My sixtieth birthday started off February with a bang and the whole city of Wellington celebrated for two days. The weather was actually sunny and warm (mid-seventies!). Every year Wellington hosts a Rugby Sevens tournament. This is the speed-dating version of rugby. Each team only has seven players and they play two seven minute halves. Sixteen countries have teams that travel around together and play a full tournament in each country. Wellington goes all out when the tournament arrives in town, and for some reason the tradition has arisen that many people, whether going to the games or just walking around downtown, wear costumes. And of course, everyone drinks a lot. This year the Sevens were on February 5 and 6, so even if not everyone knew it, they were all helping me celebrate. It is particularly fun because usually Wellingtonians dress in very conservative black. We watched a number of the games in some of the sports pubs. I like regular rugby better, but it was interesting to watch New Zealand get to the quarter finals and then lose. The final was between Fiji and Samoa with Fiji winning. Then they were all traveling on to Las Vegas and playing all over again. We took a lot of pictures, so this is only a small sampling. You can actually see the me on the left side in this last picture with the yellow super heroes. I am dressed up as a sixty-year-old former hippie in a red hat and paisley dress and black hand bag.
For the weekend of the 19th, I went up to the Quaker Settlement in Whanganui, about a three-hour drive. The Settlement is on property that used to belong to the only Quaker School in New Zealand, but it unfortunately went out of business in the late 1960s. There are 16 houses for permanent residents and facilities to handle a number of visitors for conferences. This particular workshop was lead by a Quaker couple from Great Britain on the Experiment with Light. “The Light” is a frequently used expression by Quakers to refer the experience of the divine that is both within us and without us. It is called an experiment because Quakers try and know things experientially rather than through accepting teachings. The two sessions on Saturday and Sunday were rather like a guided meditation, which is what makes it different from regular Meeting for Worship. Then there is time allowed afterward to talk about our experiences, if we wish, which is also different from the normal Sunday. The rest of the workshop was spent in discussion. The experience was different from what I expected because the books about Experiment With Light talk about “What were the first Quakers doing when they met together?” Although the guided meditation takes words from their letters and essays, I am quite sure that when they met together they just sat in silence until someone started preaching. I suspect that it is the preaching that was different.
On Sunday afternoon Ron drove up in a rented car and Monday morning we headed out at 7 a.m. for a 2 hour drive up the foggy, twisty Whanganui river road to meet up with our jet boat tour into the National Park. There was only one other couple on the tour with us. Interestingly, the tour operator has Maori ancestry and so did the other couple, so we got a somewhat different perspective on things. The couple was from the Wairarapa near Wellington but had ancestors from Whanganui. All three were also very Kiwi and seemed to enjoy being able to pick the best from both cultures. The tour stressed cultural and natural aspects of the river over speed and thrills, which suited us fine. We also passed many canoers and kayakers. A 3-5 day trip down the river is one of the popular NZ treks. There are rapids, but easily done by canoe or jet boat. The river was navigable by paddle steamers as high up as we went, although they often used cables and winches to help pull themselves up the current. We stopped for coffee at the “Bridge to Nowhere,” which was built after WW1 when they were trying to open the area up for farming, and giving sections to returned servicemen. Unfortunately, the land is vertical as much as it is horizontal, and the topsoil thin, so it was not good for farming and not even much good for pasture. Bad weather and the Depression stopped the road building and discouraged the settlers, which is why the bridge ends in bush and a foot trail. This also means that most of the forest we were in is regenerating bush, so it will continue to change over the next several hundred years. It was a glorious day.
On the way back we stopped at the small settlement of Jerusalem, which has a lovely Catholic Church and Mission run by nuns. It is also the site of a famous commune started in 1969 by the world-famous-in-New-Zealand poet James K Baxter. We looked around for his grave but didn’t want to trespass into the fenced off Maori cemetery. Tuesday morning we walked around Whanganui and checked out the Sarjeant Art Gallery, which had a really interesting glass exhibit. None of the pieces were blown glass; they were mostly cast like bronze – a very different effect.
While we had our rental car, we were able to take one last drive around the Wellington seacoasts before we had to return it. This last photo is of an Easter Island head which got donated to Wellington a few years ago by the Chilean Embassy. Catharine and I first discovered it, and I showed it to Ron on our drive. There is always odd random stuff around here. I also can't resist these random pictures of harbor wildlife.
The month ended Friday with a splendid performance of Mahler’s Symphony #8 at the start of a month long International Arts Festival. The performance was sold out, but because it was the opening night, the concert was also broadcast live to the Civic Square. I really enjoyed listening to this magnificent work – five choruses, eight soloists and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra – with several hundred people sitting on chairs, steps and pavement as the sky darkened and the waxing moon shown down. The concert was conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, who participated in a noon talk on Saturday to another large audience. It was particularly interesting to listen to him talk about the problems of being an artist under the old Soviet government, which he left after marrying an Icelandic woman in 1961. It reminded me of some of the films I have seen recently about living under the Nazi regime, and the choices that had to be made. He also had good stories about other Russian composers and musicians.
Now we are definitely short timers here in Wellington. We have our tickets all the way back to Rockville, and are planning our trip to the South Island, leaving probably March 31. So we are also thinking about all the things we still want to do before we leave, which luckily is not a long list. The final three pictures are of local transportation options we are NOT taking.
In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.