“I love this city, the hills, the harbour, the wind that blasts through it. I love the life and pulse and activity, and the warm decrepitude.”
~Patricia Grace, Cousins
Wellington was back in business the day after Cyclone Fehi had swept through the city. Lingering puddles in the streets and a dampness in the air were the only telltale signs that the night before had been a blustery one. The morning sky seemed hesitant to let go of the storm, turning an ominous gray one minute and allowing specks of blue to peek through the next.
The city’s weather was the topic of conversation everywhere we went. A California couple we met in the Botanic Garden told us their flight from Auckland had been unable to land, returning to Auckland and then making a second harrowing-but-successful attempt. Our server at lunch said many of her customers had been completely drenched from wind blowing the rain sideways. And a volunteer at Old St. Paul’s Church was equally surprised by the storm’s intensity, but offered a more pragmatic view of New Zealand’s weather:
“We’re just a couple of islands floating around in the Pacific, so we’re always impacted by weather patterns.”
Situated on the southwestern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, Wellington is the country’s capital and second largest city. It’s a compact place, easily walkable, with a promenade stretching along the waterfront and streets that weave through the city center before heading into the hills above. Wellington lays claim to the title of world’s windiest city, an honor that seems very well-deserved!
Wellington Cable Car
Herb and I began our day with a ride on the Wellington Cable Car from Lambton Quay, the main downtown street, to Kelburn, a suburban hillside area overlooking the city. It’s a fun and quick journey through a tunnel of lights and alongside hills with terraced houses. At the top, we stopped at the Cable Car Museum, which depicts the city’s cable car story from its 1902 origins, before starting our walk back down to the city through the Wellington Botanic Garden.
Wellington Botanic Garden
The Wellington Botanic Garden spreads out over more than 61 acres from its entrance at the top of the Cable Car to Bowen Street in the city center. Gently sloping pathways wind their way through native forests, themed gardens and charming wooded nooks. Floral tiles embedded in stone mark the route among the thick foliage and divergent paths, but with the pristine setting and so much surrounding beauty, it’s a place where getting lost doesn’t really matter.
Just before reaching the final walkway into the city center, we were surprised to happen upon Bolton Street Cemetery, dating from 1840 to 1892. A path through the cemetery leads to a bridge over Motorway SH1 and more old headstones, which are neatly tucked on a small patch of land behind a modern office building. It’s an unusual juxtaposition, and I later learned that Bolton Street Cemetery is Wellington’s original burial ground and has an active group of volunteers aimed at developing the area as “an historic cemetery-park.”
Back in the city center, we headed to New Zealand’s government buildings and Wellington’s unmistakable architectural landmark, The Beehive. The Executive Wing building was inaugurated in 1977 and is home to the New Zealand Cabinet and Prime Minister. Next door is the Parliament House, a Neoclassical building designed in 1918, and next to the that is the Gothic Revival Parliamentary Library, built in 1899. It’s an interesting and unusual architectural trio of vastly different styles and periods.
Old St. Paul’s
Several blocks away on Mulgrave Street is Old St. Paul’s, a Gothic Revival wooden church built in the mid-1860s. When a larger Anglican cathedral was erected nearby in 1964, the New Zealand government purchased Old St. Paul’s, keeping it open for visitors and special events and services. The interior, constructed with native timbers and beautiful stained glass, is awash in golden tones and offers a glimpse of Wellington life at an earlier time.
We continued our visit to 1860s Wellington with lunch at The Thistle Inn, New Zealand’s oldest surviving tavern and restaurant operating from its original site. The Thistle Inn was first built in 1840, destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1866, standing “in modest splendor on the same spot for the past 175 years,” according to its website. It’s easy to pass by the simple frame exterior, but the interior is warm and welcoming, with a light-filled dining room, rich hardwood floors and white tablecloths. And the food is quite delicious as well!
Wellington Writers Walk
After lunch we walked along the waterfront promenade to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Along the way, I was hoping to find the Wellington Writers Walk, a series of typographical sculptures featuring quotations about the city by New Zealand writers. Unlike the Writers Walk at Sydney Harbour, Wellington’s tributes are more of a scavenger hunt, spread randomly and separately – from boardwalks to benches to piers – throughout the area.
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand’s national museum and translates to container of treasures in Māori. It’s the place that people will tell you not to miss, “even if you can only visit one museum in New Zealand.” Five floors of information and interactive exhibits on Māori culture, arts, natural history and the environment are displayed in a spectacular space along the Wellington waterfront.
Cuba Street – Almost
A soft drizzly mist was falling as we left Te Papa and headed to our shuttle meeting spot. We took a different route toward Cuba Street, passing interesting old buildings and industrial-looking modern spaces. I had hoped to stop for a coffee in this part of the city, but the hour was getting late and the drizzle was turning to rain, and we both knew it was time to leave. Coffee on Cuba Street would have to wait for another day.
That’s one of the things I love most about travel. No matter how long you stay somewhere, there’s never enough time to fit everything in, but there is always the hope of a future visit. Even if the probability of a return trip isn’t very likely, that hope remains, filed away with photos and ticket stubs and memories of walking through Wellington on a windy, drizzly day.