At the beginning of August I found myself once again on an airplane – this time flying directly from Sydney, Australia to Wellington, New Zealand. A quaint harbor town on the southern end of the north island, the city lives up to its nickname as “The Coolest Little Capital in the World.” Though it is also known for its often cloudy and rainy weather, I managed to experience a few sunny days amid the regular downpours. I had purchased an umbrella in Thailand during a four-day rainstorm and was definitely grateful I brought it with me to Wellington.
The reason for my visit to the country’s capital was to tour Te Papa Tongarewa, the national museum and art gallery of New Zealand. On my first visit there I met with one of the upper-level officials of the museum and had an absolutely delightful interview. I learned that all the human specimens have been deaccessioned from the museum’s collection and while they still remain on the premises, the museum views itself as their caregiver rather than the owner of the sacred relics. No remains are on display – whether Maori or otherwise – and all specimens are stored in a sacred space to which only four individuals have access. The weather was so nice the morning of the interview that as soon as it was finished I turned around and left the building with the intention of enjoying the sunshine while it lasted and returning to Te Papa on a rainier day.
As the prices of everything in both New Zealand and Australia are astronomical, I made several trips to the grocery store while in Wellington and cooked all of my meals myself in the hostel at which I was staying. With a minimum wage of almost $17/hour in Australia, the prices are reasonable for locals but not for foreign travelers. While spending time in my hostel cooking and working on research, I met some wonderful friends with whom I spent the rest of the week. Christina – a German girl living in New Zealand for a year – had worked for many months and was now traveling for the last few months of her visa, while Marco and Fabio – friends from Italy – were looking for work in hopes of permanently moving to New Zealand. Marco spoke basic English while Fabio hardly knew any, so conversing with them was always quite comical. Marco really wanted to improve his English and was constantly asking me questions about the language and writing down any slang I taught him. Fabio was always trying to tell me jokes and when I didn’t get them he would throw his hands in the air and start ranting in Italian about how no one understands him.
On one of the sunnier days during the week, the boys and I took a ride up to the surrounding hills on the city’s famous red cable car, toured the cable car museum at the top of the hill, then wandered back down through the beautiful botanical gardens. That evening Christina joined us for a small comedy show that we had heard about from a local friend. The only non-regulars at the venue, we were easy targets for the comedians that liked to banter back and forth with audience members. Upon finding out that I was a 21 year old American traveling on a research grant, the emcee sassily told me that I was too young, beautiful, and successful compared to everyone there and needed to leave. I of course stayed to enjoy the rest of the acts, but every so often she would return her focus to me and continue her hilarious heckling.
When my last day in Wellington rolled around, I wanted to make the most of it and planned out my Saturday perfectly to fit in as many activities as possible. I took an early-morning hike to the top of Mt. Victoria and was treated to breathtaking views of the entire harbor, the surrounding cities, and beautiful countryside. After completing the trek back down I ate a quick breakfast and hopped on a shuttle to Zealandia, a wildlife nature preserve just 20 minutes outside the city. I spent the early afternoon on a guided tour then split of to watch the daily feeding of endangered birds and hike the trails on my own. As the evening drew near, I made my way back to the downtown area where I managed to fit in time for the famous Saturday market and the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum. While touring the exhibits, I absolutely fell in love with Te Papa – to this day it remains my favorite museum of all time. I was so overwhelmed by how amazing it was that the only thing I can equate it with would be the feeling someone who is very religious would get if they were to enter the most beautiful cathedral they’ve ever seen. Since I’m a museum girl, I had that same extraordinary instinctual response to this amazing scientific institution.
Just like many other stops on my itinerary, I wish I would have had time to venture outside of the city and tour the entire country. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Australia and New Zealand (and still find it hard to believe that I was actually there). It was strange to be 17 hours ahead on the other side of the world, but still feel so at home in both countries.