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Wellington, New Zealand

by Glenys Bowman (Glenys' Home for Exchange in Wellington)

Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, is charming and unique. Although small by international standards (the population of the greater Wellington region is only 424,000, and the city area 164,000), the city has the vibrancy and sophistication of a much bigger city. In 2004, Conde Naste Traveller magazine voted it the 18th “hottest city in the world”.

The first thing that strikes you about Wellington is its setting, with the downtown area nestled around a beautiful harbour, and surrounded by green hills. Most Wellington residents live within three kilometres of the sea. The central city area is only two kilometres in diameter, so you can get around easily. Much of this city area is flat, but narrow, winding streets (and steps for pedestrians) quickly take you up to the densely populated hilly areas behind. This topography creates many wonderful cityscapes, both looking up from the central city at the quaint wooden houses perched on the hills, and looking down to the city and harbour from the hill areas. Many people have compared Wellington to San Francisco for this reason.

In downtown Wellington you’ll find three diverse areas - the shops and business centre of Lambton Quay, the theatre and night action of Courtenay Place, and the funky Cuba Street district. Formal restaurants, stylish cafes and bars abound, most with pavement tables and seating – even in winter. Wellington is said to have more restaurants, bars and cafes per head than New York!

The jewel in the city’s crown is Oriental Parade, the tree-lined boulevard skirting Oriental Bay, adjacent to the city centre. Here you’ll see hundreds of people strolling, skateboarding, roller blading, cycling, and in summer, swimming in the clean water, or sunning themselves on the sand. A drive further around the coast takes you past rocky bays to the southern suburbs, where you can marvel at quirky wooden houses, and stop for good coffee at seaside cafés.  On a sunny day the water is a deep turquoise, flecked with the white sails of small yachts. The stately, white inter-island ferry, plying its way between Wellington and the South Island, is a stunning sight.

On the fringe of the central city is New Zealand’s Parliament, in the historic suburb of Thorndon, where are also sited the National Library, and National Archives, where New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, is housed. In Thorndon you can visit old St Paul’s church, with its wooden Gothic architecture, and also the birthplace of New Zealand’s most famous writer, Katherine Mansfield.

Cafes and bars line the downtown wharf area, a great area for a stroll, day or night. At night, the area is lit by coloured lights, giving it a magical quality. Along this stretch of the harbour is the national Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa (Our People), described by the Washington Post is "one of the most ambitiously eclectic museums in the world". Here you’ll also find the Michael Fowler Events Centre, Circa Theatre, the city library, and several parks.

Wellington is known as the culture capital of New Zealand, being home to the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the National Opera and national dance and drama schools. Three professional theatres offer a range of performance, from traditional to fringe, and including Maori and Pacific.  During the International Arts Festival, held in February and March every second year, artists from all over the world offer a dazzling array of performance. The festival attracts visitors from all over the country, as well as from overseas.

Wellington’s busy airport, only a 15-minute drive from the city, links to all cities and provincial towns in the country, as well as overseas destinations. Travellers can also reach the South Island by the inter-island ferry, the picturesque Wellington to Picton trip through the Marlborough Sounds taking about three hours.

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