I arrived after midnight on Saturday night, and the first conference-related activity was at 6.30pm on Sunday. I had work to do, but time permitted a brief foray around the city of Wellington. I had been here once before, seven years ago, and had not had much chance to see things.
The town centre near the harbour is quite flat, but the rest of the town is on seriously steep hills. Starting from my hotel, I first walked up to the University, to identify the building where the conference talks would take place. I had in mind a visit to Zealandia, a region where inside a predator-free fence the environment is being restored to the state it was in before the arrival of humans 700 or so years ago. But I failed to find it. I followed clear signage which directed me to the entrance to the botanic garden, and then the signs disappeared. The region was off my seven-year-old city map.
So I changed plan, and wandered slowly along the Downhill Path from the top of the cable car to the city by the Parliament buildings.
The gardens were lovely. Right by the entrance, a tui was singing as it sucked honey from big red flowers on a tree which was not identified in my book of New Zealand trees. I listened for a while, and then set off down the path.
It passed the Australian section (I didn’t feel the need to go in), the succulent gardens, the araucaria section (containing among other things a very fine kauri, which while not an araucaria is apparently in the same family – as a result of the Gondwanaland dispersion, these trees thrive in Queensland as well as New Zealand), and a forest of pohutukawa trees (these trees grow naturally further north in New Zealand and their red blossoms make a fine display around Christmas; there was no sign of flowering on the trees in the botanic garden, though downtown near the harbour the trees were covered in buds). The path went out of the garden by a gate, and back in by another gate soon afterwards, where it went past the extensive rose garden looking very fine.
Next I came to the old Bolton Street cemetery. This was originally subdivided into three parts, for Anglicans, Jews, and a public cemetery (I had passed the Catholic cemetery high on a hill earlier in the walk). The dead were not allowed to rest in peace, since the Council built an urban motorway right through the middle of it; many human remains had to be removed and re-interred elsewhere. Fortunately they did build a pedestrian bridge over the motorway.
But soon after that, the path is blocked again, apparently by an unsafe building. So I had to take my chances crossing a busy road without a pedestrian crossing to get to the road in front of the Parliament building.
Proceeding, I found closed streets and what looked at first like a Chinese new year procession. It seems I had stumbled on the Santa Parade (with a rather general definition of Santa). I avoided this and continued on to the waterfront, where it is possible to walk along past old warehouses converted into markets, eating places, and so forth.
I turned off to go to the tourist information, or i-Site. This was a bit disappointing. The i-Sites in Auckland and Christchurch were able to supply me with good walking maps. There seems to be nothing similar in Wellington, although later I did find a PDF document on the web formatted like a leaflet. The onlly map they could provide me with covered no more of the city than the one I already had, and would not have helped me find my way to Zealandia. After this I checked the racks of leaflets for myself; the Walking section contained only leaflets about guided walks, without maps of where the guides would take you.
After this disappointment, I headed back up Cuba Street (a rough equivalent of Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall, and even more crowded, though this may have been because of the Santa parade) and back to the hotel.