FRIDAY, 9th Sept.

I took my first morning in Wellington very slowly. I checked out before 10 a.m. but I decided to stay in the hostel a little longer, because the rain was too strong and I suspected it might change in an hour or two. I love being surrounded by things which were unusual in Poland and they are normal in New Zealand, like the All Blacks merchandise everywhere, hearing The Black Seeds, Lawrence Arabia and The Phoenix Foundation at hostels or spotting Boy DVD in shops.

At about 12 p.m. it stopped raining. I left my bag in a locker at the hostel ($4 for 12 hours) and went to explore the city. Leaving the YHA, on the left there was New World, a shopping centre. I passed the shop and followed the signs to Te Papa. The museum wasn’t very far away and I was surprised again to see Circa Theatre next to Te Papa. Jemaine Clement’s wife, Miranda Manasiadis used to perform there. Her last play was The Great Gatsby. It was still grey and cloudy, so the photos underneath were taken later that day.

I didn’t go straight to the museum. I decided to wonder around and discover more. I went along the waterfront and found myself in Rugby Village FANZONE. The scene was still empty, but I could see food stalls and tents being put up and everyone getting ready for the afternoon and evening festivities. I crossed the Village, crossed over Jervois Quay and saw Civic Square.

I visited iSite centre and took some brochures. I thought it was about time to go to Te Papa, but on the way back I derailed to New Zealand On Screen installation.

Inside, there was an interactive screen in one room where you could watch whatever you can find on the website. In another room they had a flat screen and you could watch 25 short films. I always wanted to see The Six Dollar Fifty Man (2009, dir. Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland; the winner at Cannes in 2010), but I couldn’t do it online, because of the area restrictions. The film was really lovely. Then I watched Day Trip (2010, dir. Zoe McIntosh), hilarious Careful With That Axe (2007, dir. Jason Stutter) and Signing Off (1996, dir. Duncan Sarkies). Watching those films I was happy to be inside, because there was heavy rain outside. When I saw the weather got better, on the way out I stole a scene

…took some pictures and went to the Museum. On level 1, there was an interactive installation where you could learn Ka Mate haka moves, so I tried that one. I went into a small room together with two other ladies (maximum six people were allowed per show). It was a very short presentation. You had to follow your on screen teacher and then you were recorded and you could see yourself on a small screen after you left the room. We had a lot of laugh seeing our clumsy dance moves.

I managed to see Te Papa up to level 3 (there are six) when I got a text from H., my friend from Auckland. She came to Wellington for a weekend to see WOW shows. We met up at the Museum and after grabbing something to eat on Cuba Str and having a photo session by the Fountain, we went back to Rugby Village FANZONE to see Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra live. They were amazing, even though the wind wasn’t helping them. I managed to record a couple tunes, so here is Nigel Collins a.k.a. New Zealand Symphony Orchestra singing Cream cover, Sunshine of Your Love.

They were very polite towards other countries taking part in the World Cup. Andy even sang the South African anthem, but when they finished, he showed which team he truly supports.

H. had leave me to meet with her friends and I stayed in the Village to watch other performances and official ceremony of the opening of the Rugby World Cup. As I was watching Samoan and later Maori dancers, I noticed Nigel standing next to me and talking with his friend. That was so random.
I didn’t watch the opening, though. I got a call from my host, who was G.’s (the one from Kippa-Ring) friends’ friend and he said he’d pick me up and we’d go together to the airport to pick up G. who flew from Brisbane via Auckland.

It was great to see G. again, after just over a week. It seemed as if I hadn’t seen him for ages. We arrived in Johnsonville, up in the hills north-west from Wellington, early enough to see the first match of RWC, New Zealand v Tonga. The All Blacks won, of course, but the result wasn’t very impressive.

from Hamilton to Wellington

THURSDAY, 8th Sept.

That was another enjoyable trip by InterCity bus. It takes about 9 hours to drive from Hamilton to Wellington and I thought I would have some sleep, but it was difficult when you had such a great driver and good atmosphere on a bus, that you didn’t want to miss anything. Oh, and the landscape was breathtaking.

I had booked one night at YHA hostel in Wellington in the city centre, but InterCity has its terminal at the train station which is further north, so I’d have to take a bus from there and look for the hostel. I asked the driver, his name was James, if the bus goes through the city centre. When I told him where I want to get off, he said to ask him again when we get closer to Wellington and we would see, because it all depends from his mood and how the journey would go. There were a few other people with the same request, so we said to each other not to tease the driver.

And I wasn’t worried about it. James made this trip unforgettable from the very beginning. He announced safety features with a Scottish accent and Kiwi humour making everyone laugh. He said that there was no toilet in that bus, so Hamilton was their chance to make a pee and if you didn’t go, shame on you. In case you wanted to go to the toilet during the drive, he could open the door and you could water the sideroad. That’s why the grass is so green in New Zealand. He also warned us to fasten our seatbelts. If there was an accident, no one would want to land on his front naighbour’s lap, unless it would be a match made in heaven then don’t forget to thank InterCity on the way out. Those are just a few examples of James’s jokes.

