What happened to the wind? Where was the rain and the miserable cold? Its April, and supposedly Autumn. And yet the sky is a beautiful bright blue and the sun like a cheerful round orange. The temperatue was warm enough that I could wear short sleeves. It is the day before Anzac Day so the main streets of Wellington are lined with defence personnel handing out red poppies and collecting donations for the Returned Services Association. In the top right hand corner of the above photo you will see the Wellington rowing club, where I used to row for the Victoria University of Wellington women’s novice team. To the left is the play house, Circa Theatre, where I’ve been privileged to watch many great New Zealand actors. The monstrous building (oh its very pretty really! I’m referring her to its size) to the left of Circa theatre is New Zealand’s national museum, known as Te Papa. Te Papa is definitely a must-do for anyone visiting Wellington, even if on a fleeting visit. It is free to get into Te Papa. One thing in particular you should find interesting is the indoor Maori Marae, where official ceremonies are often held as well as weddings and other functions. There are pay as you games and interactive activities that children will espcially enjoy. There is also an ever changing exhibition that requires a ticket to gain entrance. The last paid exhibition that I went into was the collection of Versace dresses that in my opinion was worth every cent.
Contrary to what some may believe, Wellington is in fact the capital of New Zealand. The parliament, often referred to as the Bee hive is located conveniently across the road from the train station. The University business school and law school are located in and between the train station and parliament. In addition to being the political hotspot in New Zealand, Wellington is also considered the cultural capital of New Zealand. It is home to the National Archives; the National Library; Te Whaea National Dance and Drama centre; the Royal New Zealand Ballet; the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra; the NBR New Zealand Opera; the National Film Archives & Library; the National Portrait Gallery; the National War Memorial; Capital E National Theatre for children; and the New Zealand Book Council. I can still remember my visit to Capital E theatre for children a few years ago when I went to see Paloma’s opera for the children. It is in a very convenient location nearby the Harbour, the city library, and the town hall. A toy store and cafe is adjacent to the children’s theatre. If you have children with you, then you must definitely take them down to visit the children’s theatre. Before you get to Wellington, you should check the events calendar. Wellington also hosts the annual national opera competition called Lexus Song Contest. Events that form a crucial part of Wellington’s calendar include the WOW wearable arts contest; the Cuba Street Carnival; and the Fringe Festival. For more information on Wellington and specific dates for these events refer to the Wellington website.
Famous Wellington artists and groups include Peter Jackson; Fat Freddies Drop; Black Seeds; Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie from the Flight of the Conchords duo; Anna Pacquin; Katherine Mansfield; Sam Hunt; and Andrea Moore, amongst others. Being the capital of New Zealand does not make Wellington the most populated city in New Zealand, that title belongs to Auckland. Wellington city has a population of 179,463 that is 4.5% of the New Zealand population. When you include the regions around Wellington, that is the Hutt Valley, Waiarapa, Porirua, and Kapiti, then the population rises to 448,958 (or 11.1% of the New Zealand population). The ethnic mix of Wellington city is approximately 70% European, 13% Asian (Chinese/Oriental), 13% other, 8% Maori, and 5% Pacific. People who live in Wellington are on average more educated than the rest of New Zealand. This could be in part due to the fact that a large proportion of students who travel to Wellington to study end up staying in Wellington after graduating and do not return to their home town.
(above top left: Kapiti Island)
If you try to go to Kapiti Island you may face a few obstacles. The island is a bird sanctuary so there are strict rules on landing. You can apply for a permit for yourself or you may prefer to book a tour. What you see in the photo above is the view you will enjoy when you drive from Wellington city out to Kapiti Coast (Not to be confused with the island, but a region referring to towns as Paraparaumu, Raumati etc). It is popular for many people living in Kapiti to travel to Wellington for work each day, taking a car journey of roughly 45 minutes. I mentioned before that many people living in Wellington come from towns throughout New Zealand. So during public holidays especially, this road between Wellington (Pukerua Bay) and Kapiti will become clogged due to single lanes and no passing lanes. The reason this road is popular is because it is the main road for anyone wanting to leave Wellington. Travel times can then increase from 45 minutes to 2 hours or more. If you are a local though, you will take an alternative route through Lower Hutt or over the ridge.
