Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Park life

Waitangi Park's first public weekend went off with a bang, as large crowds turned up to see the Phoenix Foundation (among others) at Saturday's Capital Celebration concert.

The Phoenix Foundation play at Waitangi Park, 24 February 2006The lawn was full and buzzing, without being overcrowded, showing that even with large parts of the lawn taken up by tents, stages and stalls of various descriptions, it's a good size to host such events. The "shadows of waka" (passages through the grass bank) proved to be an inspired feature, bringing complexity to what could have been a featureless expanse while providing shelter, impromptu climbing walls for children and a wide range of seating options. There are lots of subtle details too, such as irregular wooden planking through the walkway and a vertical gradient of pebble sizes in the concrete walls, bringing to mind the sedimentary strata of this shorefront location. Nicely done. The wetlands, boulders and graving dock extension garden also seemed to attract a lot of positive comments, and they make the park really stand out from the "paddock with rose garden" model that Waterfront Watch seems to advocate.

Waitangi Park skatepark after darkWhen the lawn wasn't being used for large events, the most frequented areas were the skatepark, children's playground and the stream-side promenade (due to the massively popular Earth from Above exhibition). The only really busy part after dark was the skate park, which has stunning blue lighting and seems to offer some real challenges to skaters, bmxers and the like.

I bumped into Megan Wraight (the designer of the park), and she said that some of the finishing touches will be done this week. In particular, the subsurface wetland in the southeast corner will be planted soon, transforming it from a somewhat mysterious gravelly maze into something much less barren. It looks like the streetball courts and graffiti walls should also be installed soon, rather than waiting until the Festival is over. Unfortunately, we won't be getting the promised wind turbines, as these turned out to be too expensive and hard to get consents for. Waterfront Watch stuck their collective nose in there, and Mt Vic residents (including Sir Geoffrey Palmer) were horrified at the thought of being able to see something from their windows that actually moves. The design has left space for them, though, so maybe we can look forward to them in the future.

This Saturday's "Picnic in the Park" features The Sharon Shannon Band and Antonio Forcione, together with what the print programme describes as "New Zealand's best". Depending upon your view of Irish music and acoustic jazz guitar, that might be enough to tempt you down to the park. But the online programme now reveals that the New Zealand act will be Salmonella Dub, who should appeal to a different demographic and get the park full and pumping from 3pm.

If you like Salmonella Dub, then according to music-map.com you should like Pitch Black as well. You're in luck, because in a recent announcement, they are playing the Festival Club on Friday the 17th. I would have mentioned it earlier, but I wanted make sure we got our tickets first! $40 seems a bit steep for a gig, but I've somehow never managed to see them in New Zealand, despite having caught them several times overseas.

Festival Club interiorSpeaking of the Festival Club, "bush whacker" was first to identify this as the identity of yesterday's mystery bar. I had hoped that some people might have fooled into thinking of Hummingbird or Shed 5, but you're right, the snake is a dead giveaway. The tent itself is known as the Pacific Crystal Palace, and it was designed by local architect Gus Watt as an antipodean interpretation of the Belgian Dans Paleis that used to travel out here for the festivals. Watt is well known for going against the minimalist trend of the last couple of decades, often incorporating Hundertwasseresque mosaics into his buildings, such as the distinctive apartments in Frederick St. The club gives another dimension to the park, and with any luck by next summer there should be some comparable bars or restaurants in the Chaffers Dock building.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Mystery bar number 23

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Last week's Mystery Bar proved harder than I thought, since it's a very established and visible bar, but I guess that a lot of people (like me) don't actually go inside very often. Either that, or you can blame my crummy photos. Hadyn was right: it's Mini Bar. He's also bang on with his description of it being "always filled with real estate agents and subaru drivers", and Kate would probably agree that it's cougar central. It's part of a crypto-chain that includes Jet and GoGo, and perhaps it was this anonymity that made it so hard to pick.

Mystery Bar #23 - detail of the barThis week's mystery bar is a little more refined, though it can also get quite noisy, especially when there's a band playing. This is despite (or perhaps because of) a target demographic that is distinctly older than that of most bars in town. The decor is an intriguing mix of Art Nouveau (lots of organic swirls) and Kiwiana (woven flax and paua set into the bar), and while it aims to imitate some international historic models, it has a style all its own.

Mystery Bar #23 - light fixtureIt serves food as well as drink, including main meals, but with a definite focus on snacks and finger food. There are some interesting views from here, and while parts of the bar make the most of the outlook, other sections are much more internally focussed. The mood can change quite markedly during the day, being quiet and relaxed when there's some sun to enjoy, but definitely ramping up in the evenings, and there are many nights when it's impossible to get a seat.

Shortsighted stadium

Site of the proposed Indoor Sports Stadium in Evans BayWell, they've gone and done it. Today's Dominion Post has a front page story announcing that the council is going with the Evans Bay site for the indoor stadium, rather than next to the Westpac Stadium. As I said earlier, this is a terribly wasteful use of land, displaces existing sports, won't be used for national or international fixtures, and makes it much harder for people to get there on foot or via public transport. Not only that, but the intended users say it will be too small, and they've had to include 200 car parks to appease the local residents. Two hundred! But hey, it's cheaper in the short term, so why worry about the bigger picture?

Update: the council has a justification for the decision on their website. They are now emphasising its role as a community sports centre, rather than the more professional facility that Wellington Basketball had been lobbying for. In this context, the decision makes more sense, since they say that "there are 40 schools within five kilometres of Cobham Park and 14 within two kilometres, as opposed to 21 within five kilometres of the Westpac Stadium and nine within two kilometres". $29 million seems like an awful lot for a school sports centre, though.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The festival and the park

The Arts Festival kicked off first thing this morning, and last night Waitangi Park was opened to the public just in time to host many of the events.

Waitangi Park - open at last!On the other hand, "open" isn't quite the same as "finished". In addition to the areas that were previously announced not to be complete in time for the festival, there are a few finishing touches still to be done throughout the park. The contractors were still busy planting away last night, and the "subsurface wetland" at the southeast corner presumably is still awaiting some major planting. The kiosk is unfinished, so there are no public toilets yet. Parts of the lawn were still very patchy, but that will just take a few more weeks of natural growth. The streetball net and adjacent graffiti walls are still to be installed, but the blank concrete walls on the side of the skate park have now suddenly sprouted bright hand- and foot-holds, transforming them into climbing walls.

