The last time I was in Wellington was in early December 2009 when my sister and her boyfriend (now husband) joined Colin and I for a few days of pre-Christmas fun. What ensued was slightly less than we had anticipated, because the infamous Wellington wind gusted without pause for the entire four days, the skies were overcast and showery, and my curly hair (never the type to particularly behave) pointed every which way except the right one, getting frizzier by the hour. Despite such inhospitable circumstances, my photos from that trip are filled with great memories of lying under a Christmas tree constructed entirely of coloured lights, an epic night out with possibly a bit too much absinthe, and the City Gallery decorated with polka dots celebrating the Yayoi Kusama exhibition.
There’s something about Wellington that just captures me. As a former resident of sprawling Auckland and now, sprawling Brisbane, I love the compactness of the city with its small CBD, old houses rakishly perched on steep streets, and the feeling of being encompassed and held by the surrounding Mt Victoria and Rimutaka Ranges. The population is low (around 400,000) and you’re never far from the ruffled, white-tipped sea. Besides its natural beauty, Wellington is known as the cultural capital of New Zealand for a good reason. Wellington is the home of quintessentially New Zealand bands like Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Black Seeds and Flight of the Concords. It boasts funky theaters and galleries, a great cafe scene, and is the home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet and Te Papa Museum. You’re just as likely to see a girl dressed in electric blue from head to toe (including tights, shoes and handbag) as you are to see a bureaucrat in a suit. There is nothing not to love, except from time to time, that frigid southerly wind.
Three weeks ago I was in Wellington for a conference. Although it was ostensibly a work-trip, it felt like anything but (don’t tell the boss). I stayed in the city’s most colourful district (Cuba St) and had the best time eating at favourite cafes, browsing quirky shops, and soaking up the atmosphere. I had the dubious advantage of sleeping little due to the three-hour time difference, a nagging sore throat, and a hotel room that overlooked a street known for its nightlife. But I chose that street for its vibe, cured my throat with some amazing 100% manuka honey throat lozenges, and fatigue, well that was easily buried by excellent coffee after excellent coffee and frequent blasts of that “fresh” breeze. Even lunchtime breaks at the conference were punctuated by short walks in the sunshine, snapping photos of people playing hacky sack in Civic Square or running along the waterfront. Does it sound like I had a good time?
It was interesting to be on my own. I love to travel with Colin and missed him distinctly, yet it must be said that solitude is a pleasure all of its own. A friend of mine who has done extensive solo travelling says it’s because whatever you experience is yours alone to treasure. While whims can go uncompromised, it is also true that there are certain other challenges, dining alone being the key one for me. My solution was to frequent small Malaysian restaurants where the food came fast and heavily spiced, helping to warm my icy hands. The other thing that helped was the simple fact of being in New Zealand again, hearing the subtle inflections of accent and humour, making purchases in money with its own sense of propriety (the $2 coin being larger than the $1 coin), and seeing tuatua pie on the menu. Listening to the welcoming mihi and waiata at the conference teared my eye and shivered my spine. I didn’t realise there was so much about New Zealand that I missed until I was there.
On the last day of the conference Colin flew over to join me. Matt picked him up, then they met me in the city in the late afternoon. After a quick drink we headed home to Nadine and Joel and enjoyed a long night catching up followed by a mellow Saturday. It was great to catch up with these friends whom we hadn’t seen for over two years, to see how Joel had grown, and discuss potential names for the small girl who at that time was only a few days from being born. Time flew, and later on Saturday we flew up to Auckland for a further wonderful week in New Zealand. But I am so thankful for those few days in Wellington on my own, and with others.
My top food picks for Wellington:
- Midnight Espresso or Fidels for excellent coffee
- Wine and craft beers at Duke Carvell’s
- Floriditas for breakfast and the best eggs in town
- Rasa for excellent Malayasian food
- Good quality and reasonably priced accommodation in the heart of Cuba St, the Comfort Hotel
- Good Luck bar and Betty’s for fun night-times
NB: Hover your mouse over the photos for explanatory captions.