Friday, March 10, 2017

wellington -- with several waterloos

If I am nothing else, I am consistent.

Today we visited Wellington, New Zealand's capital -- named for the war hero and politician, Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. The name appears to be apt. The city has suffered one natural catastrophe after another -- and has survived.

The cause of catastophe, of course, is earthquakes. The European settlement that was supposed to be the capital of the English colony sat across the bay from the current city. An earthquake in the 1840s lifted the city several meters in the air causing its harbor to recede two kilometers.

The settlers moved the town to the current site with one odd result. They used the same street plan as the old site that was flat. The new site had hills that caused streets to stop at the bottom of cliffs and resume at the top of hills.

Even the new site, now called Wellington, suffered earthquakes that pushed the land higher. Uplift earthquakes are quite common in New Zealand. As if the earh was involved in its own urban renewal program.

This was the ship's first stop on the north island. As part of my plan to get as much exercise on land as I can, I decided to take a bike tour around Wellington's waterfront. The photograph at the top of this essay was taken at the furthest point south on our ride.

In the 1850s, the land to the left was an island. The land to the right is the mainland. During one of the earthquakes that lifted Wellington's harbor, the land immediately in the middle of the photograph lifted up from the sea to create an isthmus between the mainland and what was now a peninsula. Wellington's airport sits atop the isthmus.

The airport is noted for being one of the most dangerous in the world. Wellington is the world's second most windy city. Those winds usually arrive  at the airport in the form of wind shears and tricky crosswinds.

If you notice the surface of the water, there was almost no wind today. Our guide said he had never seen the bay this calm. Usually, the wind pushes the backs of his bike tourists on the trip out of the city. They then discover cycling against the wind back to Wellington is not easy.

At the airport end of the ride are three kinetic wind sculptures, including this pointer wittily entitled Zephyometer. It bends in the wind and is often vertical.

Not today. It did not budge in the gentle breeze. Once again, this trip has been blessed by avoiding usual local weather problems.

The bike trip was not very strenuous. Our guide took us along the urban waterfront, where we dodged pedestrians.

The waterfront consists of what most towns try to do with their old harbor areas. Lots of overpriced restaurants intermingled with curio shops, street performers, runners, and actual water sport participants.

We pedaled through the government center with its mixture of Edwardian and modern buildings. That beehive-shaped building is the government office building. Not even a small government advocate would be so brazen as to create such an obvious metaphor.

And then there is the post-modern New Zealand Te Papa Musuem. It sits on 150 shock absorbers. While the rest of the city falls down, the museum will survive to do -- who knows what? I don't even know what it does now because we rode on by.

One of the toniest beach side suburbs (where apartments sell for $3,000,000) is lined with some very impressive Norfolk pines. I don't think I have ever seen their cones. They start forming around Christmas and provide a seasonally appropriate red flower to go with the green foliage.

The city council, apparently, wants to chop them down because they are not native. The fact that these beauties took almost a hundred years to attain their current height does not seem to alleviate the anti-alien attitude.

Overall, it was a great day. I saw a bit of the city and got some exercise.

On the walk back to the ship, I ran across what was a rather jarring sight.

Kiwis enjoy hunting. A lot. Many home dining tables serve venison or game on a regular basis. But I also learned there are quite severe restrictions on gun ownership.

Mexpatriate is not the place to start a second amendment argument. For the record, I believe the Supreme Court's current interpretation is correct. But that photograph clearly shows that gun restrictions do not chill the enthusiasm of a gun culture.

Speaking of enthusiasm, I had one of the best meals I have had on this cruise in the Japanese specialty restaurant on board: Izumi.

Miso soup and two plates of sushi. Shrimp and vegetables -- and shrimp and eel. It was the best sushi I have had since Roy and I had lunch at the Tokyo Fish Market two years ago.

And my bottom line on Wellington? It was a pleasant place to visit under the best of circumstances. But nothing is really drawing me back. If I return to the South island (and I probably will), Wellington may make a good point for starting the trip.

Now we are on our way to Picton -- our last stop in New Zealand.

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