Skatepark open for businessSpeaking of the skate park, despite the bowl being not quite ready, this was by far the most popular part of the park. It's also much larger and more impressive than was visible from the road, with a lot of ramps and tree planters doubling as skate equipment. The inner promenades were full of people checking out the Earth from Above photos. And after months of construction, you can finally walk all the way around the seaward side of Te Papa and the Herd St building! That leaves pretty much only one area that was mostly deserted on a fine but cold evening: the large green lawn. At least that should get plenty of use tomorrow, weather permitting.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mystery bar number 22

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Mystery Bar #22 - mirror ballThe previous Mystery Bar, as I revealed earlier, was Lumiere on the corner of Manners and Willis St. It may very well be a pleasant enough café and restaurant, but it's not so great as a bar, and I certainly wouldn't recommend ordering a Martini there.

This week's mystery bar was visited during our Bar Safari last Saturday. The intention was to drag ourselves out of our habitual watering holes and into the sort of places that we wouldn't normally venture, and we certainly did that. The itinerary went something like this: sports bar, wine bar, gay bar, piano bar, backpacker bar and this place. Apologies for the dim and blurry photos, but my camera doesn't handle dark conditions very well, and besides, it's not an inappropriate look for this sort of bar.

Mystery Bar #22 - swirly wallThe clientele was relatively mixed in terms of age and ethnicity, though I suppose they could all be described as "mainstream" in some sense. Another common factor was fakeness: we noticed plenty of fake smiles, handbags, tans and breasts. The cocktails are reasonably authentic, though: I had quite a decent Martini, and have previously had a well-made Daiquiri (a real one, not one of those sorbets in a glass).

If I'd been on the pull and lacking in discrimation this might have proved fertile ground, but as it was it was more a source of amusement for us. The most fun to be had was sitting outside, watching the inebriated and/or underaged trying to convince the doorman to let them in. Inside, it was hard to talk, move or breathe, but that's to be expected at 3am on a Sunday morning.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Blue sky thinking

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Preparation for the installation of 'SkyBlues' at Post office SquareDiggers are at work in Post Office Square, with a sign that just refers to "Environmental Enhancements". This makes it sound like something dull, such as fixing paving or drainage, but I'll wager that it's the installation of Bill Culbert's SkyBlues, one of many new public artworks that I wrote about earlier.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A third way

At midday today, a group "made up of tradespeople and an environmental scientist" will launch "Option Three", an alternative to the current debate between proponents of Transmission Gully and the Coastal Highway. I've written plenty before about Transmission Gully and other proposed solutions to Wellington's "northern corridor" transport issues, and while Option Three is being described as a "late entry" into the debate, from the sounds of things it will follow the same principles that are behind the solutions that the Greens and Brent Efford have been promoting for a long time.

In other words, it's likely to suggest minor safety improvements to the existing route while improving public transport and discouraging urban sprawl. In a sense, it should be called "Option Two", since the discussion has otherwise been limited to one basic "solution": fighting congestion by increasing capacity (which, as has been said many times before, is like fighting obesity by buying bigger trousers). The bitter debate between Transmission Gully and Coastal Highway supporters has just been about which bit of the land we should fuck up and how much it will cost.

Expect derision from the usual quarters, decrying Option Three as "unrealistic". That's because it's not a silver bullet that will allow people to keep on sprawling forever across the Kapiti Coast and driving their SUVs into town on a shiny new motorway. It might actually force us to question how we live and make decisions based upon a longer timeframe than the duration of the evening commute.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Event city

Even in my long list of Wellington events, I managed to miss out most of the major happenings last weekend. I didn't mention the cricket or the Round the Bays "fun run" (surely an oxymoron?), and I also didn't hear of the Greek Festival until a couple of days beforehand.

Greek Festival at the OPTThis was held at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, and while it had an emphasis on food (understandable given the Greek community's contribution to Wellington's dining - see the book "Wellington's Hellenic Mile") it didn't exclude more political expressions of cultural identity. For example, one stall promoted a campaign to return the Parthenon Frieze, and several young men wore "Free Cyprus" T-shirts. It certainly brought the OPT to life for a day, and despite Wellington Waterfront's desire for the OPT's ground-floor tenants to give a full commercial return, I can't help thining that it would be a great location for longer-term stalls of this nature. By the way, I've since found out that the Bates Smart design for the OPT was not the chosen option after all: the addition of two stories was regarded as too much. The selected proposal will be revealed in a couple of month's time.

By far the biggest event of the weekend, though, was the Volvo ocean race.

Crowds in Oriental Bay watching the start of leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean race
From the railway station to Point Jerningham, the waterfront was humming with people, some with a keen interest in the race, but many were there just to see the crowds, feel the atmosphere and enjoy the weather. It was pretty much impossible to get anywhere near the Queens Wharf bars on Friday night (what's that Waterfront Watch keeps saying about there already being too many bars on the waterfront?), while other people were enjoying the Ferris Wheel or watching dolphins down by Taranaki Wharf.

Waterfront Watch protest against the Queens Wharf HiltonMeanwhile, there was a massive Waterfront Watch protest against the proposed Queens Wharf Hilton. By "massive", I mean "four people in sandwich boards bothering the passers-by". They may have got a few signatures, but they didn't seem to be having too much luck with the people enjoying a drink outside Shed 5: maybe the thought of new drinking venues on the outer T didn't seem so terrible to them. Makes a change from bothering MPs, I guess.

Wellington may not have a V8 supercar race, but there seems to be plenty to keep us busy. Hamilton has "won" the V8s, and good luck to them. From 2008 their streets will be taken over by powerful, noisy cars been driven at breakneck speed by competitive young men, but as Llew pointed out, how could you tell? Hamilton now has its "iconic event" based upon big Aussie cars, while Wellington will have to put up with a series of events based upon our harbour, wind, arts, sports, music, food and diverse cultures. What a pity.

