At last: Wellington, New Zealand
But I hit the streets before I even unpacked and headed up the unlikely named Cuba Street just a few blocks from my downtown Wellington hotel.
I’d been sandwiched between two very portly people in a middle seat on the 14 hour Los Angeles to Auckland leg of the journey. I pressed flesh with each of them since they overlapped into my Air New Zealand seat. So I took refuge in an Ambien, a prescription sleep medication I rarely use when going to Europe. That’s because flights to Europe are maybe 6 hours long and I’m still groggy when I arrive.
No problem this time. I slept like a baby until hunger pangs awakened me at 4 a.m.
I was wide eyed and alert by the time I’d reached Auckland and transferred easily to my Wellington flight without any airport confusion. I was really glad to have a window seat so I could watch the New Zealand landscapes unfold beneath me before my aircraft entered the clouds.
Soon we’d arrived in Wellington, location of the conference of the Society of American Travel Writers and my home for a few days. Cuba Street, which took its name from a ship that brought settlers here in 1840, still has many of its historic old buildings. It’s mostly a pedestrian street with a distinct bohemian vibe, much like a lot of college towns I’ve visited, with many sidewalk cafes, funky boutiques, street musicians and bike racks.
I stopped for lunch at a cafe called Floriditas, one of several spots playing on the Cuba and Florida theme. Great meal, good local beer and a check of about $18 — gratuities are included in New Zealand eateries.
Wellington was originally settled by the English and Scots — a fact reflected in its place names. But everything also has a Maori name, since the country is totally bilingual.
It’s on a harbor indented into the North Island from Cook’s Strait and is breezy to the max. Locals feared that our group of travel writers would fall into the Windy Wellington alliteration. You can hear the wind whistle on the video with this blog.
On a break between meetings, I zipped my raincoat, secured my hood and headed for a walk along the waterfront to shoot some of the video here. It was November — early springtime — but cold, I’d guess in the 40s with the wind and rain making it seem much worse.
There, right outside the Convention Center, was an Occupy settlement of tents and lean-tos… just like in the states. Their arguments were the same as those heard at home. Too much government, too little representation and economic issues such as unemployment and the housing bubble.
I’d traveled 8,700 miles from my home in Mentor and many things were the same.
But I’ll have several stories about my visit to New Zealand and I hope you’ll follow them in coming weeks. The first ones will run in the paper on Feb. 12 and will be online before that.