Having spent our first week in Auckland, I decided to check out the nation’s capital, Wellington, for this week’s post before finishing up our NZ stint back in Auckland next week.
Huh? Wouldn’t it have been more logical to do the other Auckland suburb before heading south? Well yes, but one look at the weather convinced me to leave pronto or suffer through the week of lousy weather that was forecast for Welly – because lousy weather, I was told, was something Wellington excelled at.
So, from a city with a population of 1.4 million to one with less than 400,000. Accordingly we only spent three days there – surely such a small city would only need a small amount of time to digest. But the “coolest little capital in the world” (according to Lonely Planet) punches above its weight – I left feeling like I needed at least another week there.
I chose a suburb close to the city centre because, like Auckland, most of Wellington was on holiday; if I had any chance of finding people to photograph, it would be in a ‘busy’ area like Te Aro.
No such luck. Te Aro was approaching busy for one of the days I was there but the rest of the time, deserted.
Super quick history… Used to be dodgy in certain bits, now the city’s alternative end, filled with vintage shops, cafes and apartment buildings.
Okay, hold on to your hat and let’s go Te Aro!
Part 1: Windy Welly
The adventure started before we even set foot in the place. Well known for being one of the windiest cities on the planet, the morning our Airbus A320 curved around on its final approach to Wellington Airport it was bright and sunny but blowing one hell of a gale. So bad the captain aborted his first attempt at a landing – not far from the ground, he hit the throttle and we felt the plane suddenly lurch heavenwards once more.
Looking down from the plane’s window at choppy Cook Strait was initially exciting – but after the aborted landing, all I could think was, I really don’t want Coco and I to end up in the drink. Normally one to enjoy the cheap thrill of air turbulence, I found myself desperately trying to tune out – but failing, as the plane shuddered and shook, fighting to stay level and making the eeriest noises imaginable.
On his second attempt, Captain Wonderful went for it – and this time managed to beat the notorious cross-winds, avoid the hills and bring the Airbus safely back to earth on the unbelievably short landing strip.
It was like nothing I’d ever experienced – which was exactly what another passenger told the local TV news crew who gathered around us as we disembarked, there to capture the dramatic landings of the day.
Welcome to windy Welly. Very bloody windy Welly.
The reason for the super windy city? Wellington sits in a major wind tunnel, created by the mountains on either side of Cook Strait – as the winds pass through the gap they pick up speed and strength.
Part 2: Vintage
The main heart of Te Aro is Cuba Street, where every second shop seems to be about one of two things – vintage clothes or caffeine.
Beginning with the vintage…
The first person I met on Cuba Street was Cian, a “fashion designer in the making” with a Boy George inspired look. While Cian reckoned Wellington was the most liberal city in New Zealand, he still felt “tolerated but not accepted” – “Yeah, I get called a faggot sometimes.”
Next was Grace, with her skater boyfriend, Fuzz. For them, Wellington was the only place to be in NZ – “If there wasn’t a Wellington in New Zealand, we’d move to Melbourne”. Why the Wellington love? “It’s artsy, cosy, fun. You’re free here, to be yourself”. And why Melbourne? “We’ve heard it’s like a giant Wellington.”
While there were a fair amount of black-clad bods wandering around, Te Aro also struck me as particularly colourful.
Part 3: Coffee culture
Apparently Wellington has ‘more bars, cafes and restaurants per capita than New York’. For once, I believe them. Whoever they are.
It also appeared to have less Starbucks per capita than any other city I’ve visited – these cafes are independently owned, by people who are passionate about beans and brews.
Part 4: Wild Wellington
If I’d stayed another week, I would’ve shot a suburb that showed off Wellington’s wonderfully wild side – but as it is, here’s a few pics of a beautiful Bengal cat I met lurking around the place and the painted calves of a local called Steve.
I would love to have seen Wellington in full swing, rather than half deserted. But even so, I loved it. In the way you can get your fix of alternative-urban in Te Aro and then head for the hills – and leave the city behind in no time at all. And as much as it might annoy, I found the wild wind incredibly invigorating. Except of course when you’re in a flying tin can, attempting to land. Then it’s just slightly terrifying.
On the ‘home front’
Once again Coco was largely taken off my hands this week by our Auckland friend, Gay, who travelled down to Wellington with us, and whose family we stayed with while we were there (many thanks to all the Miers’). So while I was nosing around Te Aro, Coco was off playing tourist – and loving it.
We’re back in Auckland for one more week before flying off to our very last city on 52 Suburbs Around the World – Melbourne, Australia. With only four more posts to go now, I’m starting to feel sad and excited in equal measure. This has been a constant for so long now, I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like without it.
This suburb has been brought to you by Linda Ottery
See you next week.