Either my luck is even more backwards than I thought, or the weather spirits have a sick sense of humor. Or both.
My first night in Wellington, they had their worst storm in 80 years. Rainy bullets flew from the sky in never-ending waterfalls, windows bowed under the weight of howling wind, the power went out for over 3 days, schools were canceled, roofs were ripped from houses, train tracks crumbled into the sea… basically Mother Nature was angry, vindictive, and PMSing in the worst way possible.
During this lovely time, I was luckily able to stay with an old friend of my Aunt – and this family turned out the most awesome, hospitable, and kind group of folks. Despite the unusual weather, I was able to partake in a number of satisfying ventures:
- While eating at the airport, I realized that something was hanging over my head…
- I spent an entire day simply walking around Wellington. I drank soul-strengthening coffee at the well-known Fidel’s Café (it’s on Cuba Street. Get it?). I’m about 98% sure I walked into every bookstore, new and used, looking for the right book to take on the plane home. I ate some delicious and cheap sushi. I meandered, I people-watched, and I practiced my “you shall not pass” stance just in case I happened to bump into Ian McKellan.
- I decided that Wellington is similar to Seattle: both are beautiful, especially on those occasions when gray skies clear. Old classic buildings are interspersed amongst the new steel and glass skyscrapers, in a visually engaging juxtaposition of past and present.
- While the power was out, the family and I went to shower at the father’s work building. This rather strange-looking building, now converted into a space for scientists, is modeled to resemble old film strips. Turns out, this lucky girl got a surprise visit to (and shower in) a building previously utilized by Peter Jackson and New Zealand’s National Film Unit. Yeah, I rolled around on the floors a bit, envisioned busy filmmakers taking coffee breaks, took a peek into the theatre and lecture hall, and played around in the gym that used to be a soundstage. Ahh, the memories that must walk these halls….
- Taking a bus to Roseneath, I walked around this beautiful area (it looked summery even in the winter) and gazed across the water at Miramar Peninsula. (Ok, I didn’t just gaze. I pulled out some binoculars and actively searched for a view of the Hobbit set. Which I found. ‘Twas awesome). Though not usually the one for chatting with strangers – or really with anyone else for that matter (hermitude certainly doesn’t lend itself to vocal exercises) – I managed to strike up a lovely conversation with an adorable old Malaysian man. We talked about our mutual love for New Zealand, and he invited me to come visit if I were ever back in town. He also helped me to support my New Zealand’s “Three Degrees of Separation” from The Lord of the Rings theory: He worked as a nurse and had long taken care of Peter Jackson’s mother. Apparently Jackson is “very humble.” (When someone in the service or caretaking industry describes a celebrity, head honcho kind of figure as “humble,” that figure gains much respect in my eyes).
- I was inspired by one of the neighborhood girls. She was a cool kid: at such a tender age she was already a huge fan of the Beatles. She also bragged humorously about her nickname – “Gas Station” – which she earned after releasing such horrifying farts that even the teacher was forced to quickly leave the classroom. I wish my musical tastes had been so refined at that age, and I hope to, even now, achieve her level of tremendous confidence.
- I hiked through the green, lush, and frankly magical Kaitoke Regional Forest. I arrived early in the morning, before the sun had had a chance to reach the valley, and the entire dew-covered ground sparkled with a diamond sheen. Kaitoke is the home of a clear river (it called to me, tempted me to jump in, but I resisted because of the frigid temperatures and lack of towel. And lack of swimwear), diverse hiking trails, more types of trees than I could keep track of, and my ideal future picknicking/camping place. It also happens to be the filming site of Rivendell. So many good things in one place. The “This is where they filmed Rivendell” setup was actually quite elegant, natural, beautiful, and simplistic – elf-like, if you will. Carved, wooden signposts with twining designs dotted the trails, and watercolored maps pointed out specific film locations. Although it almost got a little too specific even for me at times: even I had a little giggle at things like, “Beech tree #112 is two meters to your right and was in the foreground of this wee shot….”
- I satisfied my Paradise withdrawals by watching Jane Campion’s new, dark, and quietly spectacular Top of the Lake miniseries. It’s on Netflix.
- My final day in Wellington involved accidentally hiking the entirety of Miramar Peninsula. The bus driver fortunately agreed to drop me at the Scorch-O-Rama cafe (previously known as The Chocolate Fish cafe – this gets confusing because Miramar has another Chocolate Fish cafe and a Chocolate Frog cafe. Creativity abounds), and then unfortunately dropped me on the other side of the ridge. So, I hiked to breakfast. Up a mountainous ridge, through residential roads, down some random goat track, and around the peninsula. And it was so worth it. Even in wintertime I was able to feast outside in the sun with a stunning view of the ocean.
After breakfast I decided to walk around the entire peninsula instead of taking a bus back into town (note to self: get real hiking shoes). I saw some more of your average New Zealand views, visited the other Chocolate Fish cafe and the prop supply store across the street, hiked up to the memorial site on the top of the peninsula just because I felt like it, and chatted with some joggers (one jogger looked vaguely like Andy Serkis, but he ran by so fast I was unable to get a good look… he was really movin’ and I wasn’t speedy enough to run ahead, turn blatantly around, and stare in order to check identities).
Once in the more populated areas of Miramar, I gave in to LOTR temptations: I drank coffee at Jackson’s glamorous and 1930s-esque Roxy Cinema, hung out around Stone Street Studios (production locale for Jackson’s films) and admiringly eyed all the workers as they went about their business, revisited Weta, inhaled a bowl of melted cheese at one of the two good Mexican restaurants in the whole of New Zealand (La Boca Loca is owned by an American who used to work for Pixar and Weta), and walked by the Park Road Post Production building (I couldn’t bring myself to step closer than the sidewalk; I felt that my haggard, backpacking presence would significantly bring down the classiness of the establishment). All the buildings are right next to residential homes, owned by some of the darned luckiest people I can think of. For the ease of filmmaking, Jackson wanted his production buildings all within a short distance from each other. As I was making the short walk down the road from Park Road to Weta, I could’ve sworn I saw Sir PJ himself sitting in a car. Or else a look-alike decided to grow out his facial hair, put on sunglasses, and chill in his car – conveniently parked on the road where post work was taking place. I enjoy not knowing for certain, thus a sense of ambiguity and possibility remains.