If you missed any of the Lord of the Rings movies, or if you don’t know who Peter Jackson is, I strongly suggest you remedy this punishable deficiency by going to New Zealand. And in particular, go to Wellington. And start at the airport. Here you would find yourself deplaning at, say, Gate 16 and then begin the airport shuffle to the ‘Way Out’. You would walk past the obligatory coffee houses, book shops, another coffee house and then Bam! You’re in the main terminal of the Wellington airport staring at…..well, what the hell is that gigantic creature crawling out of the ceiling grabbing at trout? (look how small the people appear at the bottom of the photo). Either the interior designer was seriously looped on crack, or even the Wellington airport flaunts the Peter Jackson connection.
But as usual I’m ahead of myself. Let’s backtrack to a month ago and the mail delivery system at the hospital. My office door, like the other office doors, has a large space at the bottom of the door. I wondered about that when I occupied the office, but I had a lot other things on my mind, so the gap at the bottom of the door left my mind until my first piece of office mail was delivered with a swoosh….and presto, there it was shoved under my door. It was like Christmas. And that’s how, a month ago, an invitation appeared under my door to attend the Rural Medicine Immersion Program conference in Wellington. In this Program, fifth year medical students are sent to rural areas for…wait for it…you guessed it, an Immersion Program in Rural Medicine. The flier said I was invited, which was odd, because, let’s face, at that point nobody even knew my name. So I emailed the admin and asked, ‘Are you sure you want me to go?’ They checked my name (I’m assuming with Interpol and other crime databanks) and said, well, yes we’d like you to come since you go to Balclutha where our rural student go and you teach there. ‘And you’ll fly me up to Wellington and pay for my hotel?’ Yes, they said. ‘OK, my bags are packed.’
So that’s how I came to be invited up to Wellington from Friday to Sunday of this week. And that’s how I came to be standing in the Wellington Airport, staring at some middle Earth creature (of course, here’s how my thought process went, “Look at the SIZE of the those trout!”). A taxi driver met me at the airport (it is always cool to be one of those guys whose name appears on the little ipad screens the taxi drivers hold up when they meet departing passengers). The taxi driver asked if would be OK if he took the scenic route instead of the tunnel into town, and I said, sure, why not? We had made it maybe….I don’t know….50 or 60 yards from our parking space before my second Peter Jackson landmark. “See that building?” he said, pointing to a very nondescript building sitting to the side of the runway airport. “Yes!” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster for pretty standard two story office building. “That’s Peter Jackson’s sound studio.” I was about to ask about the wisdom of building a sound recording studio right NEXT to the airport runway, but the taxi driver was ahead of me. “It’s specially constructed to be completely sound proof. I’ve been in it.” He stated proudly. What else could I say, but “You’re kidding, really? What was it like?” He paused, pensively. “Quiet.” he said. That makes sense. We rounded the corner, and I strained to look back and gaze impressively at the building. With appropriate reverence, I said, “That is really something.” But, we’d rounded the corner, and the driver was already pointing up to a ridge of trees in the distance. “See those trees?” he asked. “Well, those are from the (first/second/third…I don’t remember which movie he was referring to) movie when the (I, again, don’t remember the scene he described because it’s been so long since I’d seen the movies I didn’t remember the scene he was describing….but he described the scene really well). “Wow!” I exclaimed as if I just finished watching the movie only seconds before. This is another thing I’ve noticed here in Nz. Everyone expects you to have every scene of every Peter Jackson movie committed to memory. This is true of even the flyfishing guides. Remember about a month ago when I went flyfishing with Ian, the guide. Well, we were fishing at Poolburn Dam, and asked if the landscape looked familiar. No, I said, not really, and looked over to see disappointment on his face. “Wait,” I interjected “wasn’t this in a Peter Jackson movie?” His face lit up. “Yes, remember the scene where…….” Of course, I didn’t remember, but I faked it because I really wanted to keep him happy and I really wanted to catch a fish.
Back to Wellington…We drove along the edge of the bay into Wellington and the driver said, “See that large brown building?” I was on to him now. “Isn’t that Peter Jackson’s studio?” I asked with an air of knowing confidence. “No,” he said, in a disappointed way. “That’s our national museum.” Shit, I thought. And I was on a roll. I was quiet the rest of the drive, and then he dropped me off at the hotel, almost slowing to a stop to do so. I think I heard him mumble something about Americans as he drove away in disgust.
I wasn’t going to let my lack of recall about Peter Jackson interfere with my fun in Wellington, though. I dropped my luggage off at the hotel and went exploring. I think the first thing that struck me about Wellington was that it reminded me of San Francisco. Even many of the houses had that painted lady look that so typifies San Francisco. And the hills rise up steep from the Bay, in both cities.
I felt guilty about not recognizing the Te Papa Museum so I went there first. It was brilliant and very interactive. Sure wish my kids had been there with me…it would have been so much less conspicuous if I had been there with kids, instead of playing with the gadgets by myself. In the museum they have a 16 foot long colossal squid in formalin (sorry, it’s the best picture I have).
There is also an earthquake exhibit. I learned (from the taxi driver) that the entire road leading into Wellington is build along a fault line. See how much like San Francisco it is? They have had a lot of big earthquakes here. So I felt right at home.
I walked quite a bit through the town, and came across an interesting assortment of art. This is a giant (maybe 20 feet in diameter) ball which seemingly floats above on the plaza. Very cool. Along the waterfront is this strange man…
I’m sure he’s from Lord of the Rings…but I just don’t remember the scene.
New Zealand just recently banned shark finning (like, a week ago), but this wall was painted in order to protest shark finning, and I was really struck by the beauty and whimsy of the wall.
There was a great little coffee house/restaurant by the hotel, and I had coffee there both of my mornings in Wellington (it’s a city that’s BIG on coffee). This morning as I was getting my coffee one of the waitresses walked into work and said there was ‘a wee little pod of whales in the harbor’. So I took my coffee outside and watched a pod of orca whales meander through the harbor. It was magical. (Here’s an interesting fact about the orca whales of Nz: one of their favorite foods is stingrays! I learned this in a Peter Jackson movie).
Wellington was wonderful. But if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple of movies to watch….