After nearly sixteen hours of travelling, Chris and I arrived safe and sound in Wellington for our first (and likely busiest) day in New Zealand. A little jet lagged, we stumbled our way over to our hotel, taking the bus straight from the airport into the CBD (Central Business District), and were able to drop off our bags and have a little time to explore some of central Wellington before our first engagement of the day. But first....coffee!
I feel the need to share my impressions of the coffee culture in Wellington. Prior to our visit, we had been told by our host that coffee is abundant in New Zealand, but not how we've come accustomed to it in North America. First off, there is no drip coffee in New Zealand, only pulled espresso beverages. Needless to say, I wasn't complaining, being a bit of a Pacific Northwest coffee snob as it is. But I digress. What was so fascinating and wonderful about Wellington was the shear number of tiny store front cafes, all offering espresso, lattes, Americanos and the like. You don't have to walk more than a block from one location to come across another, and they're all unique and seemingly independently owned. Aside from the caffeination they provided two sleep deprived Canadians, what I truly loved is how much they add to the local landscape, and how, at least in Wellington, they are ingrained in the culture of the city in such a wonderful way.
With coffee in hand we made our way on foot to the Wellington Harbour for a walk along the water. It was an ideal way to start off our time in New Zealand enjoying some of the pleasures we're accustomed to at home in Vancouver. Because it was late Tuesday morning, the waterfront was pretty quiet, allowing for peaceful views of water and surrounding landscape that is not too dissimilar to Vancouver, although a touch windier.
We then made our way back through the CBD, taking in the wonderful Art Deco architecture along the way, and headed to Radio New Zealand for an interview with Wallace Chapman for the Sunday Morning show. The experience was delightful, and Wallace made us feel very comfortable and was genuinely interested in what it is that makes us so unique as a multi-modal family in Vancouver. We shared stories of our lifestyle and what the city of Vancouver has done to facilitate us and families like us maintaining our mobility without car ownership. I'm always intrigued by the questions we get personally and in interviews, and am honoured to be able to share our adventures with such a broad, and worldwide, audience.
With a little time to spare, we returned to our hotel, conveniently just next door to the radio station, and freshened up. We haven't done too many long haul trips yet, but we will never undervalue the joy of a hot shower after hours of travelling!
Our next meeting took us to the Sustainability Trust building to meet up with two incredible ladies that are part of a larger group known in New Zealand as the Frocks on Bikes. A local advocacy group focused on encouraging and increasing female ridership, and stating that "you can ride your bike in anything from your closet, even a frock." Sounds a little familiar, doesn't it? I met with Christina and Hilleke of the Wellington branch to discuss what is Frock on Bikes, why the organization started and the work they do for an upcoming piece in Momentum Magazine. While I was in interview mode, both Chris and I were happy to discuss some of the parallels riders in New Zealand and Canada, specifically Vancouver, face, and hear about many of the wonderful activities, events and advocacy work the Frocks have been doing to push the conversation of cycling forward in New Zealand. I think we may even have a few ideas to bring back with us!
Finally it was time for the big event - the first of our three presentations during our stay in New Zealand. As an ideal start, we held an intimate Wellington Conversations session at the Wellington Central Library, where Chris and I presented what Vancouver has been doing to promote and encourage cycling in the city, and how that has effected the culture over the last several years. Despite fatigue and the inevitable AV complications, the presentation was a great success, and we had many interesting and productive discussions with those in attendance after the presentation. As with the Frocks, it was clear that many of the struggles facing Wellington mimic what we've experienced in Vancouver, and we left on the encouraging note that it is possible to change and improve. We're excited at the prospect of returning one day in the future to see what progress is made and perhaps enjoy Wellington from a two-wheeled perspective.
As it was, our stay in Wellington was not long enough, spending just twenty-four hours before boarding the Interislander Ferry and setting off south to Nelson for the 2WalkandCycle Conference for the next three days. However we leave with some great memories of a beautiful city, some wonderful people we now know, and optimism for what is to come for New Zealand's capital city.