Sunday 17 November 2019


With thanks to Experience Oz for this famil
Let me - as a (reluctant) newbie to the airline - draw a veil over the unaccustomed penny-pinching ways of Jetstar and its uncompromising attitude to gouging money out of its passengers (which was, to be fair, slightly eased by the sympathy and helpfulness of the check-in girl, who seemed embarrassed to be charging me extra for my carry-on bag), so that I can bring to an end this already unconscionably run-on sentence. I travelled this morning to Wellington to join a small famil focused on reviewing the newly-opened Oaks Hotel there.
It's a perfectly nice hotel. Will that do? I'll have to be a bit more wordy in the newspaper, but basically, that's it. It's new, fresh, businesslike, comfortable. Some elements, like the coffee machine and - hopefully (she wrote with narrowed eyes) - the bulk dispensers of toiletries instead of the current eco-unfriendly tiny plastic containers, are still to be sorted, but it's been up and running for six weeks already and they know what they're doing. The GM is particularly enthusiastic and focused.
The best thing about it, even more important than its excellent chef, is its position in Courtenay Place. In what is already a small and accessible CBD, the hotel is perfectly placed for whatever you want from Wellington, whether it's business or pleasure. 
My business is, of course, pleasure; so after checking in I set out to seek some. That, almost inevitably, meant heading down to the waterfront, just a couple of blocks away where, it being Sunday afternoon, things were gently buzzing. People were everywhere: on feet, skateboards, scooters, bikes, with kids, other people or dogs, gazing out over the harbour, sitting chilling, wandering, or - a bit unexpected this, but really, it's quirky Wellington, I shouldn't have been surprised - teetering along on a tightrope above the water, with the inevitable result that all of us watching, à la Janet Frame's The Linesman, were hoping for. Not that he seemed to mind (he was prudently wearing a wetsuit, after all).
Feeling I should be showing a bit more initiative, I looked at the peak of Mt Victoria behind him and decided I would go up there. So I reversed direction and marched along the waterfront, past the lagoon, past Te Papa, past the Solace in the Wind statue, past a remarkably tempting assembly of food trucks by the Sunday produce market, past the skateboard park and playground, past the pretty boatsheds and the busker amusing himself with his guitar, and on to Oriental Bay.
As ever, I had an inadequate map, and my trusting to instinct had its usual result, when I ended up on the wrong side of a fence at a dead end. On the other side, though, was a couple in the same predicament so, encouraging each other, we climbed over it and carried on with our walks. Even though Mt Victoria - an extinct volcano, natch - is only 190m high, it was still a steepish climb up winding tracks through bush and pine trees and I was grateful for the gusty wind to cool me down. There were other walkers, more dogs, more bikers (lots of astonishingly steep tracks for them - more like chutes) and, near the summit, a disappointing car park meaning a bunch of people at the lookout who hadn't earned it.
There was an Admiral Byrd memorial pointing straight at Antarctica, 4,000km south; information about the wind (world's windiest city - shut up, Chicago); a cannon that used to announce noon, up until 1900; and also some tui feeding on the flax that fringed what could have been a more colourful view of the city, harbour and airport, but at least it wasn't raining. And then I headed back down again, along steep, crumbly tracks that my shoes weren't designed for, to quiet streets and past lovely wooden villas, back into the city. Feeling insufferably virtuous, I must say.
Our first group activity was a visit to Zealandia, a large eco-sanctuary within the city, where I'd been before but not to do the Twilight Walk. Our guide, Keri, gave us a depressingly resigned overview of the destruction people have wrought on NZ's wildlife and vegetation, and then took us out to see the start that's been made on fixing it here. It was good, to see so many birds - including a doughty Paradise shelduck mother who attacked someone's ankle for getting too close to her chicks - and the Aussies especially were much taken with them all. Being a Waihekean, most of them were everyday sights for me, but it was good to see, and hear, saddlebacks and stitchbirds too.
Best of all though, were the tuatara - half a dozen of various sizes, including one quite big (probably 30 years old) who ignored us from his burrow. Only living dinosaurs, people, and NOT LIZARDS! 

We were all hoping for kiwi, of course, because they have about 150 within the reserve's serious anti-pest fences, but we were a bit too early for them to be out. Night-time tours have more luck that way, but don't see as many other birds as we did.

Then it was time to head back, at nearly 9pm, to the hotel's Oaks & Vine restaurant. Non-Spaniard that I am, my digestive processes are geared for 7pm dinner at the latest, so being served my main course at 10pm was a shock to my system that - spoiler alert - had me lying awake from 2am till 5am. But never mind, eh, it was delicious, and my greatest regrets were that I didn't order the meltingly tender and flavoursome twelve-hour lamb, or have enough room to do justice to the tarte Tatin with butterscotch sauce and coconut icecream. And at least there was Cable Bay Syrah, from Waiheke.

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