Wellington reminded me of a smaller, greener San Francisco, partly because of the bays, partly because of the hills and partly because it’s sitting on a bunch of seismically active faults just waiting to get jiggy with it.
The city still has many buildings from the 19th century, though, which you could take either as a positive sign (they withstood previous quakes) or an omen (the Big One is overdue). In any case, most of the interesting stuff to do in Wellington, like its many cool museums, is free, which is always a good thing.
Te Papa, Maori for “Our Place” and also known as the Museum of New Zealand, is a huge, rambling modern structure with a special exhibit on the building’s hundreds of shock absorbers built to help it withstand earthquakes, an important note given that it’s built on reclaimed shoreland, exactly the kind of stuff that liquefies when the world starts a-shakin’.
You could spend a week in Te Papa seeing every nook and cranny, but in the afternoon I had there, I have to say my hands -down favorite things were the Sheep Cam and the Colossal Squid Exhibit. Yes! Te Papa has the world’s only exhibit of a colossal squid! To be honest, the squid ain’t lookin’ too good, suspended in a tank of preservative goo and seeming a bit rough.
Fortunately, there is more to the exhibit than the pickled beast. There’s a video of when it was brought up on a fishing line and still alive as well as an interactive “Build a Squid” station. I built my own custom squid with rather festive coloring and then “released” him into the wild where I can track his growth and adventures online. As part of the deal you had to name your squid. I named mine “DAVE TIANEN,” and those of you who know my former colleague’s fascination with giant and colossal squid will probably find this as amusing as I do (and hopefully Dave does, too).
The exciting news is that you too can track DAVE TIANEN the squid!! Just go to http://squid.tepapa.govt.nz/build-a-squid/interactive and follow the prompts to “Find your squid” by name.
The Sheep Cam at Te Papa is just that… somebody strapped a helmet cam to a poor sheep’s head and let the magic happen. I watched all of the clips a few times. My favorites were of the sheep getting herded by a “Bossy Dog” (the name of the clip… I always thought sheep were afraid of the dogs, but it’s pretty clear that they’re just really annoyed) and another of random sheep milling around, except for one, who is staring at the sheep wearing the Sheep Cam with this priceless expression of “Dude, WTF?”
There was plenty more at Te Papa, including a cool exhibit on color and fashion which could have been termed “Clothing I Would Wear” because there were a few rather fetching outfits.
Another neat little museum was the Museum of Wellington City and Sea, which had a harrowing exhibit on the wreck of the Wahine ferry just outside the harbor in a ferocious storm, as well as well-done bits on the city’s history and maritime lore.
My favorite building in Wellington had to be Old St. Pauls, a mid-19th century timber Gothic Revival church that was gorgeous inside. Also made of wood are the old Government Buildings, allegedly the largest wood structure in the Southern Hemisphere (someone find out what the biggest one in the Northern Hemi is and get back to me, ok?). Not made of wood and rather unappealing altogether is the Beehive, where Parliament currently does whatever it is that it does.