plants.
My very first glimpse of snow.

We arrived in Wellington at night, so we didn’t get a good view of the city until the next morning. My word, the city is gorgeous. It has so much street art, it deserves a post all of its own.

The cat lady in the alley behind our hotel.
The bollards made to look like uncurling fern fronds.
A bridge just down from our hotel.

We spent four days in Wellington and I will share those adventures over the next few days.

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Filed under Art, New Zealand, Personal experience, Wellington