The first thing I noticed was that Wellington wasn't wearing black.
The home of the monochromatically chic civil servant with the matte lipstick and short-but-interesting hair was dressed like a garden.
Kōwhai yellow. Kākā beak crimson. Waterlily-leaf green. Sequins and pleats and pockets full of binoculars - all the better to spy the action. It was opening night at the World of Wearable Art and although I'd expected a kaleidoscope on stage, what wowed me first was the audience. Wellington was blooming. And it didn't stop there. Want to touch that rainbow? Tickets to the 2020 World of Wearable Art are now on sale. I took in last year's opening night and then spent the weekend in wider Wellington - it was a polychromatic party for the senses.
Christine was in the pantry. Her shirt was red, her skirt was red and so was some of her dirty washing. The 1973 Jacqueline Fahey painting (literally Christine in the Pantry) sucked at my eyeballs. The label said the work was "a study in the psychology of suburban confinement", which really makes you appreciate being a woman in 2020.
Earlier, at the QT Museum hotel, I lay on a bed far bigger than Christine's pantry, contemplating a room service breakfast. In the end, I took the lift to the Hippopotamus Restaurant where someone else made me a coffee before I walked to the Fahey show in the New Zealand Portrait Gallery.
Take a left at Te Papa and follow the waterfront signs to the historic red-brick building (Shed 11) which houses art that stars you, me and everyone else who calls this place home. Okay, possibly not exactly you and me, but the aim of the frequently changing exhibitions is to present portraits of the people who have shaped New Zealand's politically and culturally, or influenced the way we think about ourselves. This is the bigger us, as seen by someone else.
Current exhibitions include: Being Chinese in Aotearoa: A Photographic Journey.
By the time you read this, the 200,000 pieces of "confetti" that formed a two-storey ticker tape parade suspended in the middle of Te Papa will have been moved on. This will have come as a great relief to those who viewed the Nike Savvas' Finale: Bouquet at their own peril.
According to the sign at the time of our visit: "If items drop into the artwork, we can't retrieve them until January 2020."
The garden is inspired by botanical paintings from the country's first fully coloured art book by Sarah and Edward Featon. And now we're deep down a research rabbit hole, because as Dr Rebecca Rice wrote, in 1919, some 134 of Sarah's original watercolours were bought by the Dominion Museum. The artist was widowed and desperately poor, and "The £150 she was eventually reimbursed for her collection likely only went a short way to ease the future finances of her family."
The orange in this modern garden comes from her painting of taurepo, a trumpet-flowered (and threatened) species pollinated by the country's tapered-beak honey-eating birds.
Te Papa connects people to place. On right now: Tatau: Sāmoan Tattooing and Photography - pain, identity and innovation via the lenses of four photographers.
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It was the most kōwhai of kōwhai. A billowing tree in full flower, exactly spotlit with late-gold-afternoon sun. It was a tree to cross the road for, although you'll probably want to browse at the infamous Aro St Video which has every video you ever wanted and many with other people's names on them, because they have adopted this fading art. Wellington - so caring.
I was in Aro Valley for dinner at the absolutely brilliant Rita where the cutlery is in the drawer under your table and tonight's menu will be handwritten in front of you by your waitperson.
Snapper croquette sat on a splodge of saffron-yellow sauce; the custard square filling was the pale-yellow of full-fat creme patisserie. It's called Rita for the co-owner's grandmother, although the scatter cushions reminded me of the camel-yellow coat worn by that other capital Rita, from the 1936-7 self-portrait, Rita Angus. Wellington - so cultured.
(Bonus yellow: The gorgeous kōwhai lights at Hillside Kitchen, but more on that later).
My keep cup is the colour (and ethos) of Kermit the Frog. Environmentally friendly vivid green, it's emblazoned with The Wellington Underground Market logo - aka the best inner-city maker's market in the country. It celebrated its 10th birthday in November, a longevity its founders say they never imagined when they first took up residence in the underground carpark.
