Wellington, New Zealand: Kiwi friends & Polish Orphans of Pahiatua

November 13, 2014  •  6 Comments

Making our way down the North Island, our next stop was one of New Zealand's bigger cities - Wellington, which also happens to be the country's capital. During our 6 hour drive from Taupo to Wellington, the scenery changed rapidly and drastically - all the while remaining beautiful, and picturesque. We finally understand what our friends Ben and Cristina were talking about when they mentioned how every time you turn a corner in New Zealand, you feel like you are in a totally different place. 

Once again, we rented a room via Airbnb and were not disappointed. The house had a lot of character and was decorated with lots of souvenirs from around the world. Our host Mary was super sweet and gave us a lot of helpful pointers on what to see in New Zealand. We are now so comfortable staying with people that we almost prefer that option to staying alone. It's more fun, we get to meet friendly locals, sometimes other travelers, hear their life stories and learn new things about the world. Plus, it's usually more of a bargain than renting an apartment solo. 

On our first full day in Wellington we explored the infamous Cuba Street, stopping by for a coffee on the way. We then walked around other parts of the city and found a place for Vlad to get a haircut. That evening, we grabbed dinner with two new friends we met on the cruise to the Great Barrier Reef - a couple of friendly Kiwi girls named Clare and Shang Chin. It's been two months since we had dinner plans with anyone. We had a great time with our new Kiwi friends, over a delicious dinner at Fidel's, a local spot. The conversation was easy, as if we were old pals! It's so refreshing and exciting to be making friends around the world! Hope to see you in NYC in the future girls!

We resumed our touristy duties the following day, when we visited two museums: the Museum of Wellington Land & Sea and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Both offered free entry, but we made up for it with parking fees (parking in Wellington is pricey, 4 NZD per hour, street & parking lots). We found the museums to be extremely interesting, large and very impressive in quality. Te Papa was the largest one with tons of exhibits, it felt like the Museum of Natural History meets MoMA. 

The Land & Sea museum was of special interest to me as it featured a temporary exhibit on Polish WWII orphans. I first learned about the orphans from Clare, our new Kiwi friend, while on the Great Barrier Reef tour. In a nutshell, after WWII broke out, the Soviet army forced the deportation of 1.5 million Polish citizens to Soviet labour camps. Those who survived were released after the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany, and so the Soviets had to develop diplomatic relations with the Polish Government in Exile (in London). Many children lost their parents and were placed in orphanages in Iran as they were unable to come back to Poland. The Eastern part of Poland, where they were from, was "incorporated" to Russia and besides, the war was still going on. In 1943, New Zealand's prime minister offered to take in the orphan refugees and welcomed them to New Zealand. (To find out more about the subject click here and here.) 

When the 733 orphans and their 105 caregivers docked in Wellington they were greeted warmly by New Zealanders. They were given shelter and care in the village of Pahiatua. They attended Polish school anticipating their return to Poland after the war. However, as the situation in Poland did not improve much, New Zealand government kindly gave them permanent residency and most of them stayed, integrating and contributing to the NZ society. The orphans were extremely grateful to the New Zealand government and the kind people that helped them. 

The Polish orphans were the first refugees invited by New Zealand. Currently this small country welcomes 750 refugees per year (now mostly from Africa) and actively helps them assimilate to their new surroundings. Thanks for this bit of info Clare!

Had we arrived in Wellington the weekend before, we would have been able to attend the "Celebrate Everything Polish" festival, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Polish orphans.

Below are some general facts about Wellington:

Geography: Wellington is situated on the southern part of the North Island. 

Population:  Out of 4.47 million people that live in New Zealand, 201,000 live in Wellington and that's about the same as the population of Astoria, Queens and Park Slope, Brooklyn combined. 

Best Known for: Being the capital of New Zealand; Cuba street; home of Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong; named one of the best cities to live in; the most coffee shops per capita in the world. 

What We Noticed: lots of museums; many cool coffee shops and restaurants; second hand shops; fashionable people; hilly terrain; green landscapes; parks. 

Our drive.  Hello sheep! These animals are everywhere in New Zealand just grazing the green fields all day long. There are no predators so they stay out on paddocks (fields) 24/7.  From green rolling hills to volcanic peaks - this is Mt. Nguaruhoe (aka Mt. Doom for LOTR fans), an active volcano with its most recent eruption in 1974.  It looked really impressive covered with snow and clouds.  What a contrast to green fields we saw just miles away from here.  Our colorful room in Wellington. That square thing on the wall underneath the map is a wall heater. Houses in New Zealand are not insulated so these heaters (as well as electric blankets) are used often.  Wellington City SkyscrapersWellington City SkyscrapersWellington City Skyscrapers The streets of Wellington don't look very different from those in North America. 