Blowing up the Festival

Billowing and wobbling in the breeze like a giant rover, the tent for Les Arts Sauts' acrobatic performances was gradually inflated on its site between Waitangi Park and Te Papa last night, in preparation for its first performance this Friday. I took this photo from the playground, which was the first part of the park to be officially opened to the public, and appears to have been in almost continuous use since Friday.

Update: more pictures on Scoop.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Martini meditations

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The barrage of recent events in Wellington has taken up valuable drinking time and made it hard for me to maintain the initially blistering pace of my quest. At the time of my previous Martini review post at the end of January I'd already checked off 50 bars at a rate of 1.7 per day: since then this has dropped off to an unimpressive 0.7 per day. Not that this necessarily implies a drop in alcohol intake, since I'm now having to make repeat visits to regular haunts rather than always seeking fresh pastures. I've still managed to make it to 62 of Wellington's 157 bars, which is not doing too badly, but I've had a spanner thrown into the statistical works by the demise of Bouquet Garni before I had a chance to get to it this year. Hopefully I'll get a chance to make up for lost time this weekend, as the ongoing Festival of Duncan (don't ask) should provide a congenial excuse for a bar safari.

I'll post some more Martini reviews at the end of this post, but first a few meditations on the nature of the Martini itself. I'm flexible enough to allow vodka as a variation, but never as a default. Interesting variations can be had by using another clear dry spirit in place of gin (Akvavit could be interesting) or substituting for vermouth a kindred aromatic aperitif (Lillet of course, probably Dubonnet, and a good case could be made for a hint of Chartreuse or asbsinthe).

The soul of a Martini, in its broader sense, seems to lie in a complex blend of botanical elements, baptised in the pale fire of alcohol, then salved by the gentle embrace of pure ice. Thus Matterhorn's Convent Martini, for example, offers a radical yet essentially sympathetic addition to the Martini canon by taking gin, adding Italian fennel liqueur, then stirring and garnishing with a sprig of rosemary. The earthy aromas of the herbs engage in a powerful dialectic with the ethereal spirituality of gin to conceive a subtle sermon on mediaeval theology in vitro. And no, I'm not drinking one now: why do you ask?

But what do we find now ennobled by the rubric "Martini"? A ragtag and increasingly debased rabble of frivolous, malformed and venomous chimerae worthy of a bibulous Bosch. A case can be made for the Cosmopolitan as a cocktail of some distinction, but it is not, as some claim, a "Martini": the closest that a Martini should get to fruit juice is a twist of lemon. The term "Chocolate Martini" insults two of humanity's greatest discoveries, and the "Candy-cane Martini" just proves that candy is not always dandy. Mixological vulgarity reaches its apotheosis with attempts to claim "The world's most expensive Martini": Tantra's US$25 version not only wastes some damn fine Inniskillin ice wine, but looks laughable beside The Algonquin's $10,000 Martini, which should at least taste like the real thing if you don't choke on the diamond.

It's also possible to oversimplify. Even the usually reliable Keith Stewart wrote in The Listener recently: "Gin, chilled, never-mind-the-vermouth, twist of lemon zest, maybe an olive for the hungry." Never mind the vermouth? As The Sifter so rightly points out, "That's not a Martini. That's a glass of spirit waiting to be mixed with something else." It's true that there has evolved a "cult of dryness" that aims to add the most infinitesimal quantum of vermouth to the gin, and such Martini luminaries as Hemingway ("let a ray of sun pass through the vermouth and hit the gin") and Churchill ("turn towards France and nod in respect for the missing ingredient") are claimed to be adherents of this creed. These can be read as Zen koans, Zenoesque paradoxes of the asymptotic approach to nothingness, meditations on the ineffability of perfection; but not as recipes.

In any case, even with the right ingredients, it's possible to produce travesties, mediocrities and disasters. But just occasionally, it all comes together in a tantalising glimpse of genius. Here, then, is another chapter in a pilgrim's diary:

Good Luck: 8
South Gin & Noilly Prat delivered a distinctly citrusy aroma, a smooth but not oily mouthfeel, and a well balanced palate with mellow, integrated botanicals. Reasonably cold, and set off by 3 olives on a long bamboo stick.

Floating olive in a Dockside MartiniDockside: 6.5
With Bombay Sapphire & Martini, it was never going to be brilliant, and indeed it was smooth but bland. Barely cold, and as if that weren't bad enough, it featured a single, greyish, floating olive, like a bloated corpse bobbing to the surface of the East River. The horror!

Jet: 7.5
I asked for Tanqueray because I couldn't face a house pour of Bombay. I got Tanqueray stirred with ice and poured into an unchilled Noilly-rinsed glass, with four olives on a complicated two-stick arrangement. The pour was generous to a fault (verging on the ridiculous). Perhaps not quite cold enough, otherwise very pleasant.

Hummingbird: 9.5
Exquisite. Icy cold, crystal clear, delicate herbal & citrus notes set off with a peppery bite. They had no Tanqueray, but used Tanqueray Ten for a mere dollar extra! Impeccable decisions continued with the use of Noilly Prat and three olives with no mucking about. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Martini.

Monsoon Poon: 7
The trainee barman was under instructions from his manager, but still went for vodka by default: not a good sign. He poured Noilly into a chilled glass, stirred Plymouth (fairly roughly) with ice, dispensed with the excess vermouth, then strained in the gin and added three olives. The result: nice herbal aromas, good robust flavours to start with, nice and cold with an oily mouthfeel, but a rough, unbalanced, "hot" finish. Not a bad effort for a beginner, but with this chain getting a right bollocking from some quarters, it needs to do better then this.

Lumiere: 5
This was perhaps not a fair test, since they had no barman on duty and the chef had a go instead. Worryingly, he started by asking whether I wanted soda. Oh dear. I directed him towards the Tanqueray & vermouth, and asked for it stirred ("Really? I thought the whole James Bond idea was to shake?"). He stirred the mixture with ice in a tumbler, using the only implement he could find (a straw), and added a single olive. Surprisingly, it actually resembled a Martini to some degree, despite the use of sweet vermouth. It suffered from insufficient chilling, and got a bit sickly by the end, but I've had worse. And yes, this was Mystery Bar #21.

