New Zealand is a unique place, and when it comes to the nation’s capital – Wellington – that is true in fantastic style! One of the wettest, windiest places on the planet, New Zealand’s capital city lies nestled in the coastal hills at the bottom of the South Island where fierce weather routinely buffets the population from the Cook Straight.
With all of the rain and wind, you might expect the people to be a little touched – and you’d probably not be too far from the truth – but this has some amazing consequences when you look at the city culture and the astounding creative industry that makes the harbour city buzz. We had two nights here on our way across New Zealand as we awaited passage across the strait, and we were treated to both the meteorological nuances of the city at the bottom of the North Island, and the edgy, artistic flow of life in Wellywood.
We arrived in the city not long after dusk after a long day’s drive from Taupo. The afternoon traffic along the coast slowed from the rural highway to a multi-carriage arterial, and traffic was still bustling as we ground to a halt in the centre of Wellington, hungry for a quick feed and a warm bed. We took a room on Dixon street and after a quick snack in a hip café we turned our back on the nightlife in favour of some rest.
Early the next morning, we returned to the street for a bohemian breakfast on the street and a walk through the anaemic shopping district. The wind and rain for which Wellington is renowned had arrived overnight so my interest in windy cold shopping was limited. Instead, we drove to Mount Victoria lookout for a panoramic view of the city, harbour and tumultuous strait that we would soon be attempting to cross. Mount Victoria rises sharply and abruptly right in the picturesque centre foreshore of Wellington and even up the narrow alleys, it remains prime residential real estate. The view at the top is well worth the winding drive (or the probably even the wet, windy climb).
Having taken a few photos before retreating to the warmth of the van, we set our heading for the Miramar Peninsula. Separated from the rest of the city by a thin causeway filled by the International airport, the vibe in this eclectic neighbourhood is completely different to the vibrant city culture on the other side of the bay. Miramar has all the charm of an outer suburb, with the artistic chops of a studio backlot. It is this suburb that has earned Wellington it’s endearing moniker, Wellywood. In this unassuming suburb lies Weta Workshop and a whole community of film, editing and special effects folk who quietly go along making the magic of movies from a place that is about as far from Hollywood as one can get. We spent a few hours exploring the Weta Cave and studios and taking photos with all manner of props and models before moving off along the coastline for a spot of lunch.
After driving past the Wahine memorial (a catastrophic Inter Islander ferry disaster that reminded me briefly of the building seas that we would have to contend with the next day), we found ourselves in another well-known Wellington spot: The Maranui Café. This two story surf club sits right on the beach in Lyle Bay, and provides excellent meals as well as uninterrupted views of the strait. We watched the ferries battle their way out into Cook straight as we consumed some incredibly tasty dishes. The only problem with this stop was the veritable sand blasting that was the cost of entry or exit.
Finally, we made a stop at Te Papa – The Museum of New Zealand, where we spent a few hours learning about culture and history. A particular highlight here was the significant installation on the Waitangi Treaty. By the time we returned to Dixon street, we were, again, famished but it still took us over an hour of walking backwards and forwards to select a place to eat – so many and varied were the options. We did find a place eventually, electing to move a few streets from the crowds for a quiet meal before an early night in preparation for a potentially rough crossing the next morning.