In the Land of Flightless Birds

Three months later, after thousands of kilometers driven, gallons of wine and beer drunk, mountains of wedges with sweet chili and sour cream devoured and many, many kangaroos sighted, we have finally turned our backs on Australia and made our way over to New Zealand.

You’d think there wouldn’t be much of a difference between two countries that are reasonably close together geographically and were both populated by British people but some of the contrasts are striking. The most glaringly obvious yet possibly least discussed, especially in Australia, is the presence/absence of aboriginal people. Maoris are everywhere in New Zealand, starting with our purser on the plane. (Adrian was at least a head taller than us and looked slightly out of place because his broad shoulders almost brushed along the overhead lockers when he walked down the aisle to dispense coffee and ginger biscuits. But he seemed to know the dimensions of his body very well and obviously loved his job: he greeted everyone by name after checking the tickets and in our case said: “Hello Mrs D, seat number 5B, that’ll be over there on your left. Mr. D – follow the boss.” ) In Australia the only aboriginal people we saw were in Queensland, drinking in a park and the FedEx delivery man at our apartment building in Sydney. That was it. In three whole months.

Landscapes are obviously very different too. Where Australia is dry and brown, New Zealand is lush and green. That comparison is not quite fair since Australia has many green places too it just happens that it’s a giant country and a whole lot of it is brown, dry desert. So maybe it’s just surprising how little desert there is in New Zealand. (Which explains why Weta is filming the re-make of “Mad Max” over there even though they had to stop filming because of the recent floods in Queensland. Apparently the Aussies promised them that in a few months everything was going to be back to desert again.)

We’re in Wellington now where the defining word would be ‘wind’. Even when it’s a calm day like today, there’s a light breeze going. Which makes it lovely in summer because you never feel too hot (not that it gets all that hot, the newspaper breathlessly reported the other day that temperatures “peaked at 25C”) but I shudder to think what it’s like in winter. We met a Mexican woman who’s been living in Wellington for a year now and she only left the city for the first time recently to travel around the country and was surprised to find that there are other cities without wind and less rain!

But Wellington really is a wonderful city, small and compact but with so much to do and so many great restaurants that you hardly notice how small it all is. Yesterday we went to Te Papa, the national museum which is a fascinating place full of everything you’d expect (Maori history, white settler history, stuffed animals and insects) and some things you wouldn’t (an earthquake simulation house and a giant squid exhibit).

We’ve also been to the Weta Cave, a little museum set up by the Weta workshop outside of the city for those geeky pilgrims (cough, cough.. us) that can’t get enough of this wonderful visual effects company. Since filming for “The Hobbit” will commence next month, all the actors are already in the country and they were at the workshop this morning having their make-up tests done but unfortunately we didn’t get to see any of them. Running into Martin Freeman at the coffee shop would have been fun. 🙂

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