Rouge: 6
The barman started with cold glass, then rinsed it with Noilly Prat (at room temperature) and poured in South Gin (also at room temperature). A pleasant citrusy aroma, and a passable oily texture with hints of botanical flavours, were let down by a crude raw alcohol finish. Three olives on clear plastic stick with a blue knob & Absolut branding, which seemed a little tacky. Worse, the olives tasted rancid. At least no-one will have to suffer poor cocktails or service here again.

Seam: 7
South Gin & Noilly Prat. The bartender seemed far from confident, and this showed in the result. It was almost cold, but with fragments of ice floating on the top, and two loose olives. Too bland, and with a short pour that looked a bit mean in a large glass.

Hope Bros: 7
Pleasantly cold, with a smooth mouthfeel, and the flavours were nicely balanced to start with. However, they'd chosen a giant garlic-stuffed olive instead of the usual pimento, and the garlic flavour left a bitter taste at the end.

Tupelo: 8
Smooth, well balanced and reasonably cold: quaffable but far from transcendent, to coin a phrase. One of the three olives had escaped from the stick. It may sound picky to criticise this, but in a drink that is all about attention to detail, a small flaw like this detracts from the aura of perfection.

Hexed static

Last night we went to yet another lagoon event: a live AV performance by Hexstatic. As an unadvertised bonus, there was an opening set by Module, mixing clips from Fat Freddy's Drop, Herbs, Pitch Black and Rhian Sheehan, along with his own pieces, to give a local flavour to the night.

Module opening for Hexstatic at the LagoonHexstatic themselves got a lively response from the large crowd: perhaps too lively in some cases (some of the "dancing" was concrete evidence of why hippies should never be allowed BZP). The sound system certainly seemed to cope with the low frequencies in some of their Drum & Bass tracks, to the extent that anyone with kidney stones would have found it quite therapeutic. I hope the residents of the nearby Odlins building penthouses enjoyed the free show, and in fact most of Te Aro must have known about it, as it was clearly audible even south of Vivian St.

Unfortunately, the power supply wasn't as solid, and right in the middle of a thumping breakbeat mashup of Nancy Sinatra and AC/DC, it spectacularly cut out to leave us in silence and darkness. The projector seemed to have been thoroughly fried, but after about ten minutes the harassed techies managed to get things going, and it's a tribute to the enthusiasm and good nature of the crowd that very few people left during the hiatus.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

One week to go

Waitangi Park - the Festival Club nearing completion
With a week to go until the opening of Waitangi Park, the Festival Club tent takes shape on the northeast corner of the park (not quite where I'd expected it to go). The last time I was here after a decent rain, the ground had got quite boggy, but I hope they've got the drainage more thoroughly sorted out now. The playground is still tantalisingly close to completion, and just like last weekend there were kids and parents playing on the playground, but this time there was a security guard to (politely) ask them to move away from what is still visibly a construction site.

Waitangi Park - frames for the Earth from Above exhibitionAnother of the Arts Festival attractions is currently being installed in the park. The frames for the Earth from Above exhibition are being laid out along one of the interior promenades. I saw this exhibition when it was outside the Natural History Museum in London, and while some of the images tended towards mawkish eco-sentimentalism (a kind of Anne Geddes for greenies), others were breathtaking and fascinating, and the exhibition should be well worth a look.

While the high-level structure of the park has been clear for a while, the details keep throwing up little surprises. The bowl of the skate park, for instance, was until recently just plain concrete, but now the city edge has suddenly sprouted these huge metal petals.

Waitangi Park - oxidised steel panels around the skate bowl
Those who complain about too much concrete and hard edges in the park will no doubt be appalled by this, but I think that it's a great recognition of the tough, urban location of the park and some of its activities (skating, street ball, graffiti). With its resemblance to the hull of an old ship, it also hints at the nautical history of the site (the skate park is near the end of the graving dock). They've already installed lighting beneath the panels, so this could look quite spectacular at night with light shining out between the gaps.

Mystery bar number 21

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The previous mystery bar prompted a bit of guessing: it seems there are enough generic beer-branded sports pubs in town to make it less than obvious. It was the Downtown Local, part of the Local Point chain of pubs, most of which are intended, as the name implies, to be local suburban watering holes. This one took over the old Ox Casino Bar in lower Cuba St, seemingly stripping out any vestiges of character it might have had. Its chief point of difference now is the extent to which it has bent the smokefree rules to provide an "outdoor" pool table.

Mystery bar #21 - martiniToday's mystery bar is a bit more upmarket, though still rather bland and generic in appearance. It caters to a fairly suity crowd, and does more business at lunchtime than in the evenings. It could be argued that it's more of a café than a bar, but there were plenty of people just there for a drink, so I decided to test its bar credentials by ordering a Martini. As you can see, the result looked pretty good, but there's a story behind this particular Martini that will have to wait for my next round of reviews.

Mystery bar #21 - bar and pot plantsIt's quite a strangely-shaped space, and the proprietors have made some attempt to break it up and introduce a bit of intimacy. There's a lower ceiling over the bar itself, a couple of level changes, and some rather forlorn little pots of mother-in-law's tongue intended to bring some variety and animation to the space. Dark wood gives a touch of sophistication, but the pale tiling, steel and glass leave it looking a bit too clinical. There's a lot of light, though, and it makes the most of its outdoor space, but whether the view could be called "scenic" depends very much upon your opinion of the aesthetic merits of Stagecoach buses.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The favoured OPTion?

Bates Smart proposal for OPT - southern entranceI was leafing through a design magazine the other day, and in an article about a design firm that specialises in architectural rendering, I saw an image that looked strangely familiar. The caption said "Overseas Passenger Terminal, Clyde Quay, Wellington. Bates Smart Architects", so I realised that this must be one of the proposals for the redevelopment of the OPT.

As far as is publicly known at the moment, a specific proposal has been chosen by Wellington Waterfront Ltd, and is currently going through the due diligence process. There has been no announcement of who the chosen developer is, or what it will look like, though rumour has it that the developer has a lot of local experience. But the fact that this image has appeared in a publication without any indication that it is a "proposal" or "competition entry" might hint that this indeed is the future of the OPT. So I dug through Bates Smart's cumbersome Flash site (go to Projects > Residential > Overseas Passenger Terminal, Clyde Quay) and found some more images.