The venue, they admitted, was not super-inspiring - and then, in late-breaking news after my visit, an announcement that it would close after an engineering report highlighted earthquake concerns. The good news? A new waterfront venue (details still under wraps) will be open before WOW, when the market traditionally doubles in size. Prepare to buy, in no particular order, art prints, tea-towels, lens cloth cleaners, locally made socks and locally made jewellery.
My WOW Sunday was green of a more natural kind at the Botanic Gardens' "Mamaku Way". In spring, more than 30,000 tulips flower at these gardens, but I liked the cool of the tree fern forest - Wellington chiaroscuro, as the sunlight strobed through the dark bush track. You feel miles from anywhere but also, it's 11am on the weekend and you can smell bacon.
Ignore your nose and head down towards antique store-lined Tinokori Rd (1960s home design mags for $1 apiece) until you get to
. Definitely no bacon, but one of the most intriguing smoked broths I've supped. My notepad records carrot peelings, potato, pūhā and pickled fennel, followed by a quinoa and asparagus salad spiked with preserved lemon. The ethos here is natural, organic and local. I loved every single mouthful and can't wait to go back for dinner.
Te Whanganui-a-Tara is the bit of blue that looks much bigger from the ground than it does from the sky. It's the harbour you fly over and then promptly forget once Wellington central's charm swallows you up, but there are 76km of accessible coastline between Owhiro Bay and Baring Head.
Design plans for a shared walk/cycleway to Petone have been announced, but I was in a cab, whizzing by the wind-whipped water, en route to Jackson St - the 100-years-and-counting heart of Petone.
Lunch was at Insta-pretty Comes & Goes and lunch was walked off, up the long and interesting main drag. Fashion designers Deryn Schmidt and Wanda Harland have shop fronts here but WOW visitors might also consider stopping at Planet Retro (Steampunk oyster tentacle earrings just $22), Ellen G (home to Ellen Giggenbach's distinctive graphic representations of New Zealand flora and fauna), The Chocolate Story (where I bought hot buttered toast flavoured chocolate) and much more. It's shopping in the suburbs, but not as the mall-addicted know it.
Indigo, violet (isn't it all purple?)
"Time for what you will" said the black lettering on the giant purple painting at The Dowse Art Museum. The exhibition was called The Future of Work because we were in Lower Hutt, where workers for Ford and Griffins and Unilever made the cars and biscuits and toothpaste we took for granted and a carpenter called Samuel Parnell fought for the eight-hour working day.
The Dowse celebrates makers - its collection is strong on ceramics and textiles. Opening soon: An exhibition of New Zealand lathe cut records and To the Moon. The latter is a virtual reality trip into the cosmos as imagined by Nasa's first artist in residence, Laurie Anderson and developed with fellow artist Hsin-Chien Huang. Confine your capital museum experiences to Te Papa - or you could go to The Dowse and really expand your horizons.
Do you start with the emergency-orange nylon coat that self-inflates to become a glorious, spiky sea anenome? The muted, buttery beige of a lady warrior intricately wrought from metal - and recycled paper? The green-blue-yellow walking string picture called Woven In-tent and made from actual reclaimed tents (500, collected from the detritus of three festivals)?
My third visit to the World of Wearable arts was as mind-blowing as the first. I've heard people say it's never as good the second time around but that's a myth. From the moment a giant octopus' eye emerged and we were instructed to LOOK, I fell headfirst into the kaleidoscope of creativity writ large.
Admire the 115 designs (and the well-dressed designers in the audience) but this is a show that is more than the sum of those parts.
It takes 18 months to create the stories and dances that cradle the individual choreography of each garment. One minute you're inside an ice sculpture and the next you're weeping as Muslim and Māori culture come together. All the colours of the world are here and you are part of it.
2020 World of WearableArt Awards Show: September 24-October 11, TSB Area, Wellington.