The National Harry Potter Quiz Championship

Harry Potter quiz

It was amazing, really: New Zealand’s hundred nerdiest Harry Potter fans gathered in one room. We were in a pub in Wellington, magically decorated with Hogwarts flags and fairy lights. Each table had been given a pack of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans. Most people were in costume. We were there because we were the best, the winning teams of our respective regional Harry Potter quizzes. Tonight’s quiz would crown the best of the best. Tonight, one team would claim the coveted title of New Zealand’s Biggest Insufferable Know-It-Alls.

My team, the DA, was representing Hamilton. (It’s quite a journey from Hamilton to Wellington, so kudos to the teams who came all the way from Dunedin!) We were dressed as the Hogwarts Founders – Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin – with the Sorting Hat and some cuddly animal mascots. We ended up getting second prize for costumes, actually! None of us expected to do that well with the actual questions, but we were in for a nice surprise. In the meantime, we ordered some Harry Potter-themed bar snacks and cocktails.

Hogwarts HousesThe pub was called Leroy’s Bar in the centre of Wellington. The quiz was being run by Gee Quiz. The quizmaster was wearing an impeccable Mad-Eye Moody costume. Other great costumes included a fantastically detailed Luna wearing her lion headdress and carrying a light-up balloon that had been fashioned into a hare, (her Patronus,) and a whole team dressed as wizards trying to dress like muggles. I’ll be tempted to go back to Leroy’s Bar when I’m in Wellington again, as it seemed like it would have a decent atmosphere even without all the Harry Potter accoutrements.

The questions were surprising. We’d done some revising in the weeks leading up to the quiz, making mental notes of things that were likely to be in it, but there were many things we’d never have thought of. I must say, it was fun digging around in my brain, excavating things I didn’t realise were there. I suppose I read (and listened to Stephen Fry reading) Harry Potter so many times as a child that those things are there to stay. It was the same for the others in my team. The same for the whole room, no doubt.

Hogwarts Founders costumes

Being in a room filled with people united by a singular passion was a special experience. The excitement was contagious. I thought I wouldn’t care too much about the final scores, but by the time they were being read out, I was on tenterhooks. Sixteen teams. We were in the top fifty percent… then the top twenty-five percent… and we came third, only two points behind the winners! We got a bar tab and some keyrings and posters, but, most importantly, bragging rights. I am now officially one of the biggest Harry Potter nerds in New Zealand!

Harry Potter in New Zealand

My Weekend in Wellington

I just got back from Wellington, the capitol city of New Zealand. I was really excited to go. I had been once before, but years ago, with my parents. All I remembered from that trip was getting my skirt blown up above my head in public. Wellington’s notorious for being ridiculously windy.

The 'Windy Wellington' sign

The ‘Windy Wellington’ sign from Mount Victoria

This time, however, there was hardly any wind at all. The weather was perfect – warm and sunny even though winter’s nearly here. I spent the weekend wandering around the city centre with my boyfriend and I loved it.

We’d been planning the trip for a while. We live in Auckland, but a friend of ours recently moved to Wellington to do a law degree and we wanted to visit him. We were originally going to take a campervan down, but time simply wasn’t on our side so we ended up flying.

It takes about nine hours to drive from Auckland to Wellington. If you do hire a campervan in Auckland, don’t try to do it all in one day. Good stops along the way are Hamilton and Taupo. My family spent the night in Taupo when we drove down to Wellington that time. Actually, it might have been two nights. We did a jet boat ride on Lake Taupo. That was fun.

Wellington 005

“Seriously, Gandalf, this is the last time…”

So my boyfriend and I got to Wellington on Saturday morning. As our plane came in to land, we saw a few ferries crossing Cook Strait. It was cool being able to see both the North and South Island at once. Our friend met us at the airport, which, I was delighted to discover, had a giant Lord of the Rings eagle hanging from the ceiling with Gandalf riding upon its back. There was also an enormous model of Sméagol looming over the food court.

