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Friday, March 14, 2003

The Road to Wellington

The motorway dumped me right in the middle of downtown Wellington rather suddenly, leaving me fumbling for maps while trying to safely navigate the tight maze of busy, narrow, and often very short one-way streets with nowhere to pull over. After being flushed in circles a few times, I finally located myself and my destination and found my way up to the hostel.

The hostel itself, Rowena's, was a giant habitrail, which almost would have been fun except for the high packing density of humans and the resulting level of filth. The kitchen was the scariest I saw the entire trip. And despite their claims of having plenty of parking the truth is by nightfall their lot is so full that it needs to be emptied the next morning in reverse order. Fortunately for me, I got there early and ignored (rightly, it turns out) the "keep clear" sign in front of the one remaining space toward the back, so while I was parked in all evening, I didn't have anyone pounding on my door in the morning to move my car. And by the time my not-a-morning-person butt was in my car, the lot was almost empty. But, all in all it wasn't a bad place--just typical, I think, of any big-city hostel.

I asked if they had a single room available, and they did (they were all booked up when I'd called ahead) so I took it (+NZ$8). Nice to have a locking room to leave some stuff. Nice not to have other people wandering in and out in the evening and morning. Nice not to have clouds of microbes wafting through the still night air.

Built in and amidst the hills, Wellington feel very much like San Francisco. Here's the view from the hostel deck, overlooking the city:

I hiked down town, and over to the waterfront:

I had a good sushi lunch (NZ$13), and spent the rest of the day wandering the city on foot.

If I were a city person, Wellington would probably be my first choice to live in New Zealand.

On the way back, I paralleled another guy with a backpack for a while, eventually decided based on his posture and the particular shape of his day pack (not stuffed like a city-dweller's day-pack) that he was probably going to one of the hostels, so I introduced myself and we chatted on the walk back. (Turned out he was staying in Rowena's too.) He was Dutch, recently arrived New Zealand after seven months in Australia. Back home, he designs automation machines. His last project? He created a machine to make baby carrots. "Huh?" I inquired. "There are two ways to get baby carrots," he elaborated, "you can grow them, or you can start with large carrots and carve them up". Apparently, most "baby carrots" come from the latter approach and always have, but until now they've been carved up by the hands of assembly line workers.

Incidentally, over all hostelers don't tend to socialize with each other much. I noticed this in Europe in the past as well, where I met lots of people on trains, but never in the hostels. I made some effort in NZ to compensate for this, but by default everyone seemed a little afraid to talk each other. This is made much worse by the inevitable prominently mounted television, the hosteling equivalent of a bug zapper, sucking people in and dropping their empty shells into the sofas and lounge chairs below. Zzzzzt!

Incidentally, so far I've liked the music everywhere in New Zealand (in the restaurants, hostels, and such -- even the telephone hold music). It's an eclectic mix from the 60's to modern (mostly American and British but some from the southern hemisphere) notably devoid of country, musac, rap, crap, or anything with more distortion than melody. Really quite a contrast from here where I'm often wincing at what people choose to play. (By the end of the trip, I only encountered one place that played music I didn't like -- a restaurant in Franz Josef.)

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com