words & images: Leanne Gichard
Wellington in the past was often maligned, but those days are long gone, as this funky little “Capital of Cool” continues to reinvent itself and offer a feast for the senses.
I travel to Wellington several times a year to visit my sister, Janine, and each visit is a gastronomic delight; in fact, there are more bars, cafes and restaurants per capita than New York – no mean feat! Janine and I are both foodies, so each visit is planned around where we will eat and what we will see. The thing about the Wellington food scene that really impresses me is not only the quality and diversity of the food on offer, but the ambience and value for money. Superb cuisine can be purchased at a very reasonable cost and cafes or restaurants have a unique, funky or eclectic décor and vibe, with creative and intimate spaces. One of our favourite haunts is Taste Surburban Dining Room in Khandallah. The food is delicious, the atmosphere is fabulous and the hosts, David and Gary, provide exceptional service, with a great dose of humour.
Wellington is a vibrant, bustling city which challenges the norm. Sculptures, art installations and bridges are far from conventional and add another dimension to the city. I particularly love the tall metallic nikau palm structures in Civic Square. The Waterfront Sculpture Trail is a fun way to view some of these structures and will lead you to the ‘City to Sea Bridge’, ‘Te Waka Pou’, ‘Albatross’, ‘Solace in the Wind’ and the Len Lye ‘Water Whirler’ sculptures.
The architecture in Wellington is incredibly diverse and interesting. Victorian cottages sit alongside modern high-rise buildings, and there are many stunning historical buildings that have been renovated, revamped or updated, such as the Old Bank Arcade on Lambton Quay. Green spaces and squares have been carefully woven into the centre of the city, which makes Wellington very liveable.
Everyone has heard of Te Papa, but have you visited the Wellington Museum situated at 3 Jervois Quay, Queen’s Wharf on the waterfront? Housed in the 1892 Bond Store and designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere, the building is superb and built in the French Renaissance Style. The Wellington Museum was voted one of the top 50 museums in the world (The Times, London) and tells the story of how Wellington has evolved over the past 150 years.
There are so many other places to see, such as Zealandia Native Wildlife Sanctuary, Hannah’s Laneway (which houses bakers, chocolatiers, roasters, brewers, pizza slingers and even a boutique peanut butter maker), Weta Workshop, Wellington Zoo and a plethora of Museums and Art Galleries.
There are also walking trails to explore from the CBD and every suburb, often with spectacular views. Janine lives near Mt Kaukau and tells me that on a clear day you can see not only the city and harbour, but the South Island, Tararua Range, Hutt Valley and coastal areas of the North Island from the Mt Kaukau summit lookout. Because of the nearby wildlife sanctuaries, she enjoys frequent visits to her yard from tui, kereru, bellbird, eastern rosella, kaka and her favourite, a kingfisher.
A visit to Wellington wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Wellington Botanical Gardens and a trip down the cable car. The gardens were established in 1868, cover 61 acres, and are a haven and sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city. Their proximity to the CBD means they are enjoyed and well-used by Wellingtonians and visitors alike. The profusion, size and colour of the hydrangea heads alone are worth the visit.
So, yes, Wellington can be windy and the flight in more like a ride at a theme park, but as many Wellingtonians say, “You can’t beat Wellington on a good day”. Expect the unexpected.