In case you hadn’t noticed, New Zealand takes The Lord of the Rings very seriously, and Wellington is right at the epicentre of the hobbit mania. The city rebranded itself ‘the middle of Middle-earth’ – it is, after all, in the middle of New Zealand as well as being spiritually the centre of the whole Lord of the Rings franchise. Wellington is the cradle of the genius that is Peter Jackson. It is the home of Weta Workshop, which we didn’t visit, and the forest in which the hobbits hide from the Black Rider at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. We did go there.

But first we went to Cuba Street. It’s famous for being Wellington’s premier shopping street, but I have to say that I wasn’t that impressed. There were a few mildly interesting shops and cafes and a few mildly interesting artworks, but if it weren’t for the surprising number of second-hand bookshops I would have been quite bored. The harbour front was different story.

Background: 50% of New Zealand’s navy

Wellington has the prettiest and most interesting harbour front in New Zealand. Lively with both locals and tourists, it has stunning sculptures and gorgeous views; random pieces of poetry and a fantastic bridge that’s a work of art in itself. As we made our way along, watching the people kayaking on the sapphire water, we found a colourful piano and a wonderful underground market. It was here that my boyfriend had the best crepe of his life.

After this, we made our way to the government district. Our law student friend showed us Government Buildings, built in 1876 out of wood and made to look like stone, because stone was deemed too expensive. (It ended up being really expensive anyway, much to the government’s embarrassment. The building was opened without fanfare.) Until recently, it was the largest wooden building in the world. The funny thing is a smaller building was constructed in its shadow, this one actually built out of stone, but they wanted it to match the original building – so it’s stone made to look like wood made to look like stone!

The Beehive

The Beehive

The next day we visited the Beehive, the architecturally controversial Executive Wing of New Zealand’s Parliament Buildings. From it, you can take a free tour of the Parliament Buildings. I’m not too interested in politics, but the tour was enjoyable. It’s strange to see such opulence in New Zealand: the marble, the gilding, the furniture, the artefacts, the stained-glass windows… There was even an exquisite sculpture of the hobbits hiding from the Black Rider. Yes, The Lord of the Rings is THAT important.

And staying with The Lord of the Rings, the next thing we did was climb Mount Victoria. The thing about Wellington is it’s all hilly – and big hills at that. The only flat part is the city centre, and it’s only flat because it’s built on reclaimed land. While this does make Wellington a very pretty city – every time you look up you see you’re surrounded by green hills, the houses merely white patches amongst verdant bush – it’s incredibly tiring to walk around. Also, due to the higgledy-windy-uppy-downy nature of the roads, buses take a lot longer than you think they should. By the time we got to the foot of Mount Victoria, we were already exhausted!

I found this somewhere on Mount Victoria

I found this somewhere on Mount Victoria

It was a really good walk up it, though. The forest that covers Mount Victoria is made up of pines rather than New Zealand natives. Probably why Peter Jackson chose it. We met an old lady with a pair of hiking poles coming the other way, and she told us how grateful she was to have such a good walk right by her house. It must be really easy to keep fit in Wellington. There were a lot of mountain bikers around as well, although I’d never dare to bike on such terrain.

Not the actual hobbit hiding place, but close

Not the actual hobbit hiding place, but close

The place where the hobbits hid from the Black Rider is barely worth taking a photograph of. The tree in the film is fake, so all that’s there is a depression in the slope just below the path, blanketed by brown pine needles. Above the path, however, there’s a rocky outcrop that looks more like it. In fact I remember getting a picture crouching there as a kid, pretending to be scared. I’m sure I shouted, “Get off the road!” at some point too.

The real treat of Mount Victoria is the view from the summit. You can see all of the city, the harbour, the surrounding hill, Cook Strait and, if you squint hard through the haze, the South Island. It was just beautiful. If you only do one thing in Wellington, climb Mount Victoria. It’s not too difficult and doesn’t take that long.

