WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND.
It is a ten-hour night flight from Hong Kong to Melbourne, Australia, about two hours at the airport transit zone, and then about four more hours to Wellington, New Zealand. The first “person” to greet us at the airport terminal was Gollum of “Lord of the Rings” fame, whose giant image floats above the passengers’ heads. We were dead tired, so we spent a night at the Airport Motor Lodge, five minutes walk away from the terminal. We highly recommend this motel to anybody traveling that far. Nice spacious rooms, big comfortable beds, all the usual facilities and last but not least, very friendly owners/managers who would take you to and from the airport by car if needed. In the city, we stayed at Kingsgate Hotel. But for the separate hot & cold water taps in the bathroom, it is an ideal place to spend a week at. In addition to all the usual facilities, there is a tea kettle, tea & coffee in every room. It is quite affordable; breakfast is good; it is a couple minutes away from all the main attractions, and a short stroll would take you to the waterfront. Right across Molesworth Street there is a huge well-stocked supermarket, in case you are tired of cafes.
It is summer in the antipodes, so what we saw first, last and foremost was the lush greenery, the blooming trees and flowers in all the colors of the rainbow, the rolling hills covered with trees whose leaves seemed to be at least a centimeter thick. Gusty winds called “southerlies” are a specific feature of Wellington summer. After a brisk rush along the waterfront, I could not help but check if my hair was still attached to my head! Lambton Quay, once called Beach Street, is the heart of town, with many shops, cafes and restaurants, banks and official institutions. The Parliament, several historical buildings, part of the university, the funicular main station and various walkways are all to be found there. The government buildings are both old, dating back to the nineteenth century colonial style with the traditional columns, and new tall “beehives”. One can walk around in the adjacent beautifully laid out parks, take part in a guided tour and see the politicians work. There are street signs telling visitors what they see and how to get where, as well as informational stands about many important places. The Prime Minister’s House is a little way away from the center, closer to the green hills. I read that in the 20th century, some of the heads of government refused to live in the residence, because it was “too luxurious”, but later on it was decided that there should be an official residence for the person currently occupying the top government position.
Kiwis are very independent and self-sufficient. They keep their towns clean, and do all they can to preserve the unique natural environment. Visitors are warned not to bring in any food; it is an offence punishable by an immediate fine at the airport customs. All the food and drinks are locally produced, though naturally there are officially sanctioned imports. For a very small country, New Zealand produces and exports a large amount and variety of foods, mostly meats, dairy products and fruit. As in Hong Kong, mid-day is strictly brunch/lunch time, with the menus offering sandwiches, salads and desserts. Many waterfront restaurants serve all manner of seafood cooked with lots of spices and herbs. When I asked why they liked hot and spicy foods so much, the locals stared: “But curry is not spicy!” I stand corrected. If you wish to have a normal continental lunch, The Old Bailey’s café at Lambton Quay is practically your only choice. You will get Caesar Salad with hot chicken, pork chops during the day and roast duck at dinner, after 5:30PM. Besides the traditional beers and wines, they also serve an exotic cranberry juice. Among the many cafes and shops, there is exactly one traditional European Patisserie which sells fresh French breads and lots of tasty cakes and tarts. Many cafes and shops are owned and/or managed by Thai, Chinese and Indian immigrants.
The English spoken in Wellington is quite different from the other varieties. It sounds more old-world than modern British English; many people speak it with a lovely lilting intonation, and the long vowels tend to sound like diphthongs, especially in words like “sea” and “Zealand”.
There are plenty of language schools and a large university, with lots of international students. However, if one suffers from seasonal allergies or asthma, one should think twice before going to New Zealand even for a visit. It seems that mainland maladies do not take well to this land. But if you get a chance to visit, go see this amazing new world!
New Zealand, island country in the South Pacific, part of the British Commonwealth
Biggest city: Auckland, population circa 1,500,000.
Capital: Wellington, population circa 200,000
Languages: English, Maori
Unofficial demonym: Kiwi