The Design Guide for the redevelopment proposals said that much of the building would require significant structural work, so I was expecting a brand new building within the existing envelope. What I didn't expect was something so similar to the current building:

Bates Smart proposal for OPT - northern viewThe architect's statement refers to "adaptive reuse of the existing OPT", and I generally expect that to mean that most of the existing structure will be retained, something that I had thought would be more trouble than it was worth given the structural issues. If they are able to do so, then so much the better. But the exterior materials are very different, and it looks like there's at least one extra storey, so perhaps this is stretching the term to the limit.

Bates Smart proposal for OPT - quay levelNot that I mind that much. It keeps the long, low profile and the dashing "prow" at the northern end, adds shelter, and replaces the crumbling exterior with something much more attractive. The combination of timber and glass is very reminiscent of Architecture Workshop's competition entry for the Waitangi precinct Site 4 building (especially the southern elevation at the top of this post), but it should also nicely complement John Wardle's winning entries for the adjacent Sites 1-3. It's contextual and sensitive rather than bold and controversial (unlike Federation Square, which Bates Smart also worked on), so perhaps it's a missed opportunity in that sense, but details like the prow give it a bit more vigour. In many ways, I wish the Hilton proposal looked more like this.

While the architects classify this project as "residential" (there will be at least 120 apartments on the upper levels), I see it as a mixed-use building. The existing maritime businesses will be retained on the ground floor, and the design brief stipulates that the entire ground floor should be open to the public. I took part in an ideas workshop back in December 2004, and one of the concepts that got a lot of support was the idea of having artisans working and selling their wares. Perhaps "artisans" is the wrong term (too many connotations of dodgy little craft stalls), but the idea of having bakers, jewellers, fashion designers and the like in a location like this makes a lot of sense. It will always be a weather-dependent location for retail, so having people making products that can be sold through other outlets (e.g. Pandoro bread) helps maintain revenue when there's not much foot traffic. It also brings work to the mix of residential and retail, providing activity round the clock. My particular suggestion was a 42 Below distillery and bar, similar to the Shed 22 Brewery Bar, though I'm not sure how many people would want to live above a bubbling vat of feijoa vodka.

The OPT and Waitangi precinct from the airOur collective suggestions (well, the mundane ones, rather than roller coasters, underwater mini golf and brothels) had one thing in common: some sort of "attraction" at the northern end. It's a long, narrow building, and to encourage people all the way down requires something more special than just another restaurant. There were various suggestions as to what this might be: aquarium, museum, winter garden, brothel (some people kept suggesting this, but just to piss off Pauline Swann). I thought that a dance studio/ballroom/bar might work quite well: classes could attract a regular clientele, and just imagine dancing the night away with that view around you. But no-one could suggest any one thing that was so unique and unmissable that it would work as an "anchor attraction". The Wellingtonista has suggestions of things that Wellington wants, but I can't think of any of them that quite fits (except a tiki bar, of course). Suggestions?

Please bear in mind that I'm only speculating about the Bates Smart design being the selected proposal (update: I've since found out that it was not the chosen option after all, and the addition of two stories was regarded as too much. The selected proposal will be revealed in a couple of month's time). But the basic mix of uses (residential above hospitality/retail/"attractions") will go ahead.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


For years, architects have been trying to break down the distinction between interior and exterior. At one end of the intellectual spectrum, comperes of home makeover and real estate shows are always wittering on about "indoor-outdoor flow", which is not always a good idea in Wellington where the outdoors tends to "flow" at gale force. On the other hand, architectural theorists are wont to use phrases like "this project deconstructs the binary discourse of in/ex-teriority and usurps the post-Miesian rationalist hierarchy by inscribing a non-linear narrative of non-Euclidean interpenetrative manifolds". Or something like that. But recently there's been a surprising influence blurring interior and exterior: the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act 2003.

Bars can no longer allow smoking inside, but most still want to retain as many of their nicotine-addicted customers as possible by giving them some sort of shelter. The act is notoriously vague about the definition of "substantially enclosed", leaving plenty of wriggle room for proprietors and designers, So, many bars that have opened or been renovated since the act became inevitable have responded with an ingenious range of architectural strategies.

Hope Bros - indoor/outdoorHope Bros has chopped away much of the Dixon St frontage to the former Fat Ladies Arms, producing two smoking areas, one either side of the entrance. The area on the Eva St corner flows out onto the pavement, and despite its depth, probably seems enough like a part of the street to be seen as "outdoors". The other area, though, is completely blocked from the pavement by a planter, meaning that the only entrance is from the inside of the bar. How many "outdoors" areas boast a big-screen TV?

Tasting Room - indoor/outdoorThe Tasting Room has a much shallower smoking area: just one table deep. But there's an aspect of this that makes it more problematic for non-smoking patrons inside: the inner doors fold right back, leaving very little barrier against smoke drifting right into the interior. And it raises the question: why stop there? If the management placed smoking tables just inside this inner door, could they argue that these are hardly any more "substantially enclosed" than the current smoking area?

Downtown Local - indoor/outdoorBut it's the Downtown Local in lower Cuba St that gets really cheeky with the definitions. This place has two tiers of "outdoor" smoking area. There's an area that could reasonably be argued to be a terrace or balcony; then there's a room (there's no other word for it) that extends much further back into the building. This second area is separated from the first by an air curtain, and has not only TV screens but a pool table. Yes, an "outdoor" pool table. By the way, observant readers (such as Josh) will have noticed that this was indeed mystery bar number 20: the former Ox bar between Cuba St and Manners Mall.

I'm not quite sure what to think about these developments. The grumpy non-smoker in me sees these as cynical attempts to subvert the law, and in many cases one has to run a reeking gauntlet in order to get to the entrance. On the other hand, I have to admire the ingenuity that has gone into some of these solutions and the more subtle relationship that they create between interior and exterior. The end of smoking in bars has been great for my lungs, though not for my liver: I get out a lot more now, and there are some places (Sandwiches, Happy) that I'd never have ventured into before due to the inpenetrable fug. It can now be frustrating to look for an outside table on a nice day, and all those patio heaters can't be good for global warming, but overall I have to applaud the unexpected urbanist implications of the law: the streets are now much livelier, with a much more active engagement between the public and private realms.

