There are two constants in Wellington these days: the wind and movie-making.
First, the wind. It’s always there, in varying degrees of ferocity and direction. It’s tiring and tiresome but it’s also why Wellington works so hard to be an interesting place. Yes, you can’t beat Wellington on a good day, as the saying goes (and Wellingtonians repeat incessantly) but, on a bad day, it’s pretty good too, thanks to the quirks and eccentricities of the town and the efforts that have been made to make it dynamic.
There aren’t many cities in New Zealand where the waterfronts and their surrounds have been redeveloped so successfully (Auckland could learn a lesson or two here). From Westpac Stadium right around to the airport, the coastline sings with interesting architecture (including the amazing, award-winning Kumutoto toilets near Shed 5), public sculpture, eateries and paths that draw Wellingtonians towards the water. It’s a genius idea and one that locals have taken to; each morning and evening these thoroughfares are crammed with office workers, cyclists, joggers and children moving from A to B. Their daily influx and exodus makes you feel like the inner city is where everything happens.
That inner city lies just beyond the harbour. It’s a compact space filled with office blocks, shops and restaurants (the city is rumoured to have more cafés and bars per capita than does New York City). The vibe, especially up Cuba Street and in the streets that stem from it, is more bohemian than Auckland’s and friendlier than is other capital cities in the world. The best new restaurants and bars are grungy and/or industrial in décor and committed to fresh ingredients, inventive cocktails and the spoils of the enthusiastic local craft beer scene.
But back to that other constant, the film industry. Peter Jackson Inc., Weta, et al. have brought creativity, overseas talent, plenty of cash and several good taco shops into Wellington. The city and its 200,000 or so residents are richer, both literally and culturally, for it.
WELLINGTON INSIDER’S GUIDE
Cuba Street: Home to Wellington’s bohemian set, this inner-city strip is where you’ll find institutions like Hunters & Collectors vintage shop and Matterhorn restaurant, as well as plenty of new bars and stores.
Te Papa Museum of New Zealand: works hard to appeal to all Kiwis, with exhibits for children, Pacific and Maori collections and special exhibitions from overseas.
The Dowse Art Museum: One of New Zealand’s biggest collections of public art make the drive to this Lower Hutt gallery worthwhile.
Red Rocks: This coastal walk from Owhiro Bay to the fur-seal colony at Sinclair Head is named for the red pillow lava rocks along the way.
Weta Cave: This shop-cum-museum attached to Weta Workshop in Miramar is filled with props and costumes from The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar and other movies. Stay for the charming documentary about the workshop.
EAT & DRINK
Prefab: The once-owners of renowned Caffe L’affare opened this inner-city café in 2013. It’s huge, humming and home to an innovative menu and excellent coffee.
Charley Noble: Housed in the impressive Huddart Parker building, this restaurant specialises in chargrilled and rotisserie meats.
Ombra: A Cuba Street bacaro (wine bar) that serves up moreish Venetian dishes like arancini and fried sardines.
WBC: Beef-tartare bruschetta and fish with coconut rice are among the sharing plates available at this new eatery.
The Crab Shack: There’s plenty of hustle and bustle, wine on tap and lots of seafood at this Simon Gault eatery.
Hippopotamus: Cuisine magazine named this fine-dining, special-occasion restaurant in the Museum Art Hotel the country’s best specialist restaurant of 2013.
GALLERIES & SHOPS
City Gallery Wellington: This public gallery exhibits some of the world’s most innovative artists, including Tracey Emin, Simon Starling and Gregory Crewdson, as well as local artists.
Twenty-seven Names: Feminine, finely made clothes by local designers Rachel Easting and Anjali Stewart.
Brown & Co: A modern take on an old-fashioned curiosity shop, this store is packed full of taxidermy, small artworks and mid-century furniture.
Adam Art Gallery: Victoria University of Wellington’s gallery is currently home to an exhibition exploring the relationship between cinema and painting.
Skandi: This Island Bay store is stocked with mid-century furniture and fabrics from Denmark, Sweden and Norway.