PaperPlane | January 15th, 2007
Feature courtesy of Paperplane Magazine
Words Phil Williams and Carolyn Enting, Photos Derek Henderson
Ten years ago the sight of a tourist straying 500 metres from the Wellington railway station was an oddity. The capital’s reputation as a windy city and boring Government town was a fair label, and tourists passing through just did that - jumping on the first ferry crossing they could get to the South Island.
That has all changed. Voted one of the hottest cities in the world in 2004 by Conde Naste Traveller, Wellington has all the trappings of a thriving metropolis while maintaining the charm and ease of a small town. Snuggled into the hilly landscape that hugs a small harbour, Wellington boasts a thriving restaurant, cafe, bar, theatre, art, fashion, music and film scene that have given birth to names - Culture Capital, Coffee Capital and Wellywood. The latter in reference to film director and local hero Peter Jackson’s determination to make Hollywood blockbusters in his hometown. And with Central Wellington only two kilometres in diameter, you can walk from one side to the other in under 20 minutes.
It would be a lie to say the seaside city is not windy by nature. But in the last ten years the fabled gales have been growing fewer, as climate change works its magic to the city’s benefit. And it boasts more sunshine hours than Auckland, a fact any Wellingtonian will be most happy to impart. Its people welcome visitors and are helpful, friendly and enthusiastic about the city they call home. As the local saying goes “you can’t beat Wellington on a good day”.
From boutique hotels, B&Bs and budget backpackers, Wellington has a multitude of accommodation options. Most are located in the city centre or on the city fringe, which is only a five-minute cab ride away or a short brisk walk. At one end of the accommodation spectrum, The Hotel Intercontinental, the city’s only five star hotel on Grey Street, is close to Queen’s Wharf restaurants and Customhouse Quay, home of New Zealand designer clothing stores such as Zambesi, Unity Collection and Workshop. At the budget end, the Wellington YHA hostel offers beds from $23pp including dorm shared, family, double or twin rooms, most with en suite facilities. Its location on the corner of Wakefield and Cambridge Terrace could not be better - just around the corner from entertainment strip Courtney Place, the national museum Te Papa and Oriental Parade beach.
If your preference is more boutique, we recommend the following options:
Located in Wellington’s central business district the Bolton Hotel is minutes walk to Lambton Quay, the city’s main shopping strip. A 4 star plus hotel, it offers studio and suite accommodation. Amenities include a spa, heated pool and restaurant, Bisque on Bolton, which prides itself on its cuisine. It also has 24-hour room service, valet parking and high speed Internet. Rooms range from $214 to $360. www.boltonhotel.co.nz
The Lighthouse B&B
Located on Wellington’s rugged South Coast at Island Bay, The Lighthouse B&B has views of the open sea and on a clear day the far coastline of the South Island. It is close to many attractions including Red Rocks and The Bach, a local café where you can enjoy a latte and scrambled eggs while you watch the waves roll in. Prices range from $180 to $200. Options include staying in the Keep, a stone tower with a lounge/kitchen, bedroom with en suite, a spa bath and a hatch on to the roof. It’s a 10 to 15 minute drive or bus ride into the city but that’s a minor inconvenience for the pleasure waking up in such a unique spot. www.thelighthouse.net.nz
Thorndon House B&B
Built in 1903, Thorndon House is located in New Zealand’s oldest suburb. The two-storey villa has retained its historical charm with wooden polished floors, fire surrounds and panel doors. Service is personalised and it prides itself on providing its guests a delicious breakfast. It is a short distance from the railway station, inter island ferry, Parliament and Lambton Quay. Prices range from $180. www.thorndonhouse.co.nz
The Wellesley Hotel
A former gentleman’s club, The Wellesley in Maginnity Street in the heart of the city’s Central Business District was recently converted into a hotel. A heritage building, The Wellesley has been restored and features magnificent luxury suites themed in the English Georgian period including claw foot baths. Beds are king-size, the restaurant charming. It also has a gym, sauna, snooker, massage therapy and business services available. Prices start from $232 per night. www.thewellesley.co.nz
Good food is easy to find in Wellington. The most difficult thing will be deciding where to dine for breakfast, lunch and dinner – from the door of one café, you’ll see another four that demand a quick peek at the menu board. The capital of cuisine, Wellington has more than 350 eateries – more restaurants, bars and cafes per head than New York.
Wellingtonians eat out a lot and a local weekend ritual is a leisurely brunch at one of the city’s numerous cafes. Freshly roasted coffee is a mainstay, the brown drug nothing short of a local cult. Popular haunts are Chocolate Fish Café in Karaka Bay; Maranui Café at Lyall Bay; Capitol at the end of Courtney Place; Fidels at the top of Cuba Street; and Nikau adjacent to the City Gallery in Civic Square, all known for their excellent food.
The main entertainment strips are Cuba Street and Courtenay Place. Happening nightspots are the Matterhorn, Havana, Bodega and Sandwiches. The latter two if you are in the mood for dancing.