Suburban neurosis

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Hospital overcrowding means that some psychiatric patients are being housed in Whitby, and I think it's disgusting.

Not because, as their predjudiced NIMBY neighbours say, "we've all read stories about what they do to themselves and what they can potentially do to other people if they don't take their medication". No, these patients are suffering from depression, and are unlikely to pose a threat to anyone. But do they seriously expect a depressed person to get better in Whitby? I feel like topping myself after five mintues there.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Recovering from the weekend

As I mentioned earlier, it's an event-tastic summer here in Wellington, and I'll need a bit of time to recover from seeing from just a fragment of this weekend's events. Friday night's Jazz Rugby wasn't quite as interesting as I'd hoped: the band pretty much just played, and apart from some of the kicks for goal, there was very little response to the events on screen. Then again, with an eight-piece band playing very rhythmic, melodic msuic, it would have been quite an achievement to improvise like that. Perhaps a duo or trio playing free jazz could have produced something much more like the "musical commentary" that we were promised. Never mind: the jazz was pretty good, and the rugby wasn't bad either. The podcasting Dropkicks may have an excerpt soon.


After a quick break for some Martini reviewing (coming soon, I promise!) it was on to the Paramount for the Fringe opening party to join a lot of sweaty arty types. The humidity of the night contributed to the steamy atmosphere, but Recloose's disco-funk DJ set raised the temperature even further. Now, if they played that sort of stuff at Boogie Wonderland then I'd be there in a flash. But rather than playing the sort of rare cuts and lost funk classics that you might have found in an underground New York nightclub circa 1978, Boogie Wonderland seems content to play the same old tired top-40 cheesefest that conjures up all the decadent glamour of a Form 2 disco in Timaru circa 1982.


Back to daylight, and the Chinese New Year parade on Saturday would have left no hangover intact after its drums and firecrackers.

Chinese New Year parade
We missed the Asian market at the Events Centre, so I can't report on the relative merits of Chow and Monsoon Poon vs real Asian food vendors. The sparkling weather made a drink by the water de rigeur however, and I have to report that Dockside (purportedly hot staff notwithstanding) could really do with some competition. Report on bizzare Martini to follow (eventually).


It's not an event as such, but I had to put this in. While it's still not officially open, on Sunday the playground at Waitangi Park was full of kids (and parents, testing out the swings for safety purposes no doubt):

Waitangi Park playground in use before opening
There were a few contractors still frantically working on the skate park, but they seem to have given up on shooing people away. There's been a lot of attention to detail in parts of the park that looked quite simple from a distance, with the "shadows of waka" looking much more interesting than I first thought. I overheard one of the contractors telling someone that part of the promenade will be opening this weekend, meaning that (finally!) we'll be able to walk around the front of Te Papa again.


On to the biggie: The Bluebridge Hula Laguna and the Late Night Luau. Though the weather wasn't quite as friendly as I'd have liked, the crowd slowly built up throughout the day, reaching its peak in the evening for Fat Freddy's Drop (click for a much larger panorama):

Hula Laguna - Fat Freddy's Drop
As well as Freddy's, the crowd loved the synchronised swimmers, clothes stalls, galley food (damn, that lamb was good!) and the WSNZ-defying antics of the waterborne revellers. The one big disappointment for me was the bar: when the council website promises "exotic cocktails", I expect something marginally more exciting than RTD rum & coke! I should have gone with my original idea of filling Longest Drink in Town cups with Piña Colada. This must have been the least-effectively enforced liquor ban I've ever seen, but somehow the crowd managed to handle a few drinks without turning into booze-fuelled beasts.

I didn't stay around to watch Creature from the Black Lagoon, but speaking of creatures, I wonder how enthusiastic all the swimmers would have been if they'd known that this friendly little guy (snapped in the lagoon near the Albatross fountain this lunchtime) was hanging around?

Creature from Frank Kitts Lagooon - a stingray

Friday, February 10, 2006

Rest(aurant) in Peace

Today's Dominion Post carries a small story (on page A4) saying that three Wellington bars and restaurants (Rouge, Bouquet Garni and Kopi) are facing liquidation under pressure from the IRD. All were owned by Vim Rao and Gnanaprasham Kunda.

Vim Rao was once called "Wellington's reigning queen of cuisine" by Condé Nast Traveller, and certainly has been a major influence in driving Wellington's restaurant and nightlife scene. However, she'd recently had trouble retaining a license for Rouge: I guess it doesn't help to have drink driving convictions (according to the DomPost) and have allegedly served underaged drinkers. Two of the restaurants were near the corner of Manners and Willis streets, and the owners at the time blamed the council for loss of business due to the notorious stormwater roadworks that went on for so long. Whether this played any part in their demise is hard to say.

Rouge was always a strange beast, with a famously expensive fit-out that never really worked in design terms. It was certainly full of design ideas, and some quite good ones, but far too many to be crammed into a small space. The food was tasty and inventive, and the wine list by roving sommelier Stephen Wong was innovative and well crafted. But once Stephen left, the service went into a tailspin, with many tales of arrogance and incompetence topped off by rumours of bizarre happenings in the dry goods loft. The cocktails never quite lived up to their promise, and I had a Martini there recently that was worse than mediocre (review coming soon).

Kopi was a pioneer in the local Malaysian food boom, and while reviews have always been mixed, some people always swore by it. However, there are a lot of competitors out there now: some better, some cheaper, and some both. It was always strangely cramped, and perhaps the premises are better suited to a small café, as it used to be some years ago (anyone remember Kahlo's?)

Bouquet Garni is perhaps the biggest loss. The restaurant has always served some of the best food in Wellington, under the guidance of great chefs like Rex Morgan. The wine bar remained pleasant, with a sunny terrace that made up for the braying suits. The building itself, formerly a famous brothel, is such a landmark that I can't imagine it will remain empty for long. I'm just irritated that I didn't get a chance to tick it off my list this year.

All three have been on the market for a while (without selling) and are currently closed "for stocktaking". I hope this isn't a sign that the economic downturn is starting to bite: there have been enough recent openings to indicate that the failures might instead be the result of something specific to these particular businesses. Here's hoping.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Ready to whirl

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Water Whirler mechanismYou can come across all sorts of creatures down on the waterfront, but this is not, as it might seem, a giant mechanical jellyfish. It's the mechanism for the Water Whirler (the bit that'll make it, erm, whirl), and it looks like it's ready for installation.

