Wellington whistlestop

Wellington whistlestop
Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington, New Zealand

Mark turned his weekend upside down to show me Wellington. He had already put me up in a luxurious suite – they often have home stay students so are used to having people to stay, and have space, but normally they pay their way – and now I rode along on Saturday afternoon on a family journey to the New Zealand Museum, known as Te Papa.

Me, posing in front of much larger troll (fibreglass)
Weta caves. A treasure trove of memorabilia.

But on the way Mark realised that I wouldn’t have made it to the Weta Caves, which is where they do the special effects, model making and CGI for Lord of the Rings, among others. New Zealand’s Pixar, perhaps. We went there first. There are three huge models of Cave Trolls outside, and inside is a treasure trove of suits of armour, props from District 9, an Uruk Hai and weapons, the latter festooning the ceiling. We watched the 25 minute video, the secret diary of the founder aged 13 3/4 to now – he’s lucky being a geek is cool enough that he’s allowed that much air time, though it is his film. It’s actually a behind the scenes look at what Weta do, part celebration, part puff piece, but what they do is so entertaining that that’s worth watching.

Weta Caves, with a large Uruk Hai model
Scary, close up.

One of the final pieces shown in the video is a huge Gollum statue. Mark realised as we drove away that I wasn’t flying out from Wellington airport – and that’s where the statue is. So he took us there. I’m learning about how to be a good host as I go, here. The kids were very keen to tell me about the recent earthquake. There are two eagles suspended from the roof of the airport, as is Gollum. There is now only one, and both that and Gollum have some ugly blue suspension cables as well as cables of a different colour, suggesting the blue have been added since the quake. Very cool to see them-the statues. We probably have our own suspension cables in the UK, and I wouldn’t travel specially.

Gollum's head hangs from the ceiling at Wellington Airport
Wellington Airport.

Finally, I and the younger kids made it to Te Papa. It’s a huge museum, spread over four floors, and best seen in smallish doses so as to take more in. With little ones running round, and more limited time thanks to the tourist trail, we headed straight for the Waitangi treaty exhibit. “Woah! Why are these stakes here?” said Michael, 7. “To keep people like you, out!” joked the tour guide we had just passed. There is a new design of a Maori meeting hut which is stunning, with seats arranged outside – it looked like a wedding venue, though that may be sacrilegious. We lost the kids, accidentally I think, and sat in a New Zealand Glory Years video, which I loved – I’m much more interested in the recent past (1950s onwards) of a new country than the slightly older troubled colonial founding, or the native genesis stories. From there we headed to the ground floor, and the earthquake house. They’d all been through “quite a big shake” recently, but I hadn’t – Jessie (10) helpfully guided me to the screen that was active as the mock up house shook and the news reports played. Michael (7) was worried that I’d find it scary, but I coped – still, it was a bit more dramatic than the ‘someone is messing about on the bunk beneath me!’ feeling I had had when experiencing an earthquake in Japan.

Te Papa Museum
Te Papa Museum.

Later that evening we had family night. This is a Sunday night date, but had been moved to Saturday – as I say, turned life upside down. So both sets of in laws were there, along with Mark’s brother and one sister. I’d met the other the night before at a barbecue – they all live near enough to just pop in; the house is a lovely bustle of activity. Marks’ brother had just completed his sixth different New Zealand parkrun, so becoming the second person to get there before me – I’ve met them both. Now I’m only two from the full set myself, I’ll be looking next week to see who else gets there before me, and who might join me on six in two Saturdays time.

Lower Hutt parkrun

Lower Hutt parkrun
Lower Hutt, New Zealand

Lower Hutt, New Zealand

Lower Hutt parkrun route; an almost straight line, out and back, North to South.
Lower Hutt parkrun route.

For me, parkrun number 139. My fourth in New Zealand and the home run of Richard McChesney, who I met at Portrush parkrun in Northern Ireland, much nearer the beginning of my time off.

Richard is responsible for my having accommodation with parkrunners here, having put me in touch with Rob in Hamilton and now Mark, just down the road from Lower Hutt. We aimed to leave at 20 to 8, to give us time to get whichever of his children were running into the car by 5 to, which was when we really needed to go. In the end it was just the two of us – the weather had been foul through the early morning, drumming off the roof of the luxury suite in which I had been put up.

Runners finish on a grassy bank, with rocks and a walkway alongside
A long view of the finish.

The run is along the river, which gives locals over 60km of trail and path along which to run or cycle. For parkrun we just use 2.5km out and then back, towards Wellington from the suburb. The route is on tarmac, barring a couple of hundred metres on grass at the turn and finish, so it’s a quick course. Not the very quickest, though, thanks to a few small rises and falls as the path moves from riverside to embankment and back again. Slightly more descent than climb, if anything, but just enough to add a few seconds to your time. I hadn’t counted the ups and downs and expected one more climb before the end, which never came, and was running without a Garmin so thought I reached 4k way before it actually popped up. I only realised I was at 4k because at that point I finally spotted the km marker, painted onto the path. I’m sure other markers are in place, too – I’m claiming to have been looking at the scenery.

Participants mill on the grass and in the car park, next to the route. Umbrellas on show in the rain.

I was also probably working too hard. I didn’t know what to expect, and was caught napping at the start. Richard had introduced me to the crowd – another group wondering at the level of dedication that can take someone to well over 100 different parkruns – and one of them introduced himself and congratulated me just as ‘go’ was called.

No matter, I worked my way through and was on the heels of the lad in 5th from 2km and through the turn. At that point I briefly headed him, but he dug in and took it on. All of which effort meant I was working hard and with the first lady somewhere near behind – she had come with me when I passed after 1km or so – I had enough motivation to push on even without knowing how I was doing.

One last push along the grass, grateful for not having to climb again, and I had finished another and could cool down while my host Mark finished his 50th parkrun behind me. It’s a real shame no one (yet) sponsors New Zealand parkrunners to a 50 club t shirt, but the achievement is still celebrated. The man in second also joined the club today.

Runners start to spread out soon after the start.
The start.

The cafe is just over the road from the finish and there I realised that I had met Paul, at that point the only person to have run all six NZ parkruns. Mark’s brother was just completing his sixth that day, though, and I now know several of the people on 4 or 5. There will be a number of completists before the 7th run is started up, perhaps by Kieran in Napier (editor’s note – it was not).

First place was long gone, finishing in a shade over 17minutes, and with the gap so big I figured I might have run 19:xx, steeling myself for that xx to start with a 1 rather than a 0. But in fact I had made it to an 18:49, a second quicker than in the week and very satisfying. Add that to all the people I met and Mark’s fabulous hospitality and energetic four┬ákids keeping me on my toes and I can safely say Lower Hutt was a happy place for me.

Results from Lower Hutt parkrun, event 95, 8/2/14.

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