Cnr Majoribanks Street and Kent Terrace, City
This little gem is located next door to The Embassy Theatre and never disappoints. Open for lunch and dinner weekdays and brunch and dinner weekends, it is renowned for its superb service, coffee and mouth watering contemporary cuisine. The wine list is extensive and impressive. It’s a restaurant of the rarest kind, open but intimate, vibrant yet cosy. The owners work closely with their team in the restaurant, adding a level of detail and personal hospitality rarely achieved locally or globally. A must on any visit.
106 Cuba Street, City
A mainstay of Wellington culture, the Matterhorn is a cross-genre space boasting live music, good service, excellent cuisine and a large private outdoor courtyard. These and its long history are the reasons why it remains the most popular hangout for Wellington’s young and funky set and local musicians. Reggae band Fat Freddy’s Drop recorded its first unofficial album here. The Matterhorn’s all day and late night menu includes signature dishes such as deep fried feta dipped in gorse honey. It is also known for its cocktails made from award winning and locally distilled 42 Below vodka and South Gin.
234 Cuba Street, City
A funky and laid-back hangout, Fidels is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Decorated with portraits of Cuba’s Fidel Castro, its appearance is one of cool grunge. A small courtyard at the back is a haven for smokers while non-smokers can enjoy two cosy rooms that face the street.
32a Wigan Street, City
Like the Matterhorn, Havana embodies the spirit of Cuba Street. Tucked around the corner in Wigan Street in a rickety villa sandwiched by modern buildings, Havana is a popular meeting spot for local musicians and DJs, who often perform. Live music is just one of its charms. An outdoor courtyard also offers smokers a rare meeting place. Smoking is now prohibited in New Zealand bars, restaurants, cafes and casinos.
Chocolate Fish Café
497A Karaka Bay Road, Scorching Bay
On weekends it pays to get here early to avoid the queues that stretch out the door. An idyllic location, on a sunny day the most covetable tables are those outside beside the sea. Waiters wearing orange vests have to cross the road to wait the tables, and road signs warn motorists of waiters crossing. The menu is based around an all day breakfast and lunch menu. It is a 15-minute drive from the city centre.
270 Willis Street
A current finalist of the Cuisine Restaurant of the Year Awards, Citron and its chef, Rex Morgan, has won a multitude of awards and with good reason. Morgan uses indigenous as well as the best local produce available to craft is divine cuisine. Citron is an intimate 30 seat fine dining restaurant that specializes in five and nine course set menus. The combination of small and superb means you’ll need to book in advance.
7 Lyall Parade, Lyall Bay
Situated in the clubrooms of the Maranui Surf Club, this 1940s style café basks in sun and boasts the city’s most uninterrupted views of beach and sea. Local artist Mark Ussher designed the space and his qwirky illustrative paintings adorn the walls.
Wellington is one big adventure playground whether your tastes lean towards shopping, wine tasting, hiking, kayaking, surfing, diving or just partying.
The green belt of hills that circle the city is known as the Town Belt, a walkway that follows the ridge through native bush and pine forest up to the top of Mt Victoria for a 360 degree view of Wellington and the harbour.
Other outdoor pursuits include kayaking in the harbour or heading out to the wild south coast to Red Rocks where you will find rugged rocks and inspirational seascapes. From May to October, fur seals make their winter home here. Makara, a 35 minute drive from the city, is another piece of rugged coastline with a cliff top walk, an ancient Maori pa site and remains of World War II gun emplacements. Surfers hang out at Lyall Bay though the water is chilly even in summer. Divers can visit the wreck of the Wellington frigate F69 scuttled recently in Island Bay.
More sedate options include following the Writers Walk around the waterfront and visits to the national museum Te Papa and City Gallery. While commercial voyages abound, the Dominion Post Ferry is the cleverest way of getting a cut-price harbour cruise. Its destination, Eastbourne, has a nice beach and good seaside cafes. Award winning vineyards can be found over the hill in Wairarapa. An hour’s drive from the city, stops in Martinborough and Greytown are worth the trip.
If shopping is your poison the city’s Fashion Map will guide you to the Lambton, Willis, Cuba and Courtney quarters, all within easy walking distance of each other.
For the latest and greatest in fashion visit Good As Gold on Victoria Street for clothes, coffee and kicks, Starfish on Willis, Karen Walker on Wakefield Street and menswear store Mandatory on Cuba Street. For music collectables, head to Slow Boat Records on Cuba Street - hard to find, rare and deleted titles are its specialty.
Think up-market lounge bar with a dose of funk. Sandwiches is a restaurant, bar, entertainment venue and nightclub rolled into one. This small yet covetable venue plays host to cutting edge acts from international artists Thievery Corp to Wellington band Fat Freddy’s Drop and the best of local Jazz talent. Food and beverages are great, with large tables perfect for groups. Door sales are usually available. It is open from 3pm till the early hours Tuesday through to Saturday. www.sandwiches.co.nz
Interactive and visitor focused, the national Museum of New Zealand Te Papa (www.tepapa.govt.nz) is located on the waterfront. Aside from its excellent exhibitions and permanent collections including an outstanding Maori and Pacific display, it has a cafe and shop making it a good place to hole up on a rainy day.
