Wellington: the little capital with the big attitude
January 1, 1970
by Beckie Calder-Flynn
Location, location, location
Sprawling under and around the hills and rubbing up against the harbour is Wellington, the little capital with the big attitude. And rightly so, for this is one seriously cool city. Host to the premiers of all three Lord of the Rings films, this capital knows how to hold its own on the world stage while staying humble and charming. Google Wellington and chances are the keywords you’ll likely hit are windy, Wellywood, Weta Workshop, and waterfront. But some of the City’s more redeeming features are it’s amazing coffee, eclectic but friendly locals, moreish eateries, and historic buildings. Home to Parliament, Victoria University, Westpac Stadium and Te Papa (the National Museum), Wellington is the jack of all trades in the middle of Middle-Earth. A cultural capital, the streets are always brimming with exotic influences, international events and ahead-of-the-trend individuals. Walk down the street, and you may see locals wearing things from the 80’s that will find their way to the international catwalks next season. It is because of this ‘cool’ factor and the creativity that seems to be in the water, that the city plays host to the World of Wearable Arts fashion show and competition, attracting global attention and sending the city into a frenzy.
Capital “C” for cool
Wellington is the cool capital of New Zealand, with Cuba Street being the epitome of this. Grungy cafes serving up the best coffee in town, vintage clothing stores resembling film costume cupboards, sterile-looking eastern restaurants taking you straight to the back streets of Hong Kong, and glamorous eateries all jostle for your attention along the backbone of the city. Bordered with art-deco and 1950’s buildings, Cuba Street is the place to be for up-and-coming designers, fashion-conscious individuals, rustic cafes and bars. While the main club scene runs down the length of Courtenay Place, Cuba Street offers refuge for the more alternative of us. Students mingle with artists, young professionals find themselves deep in conversation with academics, all over a craft beer or flat white. Street performers are a regular sight, but are never pushy or in-your-face like overseas.
Whack on your shoes
While local commuters may complain of the hilly nature of the city, without hills there can be no views, and views are something Wellington has aplenty. For the more leisurely of us, a simple walk along the waterfront allows you to look back on the CBD from the safety of one meter above sea level. But walk only 20 minutes up the hill (albeit a steep one, a challenge for any architect, which Wellington breeds plenty of) and you’re atop Mount Victoria. One of the highest points in Wellington and smack on the middle of the city, you get a 360° view of Wellington, the northern suburbs, and on a clear day the South Island. That’s the beauty of Wellington. Wherever you are, and wherever you want to go, you can walk. Unlike other world class capitals that are too large, industrialized or dangerous to navigate on foot, everything is within an hour walking distance (at most) of the CBD. Yet another charming feature of Wellington is that you can be in the middle of the CBD one minute, and the next minute be in the suburbs away from the suits, briefcases and politicians. It’s as simple as a business lunch on Lambton quay, then a 5 minute ride up the Cable Car to Kelburn and the Botanical Gardens. Situated with yet another amazing view of the city, the gardens boast a world class rose garden, waterfalls, children’s playground, stunning botanical displays and the Carter Observatory. In the summer, free concerts are held each night in the Sound Shell and picnic area, with colourful lights showing off the resident flora well after dark.
A local saying is that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day, which is spot on. The best weather tends to be from late December through to March, yet even in the middle of winter the city delivers cloudless skies and crisp winter sunshine. Oriental Bay is the place to be during summer, with its beach crammed full of sun worshippers, football players and paddlers. A walk along the waterfront is the ideal way to spend a sunny day, so start your day with a tour of the Botanical Gardens and then wind your way down the hill and through the CBD to the beach. The iconic Crocodile Bikes are a fast and fun way to explore the waterfront, and make for some great holiday snaps.
Organic, fresh produce is a big deal in Wellington, complimenting the huge variety and quality of eateries and cafes. The Harbourside Market brings the waterfront to life on a Sunday morning, rousing people from their sleep ins to get their fresh vegetables for the week ahead and try out some of the local craft and boutique products. During the week, Moore Wilsons fresh market is the place to go for your dinner party essentials, organic vegetables, afternoon pick-me-ups, specialty ingredients and damn good coffee. And for dinner? The Capital Markets off Willis Street give you round trip of the world through food stalls that deliver fresh, fast and fantastic food.
If markets aren’t your thing, fear not. The café and restaurant scene is unparalleled, and there are rumoured to be more cafes in Wellington than in New York! Fidel’s on Cuba Street is a hot favourite, with a Castro-inspired vibe and rustic, delicious food and coffee. For a more refined experience, Floriditas and Logan Brown just down the road or Prefab around the corner both boast menus with a hint of luxury that match their polished décor. Enjoy your food in private outdoor courtyards at Olive or Matterhorn, or sit out on the street at the famous Sweet Mothers Kitchen. If you are blessed to be in Wellington on a Monday night, head to Chow on Tory Street for their famous 2 for 1 nights. This modern Asian-fusion restaurant has some of the best dishes in the city, if not the country, and has earned a cult following. Never mind the wait, the Library Bar next door serves up delicious cocktails while you wait surrounded by comfy couches, dimmed lights and walls of books. Otherwise, Monsoon Poon and Siem Reap are two local haunts with big reputations for delicious, authentic food, or try out Capitol at the end of Courtenay Place for a pre-movie dinner right next to the Embassy Theatre.
Not only is Wellington a foodie’s paradise, a hiker’s dream and a hipster’s sanctum, but it suits everyone in-between. A melting pot of cultures and personalities sets it apart from the standard blueprint of so many other capital cities of the world, and puts it in a class of its own. Bias? Perhaps, but the one thing I know is that no matter where I go, Wellington keeps me coming back for more.