Wednesday 24 February 2016

NZ Roadtrip Wellington (again): Galleries, gravitas and good eating

After a hiccup of a start, which had us returning from almost-Picton to Nelson for a forgotten phone, and then hurtling back to Picton to be the last vehicle loaded onto the car ferry - and yes, it was as fraught and stressful as it sounds - we had another gloriously smooth crossing of Cook Strait. This time we were on the classic Interislander which, I have to say, I like better than BlueBridge. It's much more spacious, and there was no queuing for our breakfast.
I was sorry to see the South Island slip away in a palette of silver, blue and purple, the Kaikouras distant but still magnificent: it's so beautiful, the scenery is magnificent, and it's full of interest. It should be the lynchpin of any tourist's visit; and it's a national scandal that, even now, there are North Islanders who have been overseas multiple times but never to the south. 
So, Wellington again. This time we're in town at a soulless but perfectly adequate apartment off Willis Street (it would be hard to beat that Te Aro Airbnb from before), which is handy to the waterfront. I struck out on my own today, to gather some material for a commission I've just received. First stop was the City Gallery in Civic Square with its iconic metal nikau palms. It was, to be honest, a bit meh - it's focused on contemporary art, the exhibitions change all the time, and there seemed to be more space this time than actual art. Good thing it was free (as were all today's galleries).
Then I walked along the waterfront past waka teams chanting in their boats, the public piano being played, smartly dressed ladies walking dogs, people cycling, stretching, and strolling, to the Portrait Gallery, which had lots more to look at.
It's right next to the Wellington Museum of City and Sea, which is an absolute must-see: really comprehensive but not overwhelming, covering what is a very lively history. I spent a lot of time in the well-presented Wahine exhibit - all about the interisland ferry that sank in a storm in 1968, with 53 deaths. It was a huge and tragic event that I remember very well - even down in Christchurch, the weather was so bad that my school was closed for the day. 
I walked back along the waterfront, enjoying the vibe of people making the most of the sunshine, the sea, the restaurants and parks, and joined the others at Te Papa, where this time, with no cruise ships in port, the Gallipoli exhibition was a walk-in, and as impressive and sombre an experience as ever. 
Somewhat unimaginatively, we ended up back at Shed 5 for dinner again - but it was good, and busy, and fun to have the same waiter as before, as obsequious as Basil Fawlty, but more sophisticated. Well done, Wellington.

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