Across the bridge the City Gallery takes pride of place in Civic Square from its home in the glorious 19th century library building. It is a must see, hosting exhibitions by local, national, and international contemporary artists. The gallery is also home to one of the city’s best bistros, Nikau, famous for its cheese scones that sell out so quickly that people place phone orders for them.
A series of text sculptures located along the waterfront, each contains a quotation about the city from a poem or piece of prose by writers who have made Wellington their home at some point in their lives. You will find some dotted between the City Gallery and Te Papa.
Karori Wildlife Sanctuary
Located in a hidden valley five-minutes drive from the city centre, Karori has over 35km of bush tracks and paths that crisscross 252 hectares of regenerating forest, two dams and a 19th century goldmine carved into the hillside. It is home to unique New Zealand wildlife including the little spotted kiwi, kaka, weka, bellbird, saddleback, north island robin and cave weta. The Sanctuary is protected from predators by an impressive 3m high and 9km long perimeter fence. The best time to visit is at 10am when the Sanctuary first opens before the birds are scared away from the main tracks. www.sanctuary.org.nz
Over the hill but not far away, Greytown and Martinborough in the Wairarapa make for a fun day trip or overnight stay. A pretty town on the main drag, Greytown is a time capsule of Victorian buildings, antique stores and award winning cafes and restaurants. Nearby Martinborough is home to more than 20 vineyards open for wine tastings. The town also hosts its legendary annual Martinborough Fair on the first Saturday of February and March.
A free outdoor programme of entertainment put on by the Wellington City Council, the Summer City programme is jam-packed full of events for the entire city to enjoy including Rhythm and Beats New Year’s Eve celebrations in Civic Square, beach volley ball on Oriental Parade beach, X*Air on the waterfront where world BMX experts flip their bikes over massive 75ft jumps and concerts each night in The Sound Shell at the Wellington Botanic Garden. www.wellington.govt.nz
Every Waitangi Day (a public holiday in New Zealand), the One Love concert at the Hataitai Velodrome is one big soul shake down party… and it’s free. This year’s concert attracted 17,000 peaceful picnicking groovers and local reggae bands Cornerstone Roots and The Black Seeds as well as overseas acts. The event is hosted by much-loved local radio station, Active 89FM. www.radioactive.fm
(Early February to early March)
Touted as “organised chaos”, the Fringe started out years ago as a reaction to the International Arts Festival not supporting local artists. It is now a fully fledged festival boasting more than 80 productions in theatres, public places and random locations throughout the city. www.fringe.org.nz
New Zealand International Arts Festival
(Late February to mid March)
Wellington comes alive even more than usual when the New Zealand International Arts Festival comes to town. Now in its 16th year, the bi-annual festival hosts top international and local acts from dance, mime, drama, theatre, opera, exhibitions, music and street performers as well as a Talk-Fest (pre-show dialogues) and Writers and Readers Week. www.nzfestival.telecom.co.nz
World of Wearable Art
Mind blowingly mad - the World of Wearable Art, also know as WOW, is a stunning theatrical mix of dance, drama, comedy, lighting, music and pyrotechnics held at the Queen’s Wharf Events Centre. A world-class event now attracting entrants from around the globe, anyone can enter. The only limit is the imagination, and each year surpasses the next as models, actors and dancers take to the stage in a kaleidoscopic array of weird and wonderful creations. www.worldofwearableart.com
Tongan Ninja (2002). Shot entirely in Wellington on a shoestring budget this is a wacky send up of all those badly dubbed 70s kung fu action movies only this time the hero is a Tongan martial arts expert. Unlike some recent films shot in Wellington (King Kong and The Lord of the Rings spring to mind), this story is clearly set in the capital city and provides a few good laughs at Wellington’s expense.
Wellington: The City in Literature edited by Kate Camp is a collection of urban anthologies by New Zealand writers including Katherine Mansfield and Maurice Gee. It includes narratives on student flats and sudden death, hill homes and hunters, as well as an account by legendary Wellington drag queen Carmen on the setting up of her controversial Coffee Lounge in the 1970s. Big Weather: Poems of Wellington edited by Gregory O’Brien and Louise White is a lively collection of poems that outline Wellington’s geography of city and sea, suburbs, hills and bush, and its history from colonial outpost to bustling cosmopolitan centre.
Based on a True Story by Wellington seven-piece group Fat Freddy’s Drop soared to number one on the New Zealand charts last year and has since topped the Crowded House record of being the longest in the number one spot. The reggae style band has been a favourite on the Wellington underground music scene for many years. Radio Active 89FM, Wellington’s independent radio station was one of the first to give it airplay and is recognised for helping give birth to Wellington’s now legendary music scene. You can tune in online at www.radioactive.fm or www.fatfreddysdrop.com