Density done right: Wright Street

In my earlier posts in this series, I've looked at recent developments to show that it is possible to build attractive high-density housing today. For a change, I'll examine a historical example, but one that has some interesting lessons for the future. Here is a group of houses built in 1905 in Wright St, Mt Cook:

Historic density in Wright St
I think that most locals would consider this an attractive streetscape, and one that is quite representative of the character of inner residential nieghbourhoods in Wellington. In fact, these are considered to be an important part of our architectural heritage, and have often been used as the backdrop for ads.

It's not high density compared to terraced inner-city housing overseas, but it's much more compact than post-war suburbia (the plots are about 180 square metres, five times smaller than a quarter acre section). Leaving aside questions of architectural detailing (and I personally believe that it's possible to achieve attractive proportions and visual complexity without aping the Edwardian style), I think that we can learn a lot from this sort of development when designing medium-density neighbourhoods today.

But the council doesn't appear to think so. As I mentioned earlier, they are proposing changes to the District Plan with the intention of protecting the heritage character of Newtown, Berhampore and Mount Cook. According to at least two of the rules, these houses would have to be rejected if they were proposed today.

Aerial photo of Wright St, Mt CookFor a start, there would be a maximum site coverage of 45%, and as this aerial photo shows, the houses cover about 70% of their sites. They would also have to be set back at least 3m from the street to allow a "front yard", and these houses (in common with many around the area) look to be set back by no more than about half that. It's hard to tell without measuring, but I think the 9m height limit shouldn't be an issue - though if you take it from street level rather than ground level, it might be a different story.

Does anyone else think it ironic that rules designed to protect the character of an area would be broken by some of the most characterful houses in the neighbourhood? But the greatest irony is that in today's Dominion Post, the council featured these same houses in their "Our Wellington" page as an example of the sort of character that the rules are designed to protect! Submissions on the plan changes close next Friday (the 17th).

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Jazz will be the winner on the night

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As I mentioned last week, Wellington is currently host to an exhausting richness of events. As if all the artiness weren't enough, the sportier ones among you need no reminding that the rugby season is about to start. All of which can lead to some terrible existential dilemmas, such as: "Help! I want to see something at the Fringe Festival this Friday night, but I don't want to miss the Hurricanes vs Blues match. What can I do?"

Jazz Rugby logoHave no fear, arty jocks of Wellington. The lateral-thinking people of the Fringe have felt your pain and devised Jazz Rugby. While the game plays on the big screen, an eight-piece jazz band will improvise music to match the action, thus providing a kind of musical commentary on the match. I've no idea of who the musicians are or what sub-genres of jazz they prefer (it's not at Happy, so I presume that there'll be no avant-garde free-jazz squawking during the scrums), but it sounds intriguing and should be finished in time for the Fringe opening night party at 9. It might even be worth braving the crypto-suburban nightmare of Courtenay Central to see it.


A couple of well-known Wellington Art Deco buildings are currently being refurbished, and it looks like the colour schemes will bring out their Deco features quite nicely.

Hotel St George - new colour schemeThe Hotel St George on the corner of Boulcott and Willis streets is having only a minor revamp, since it'll still be a student hostel. When it was sold by Massey University a couple of years ago, there was a brief controversy about the inclusion in the sale of a small patch of open land at Flagstaff Hill behind it, which ended when the council stepped it to ensure that the land remained public. The refurbished building will look quite a bit darker than the previous colour scheme, and Rosamund Averton will probably call it "dreary", but it looks like it will actually enhance the verticality of the façade and bring out the "ziggurat" detailing in the moulding.

The Free Ambulance building at Taranaki Wharf should be near the end of its refit soon, with some sort of restaurant and bar on the ground floor and offices above. It's getting a more restrained exterior treatment, with subtle shades of yellow and cream highlighting the details a bit more than its previous all-white paint job did.

The Wellington Free Ambulance building - new colour scheme
It's expected to be ready in April, and while recent experience with waterfront developments has made me a bit wary of proposed completion dates, it does look like the contractors are moving into the final phases. However, it won't reach its potential as a waterfront dining venue until the public space redevelopment is complete: once that's done, the lagoon will be much closer to the building, and separated from it by just a gently sloping lawn rather than the large mound. I will kind of miss the mound, though.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mystery bar number 20

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Well done, Jo, the previous mystery bar was indeed The Cavern Club in Allen St. I had expected it to be a tricky one, as it hadn't officially opened when I wrote that post, but obviously some people keep a close eye on their neighbourhood. I also mentioned it in a post way back in July when the license notice first appeared: according to the owners, it takes even more red tape than usual to open an underground venue, explaining the long delay.

Mystery bar #20 - the barThis week's mystery bar has a target demographic that probably overlaps with that of The Cavern Club, but I somehow doubt that the bar manager would take quite the same purist approach to making a Martini. In fact, while the bar shelves seem to be reasonably well-stocked, there is a distinct emphasis on a particular amber-hued beverage. It's also different in that, rather than being underground, it has a fairly obvious street presence. On the other hand, it's so large that by the time you get to the back it's rather dim and gloomy.

Mystery bar #20 - rugby jerseys and TVIn contrast to The Cavern Club's emphasis on musical memorabilia, this place is definitely a shrine to sport. In place of guitars and album covers, there are team logos and signed jerseys everywhere. And TV screens: big ones, little ones, plasma ones, projection ones. When I was there, half of them were playing golf, and the others were screening non-stop hip-hop videos.

It's certainly not upmarket, but it's not a characterful old working-class pub either. There's a general feeling of corporate blandness that's reinforced by constant branding (carefully omitted from these photos so that it's not too obvious). Compared to other parts of the world, we don't yet have a huge number of chain pubs. Is this the shape of things to come?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Better late than never

As I mentioned yesterday, and suspected a while ago, it's just been announced that Area One of Waitangi Park won't be quite complete in time for the Arts Festival as planned. There was an article in the Dominion Post, and a more detailed one in The Wellingtonian, which unfortunately isn't online.

