Trapped wind


Like most other things here, Wellington’s views are dependent upon the weather and it’s not for nothing that folks here refer to the city as Windy Wellington. A Kiwi explained to me that, given the predominantly hilly nature of New Zealand, the winds roaring between the Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea seek the path of least resistance. As far as the North Island is concerned, other than the lowlands around Palmerston North between the Ruahine and Tatarua Ranges, the Cook Strait offers the perfect tunnel for such winds to follow and this means that most days here are at the least breezy. In just four days, I have experience blazing sun, tropical downpours, sultry & humid nights and 100kph plus winds. That said, I find the general climate very conducive and cannot say that the wind is obtrusive, though it is summer and so I have not felt the worst the winters here have to offer.

The wind is channelled by the surrounding hills so inevitably, if you move beyond the tight confines of downtown Wellington, sooner or later you have to go uphill. On the advice of a Kiwi colleague, I drove up to the summit of Mount Victoria, the hill that dominates the city’s eastern suburbs. From here, you can get a truly impressive 360 degree panorama of the city and the surrounding countryside. Using my digital camera to take a 45 second video clip of this panorama proved nigh impossible, for I was trying to do so in what I later read were winds gusting to 104kph. That said, it was well worth the effort, even if it took a good few minutes to wipe the dust from my eyes afterwards. For those who choose to eschew their cars in order to explore on foot but still wish to get into the hills, the venerable cable car makes easy work of the 1:5 gradient ascent from Lambton Quay in the heart of the CBD to the Botanic Gardens and observatory perched above the city. Once there, the various lookouts allow great views across the city and the harbour beyond. Despite buying a return ticket, I chose to walk back downtown via the Botanic Gardens and the Bolton Street Memorial Park. The former are a delight even for those who, like myself, cannot tell a hardy annual from a Hardy Boys Annual and there are sections that are dedicated to protecting indigenous species that are threatened in the wild here in New Zealand. As with Auckland, everywhere you find greenery, you’ll hear the high-pitched chirrup of cicadas. An expert, answering questions on the radio a few day’s back, explained that louder a male cicada is, the more likely he is to secure a female companion. If that is true, all I can say is there must be some out there who haven’t been getting any for a good while now, for they are loud little buggers.

Half way back, I stopped at the Begonia House Cafe for an ice cream, which is one of the delights that New Zealand has to offer foodies. Here in a large gazebo adjacent to the lovely rose gardens, tea and cakes were being served to whitehaired over 60s by dreadlocked under 20s whilst the cafe’s sound system pumped out a thumping garage/metal soundtrack. Incongruous though it sounds, everyone seemed to be more than happy with this arrangement as I settled down with my gin and tonic flavoured ice cream to take in the atmosphere and soak up the sun. Near a peace garden dedicated to the memory of those killed at Hiroshima and the eradication of nuclear weapons, I watched a cluster of small brown birds cheekily bob to and fro at my feet, awaiting the inevitable crumbs that ice cream cones provide. It was with surprise that I realised I was watching what appeared to be sparrows and it occurred to me just how infrequently we now see them in London, a place where their ubiquity once gave rise to the term ‘cockney sparrah’. Walking on, I passed the imposing statue of R.J. Seddon, a popular reforming Prime Minister who took New Zealand forward into the 20th century with the emancipation of women (despite his own reservations that this might ‘unsex’ them), and entered the Bolton Street Memorial Park. This once served as Wellington’s multi-denominational cemetery with sectarian areas set aside for Catholics and Jews alongside the larger Public area. The construction of Wellington’s Urban Motorway in the 1960s cleaved the Park in two and required the disinternment of the remains of 3,700 people, who were reinterned in a mass grave and their headstones distributed elsewhere in the cemetery. According to the register in the nearby chapel’s exhibition, two of these folks were sisters or mother and daughter who died two days apart almost exactly 119 years ago to the day of my visit have my surname, a small and nugget I shall pass to my father who is an avid genealogist.

Whilst these occasional wanderings and my writing might indicate otherwise, ‘downtime’ has been rare and I spent the majority of my time fully focused on chasing down relocation opportunities. The efforts of two and a half week’s worth of meetings, emails, property searches and telephone calls to recruiters and headhunters have culminated in two firm leads and my last two days in Wellington are dedicated to exploiting these, hopefully through to a positive result. Whilst this trip is definitely not a holiday and I had fully anticipated some low moments, the time and effort expended here has taken a certain toll on my usual positive and humourous outlook. Travelling on business is trying enough but at least then there is a solid focus to your day and the security of a certain structure to draw upon for support. Whilst exciting and notwithstanding the potential for the future, striking out into what is unknown territory for me, without the familiarity of family and colleagues, has been a challenge in some respects. Cultural differences, both of the business and societal kinds, mean that one can occasionally be caught off-guard no matter how much preparation you have done. Subtle differences in conventions and customs often leave you keeping one eye open for signals and signs to keep you on the right track. It goes without saying that, as a family man, I miss the ebb and flow of family life: the roast dinner on Sundays, the ‘what did you do at school today?’ conversations, the little daily rituals we all take for granted and, yes, as one man in a house with five women, even the queue for the bathroom. Such things are uppermost in my mind as I write for, should I secure a position and need to return to NZ ahead of the family, it is something I will have to deal with and quite possibly for a good deal longer. As things stand, I still have at least one more meeting to attend but I plan to spend the few remaining days enjoying things at a slightly less hectic pace as I cross to the South Island and head to Christchurch via Kiakoura and the coastal highway. That said, I will admit to counting down the days until I can see my wife and kids in the flesh, rather than having to make do with photos and voices on the other end of a telephone line.

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