When travel offered me a second shot at visiting Wellington, I wasn’t going to miss a morning at Te Papa, a lunch of green-lipped mussels (right), and a pair of three-quarter pants that are all the rage in New Zealand and Australia.
On my second trip to Wellington in December, off the cruise ship Celebrity Century, grateful to be unorganized, I eschewed the shuttle at the port and strolled along the waterfront into the city center.
Whenever someone tells you the shuttle is 10 minutes, the walk about 15, do not board that bus.
Buying pants and a half for $24
Downtown Wellington is an easy-walking, good-shopping city, with enticements for whiling away the hours, from bookshops to seafood restaurants and active bars.
I'm not a frequent shopper, once or twice a year whether I need it or not. But I couldn't resist the $15 bargain sale price on a pair of three-quarter pants at Gordon's Outdoor Equipment. Some people call them high water pants, though on me they look more like pants that shrunk to about 85 percent of their intended size. Still, the price was good -- that 15 New Zealand dollars became less than $12 U.S. -- so I bought two. I have yet to appear in public.
Wellington's Te Papa Tongarewa, above, on the waterfront, is New Zealand's culture museum. Te Papa Tongarewa means container of treasures.
This container is worth at least several hours for strolling its six floors, whether you are part of a family with children, a tour group, or just wandering by yourself.
Artifacts, art and colorful exhibits tell stories of the geological beginnings, exploration, and population of the world's last major land mass to be explored by man. The cultural mix of New Zealand was largely of English and Maori folks.
The museum is free, one of the world's better values at a cruise ship port.
Eating mussels, looking heavenward
For lunch, a colleague recommended green-lipped mussels.
Part of the green-lipped hype is that these mussels contain fatty acids, one of which is said to assist in the repair of damaged joint tissues.
My non-expert opinion is that, like blueberries, green-lipped mussels may be very good for you, but I'll eat plenty of them either way, simply for the taste.
I can recommend repairing your damaged joint tissues at Mac's Brewbar, which sits in Te Papa’s shadow next to the docks. The mussels (see picture at top), are steamed with garlic, onions, white wine and cream, and served with fries and chunky Pandoro bread.
A lunch for two of mussels and two draft beers, consumed with gusto from a picnic table outside, was $41 New Zealand, about $32 U.S (in the 2011 exchange rate).
Shopping needs satisfied, I spent an afternoon at the Carter Observatory, a short walk from the top station of the Wellington Cable Car that operates between Lambton Quay in the main shopping street downtown and the Wellington Botanic Garden at the top.
Most sightseers getting off the cable car seemed to choose a stroll in the garden. I went indoors, because of the Carter Observatory’s planetarium, a digital experience that will take you on a virtual space journey; an interactive exhibition about the Southern Skies; and an astronomy lesson about the navigational methods of Polynesian and Māori explorers. Telescopes offer viewing late at night, but by then our cruise ship would be back at sea.
If you are planning a Wellington trip and want to view space from a telescope, be aware of the weather; as a rule of thumb, cautions the Observatory, if you can't see the stars due to rain or clouds, the telescope probably won't be open.
Bring an umbrella if only for show
My parting thought about Wellington is image.
I was asked by local tourism officials not to dwell on the need for rain gear. They said they had tired of reading travel reports indicating that Wellington often is wet and windy (which might explain why the folks in England feel so much at home).
So, in the interest of fairness (not the weather, but the intent), I point out that Wellington was named after the first English Duke of Wellington, as opposed to the famous high rubber boots that the first duke wore.
I won't mention Wellington's days of rain or incessant winds, other than to suggest that visitors pack an umbrella and a windbreaker for the odd occasion, just in case. The other Wellies won’t be necessary – probably.