Oriental Parade is the most popular spot for Wellington people to spend their leisure hours. The footpath is full of people jogging in the morning, at lunch time, and after work in the evening on week days. In weekends you will find it full anytime throughout the day and night. Rollerblading and ultimate frisbee is popular too. A man made beach and reef was recently added to Oriental Parade now means you will see people stretched out with very little on, attempting to soak up the rays. Of course if you are brave enough you can take the plunge into the cold water for a swim. If doing this, you must remain alert to your surroundings, and watch out for passing ferries, dragon boats and rowing crews.
Pukerua Bay is located between Wellington (Porirua) and Kapiti. Not too far away is Paekakariki that is my all time favourite location for stopping for a fresh fish lunch at Fisherman’s Table. The sea views are gorgeous and if you sit by the window, or on an outside table, then you will be able to admire striking views of Kapiti Island. The buffet salad bar is almost a complete meal in itself, that means you can save yourself a little money by ordering the light meal instead of the main meal. Across the road is a little white van that sells the freshest fish you can buy, caught that same morning. Well it used to be a little white van, but a month or so ago I noticed the white van has been updated to a larger and new blue van.
If you look very carefully at the top left to centre of the above photo you may be able to see some shadows that are in fact the mountains from the tip of the South Island. The South Island really isn’t that far away from Wellingon in the North Island. The water between the islands called the Cook Strait. The Cook Strait has apparently been swam before, however it is generally regarded as a dangerous crossing due to large waves from wind, rips and torrents.
Can you see the plane about to land in this photo? Have you heard stories about Wellington airport? Well be prepared for a shock when your plane descends into Wellington and all you can see is water. But do not worry, you will not feel the water. The airport is on a fairly narrow strip of land that surrounded by water on both sides. The water in this picture is Wellington harbour. The water on the other side of the airport that you cannot see in this photo is that of the Cook Strait. Because of its position, Wellington airport is especially vulnerable to the weather. If you hear an announcement that the airport is closed, then you will know immediately, that there is heavy fog around.
Have I put you off the idea of flying in or out of Wellington? If you do not feel game enough to use Wellington airport, then you can always take the ferry instead. There are two main ferry operators taking passengers between the North and South Islands. One is the Interislander, and the other is Bluebridge CookStrait ferry.
Wellington has sometimes been referred to as New Zealand’s version of Melbourne in Australia (no, not Melbourne in England). The reason is because Wellington has the most number of cafes and restaurants per capita. In addition to great Italian cafes and New Zealand bistros, Wellington has a booming number of designer boutiques commanding premier prices.
One of the pleasures of Wellington is that you do not need a car to get around. You can start from the train station, and walk across the road to join a free tour around parliament that will also give you a brief history lesson. If you continue up the hill to Molesworth Street you can take a look at St Pauls church that hosts official church services. Across the road is the National Library. If you turn right there, off Molesworth street then you will come across the National Archives where you can view the Treaty of Waitangi documents. Walking past the Archives, you will be struck by the unusual appearance of a tiny little church called ‘Old Saint Pauls Church’. This church is popular for overseas people and New Zealand tourists too to come and get married. The inside of the church is made of wood and is exceptionally beautiful, so much so that you will often see Architecture students inside the church making observations for their assignments. If you continue up past the old Saint Paul”s Church you will come to the intersection of Tinakori road where you should turn right, continuing down two blocks you will then come across the birthplace of Katherine Mansfield, a famous Wellington writer who lived most of her life in France. This area is known as Thorndon, and is also where you will find most of the High Commissions and Embassies.
Alternatively, from the train station you can instead walk across the road to the Harbour, and from there just continue until you come to a park called St Kitts Park. From there you can cross the pedestrian crossing over to the city until you reach Lambton Quay, and look for the entrance to the Cable car that will take you up the hill to the Wellington Botanic Gardens. From the top of the cable car, you will find breathtaking views across the city plus the opportunity to stretch your legs in the garden and immerse yourself in nature. If instead you continued further along the harbour you will come across the museum Te Papa, and further along you will find Oriental Parade and the beach. All of this, you can do walking, and most of these attraction are completely free. During this time of the recession, this must surely be welcome news.