Even though I’m living in Wellington now, I also spent a month living in the suburbs around the city waaaaaaay back at the beginning of the year. (Remember the socially-conscious jeweler and holistic-healing family I volunteered with? Yeah.) So while I’m spending my time looking for a job and settling into my new apartment (!!!), here’s a bit of an introduction to my favorite city in NZ:
Wellington is technically the capital of New Zealand, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. Compared to Auckland, it’s tiny (approximately 500,000 regional residents in Welly versus 1.5 million in Auckland!). It’s also far more laid back and conspicuously lacking in the high-rise buildings and stressful, congested streets I’ve come to associate with big city living. Not to say that traffic isn’t terrible in Wellington – it just seems a lot more bearable here! The vibe of the city is laid back, creative, and intellectual, with a dash of exciting nightlife thrown in. Five universities are based in the area in addition to the seat of New Zealand’s government, so you’re never at a loss for intellectual stimulation. The city’s also chocka with art, music, and creative architecture – there are at least 10 museums within ten minutes’ walk of one another on Wellington’s waterfront, and that’s just in the city center! The wind in the city is a constant threat to hair-do’s, but that’s also the price you pay to live next to a major harbor. Even though the city center is flat as can be, the suburbs rise sharply into the hills surrounding the city, giving the city a San Francisco-meets-Chicago-type feel. To me, it’s the definition of a ‘Kiwi’ metropolis: mellow, fun-loving, creative, and never far from the beach :)
When I first came to Wellington one of the first things I did was visit the Beehive, also known as the Executive Wing of New Zealand’s Parliament. The controversial building (so-called because of its uncanny resemblance to the home of those buzzing, stinging insects) was designed and built over ten years between 1969 and 1979, and houses all of the official offices for the Parliamentary Ministers. The Beehive isn’t that exciting apart from its appearance, but they do run free tours of the Parliamentary Wing from inside, which are far more interesting and informative! (Yes, of course I am a huge nerd and took a tour of Parliament by myself.) For example, on my tour I learned that NZ has only had a parliamentary government since 1869, and didn’t gain their independence from Britain until 1947 (!). I also learned that Parliament House and the Parliamentary Library are able to withstand an earthquake of up to 7.5 on the Richter Scale thanks to a base isolation underneath the entire structure. That might not sound very fascinating, but then they show you the basement, where the entire building has been isolated from its foundations and set on massive springs and steel/rubber bearings. It’s hard to imagine the entire building shifting from side to side on top of huge rolling pins, but that’s exactly what it’s designed to do. (It’s a good thing too, considering a major fault line is only 400m away!) I also got to see the impressive collection of tea sets and international memorabilia spread throughout the Parliamentary grounds (seriously), and got to sit in on a Parliamentary session where they were excitedly debating business credit (or something like that… I wasn’t listening all that carefully).
Of course, one can’t avoid visiting the waterfront when you visit Wellington, considering that the entire city is built around the harbor. The city council has done an amazing job landscaping the area – it’s full of museums and public artwork, and on a sunny day you can sit on one of the many terraced public lawns and enjoy the sunshine and the view of the water. From there it’s also just a short walk over the City-to-Sea bridge to Civic Square, which marks the boundary between the financial district to the north and the entertainment district to the south. It’s bordered on three sides by the City Gallery, the Michael Fowler Centre, and the central library, but the biggest attraction is the floating ball of silver ferns suspended in midair above the cobblestones. The sculpture was designed by Neil Dawson, and has grown to become one of the most iconic images of Wellington.
And, any trip to Wellington has to be capped off with a ride on the cable car and trip to the Botanic Gardens overlooking the city. I lucked out on my visit and was graced with blue skies and a brisk wind (even though all of the museums and the observatory were closed since it was after 5 o’clock!). Even so, I got to appreciate the kilometers of terraced gardens and playgrounds, and the ultimate tourist thrill of a round-trip cable car ride! Lucky me indeed :)