Hidden Gems

With guests in town for the New Year holiday, plans to ride the harbour ferry, lurk about on Somes Island and tootle about the harbour parks had to be shelved when a cold southerly arrived in Wellington on the afternoon of the 30th.

Fighting a strong urge to remain rugged up in front of the idiot box watching scenes of bedraggled campers packing up sodden tents down south, we decided to take in a movie and grab a bite to eat on New Year’s Eve.

Settling on The Queen we headed off into unfamiliar territory after finding that a suitable screening would occur at a theatre in Petone.

Petone is one of Wellington’s older suburbs, with densely-packed old houses huddled between the main street (Jackson Street) and the edge of Wellington’s harbour, Port Nicholson. The streets are narrow and the old villas, many tastefully restored, snuggle together on tiny sections.

After driving around the narrow streets for a while to get our bearings, we took a motorised promenade along Jackson Street looking for local eateries. Surprisingly, most were closed, but The Screaming Turtle had a welcoming look and encouragingly busy tables. We arrived just before closing time, so were restricted to the contents of the cabinets – panini, quiches, lush slabs of pie – which suited us perfectly. Oddly, the request for a bit of greenery to accompany a slab of pie was refused – a salad could not be rustled up with the kitchen having closed.

Rejuvenated by a hot meal, we decided to brave the Petone foreshore where the rain was cold and horizontal under the influence of the southerly which comes directly across the harbour to wash the front windows of the houses along The Esplanade.

A mad dash across the carpark to the Petone Settler’s Museum was rewarded with a warm greeting and a quick introduction to the material on display. The place was deserted, probably due to the wintry conditions and the exposed site, so we had the place to ourselves. The museum features local industry (Gear Meats, General Motors and others) as well as The New Zealand Company which was responsible for depositing European settlers in the area during the early part of the 1800s.

Whilst there is a small auditorium showing a video, the museum specialises in displays of an older style. Most notable are the excellent models of buildings, landscapes and shipping which bring the Petone area’s history to life. Labour laws of a past era are illustrated by posters of staff rules and the fare of an older time is recalled by can labels featuring potted head and other, er, delicacies.

Visitors looking for settler ancestors can search the computerised database at no charge, but extensive searching attracts a fee according to time. Don’t forget to slip them a fiver as you leave so that they can continue to keep this excellent little facility going.

More time could have been spent looking at the exhibits, but time was pressing. The weather had worsened to conditions reminiscent of a mid-winter’s day as we scooted across the car park and headed off to the movies.

The Lighthouse Cinema in Beach Street, Petone is housed in the former Labour Party hall, built ca 1928. The foyer of the refurbished building is warm and welcoming, with two-seater couches and cafe-style tables for those who have the time for a bite to eat or a leisurely drink before a show. Take the time to wander about and read up on the history of the building or brush up on one of the movie reviews featured on the wall displays and in brochures.

The front-of-house staff are cheerful and efficient, the coffee is good and the roasted vegetable frittata, sampled on a later visit, was tasty.

The cinema has three cosy theatres – two down, one upstairs. Seating is comfortable two-seater couches. We enjoyed watching The Queen, starring Helen Mirren who accurately portrayed many of the real queen’s mannerisms as she acted out the lead role in the British Royal family’s reactions to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Queen Mother was superbly cast, as were Prince Phillip and Tony Blair. We thought that the role of Prince Charles needed a little more work. The movie was engaging and credible and Helen Mirren’s withering looks at appropriate moments in the story were the icing on the cake.

We were so taken with the cosy and friendly atmosphere at The Lighthouse that we went back there on New Year’s Day to watch Marie Antoinette. The movie contains stunning scenes of the palace and gardens at Versailles, and the costumery was superb. However, the story seemed to fade toward the end, and the strong North American accents and bad French ones marred the experience. The lead actress failed to portray Marie Antoinette’s more hedonistic attributes and the music was an appalling amalgam of period classical and modern pop. It is disappointing that the producer didn’t attach more importance to authenticity, having paid so much attention to scenery and costumery.

Attendance at an early afternoon screening of Marie Antoinette allowed plenty of time to wander around the display of Egyptian artifacts at Te Papa later in the day. The exhibition has been over-promoted but, for those who have a strong interest in such material, a visit is probably worthwhile. 5,000 year-old pottery and 3,000 year-old papyrus prayer scrolls feature along with information on mummification. The centre-piece of the display is the 2700 year-old mummy of Keku which is tastefully displayed in an area which can be avoided by the faint-hearted.

Unfortunately, Te Papa’s curators have learnt little from the excellent Lord of the Rings exhibitions which featured 2-4 minute movie clips at various locations throughout the exhibition hall. Egypt – Beyond The Tomb includes a marathon 55-minute video feature which plays in a small area to one side of the exhibition. The area was so crowded that it was impossible to sight the screen from outside on New Year’s Day. Perhaps it would have been better to break the movie material up into smaller segments and have them playing at different locations within the hall.

The inclement weather probably caught Te Papa on the hop as crowds of people descended on the museum to find something to do on a dull, wet day. Apart from the congestion near the video feature, crowd control at Egypt – Beyond The Tomb was good, with plenty of space to take in the other exhibits.

The same could not be said of the level 4 cafe where harried staff struggled to cope with hordes of visitors seeking refreshment. Tables were at a premium on the afternoon of New Year’s Day, and the service queue ebbed and flowed. The beef bap was bland and one third of the mesclun salad was rotten. In sharp contrast, the over-priced tiny $3 club sandwiches were fresh and tasty.

An amusing incident occurred in the queue as we waited patiently for service. A man, seemingly from overseas, asked for two beers with his panini but was politely refused. Apparently, there was a ration of one beer per meal. In a bizarre interpretation of our licensing laws, he would have to have ordered two panini in order to buy two beers. Another little gem of experience gained over the New Year holiday.

4 Responses to “Hidden Gems”

  1. Juliet Spence says:

    I shall forgive you, this time, for not presenting a synopsis on my culinary skills – how soon you forgot the curried shrimp and the exquisite sumac encrusted lamb rump with trimmings. Shame on you
    Also you forgot to insert comment about the lack of decent taxi service in Wgtn on New Year’s Day/Night!

  2. Juliet Spence says:

    So, where is your reply in “defence”

  3. Ken says:

    The authorities asked me to remove mention of the sumac lamb lest there be riots and muggings in nearby streets the next time it is prepared.

    As for the lip-smacking, tongue-tweaking, belly-beaming shrimp curry, it could not be mentioned for fear that the queues at the front gate might reduce my rightful share. One must protect one’s own interests after all… 🙂

  4. Jules says:

    Tonight’s fare is Madhur Jaffrey’s Chettinad pepper chicken tweaked from the BBC’s food recipes’ website. This will be prepared from scratch, with a myriad of freshly made spice paste etc – no pre-made products for this one! The hotness level is not noted …. but looking at the ingredients I think this one will also be lip-smacing, tongue-tweaking and belly-beaming.

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