In hindsight, the route from Brisbane to Auckland was most inclement and we probably shouldn’t have taken it. Blown off course by prevailing winter winds, the hot-air balloon was forced to divert and we took to land in Wellington, over 400 miles south of our destination.
The capital of the country for little more than five years, the city bolstered icy winds and a rather theatrical nightlife. It was the middle of winter and there would not be an airship out for at least a day or two. We were stuck.
I left Monsieur Fogg playing mū tōrere and solitaire in our hotel, and ventured out into the snow-dampened streets of the capital. He was unflappable in the face of adversity, as always, a trait which I admired in him.
The snow, I learned, was a rare thing. The city was built on the water and it was very strange for snow to fall as low as it did.
A handsome young man with piercing brown eyes was shovelling snow outside the hotel. He seemed delighted to see me approach, as no-one else was out on the streets at such an early hour on a Sunday.
“ Mōrena, my friend.” Said he, and gestured at a nearby shovel. “Would you mind helping? My master instructed me to clear the snow here, but as you can see, it’s not going exceedingly well.”
His master? Another servant like myself, I saw. I felt obliged to help him. It didn’t seem right to leave someone so like myself in distress in such icy winds. “Of course.”
I took up the shovel and we worked in comfortable silence for a few minutes until he spoke. “I’m Wiremu.” He said, and offered a mittened hand to me. “What brings you to my city?”
To tell him the full truth of my adventures would be a trial in itself so I settled for smiling mysteriously and saying, “Travelling. My master is fully enamored by solitaire, inside.” I took his hand in mine and shook it. “Passepartout.”
“Indeed?” He nodded, grasped my hand in both of his and then let go. “My master owns the hotel and unfortunately I drew the short straw for this morning’s duties. You’ve certainly chosen the wrong time of year for travelling here!”
“It certainly wasn’t my first choice.” I explained the circumstances of Fogg and I’s arrival here, continuing to shovel snow away from the front door of the hotel as I did so.
“You’ve had quite the adventure.”
“I’ve not seen such a snowstorm in the city in all my years of living here.” Wiremu sighed. “I come from the Ngati Toa tribe, which is north of here -” He pointed towards a large mountain range that encircled the city, almost hidden by a bank of cloud, “-but I moved to the city to find my fortune. In truth, I am a player of sorts.”
“A player?” That piqued my curiosity. From what I knew of Wellington, which admittedly wasn’t much, it had quite the theatrical scene.
“Yes.” He grinned, cheeks pinking a little. “I might be a valet by day, but at night, I am one of the best players at the Royal Olympic!”
It was clear by his tone that the Royal Olympic was a theatre of sorts. I inquired about catching a performance and he told me that they were playing an abridged version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Thespis that very night!
I vowed to go and see it. We did not have a chance of leaving the city until the next morning, and I knew that Monsieur Fogg would not venture out of the hotel in such inclement weather.
“You told me how you arrived here,” Wiremu said, still shovelling, “but how do you intend to leave?”
“I had hoped… an airship to Lima…?” I trailed off, blanching a little at the downtrodden look on his face.
“There’s no chance.” He replied. “Not in this weather. It’s not supposed to clear for at least a week.”
“We cannot stay that long!” Fogg and I were fifty-one days into our journey - if we didn’t leave in the next day or so we’d never return to London in time to win the wager.
“Hmmm…” He mused, looking thoughtful. “Tell me, how opposed are you to water?”
The next morning, after a glorious showing of Thespis the night before, Wiremu bid me farewell from the edge of one of Wellington’s docks.
Fogg and I (the former rather apathetically) were standing on the stern of Te Kaihoe, a large copper submersible, bound for Rarotonga - which was within one of New Zealand’s most northern territories. I hoped that from there we’d be able to find our way towards South America.
Te Kaihoe was crewed by a group of actors on a tour around the Pacific, and Wiremu had been kind enough to find us a place on board.
“Ka kite, my friend!” He called, waving out to us as the submersible pulled away from the dock. “Return soon! Please. We need people to come to our shows.” He smiled again, showing that trademark grin that I had come to expect from him during our night out together. He was full of good humor and did not find it hard to show it.
Ka kite. Ka kite, indeed.