48

Te Aro

TA intro

 

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.

 

 

white horses gallop through Cook Strait

white horses gallop through Cook Strait

 

 

 

 

sea dwellers

sea dwellers

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

mountainous terrain

mountainous terrain

 

 

 

 

windy Welly

windy Welly

 

 

 

 

chur bro, this place is windy eh? :: 1

chur bro, this place is windy eh? :: 1

 

 

 

 

chur bro, this place is windy eh? :: 2

chur bro, this place is windy eh? :: 2

 

 

 

 

chur bro, this place is windy eh? :: 4

chur bro, this place is windy eh? :: 3

 

 

 

 

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…

 

 

plenty of vintage, including the buildings

plenty of vintage, including the buildings

 

 

 

 

retro and recycled rules

retro and recycled rules

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

"I feel tolerated not accepted" - Cian

“I feel tolerated not accepted” – Cian

 

 

 

 

black and white

black and white

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

freedom - Grace

freedom – Grace

 

 

 

While there were a fair amount of black-clad bods wandering around, Te Aro also struck me as particularly colourful.

 

 

orange

orange

 

 

 

 

sea green

sea green

 

 

 

 

violet

violet

 

 

 

 

blue

blue

 

 

 

 

pink

pink

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

coffee culture on Cuba

coffee culture on Cuba

 

 

 

 

coffee everything

coffee everything

 

 

 

 

neighbours - coffee and books

neighbours – coffee and books

 

 

 

 

blown away - barista Drew

blown away – barista Drew from Milk Crate

 

 

 

 

coffee, past and present- barista Chris from Flight Coffee Hangar

coffee, past and present – barista Chris from Flight Coffee Hangar

 

 

 

 

eat and drink street

eat and drink street

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

wild Wellington

wild Wellington

 

 

 

 

watching the birdies

watching the birdies

 

 

 

 

"They're Day of the Dead tattoos with a NZ twist, representing me and my wife" - Steve

“They’re Day of the Dead tattoos with a NZ twist, representing me and my wife” – Steve

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

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. 

 

 

 

 

flying back to her adopted home, Auckland - Elizabeth, originally from Samoa

flying back to her adopted home, Auckland – Elizabeth, originally from Samoa

 

 

 

 

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.

 

40

Shimokitazawa

S intro3

 

So, you’ve heard of Harajuku right? The place where young Japanese do extreme dress-up? Okay, well, this week I thought we wouldn’t go there (too famous) – but somewhere that I’d heard was a Harajuku-lite. Hip but more relaxed. A neighbourhood in western Tokyo called Shimokitazawa, or Shimokita as the locals call it.

While I knew we wouldn’t find grown men in onesies or gothic lolitas there, I thought at least we’d see some dress-up. But no. Maybe we missed it. Because Shimokita seemed more cozy and kawaii (cute) than anything else, its narrow car-free alleys filled with a fairly ordinary mix of people hanging out at the independent cafes, vintage clothing shops and tiny bars and eateries.

Pretty amazing considering it’s just 10 minutes by train from the skyscrapers and madness of Shinjuku.

Let’s wander…

 

Part 1: Food and drinkies in Shimokita

As I mentioned, the neighbourhood is dotted with bars, cafes, restaurants. My favourite bar was the one where Tony Montana was at. No, not that Tony Montana (Al Pacino, Scarface, 1983). This Tony Montana…

 

 

everyone stands at a stand-up bar - that's Tony, on the right

everyone stands at a stand-up bar – that’s Tony, on the right

 

 

 

 

mushrooms and chook on the grill

mushrooms and chook on the grill

 

 

 

 

hey, hello, anyone?

hey, hello, anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

Tony was there with his owner, Kawabata. I asked Kawabata what he liked about living in Shimokita – he said, “It’s exciting”. (Or at least I think that’s what he said. Kawabata, if you’re reading this and I just misquoted you, please let me know.)

 

 

what? I'm hungry

what? I’m hungry

 

 

 

 

finally

finally

 

 

 

 

Given how many rules there are in Tokyo, I’m sure there’s one that says – No dog, including one named after a famous American actor, is allowed to eat at a bar. But this is Shimokita – chill.

There are lots of cute dogs in the neighbourhood – like this one…

 

 

let's call her Fluffy

let’s call her Fluffy

 

 

 

 

…. but really, Tony Montana was the best.

 

 

in their own worlds

in their own worlds

 

 

 

 

Aside from the bars, the main food focus in the neighbourhood seemed to be on fish and noodles.

 

 

fish, fresh and dried

fish, fresh and dried

 

 

 

 

let's get a taxi, this thing weighs a tonne

let’s get a taxi, this thing weighs a tonne

 

 

 

 

where would Japan be without its noodles?

where would Japan be without its noodles?

 

 

 

 

noodles in the making

noodles in the making

 

 

 

 

As for cafes, my favourite was this one, with a small photography gallery out the back and a very sweet barista, Susumu…

 

 

Ballon D'essai

Ballon D’essai

 

 

 

 

Susumu

Susumu

 

 

 

 

thank you Yoshida!

thank you Yoshida!