Cool looking bar.   Colorful water sculpture on Cuba street. Vlad really enjoyed watching it splash water.   Abstract Design - a cool shop with paper goods that you can assemble yourself. We got our Christmas ornament from here.   Second hand shops are super popular in New Zealand. People not only buy clothes but also books, dishes and other household items there. It seemed like a good solution for a small country so far away from everywhere else: reuse, reduce, recycle.  Dinner with Clare and Shang Chin. Thanks for meeting up with us girls!  Pahiatua Polish Orphans in New ZealandPahiatua Polish Orphans in New ZealandPahiatua Polish Orphans in New Zealand At the Polish Exhbition in Museum of Wellington Land & Sea. On the left are trees with knitted leaves.  Pahiatua Polish Orphans in New ZealandPahiatua Polish Orphans in New ZealandPahiatua Polish Orphans in New Zealand I was really shocked to first learn about this incredible story. After all, Poland is so far way from New Zealand. It must have taken weeks to travel in those days. 

Pahiatua Polish Orphans in New ZealandPahiatua Polish Orphans in New ZealandPahiatua Polish Orphans in New Zealand This was one of my favorite photos of the exhibition. Those kids look so happy. 

Pahiatua Polish Orphans in New ZealandPahiatua Polish Orphans in New ZealandPahiatua Polish Orphans in New Zealand The story of Polish orphans being welcomed so warmly in NZ was very heartwarming.  Pahiatua Polish Orphans in New ZealandPahiatua Polish Orphans in New ZealandPahiatua Polish Orphans in New Zealand Moving on - an interactive exhibit at the museum where you could leave notes.  You could also touch different types of wool. I really like the smell of it.  View from the top floor of the second museum we visited - Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. It was a huge building with lots of exhibits.  This part of the museum was dedicated to The Treaty of Waitangi which was a treaty signed in 1840 by representatives of the British Crown and various Maori chiefs. It is New Zealand's founding document. The document is shown in both Maori and English.  One of the contemporary art exhibits. It reminded me of hockey sticks.  I made Vlad do a scared face only to see that it didn't really say scared... Oops.  By the way, Kiwis, just like many Canadians, use "eh".  The museum had a cool spot where you could draw. If you were lucky, your art would get displayed.  This was my piece. I got some chuckles from the serious museum guy but I doubt my drawing will get displayed on the wall of the kid friendly museum.  Meet Shrek, the famous merino sheep who, in 2004, gained international fame after being found with an unusual amount of wool on him. It turned out that Shrek hid from his owners on the vast NZ fields and in caves and he did not get shorn for six years (normally sheep get shorn every year). Shrek's fleece contained enough wool to make 20 men's suits and weighted 27kg/60lbs! The day we visited the museum was the first day stuffed Shrek made a permanent appearance.  This part of the museum was dedicated to the native Maori culture.  Here is a replica of a Maori building.  Te Marae theatrical space within the museum is used for various events such as conferences and weddings.  Kiwi bird is a rare, nocturnal, flightless bird. It's very hard to see it in the wild so we settled for the "stuffed ones" at the museum. The Kiwi is the symbol of New Zealand. 

Vlad and the Colossal Squid which was caught near Antarctica by fishermen fishing for Antarctic Toothfish. The squid wrapped itself around the toothfish (his pray) and got wheeled into the boat. The squid had no chance of surviving. It was so huge and impressive that the fisherman donated it to the museum. Today tourists admire the partially decayed corpse of the squid. You can even see stitches in places where the squid broke. Bizarre! 


haha Vlad!

what a fascinating post! who knew about those orphans?!
I am learning so much from you guys!
@ Vanessa - don't worry Baness, this squid was found super far from where you would swim, near Antarctica ;-) But I know what you mean, I don't like murky waters either.

@Gabu - I was so shocked when I first learned about this story and later super happy to have been able to see the exhibit. The orphans grew up in a temporary camp in a small village north of Wellington. The camp is no longer there. I asked the same question about Polish restaurants or what not but I heard there aren't any. The orphans assimilated very quickly to their new country.
OMG...and squids like that is why I'm terrified to swim in water that I cannot see the bottom...lakes, oceans etc. so scary!
Nice post - I like the looks and sounds of Wellington! Especially after reading the polish orphans story - so heartwarming, and borderline unbelievable. Did you notive any polish influences around the town - like restaurants or something?
Yeah, super gross, falling apart. And the stitches with different color threads were not helping! haha.
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