One Question Quiz
Clockwise: Cocktails at Kui Kui, Lara Kramer’s Them Voices, Max Patte’s Solace in the Wind, on a backdrop of a Reuben Paterson artwork. (Image Design: Tina Tiller)
Clockwise: Cocktails at Kui Kui, Lara Kramer’s Them Voices, Max Patte’s Solace in the Wind, on a backdrop of a Reuben Paterson artwork. (Image Design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureJuly 3, 2023

A tu meke weekend at Kia Mau Festival

Clockwise: Cocktails at Kui Kui, Lara Kramer’s Them Voices, Max Patte’s Solace in the Wind, on a backdrop of a Reuben Paterson artwork. (Image Design: Tina Tiller)
Clockwise: Cocktails at Kui Kui, Lara Kramer’s Them Voices, Max Patte’s Solace in the Wind, on a backdrop of a Reuben Paterson artwork. (Image Design: Tina Tiller)

Three days of wining and dining in Pōneke – accompanied by a buffet of brilliant Indigenous performance.

I often joke that the best thing about Wellington is knowing that I have a flight out. That’s not necessarily shade against our capital city – it’s more that I love knowing I only have a few days to make the most of it. A couple of weeks back I spent a few days in the capital, partly to try out the eateries in the CBD and partly to experience Kia Mau, the country’s largest Indigenous festival, now bigger and better than ever. This is a diary of my three-day trip.

Left to right: Kōpu; the view from the QT Wellington; whipped potatoes at Lulu’s,;Reon Bell in Concerning the UFO Sighting Outside Mt Roskill.

After checking into the QT Wellington – still my favourite place to stay in the city – and taking a half hour for a sneaky bath, I make my way for dinner at Lulu’s, which is equidistant from the hotel and BATS Theatre, where my friend and I are seeing a show later. It’s 5pm on the dot so the place is on the empty side of chill.

Our meal consists of mashed potato (actually whipped garlic potato, with crispy potato skins dipped in them) for me, and roasted cauliflower (with toasted almonds, rotu spiced currants and parsley) for him. Realistically, these should be shared plates, but we both know our side of the lane. I’m of the opinion that every restaurant should have a mashed potato option, which is probably why I am not asked my food opinions very often.

From there it’s a quick sprint to my first Kia Mau show, and it’s one I’ve already managed to catch in Auckland – the excellent Concerning the UFO Sighting Outside Mt Roskill by Reon Bell. It’s an anxiety-laden solo show about a closeted queer man in 1980s Tāmaki Makarau who is convinced that aliens have descended upon him. Bell, who also designed the sound, is excellent in this solo play. He plays the comedy without losing the human truth, and plays the truth without ever losing the heart. It’s a solo that you’re actually stoked to be watching, rather than sitting there admiring. You’ll leave wanting to see whatever Bell does next.

From BATS, it’s an even quicker jaunt across the road to the Hannah Playhouse (and how good is it to see the Hannah with programming again?) to see Kōpū, a raucous, joyous, loudly progressive show to end to the night. It’s the kind of thing you want to see in an indigenous festival: a lot of performers onstage, having fun, feeling their oats. Everybody pours out into the night feeling richer than they felt when they woke up.

Left to right: Breakfast at Lola Stays; Mycah Keall in Mokomoko; cocktails at Kui Kui Lane; Lara Kramer in Them Voices; steamed hangi at Karakia.

It’s a sign of a quality cafe that you can walk up to the counter, massive sunglasses covering up last night’s bedtime, ask in a low voice “Is it OK if I order off the kids’ menu?”, and be received with a cheerful “Of course!”

That’s how I ended up outside Oriental Parade’s Lola Stays on a delightfully crisp Wellington morning with a plate of fairy bread and a classic Coke in a glass bottle. A breakfast fit for a (child) king. Literally no notes.

For lunch, I’m joining the team from Mokomoko (read below!) at Karaka. The entire menu looks incredible, but I have to have the steamed hāngi (steamed chicken, pork, potato, pumpkin, kumara, stuffing, cabbage and rēwena). It is exquisitely smoked and tremendously filling, so much so that I end up finishing it in the bath later with a frosty Heineken. Even better than the food are the vibes – immensely friendly staff and people who are there for a hearty lunch.

At Kui Kui, I have the Wellington Wash, a sickeningly sweet and pleasantly boozy rum-based cocktail. Kui Kui is perhaps the only cocktail bar in the city that feels like it could’ve been decorated by your chicest aunt, which from me is the highest of compliments. It’s definitely the only one with savoury mince pies on the menu, which I plan to try next time. I stop in for a very quick wine at Dixon St mainstay Eva Beva, and an even quicker gossip. The wine? House sav. The gossip? Redacted.