Further south, the hills were taller and covered with forests. Every time we passed something interesting, James told us about it, like buildings in the shape of sheep or a dog in Tirau. He said he likes doing something different every time he drives, so we had a 5 minute detour to Huka Falls.

At noon we got to Taupo and had a 40 min lunch break. James recommended a couple places where we could eat, because he knew what he was talking about. He liked eating and you could tell that when you looked at him. 😉

We left Taupo before 1 p.m. and went along the eastern shore of Lake Taupo. It’s the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand and the view from the town on the lake and the mountains behind it was astonishing! I took some pictures on my phone from the bus, but they are worthless. We had the lake right behind our windows and this is Motutaiko, an island where Te Rauparaha. hid himself when British troops wanted to kill him during 19th century’s wars. When they went away, Te Rauparaha jumped out of his shelter in the ground and composed Ka Mate haka, which is now performed by the All Blacks before their matches.

We left the lake behind, crossed winding roads in the mountains and entered Central Plateau still having the mountains on our right and Mt Ruapehu, the largest active volcano in New Zealand, which played Mt Doom in The Lord of the Rings.

James didn’t stop entertaining the passengers. This time the safety features were read by one of the passengers, a Canadian and they were in a rhyming form. Then the driver announced a karaoke competition to make that trip less boring. He had some chocolate bars and if anyone would like to sing something, there was a free mic for him or her. You can guess that no one came up to him, so he said he’d just found out that one couple had their fifth wedding anniversary and he played a song “Happy Anniversary” by Little River Band. One older Maori woman went to wish them all the best (the couple was sitting in the front), so James forced her to sing something. She did, something like a happy birthday, but more anniversary version. She got a round applause for her performance.

After a while, when no one wanted to compete with her, she wanted her chocolate bar, but James said that she couldn’t win it, because it wasn’t a competition as long as there was no other contestant. She said he was ‘meanie’, ‘mean as’ and at least she was younger than him and more beautiful (which wasn’t true, in my opinion). All that exchange with the driver was of course funny and made us all laugh again.

In the meantime we passed waving Keven, a local celebrity who always stands by the road and bus and train drivers know him and every time they drive pass his house and see him, they horn and ask the passengers to wave him back, so we did. Keven had a plastic red bag in his hand, I guess to not to miss him. He looked very happy to see us all waving.

The Canadian joined the karaoke competition and sang with his beautiful deep voice “The River/I Will Sail My Vessel” by Garth Brooks. I’ll never forget the sound of his voice, the view from my window and the joy of travelling by that bus.

The same Canadian sang one more song but I think he never got his chocolate bar, because the Maori lady snatched it when she was getting on the bus after one of the coffee breaks.

When I saw we were getting closer to Wellington, I went to James and asked him how he was doing. He was still in his great mood and replied how he could help me. When I reminded him about the hostel, he said it wouldn’t be a problem as he was taking three more people near it. All the passengers left the bus at the train station and the four of us got on again. On the way to the city centre we were telling jokes and I totally didn’t feel I had spent the last 9 hours on the bus.

I WAS IN WELLINGTON!!! When I took my baggage and waved goodbye to James with all the blessings, I decided to put on a warmer jacket and leave my hat in a bag, because the wind was too strong to have it on my head. Windy City. Walking along the street I saw on my right The Embassy Theatre, where Return of the King had its premiere. Further down the street there was Bats Theatre, where Flight of the Conchords and Taika Waititi used to perform regularly. And all that right across the street of my hostel! My fangirl heart just exploaded.

The YHA hostel in Welly was awesome! I was sorry I was staying there just one night, because the location was perfect and it was clean, quiet and everything you’d want from a hostel and more.

In my room, there was waiting another surprise. I was sharing it with a girl I had passed in Waitomo on my way to Junohall! She said, she remembered me with my bag. I remember asking one Asian girl how far it was, but I didn’t remember her face. And now we met in Wellington in the same room after three days of going to completely different places. She was from South Korea and going to South Island the next day. We had a good chat, but I had to control the time, because later in the evening I was seeing a friend from Norway who is on working holiday visa and has been living in Wellington since January.

We met up at the Bucket Fountain. When I found Cuba Mall, I had again that surreal feeling that it wasn’t really happening and I was just seeing it thanks to Google Map or Earth, but the quality of the picture was much better and I could hear the fountain spilling water in crazy directions, live music from pubs and smell coffee from bars and different dishes from many restaurants. A. took me to Midnight Espresso, where I tasted flat white almost as good as the one in London. Opposite the café, there was Slow Boat Records, where you can get any album you want. The Phoenix Foundation had their free gig there in December 2009.

Maybe it will sound a bit silly, but when you’re far away from those places and just hear about them, you may think they don’t really exist until you finally get there. They do exist. They fully exist.