"Windy Welly" lived up to its name for our stay, and then some. We arrived in the rain at lunchtime, where Sharon came from work to greet us and give us a house tour. We were once again impressed and envious of the amount of house-building space available to our antipodean friends compared to the cramped offerings of the UK. An abundance of land (Australia) and a lack of people (NZ) really does increase the options available.
Since Sharon had to return to work, we took a stroll down the road to the Dowse museum, a smallish modern art place with some interesting installations including the last remaining "Pillar of the Kingdom", a storehouse which was built as a symbol of a political initiative - the Maori King Movement. It is the only survivor of seven similar "pillars" which were built.
Other exhibits of note included a herd of fawns with their eyes blindfolded, and a mosaic made entirely out of bits of sticky tape.
A visit to Wellington for any film fan isn't complete without a trip to the Weta cave. Named after the weta, a massive (and I mean massive) insect, the WETA cave has been responsible for some of the most innovative developments in the special and visual effects fields for over 30 years. From early low-budget Peter Jackson schlock horror features such as Bad Taste and Braindead, where the owners were painstakingly making each prosthetic themselves, the workshop has developed and expanded. Weta Digital is now only second to Pixar in the world of digital effects and were responsible for everything from the stunning SFX on the Lord of the Rings trilogy to King Kong, Tin Tin, Avatar and more.
The Weta cave itself is a small shop consisting of a main room filled with props, figurines and other film-related paraphernalia for sale, a "museum" of sorts housing some of the older props, and a screening room where we saw an interesting short film about the workshop's development over the years.
If you come here looking for a full-on film studio with props galore, you'll be disappointed. The actual workshop is off-limits to the public, with only the shop open for visiting - and that won't take you more than an hour if you include the free screening. As an introduction to one of the world's biggest effects studios though, you can't really go wrong.
Since the weather had no intention of improving, we trawled back through the rain and spent the afternoon with Sharon, watching Real Steel. Think Rocky with robots, and you won't be far wrong.
Sharon took us to Te Papa on our final full day in Wellington. This is the main museum of the city (and indeed, the country) and is a sprawling place, not particularly well laid-out, but sometimes half the fun is finding out what you find around the next corner.
The Waitangi Treaty is considered the founding document of the country. Supposedly agreeing terms between English settlers and the Maori natives over the rights of land ownership, the treaty was something of a disaster for many reasons. The main problem was that two versions of the treaty were drawn up: one in English and one in Maori, and the language used in each was so different that it is difficult to reconcile the two; the Maori thought they had agreed to one thing, the English another. So when ol' whitey started stomping around the country, taking land and denigrating the natives, they didn't take too kindly too it. However, it wasn't until the 1970s that the "visitors" were made to realise their error and compensation started getting doled out to the people who lost land and were treated like dirt. The treaty is clearly very important to the country, although a significant portion of the population (white folks, natch) are clearly a little bemused by it and think the thing should be torn up.
In the gallery about the treaty, there was an interactive game which let you become the prime minister and decide how various decisions should be handled about native land rights, and so on, presumably based on previous outcomes and the promises made by winners and losers in the past. The consequences of your choices are then fed into the computer and it decides whether you'd win the next election or not - it seems I'm quite the diplomat; I chose some answers that in normal terms I'd class as "fence-sitting", but it looks like that's what the electorate wants. If you need me, I'll be running New Zealand.
We also took a nostalgia trip back through the decades to look at how toys and technology have developed, played around with a massive video wall that allowed you to take photos and throw them onto it using Wii-style remotes, and saw a giant squid which has been on display for some time now, and whilst undeniably huge, was starting to look a bit the worse for wear. It is the largest recorded specimen, and was caught by accident as it fed off fish that were caught on a long line.
After a run through the rain to a nearby coffee shop for lunch, Sharon gave us a tour of her office and then drove us along the coast which would no doubt have provided fantastic views on a normal day. It was clear when we arrived at her friends' house for a tea break that it was *not* a normal day, when those same friends exclaimed that they hadn't seen weather so awful for a long time. When the locals of a city reputed for its erratic weather are bemused, it must be a special day. It wasn't any better almost an hour later so we all ran to the car and headed back via a bank, where I failed miserably in getting any Fijian Dollars. It seems that they need to be bought in ahead of time, and they didn't have enough to make it worthwhile.
We spent the afternoon playing with Oscar, Sharon's cat. His temperament is best described as mercurial, as he can be a loving bundle of fluff one minute and a clawtastic hiss-machine the next. Luckily, we didn't see much of the latter.
Sharon prepared a wonderful chicken and bacon casserole for dinner which helped take the edge of the howling winds and torrential rain, and we settled down to watch Hugo - an odd, but enchanting film which actually made Sacha Baron Cohen likeable, so kudos is due to Scorsese on that front.
We took our leave in the morning. There weren't many days left in the North Island, and we had to travel the length of it to get back to Auckland. We had time for one more snap before Sharon went to work. It was great to catch up, and we will hopefully meet again when she visits the UK next October.
Here's a tip: if you're in the Auckland area in a campervan, don't ever stay at Takapuna Beach Holiday Park. An awful, awful campsite, charging a premium but with zero facilities other than a shower block and a kitchen with broken appliances. We were advised to get out of Auckland sharpish, and would have done so if it hadn't been getting late. The area redeemed itself though, as we managed to find Patio Steak House which gave us a three-course meal plus wine for a very reasonable £17.50 each, which was far preferable to eating pasta in the van again. Sometimes you just need to let someone else do the hard work.