A view over Cook Strait

A view over Cook Strait

From the top of Mount Victoria, we walked down to Te Papa, renowned as New Zealand’s best museum. Although there weren’t any outstanding exhibitions on this time, there was certainly plenty to look at. The museum has a wonderful look to it, both futuristic and traditional. The displays are a treat for the eyes. One particular exhibition struck a chord with me: the history of New Zealand immigration. I must say, I’m very glad it only took my family twenty-four hours on a plane to reach New Zealand, as opposed to six months on a cramped, pestilential ship with a significant chance that not all of us would survive the journey.

The harbour from Te Papa

The harbour from Te Papa

We stayed at Te Papa until closing time. By then we were definitely in need of dinner, and our friend knew exactly where to take us: Inferno. He’d been raving about it all weekend. Newly opened on Courtenay Place, Inferno is an American-style chilli bar. The food is cheap and absolutely delicious. As well as the traditional chilli con carne, you can get a lamb and chocolate chilli and even a pork and spinach chilli. There are five levels of hotness: Mild, Medium, Hot, Extra Hot and Inferno. I was a wuss. I went for Extra Hot. Ooh, it was lovely. I think I could have had the Inferno, as long as I was careful not to get any on my lips. I got some of the Extra Hot on my lips and ended up having to wet them every few seconds to sooth the burning!

Courtenay Place, opposite the Embassy Theatre

Courtenay Place, opposite the Embassy Theatre

Rather fittingly, Inferno is just a few doors away from what our friend described as the best place to get gelato he’d ever been to. All weekend, we’d been promised the best ice-cream – sorry, gelato – of our lives, so, needless to say, our expectations were pretty high. The place was Kaffee Eis. There are a few of them throughout Wellington and, let me tell you now, you MUST visit one when you’re there. Our high expectations were not only met, but surpassed. It genuinely was the best ice-cream – sorry, gelato – we’ve ever had in our lives! Seriously. Oh, my goodness. Amazing.

My boyfriend had amaretto and I had white chocolate and coconut. Now, I’m not usually that keen on ice-cream – gelato, we get it! – but I simply didn’t want to stop licking this stuff. I was blown away. (Figuratively blown away. As I said, Windy Wellington was surprisingly calm last weekend.)

So, in conclusion: if you’re going to Wellington, make sure you pack a coat. The wind is usually quite cold. If you’re driving down from Auckland, make stops along the way. Once you’re there, make sure you visit the harbour front, Mount Victoria and Te Papa, and don’t leave without trying a Kaffee Eis gelato. Of course, there are heaps of other things to do, but that was my weekend in Wellington.

See more Lord of the Rings locations I’ve been to…

Fur Seals on the Otago Peninsula

New Zealand fur seals are really cute. They’re small and brown with pointy noses and long whiskers. They also have an uncanny ability to look dead when they’re just resting.

Fur Seal 3croppedYou can find them in abundance all around New Zealand, wherever there happens to be a rocky shore. You can get right up close to them too, like I did on the Otago Peninsula.

I was twelve years old when we went there on our South Island campervan holiday. The Otago Peninsula is absolutely wonderful for observing wildlife in a dramatic setting.

Not only did we see plenty of fur seals, we saw snowy white, fluffy albatross chicks being nurtured by their parents in the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony.

Fur Seal 2croppedI loved getting close to the seals. (If I look miserable standing next to my little sister in that photo, it’s because it was quite a cold day.) I was wary about getting too close in case it made the seals uncomfortable, but they didn’t seem to mind. They must be well used to tourists.

Other popular places to see New Zealand fur seals are around Wellington, Kaikoura and the Catlins. Supposedly the best, or at least the most accessible, place to see them is Ohau Point, just off State Highway 1 between Kaikoura and Picton, which is perfect if you’re doing a self-drive tour of New Zealand. And if you do the Ohau Waterfall Walk – a few minutes along a picturesque boardwalk – you might be lucky enough to see seal pups swimming up the creek and playing around the waterfall.

Now that would be amazing.

fur seal 4