Dinner sees me and last night’s mate at Apache. I order the salmon parcels which are exactly as they need to be, no more or no less, while my mate gets the organic tofu and squash dumplings. It feels strange to be in the midst of an indigenous festival, eating at a Vietnamese restaurant named after an American helicopter named after a group of Native American tribes, but here we are. Food’s good!

From there, we head to Circa, Wellington’s waterfront theatre, to see Mokomoko. It’s the kind of show that a festival like Kia Mau exists to platform. Mokomoko has little regard for form, even less regard for the sensibilities of the audience, and is made to provoke conversation, or a shift in thought. Everything else is secondary. Sherilee Kahui’s show, which she also directs and stars in, finds Mycah Keall’s Moko on a journey to become the wāhine toa she was born to be. It’s funny, it’s fierce, and it makes me want to see how it does at a regional arts festival, and soon.

The flipside of Mokomoko is Them Voices. Kia Mau allows local artists a higher platform, in a more safe environment than they would otherwise be in. But it also gives local audiences a view into other cultures, and other performance scenes, to see what’s happening there. Them Voices is Lara Kramer’s follow-up to her show Windigo, which featured in Kia Mau 2019. It is a mixture of theatre, performance art, and dance and therefore resists an easy write-up.-

We end the night at R Bar – and I have to stress that this visit is not part of my WellingtonNZ-sanctioned trip, but part of my impulsive “let’s have one more” personality trip. For whatever reason, we are recognised by the bar’s owner, and given a series of delightfully ludicrous cocktails (some of which are lit on fire) and fancy rums (which are not).

Left to right: Charcuterie at Noble Rot Wine Bar; ice cream and sorbet at Field and Green; ‘Avaiki Nui Social at the Michael Fowler Centre; Mā and the Fly Hunnies at Meow; a mimosa at Concorde.

Field and Green couldn’t be closer to my hotel room without being actually inside it, and when I’m looking at a day full of meals, what do I want to pick for lunch? Ice cream. Specifically, a vanilla gelato and a chilli, coconut and sour cherry sorbet with a lemonade and flat white on the side. All are tremendous, and I continue to live my morning-child fantasy.

After a quick bath – I can’t rate the baths at the QT more highly – I mosey on down Wakefield Street to Concorde, greeted by the friendliest hospitality person I meet over the weekend (with maybe the exception of the owner of R Bar, but pirate-themed friendliness exists on another spectrum). I have a mimosa (sue me, I’m going to see art after this!) and a side of scrambled eggs – as fluffy as the clouds I cannot see. As the citizens of Wellington say, you can’t beat it on a cloudless day.

“I could live in Reuben Paterson’s artwork,” I mutter to myself as I walk through the City Gallery, taking in The Only Dream Left, the largest exhibition of Paterson’s work to date. I’m familiar with Paterson’s work from a distance, both physically and academically, but the chance to wander around in his world of colour, his depth of imagination, was a genuine true treat. To do so while listening to Lontalius’ latest album, one mimosa deep, is about as beautiful a queer afternoon as I could hope to have.

One nap and another bath later, I’m at Noble Rot Wine Bar for less of a dinner and more a rushed snack. My friend has a Karma Gingerella, I have a large glass of semillon, and we both soak up the warm air outside. I can’t help but miss Duke Carvell’s whenever I drink outside in Wellington, but Noble Rot seems to be embodying the city’s new vibe: corners of bougieness and diviness, with few barriers between them. One moment you can be at a Wellington institution that’s been around for decades, the next you cross the road and you’re somewhere that seems to have only opened a week ago. Both are worth it.

I sprint from the charcuterie to make it to the Michael Fowler Centre for ‘Avaiki Nui Social. Three hours of gorgeous Cook Island string music at the Michael Fowler Centre? Could only be Kia Mau. It’s hard to call it the highlight of my weekend – see all of the above – but a memory that will sit a little bit deeper, in a more secure corner of my brain, is seeing Ardijah performing ‘Watchin’ U’ to a wildly enthusiastic Pōneke audience.

My weekend finishes with Mā and the Fly Hunnies at Meow, a true dream given I’ve been a fan of WYNONA’s remix of Mā’s ‘Kitchen’, for months now. I’ve barely been to Meow in the last decade, and this gig reminds me that it’s the best (non-pirate-themed) place to close out a night. 

It isn’t until I fly out – almost a week later, after more shows, and more wines – that I realise that the special way I had felt wasn’t just because of Wellington, a city I like quite a lot anyway, but because of Kia Mau. To be in spaces, full of other indigenous people engaging with all kinds of culture, full of joy, full of feeling, is an experience to cherish. 

Often, the best thing for me about Wellington is knowing I have a flight out. This time, the best thing was knowing I had a flight back.

The writer’s trip was arranged and scheduled by WellingtonNZ.

Keep going!