After two years of closure for major strengthening and refurbishment costing $40 million, Government House was open to the public this weekend. The project seismic strengthening, removal and replacement of the roof and stucco panels, removal of asbestos, repainting, and upgrading the services such as water, power and fire protection. Government House is the official residence of the Governor-General, NZ’s representative of the Queen. The building was completed in 1910, and is one of the most nationally significant buildings of New Zealand. We joined in with the eager arrivals at waited for the gates to open at 10.00am. The man behind us in the queue commented that he had lived in Wellington for over 50 years and this was the first time he had been to Government House. He went on to say that his family arrived in New Zealand as Polish immigrants after the war. “New Zealand is paradise”, he said. We know that.
Upon entry, we all went through security and bags, cameras and cell phones all went on the conveyor belt to be x-rayed, and one by one, we walked through the metal detector. Those who had forgotten to take their cell phones and cameras out of their pockets set off the alarm and had to do it all again. The tour started in Ballroom, with two magnificent glittering Czech crystal chandeliers suspended from the handsome plaster ceiling taking pride of place. The fittings in the ceiling have been strengthened against earthquakes, and bulbs replaced with eco light bulbs.
The Ballroom was set with tables laden with all sorts of gifts which had been presented over the years, including crystal, porcelain, and silver. Most of these items are usually packed away and I was told that the various heads of departments all came up with suggestions of what to put out on show for the Open Days. This wonderful engraved crystal falcon was presented by the Amir of Kuwait.
Another table held a selection of dinner services used in Government House. A lovely Minton set takes pride of place.
At the far end of the ball room, a painting of Queen Elizabeth looks down over the two blue velvet thrones.
We walked up the staircase to the landing with sunshine streaming in through a pair of stained glass windows, featuring the Royal Coat of Arms, and the date the building was completed.
In front of the windows was a table set with a lovely Dresden figurine, and the sunlight showed up the delicate piece perfectly. This piece was gifted by the Griffin family, (from Griffin biscuits fame). I was horrified to see a woman tapping away at the ornament to see what it was made of – shame on her.
The State Dining Room was a sight to behold, all set for a formal dinner, The long table looked wonderful with crystal, silver, and monogrammed linen. A lot of measuring goes on, we were told, to make sure that everything is lined up perfectly. Paintings of royals from Tudor times onwards lined the walls of the Dining Room. Oh look, there’s my old favourite King Henry 8th, together with paintings of his daughters Elizabeth and Mary. All the paintings in this room were donated by Lord Norrie, who served as the 8th Governor General.
On our way out we spotted a wonderful marquetry table made by Anton Seuffert. in the late 1900s. Such amazing workmanship, and we were told that Te Papa Museum holds several more pieces of this New Zealand craftsman.
There was still a huge queue waiting to get in, as we exited the house. Thank goodness we decided to go bright and early – those still waiting had been told there was a two hour wait to get in. Now, lets see about some lunch.