Philippe Bourget - 2011-08-19
Wellington the political and financial capital of New Zealand is a concentrated combination of Anglo Saxon and Oceanic worlds. Situated at the extreme southern end of the Northern Island, this wind-beaten capital has everything to seduce shoppers, culture lovers and enthusiasts of cosmopolitanism.
It’s rare to find in western nations a capital that isn’t a hive of tourist activity. Yet this is the case for Wellington. Visitors to New Zealand tend to head directly too Auckland or Rotorua (the centre of Maori culture) and discover the splendid landscapes of the South. Usually only a brief visit is paid to Wellington, a necessary point of passage between the North and South islands, unless you travel by plane. It’s a shame but it gives even greater incentive to spend a while in this young cosmopolitan city with a population of half a million and a grid layout along the bay that gives it an air of small East Coast American city.
Like every major capital city Wellington’s heart beats to the rhythm of white collared workers from financial and administrative institutions during the week. The efficient suit and tie culture on working days is traded at the weekend for the somewhat more laid-back clothing of a mixed race youth with features that demonstrate the extent of oceanic immigration. Following their footsteps to this town’s places of interest couldn’t be simpler. With a compact town centre where each area has its distinctive style Wellington is a town that is easy to navigate on foot.
The distinctive districts of Lambton, Cuba, Courtenay and Thorndon
For chic shopping opportunities pay a visit to Lambton, the business district centred around Lambton Quay with its fashion and designer boutiques that have shop fronts nestled between top class international luxury hotels. Another emblem of this high class consumerism is the Kirkcaldie & Stains store, a New Zealand style Harrods which has been well established since 1863. Just to the north of Lambton three parliament buildings are the epicentre of the political district. Opposite are the Old Government Buildings (1876) which is the old seat of the government and the second largest wooden building in the world. Further to the north is the Thordon district lined with colonial buildings, a fine gothic church Old St Paul’s with a wooden nave (1866) as well as the official residence of the Kiwi Prime minister.
Two other central districts of Cuba and Courtenay are absolute musts. You can reach them via an easy walk along the waterfront from Lambton and Customhouse Quay. This very urban pedestrian itinerary with port and town scenery gives you a good reminder of Wellington’s naval vocation with several ships in its docks. Beware of the wind though which blows from the south at speeds of up to 100 miles/hour. This is Wellington’s only climatic sore point for a town which otherwise enjoys a temperate climate that oscillates between 6 °C in July and 20 °C in February.
Wellington’s Cable Car
The district of Cuba, a grid of a dozen streets is the capital’s alternative and hip area. Every kind of look for students and thirty-somethings is represented in the eccentric boutiques, ethnic cafés and vegetarian restaurants. Attached to it is the district of Courtenay, that’s only slightly larger, and is also very trendy but more international. With its theatres and galleries, it is largely devoted to culture, but there are also plenty of restaurants, pubs and coffee lounges.
A visit to Wellington will inevitably bring you to the Cable Car. This old funicular (1902) leaves the bustle of Lambton Quay and climbs within minutes to the residential hill of Kelburn, a luxurious neighbourhood of embassies and affluent homes. Upon reaching the top when you get out of the legendary red wagon you’re greeted with the Cable Car Museum, the Botanical Gardens and an exceptional view over the city. It’s a wonderful place to admire the whole of this little known yet endearing capital in the southern hemisphere.
OTHER PLACES TO SEE IN WELLINGTON
Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand uncovered
This wonderful museum standing by the seafront is a great place to find out about New Zealand’s past. It is interactive, fun and contemporary and it tells the story of this unique country and its Maori natives. You might even come across one of the distinguished indigenous oceanic people with their face tattooed with the traditional symbols of their culture.
Mount Victoria – for another viewpoint over the city.
Oriental Bay Beach – a beach in the town-centre.
Hutt Valley – a natural paradise twenty minutes from Wellington.
A Land of Rugby
The Rugby World Cup takes place in New Zealand from 9th to 23rd October. Wellington Regional Stadium will be hosting six group matches.
By taking the Interislander, Picton and the South Island are a three-hour ferry journey from Wellington. It’s a beautiful mini-cruise that crosses the Cook Strait and follows the indented contours of the Marlborough Sounds fjords. Finally, take note that vehicles hired in the north island must be returned to Wellington and you then rent another in the south.
166 Willis Street
A select hotel in the Lambton district bordering Cuba.
161 Cuba Street
A welcoming restaurant with contemporary decor serving New Zealand cuisine.