October 24, 2008 – Masterton, New Zealand
Two days ago, the morning of the 22nd, we left our floating home and caught a taxi to the Richmond Guest House. Saying goodbye to ship friends had the poignant edge that accompanies farewells to friends. We’ll stay in touch with some of them and hope our paths one day cross again.
Windy Wellington lived up to its reputation, lashing us with gales and pelting us with rain. We arrived at the guest house loaded with our year’s worth of luggage. John, our host, met us at the door and showed us to #6, the room straight down the hall and right next door to the breakfast room.
For anyone heading to Wellington, the Richmond is a good bet. Located fifteen minutes by shank’s mare* from the Te Papa Museum, it is easy walking distance to downtown. It is clean and comfortable, with guest access to Internet (wireless or via the guest house computer), kitchen facilities, and laundry. That’s good value in a major city. (Check the Web site for current prices.)
Some guests to the Richmond are taken aback by the host’s unusual face, gift of 50+ surgeries to deal with a rare bone cancer. We took one look at John and figured we had a good chance of hearing an interesting story.
We heard many, of course, but I’ll just share one here. When John bought the Richmond in 1992, he had to first rid it of the rather colourful squatters who had been using it as free shelter. It took a while to get the word out that things had changed so many of the first visitors were not expecting to be paying customers.
Extensive renovations made the old house guest-ready. Then one night, with a group of ten women asleep in the rooms, an arsonist set fire to a pile of foam mattresses waiting to be discarded. John walked into an explosion. His clothing burned, his lungs seared by smoke, he managed to get all ten of them out safely.
He wasn’t so lucky. Burns, surgeries, cancer – someone with less spirit might have caved. John’s made of sterner stuff and says the adjective he uses to describe himself surprises those who’ve known him through his wild-oats years. The word is “content”.
After dropping off our luggage and getting a taste of John’s dry Kiwi humour (which mystifies and sometimes startles foreign visitors, as he loves to pull your leg), we walked over to Te Papa to see if we’d be able to leave our luggage the next day. A friendly staff member in the cloakroom said we could leave all our bags – at no charge. Turned out he spent years living in Banff and was familiar with our hometown of Kelowna.
Te Papa is a modern, interactive museum. We spent hours wandering among the permanent exhibits, pushing buttons and levers, watching short films, learning about New Zealand history and culture.
Leaving the museum, we wandered along the waterfront, through the downtown district, and then to the cable car that takes visitors and commuters up a steep hill to a café, observatory, and botanical gardens. We met a couple from Melbourne on the cable car, had coffee with them in the café, and will visit when we reach Australia.
It was late afternoon when we headed back through downtown, picked up dinner ingredients at the Wishbone (a deli franchise), and walked up to the Richmond Guest House. More stories from John, a simple meal, and time on the Internet, and we were ready for bed.
Wednesday the 23rd was low key. We dropped off luggage at Te Papa and spent most of the day there. One of our favourite exhibits is the new Our Space. A satellite map of New Zealand covers the floor of a dark room that must be about 80’ x 40’. Lit from beneath, the map is a magnet. We spent a long time visually exploring the peaks and valleys, the rivers and fjords, the cities and farms.
The Glistening Waters Storytelling Festival started for us at the Te Papa Museum. From 6 – 8 p.m. we were entertained by half a dozen of the tellers who’ll take the stage this weekend. Then we caught the bus with them, the festival committee, and some local storytelling enthusiasts. The narrow road wound up over a hill I would not have wanted to navigate on a rainy, foggy night, but we were in good hands with a skilled driver.
Now we’re settled in the Chanel Court Motel. We’ve wandered past October-blooming rhododendron and into downtown to find breakfast (a cholesterol-heavy bacon and eggs and white toast in a café recommended by locals who don’t share our taste for healthy fare).
We’ve found the only wireless connection in town (at the library – and not working so this won’t be uploaded for a while). And we’ve sampled the fabled New Zealand friendliness.
My brother and his wife would have enjoyed this kind of a trip. We’ll have to enjoy it all the more for him.
*“shank’s mare” is an old expression for walking