At least "not completed in time for the festival" isn't the same as "not ready for the festival". The contractors have switched priorities so that the areas required to host the festival events will be ready, while leaving other sections until the festival's over. The only incomplete sections will be the wind garden, the graving dock gravel terrace, and a section of the promenade next to this. According to The Wellingtonian, Les Arts Sauts will be setting up their tent near the corner of Cable and Barnett streets, in Area Two of the park that will eventually be the site of the Chinese Garden and UN Studio's museum extension, and hence wasn't expected to be complete for the festival anyway.

Waitangi Park aerial view, with incomplete areas highlightedThe Field looks like it should be good and ready: the areas that were seeded a few weeks ago look nicely lush, the more recent seeding is starting to grow, and trees and longer grass around the berms have been planted recently. This is just as well, given that the festival opening ceremony will be held here, as well as a series of picnic concerts during the festival itself. I'm not sure exactly where the Festival Club is going, but I think that somewhere in Area Three would be good (east of the Herd St building and south of the Overseas Passenger Terminal), as that might give some impression of what it will be like to have a building there.

Waitangi Park - testing the playgroundSo if everything's running late, what an earth have the workers been up to? This exclusive photo shows the evidence: they've all been too busy mucking around on the playground!

Actually, that's not fair: there are apparently 75 workers slaving 60 hours a week to get things done, and while I haven't been counting, there are an awful lot of guys in hi-vi vests out there looking very busy. The playground photo is actually a good sign: they were finally installing the footboards on the "Miram skate" equipment (part of the playground furniture that I criticised earlier), and together with the fact that the planting looks complete there, must mean that the playground is just about ready to open. The petanque piste looks complete, the kiosk is taking shape, the wetlands are largely planted and the skate park is looking tantalisingly close to completion. It's a pity that the park won't have quite the triumphant opening that had been hoped for, and being surrounded by construction sites won't be the ideal atmosphere for the festival. For the rest we'll have to wait until the end of April, but there'll be an awful lot of park to explore in three weeks' time when the festival starts.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Event overload

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After the torpor of the Christmas/New Year period, when Wellington went into its usual summer ghost-town mode, we're now firmly into event-mad festival and party season. X*Air got things kicked off a couple of weeks back, and the Gardens Magic concert series at the Soundshell kept things humming along, but things really start to go mad this weekend. The Wellingtonista is on to it, as usual, with posts on the Chinese New Year celebrations and the Sevens. But anyway, here's a brief overview of just the most prominent events that will help relieve you of your spare time (and cash) over the coming weeks:

Today (Thursday February 2): Sevens Parade
Starts at Parliament at 12:45pm and heads to Civic Square via the usual route (you can tell its a celebration because it goes north to south: protests go the other way). Get yourself a good vantage point for cheering or drooling, depending upon your predilections.

Friday-Saturday February 3-4: Sevens Tournament
Some people are going to great lengths to prepare costumes for the event. Others would be advised to avoid any pub north of about Queens Wharf for the duration.

Monday February 6: One Love
Dubophiles will trek off to the Hataitai velodrome to celebrate Bob Marley's birthday with the Black Seeds, Cornerstone Roots and The Mighty Asterix. The press release also promises "lush greenery", but of course they're referring to the sylvan surroundings (right, mon). The more civic-minded among you might prefer to celebrate Waitangi Day at Frank Kitts Park, and don't miss Gretchen Albrecht and Jeffrey Harris at the City Gallery: this is the last day.

Friday February 10 - Saturday 5 March: Wellington Fringe Festival
I haven't even begun to investigate the cornucopia of arty eventage that's exploding across Wellington during the Fringe, but the free opening night party (9pm at The Paramount) seems like the place to start. Path Light (outdoor lighting installations that "explore the psychological possibilities of night wandering" at "unexpected points where the utilitarianism of urban space meets the wilderness of nature") definitely appeals to the flâneur in me, and the waterfront Busking Showcase (from 6pm) sounds hard to miss (no matter how hard you try).

Saturday February 11: Chinese New Year celebrations
Featuring an Asian Market at everyone's favourite Events Centre (11-3), a parade from Courtenay Place to Taranaki Wharf (2-3) and cultural entertainment at Frank Kitts Park (3-5:30). The market will include stalls from Monsoon Poon and Chow (alongside presumably more authentic providers), so that should keep us "suckas" happy. No fireworks this year (drat).

Sunday February 12: Hula Laguna and the Late Night Luau
Tiki Tiki Tiki!

Monday February 13: Massive Piña Colada-induced hangover

Thursday February 16: Hexstatic at the Lagoon
Ninja Tunes' finest AV-meisters Hexstatic get set to astound your eardrums and retinas at Frank Kitts lagoon from 9-11pm. They've worked with everyone from Faithless to David Byrne, and were responsible for Coldcut's famous Timber video. They've played at the Lisbon Expo and the Guggenheim Bilbao: don't miss them here.

Saturday February 18: nothing on, so a chance to relax
Yeah, right! There's Fricnic in Frank Kitts Park from 11 to 3, the optimistic-sounding Festival of the Sun at midday in the Dell, Bitchcraft Twilight Carnival in Aro Park from 7pm, and Freakin' in the Cemetery at Bolton St Cemetery from 8:30pm. Given the location and Mr Freak's track record, I'd say this is not one for the kids.

Friday February 24 - Saturday March 19: NZ International Arts Festival
'Nuff Said.

Saturday February 25: Capital Celebration
It's disappointing to learn that stage one of Waitangi Park won't be entirely complete in time for this, but from the look of recent progress, at least the main lawn will be lush and ready for this concert (1-2:30). With The Phoenix Foundation, The Warratahs, and the sponsor-friendly Vector Wellington Orchestra, they've certainly covered their bases,

Tuesday March 7: the launch of Len Lye's Water Whirler
It's been a long time in planning, and it's no secret that I've been looking forward to this. But why did they have to hold it on Quiz Night?!?

Saturday March 18: The Final Fling
The last weekend of the Arts Festival sees another big family-friendly event from 1 to 4pm in Waitangi Park. One more chance to see Fat Freddy's Drop (just in case you're not all Freddied out by now) and less predictably, the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines.