Well, it had to happen eventually. I’d asked and there was no other choice, I’d have to stay in a hostel for the night. It was the last stop before the bus turned around and followed the same route back to Auckland. Many of the people on board would be catching the boat to Picton in the morning and continuing their own adventure on the South Island, but I would be headed north again. We had arrived in the capital city of New Zealand, the southern most capital city in the world, Wellington. I really like that places in New Zealand are named after British heroes or great battles. You’ve got Wellington here, Nelson, Marlborough, Blenheim, etc. It gives a real sense of belonging, somehow.
During ‘Operation Auckland,’ I’d driven through Wellington as I headed for the motorway out of it, deciding that I’d have a better look when I returned. On the bus, the driver pointed out where Peter Jackson (Director of ‘Lord of the Rings’) worked, what the Maori called certain hills and how the place was built on a tectonic fault line, similar to Christchurch. In New Zealand, Wellington is called the ‘Windy City’, because wind off the Pacific Ocean funnels itself between the North and South Islands through the Cook Straits. As we rounded the harbour he pointed out a flat spot between two hills, explaining that that was Wellington airport and pilots landing there had to have passed a special simulator test before flying in. It’s not uncommon because of the regular gales, for aeroplanes flying in to come in sideways, and have to abort the landing and have another go. The last time the driver flew into Wellington, the jet he was on had to abort three times before landing. Like Sydney in Australia, Auckland is often mistaken as the capital. The thing is, Auckland once was the capital of New Zealand. In the mid 1800’s the people on the South Island threatened to form their own country because Auckland was so far away. Fearing the break up of New Zealand, the politicians moved the capital to Wellington, which has a more central position and disaster was averted.
I’d been booked into the Base hostel, a chain that I likened to McDonald’s, full of promise and looks good in the pictures but reality is a big let down (as an example, the Base in Taupo is above a nightclub, so the people whose beds are on the first floor have to wait for the nightclub to close before being able to sleep). As we filed through the main door, (everyone with backpacks but only me with backpack, tent, air bed, cooking stove, sleeping bag and bag of food) I noticed on the foundation stone that the building had been converted from the old Post Office HQ building. As such, the main reception area was large and spacious with plenty of light coming in from the ceiling to floor windows. The queue was what you would expect at a Post Office, too. We were processed and designated to a dorm, no choice who you got put with, and asked whether we’d like to buy a padlock for the metal boxes under our beds – to put valuables in. I said no, I had one already. My dorm was on the third floor, and turned out to be a room no larger than the inside of a camper van. There were three bunk beds crammed in and all but one was taken, happily it was a bottom bunk. The others occupants were two French blokes and three Dutch girls. I stashed my stuff, locked my security box with my tiny padlock and went to explore the city. It wasn’t windy at all, hardly a breath in fact.
As with all modern major cities, Wellington has it’s share of high rise buildings, housing banks and major department stores. There are the usual chains, Burger King, Subway, etc scattered all around. By the harbour, the civil servants of the Parliament building (the ‘Beehive’) relax in the many bars and restaurants along the waterfront. This is the only city I’ve seen in New Zealand where the people are dressed formally, wearing shirts and ties instead of sandals and shorts. As befitting a capital city with business links, I suppose. Street art and sculptures are all around, the major (and heritage) buildings are tastefully illuminated. The whole area gives a mixture of relaxed formality, unhurried business. Yes, you can enjoy looking at the buildings, but stay off the grass, we like to keep it green. They’d even managed to put the ‘Occupy Wellington’ camp of protestors in an area that could be easily ignored, I barely noticed it was there. The other big thing that I noticed was how quiet it all was. It was a week day evening and there was hardly anyone around. In any other capital city the flow of people is a constant stream, regardless of whether it was day or night. Here, I could walk down the centre of the road without fear of being mown down. In some places I was the only thing moving in the street. Weird.
Before heading back to the hostel, I called in to an absolute gem of a place. I’d been in Irish bars before (they’re ten a penny in most tourist places) and English theme pubs (they never look right) but I had never been in a Welsh pub before. I don’t think I’ve even been to Wales before, just driven past it. Housed in an old public convenience; really, don’t laugh, it advertises itself as the only Welsh pub in the southern hemisphere. The Welsh Dragon. It even felt like a pub and not a bar. The music playing was Welsh, the Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia, Tom ‘God’ Jones, and the like and all the walls were covered in pictures of the old country. Even the barman was Welsh. Unfortunately I could’t order a pint of Brains because the Welsh Rugby team had drunk them dry during the world cup, but I could order a shot of Welsh whisky if I wanted. I settled on a single pint of Speights, then a second as I tried to leave it as long as possible before having to return to the hostel.
It was no good, I had to return. I bid the barman good night and walked back across the road to the hostel. The bar in the basement was in full swing, I had a quick peep but didn’t have the cash. I ate my tea in the telly room, where a group of twenty or so were sitting watching one of the Harry Potter films. Wow. It was late, I’d been up early because that was when the bus had wanted to go, and I had to rise early because the bus was once more leaving Wellington early. I decided it was time for bed. When I got there, the dorm was empty so I quickly washed and changed and jumped into bed. Then I got out again and folded my pillow in two, because it was as thin as the meat in a McD’s cheeseburger. I tried a third time but that was uncomfortable. The mattress wasn’t much better, I could feel the springs jabbing my back. Then one of my roommates returned and switched on the light. Then she had a discussion with her friend in the doorway, then went away again. Then, next door decided to host a drinking competition, (despite lots of signs threatening eviction if found drinking in rooms) the other room started playing music and the floor above were having a rave. I couldn’t help thinking I was missing out somehow? Am I at the age where non stop drinking until I’m blind just doesn’t appeal anymore or am I a boring git? Possibly both. The others eventually did return, one by one, and mostly sober. Each time was the same drill, door open, light on, talk on phone or to friend for an eternity then make a noise whilst changing for bed like furniture removal men do when clearing a stately home. Then have one of their friends try to sleep in our room because her’s was hosting a Russian Roulette party with vodka. I imagined many ways of killing everyone in the place for a good nights’ sleep (I’ve noticed I do this quite often, maybe I should see someone about it, a gun dealer for instance?) before eventually, mercifully all went quiet and I fell asleep. A nanosecond my alarm went off and it was time to jump back on the bus!
Mini Count :- 36. I’ve a feeling it’s gonna be a long haul to 40.
Rubbish library connection again, sorry no pics!