 

 

 

 

Part 2: On the main street

We met all sorts of people…

 

 

the inspiration for his hair do? - Teruaki

the inspiration for his hair do? – Teruaki

 

 

 

 

tradition

tradition

 

 

 

 

Kaede

French-ish – Kaede

 

 

 

 

half Dutch, half Japanese - Yuzuki and Luca

half Dutch, half Japanese – Yuzuki and Luca

 

 

 

 

Shunto

Shunto

 

 

 

 

There are few cars around but occasionally you see the odd taxi – of which I am strangely fond. Their bright colours, the lace seat covers and the impeccably dressed taxi drivers and their white gloves. Pity they cost an arm and a leg.

 

 

 

taxi!

taxi!

 

 

 

 

the smartest taxi drivers ever

the smartest taxi drivers ever

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Obsession No. 1

Lanterns. Love them. Can’t stop snapping them. Especially when combined with gleefully happy two year old Mei.

 

 

hanging out with grandpa - Fukai and Mei

hanging out with grandpa – Fukai and Mei

 

 

 

 

fish

fish

 

 

 

 

the kiss

the kiss

 

 

 

 

fun

fun

 

 

 

 

Speaking of fish and lanterns…

 

 

attracted by the light

attracted by the light

 

 

 

 

early evenings

early evenings

 

 

 

 

Part 4: House and garden

After we’d explored the main shopping area, we walked up the little hill to check out the houses. While most of them were the typical Tokyo low-rise 70s-80s kind, there was one that caught my eye – old, of course, with a traditional garden.

 

 

the garden :: 1

the garden :: 1

 

 

 

 

the garden :: 2

the garden :: 2

 

 

 

 

the garden :: 3

the garden :: 3

 

 

 

 

And I cannot ignore a nice old wall…

 

 

wall :: 1

wall :: 1

 

 

 

 

wall :: 2

wall :: 2

 

 

 

 

bows

bows

 

 

 

 

And even when there’s no space for a garden, nature still sneaks in…

 

 

windows

windows

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Autumn

One of the reasons I decided to include Tokyo in this project was I wanted to see the autumn leaves. While there aren’t many in Tokyo, I did spot a few. On trees and as well as elsewhere…

 

 

a slow reveal

a slow reveal

 

 

 

 

Inside this beautifully wrapped packaging from a shop in Shimokita was…

 

 

autumn :: 1

autumn :: 1

 

 

 

 

autumn :: 2

autumn :: 2

 

 

 

 

autumn :: 3

autumn :: 3

 

 

 

 

Japanese design is unbelievably wonderful. From their papers and fabrics to the sweets above. And these ones too…

 

 

kawaii!

kawaii!

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

When they ask young people where they most want to live in Tokyo, apparently Shimokita is one of the top choices. I can see why; it’s an incredibly relaxed and friendly little corner of Tokyo that’s minutes away from the bright lights of Shinjuku et al. I just hope it manages to hang on to its charm – just around the corner from Susumu’s hand-drawn coffees is a Starbucks. Just saying.

 

 

 

at the cat cafe

at yet another cat cafe

 

 

 

 

tea and hot chocolate

tea and hot chocolate

 

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Coco loved Shimokita. Aside from its small town charm, it had a cat cafe. A done deal really.

Now, I hope you’re still reading because I have news. Having almost not come here, Tokyo has got me firmly in its clutches. So we’re staying a few extra weeks. And, I’m so sorry if this is going to disappoint anyone, but I’m cancelling Mexico City. After Tokyo, one more big city may just do me in – well, us in actually. We’re both pretty exhausted. The kind of exhaustion that makes you feel quite odd at times and unable to move. We’ve been going at it for 11 months and it’s showing.

There’s more. You know how I’m running late – as in, I’m only up to ‘Suburb’ No 40 which means I have 12 more installments to go – but the year ends in just six weeks?

Well, the problem is, my Around the World tickets expire at the end of those six weeks. If we don’t finish by then, I’ll have to buy new tickets home. It may not sound like much but it’s just one cost too many – even with the wonderful support of my sponsors and Kickstarter supporters (hello! I love you!), this project has ended up costing me a pretty penny.

I’ve been really struggling with this for weeks. I’m so passionate about this project and so committed to making it the best possible virtual travel experience I can for you. But I just can’t take any more out of my mortgage to fund it (I know, extreme huh?).

So, here’s my solution. I’m going to do 12 ‘suburbs’ in six weeks. Ha! They’ll be shorter for sure, it may kill me, but…

And after Tokyo, we’ll finish the last few weeks in a mystery location.

If anyone has another solution (eg, know someone at Qantas who’ll extend my tickets for another month) please do tell.

I’m so sorry if you’re disappointed by any of this. But I think my plan will work out okay. It’ll just be 52 Suburbs Around the World ‘Lite’ from now on…

This suburb has been brought to you by Nirah Mattila 

See you next week – twice hopefully.

 

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