“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.

I loved this sign that points the way to the Cable Car station!
Getting ready to board.
The light show inside the tunnel.
Looking out over Wellington from the Kelburn hillside.

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.

Wellington Botanic Garden Cable Car Entrance.
Floral tiles mark the route.
The Carter Observatory, National Observatory of New Zealand.
One lovely view…
…after another.
Wellington Botanic Garden Fairy Gardens - the modern postcard
The Fairy Gardens feature tiny windows painted on trees, stools disguised as mushrooms and miniature houses hidden among  plants and flowers.
The duck pond and gazebo.
Almost at the Botanic Garden exit.
The Lady Norwood Rose Garden sits near the bottom of the hill and features a café that overlooks the gardens.

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.”

Bolton Street Cemetery entrance at the end of the Botanic Gardens.
Path through Bolton Street Cemetery leading to the SH1 overpass.
The 1800s meets the 2000s.

The Beehive

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.

The Beehive and Parliament House, New Zealand’s center of government. On the far left is Bowen House, a government office building that served as Parliament’s temporary home from 1991-1996.
A closer view of the Beehive.
Parliament House’s columned front entrance.
The Parliamentary Library.

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.

The simple exterior of Old St. Paul’s.
Inside Old St. Paul’s, with soaring wooden beams in the Gothic Revival style.

Thistle Inn

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!

The Thistle Inn sits on a corner section of Mulgrave Street.
In the main dining room, tables with place settings were already reserved.
My flavorful salad included fennel and pumpkin seeds.

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.

Sam Hunt, “Letter to Jerusalem 2.”
Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, “Blue Rain.”
A beautiful turquoise world under a Wellington pier…one of those things discovered while looking for something else!

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.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa entrance.
The six-story Wellington Foyer features a grand circular window that frames a city view.
Two of the larger-than-life Māori exhibits…The Ranginui glass door depicting the Māori sky father and earth mother…
…and The Marae, Māori meeting grounds.

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.

A mural near Cuba Street.

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