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.
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.
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.
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.
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.