Tuesday, December 13, 2011

One Day in Wellington

Wellington, NZ is a charming, accessible town that's a can't miss stop on a tour of New Zealand. It's the capital city and it's got a very friendly, artsy feeling about it.   We only had one day to enjoy Wellington, but here's how we made the most of it.

Walking:  Start at the top and work down.
Wellington is quite compactly squished between harbor and steep hills.  Nearly all of the city is built on "reclaimed land" built out into the harbor - it's quite amazing to see a sign for the "original shore line" several blocks into town.   Also earthquakes are a regular occurrence with noticeable ones happening several times a year (one was in the news just 3 days after we moved left).

The Cable Car is a great way to get to
Botanic Garden at the top of the hill!
So to start our tour, we walked up Lambton Quay to take the Cable Car up to the Botanic Garden.  Don't make the mistake we did of buying a round trip ticket, as you'll most likely walk your way down (Ok, we could have saved a couple of bucks).   At the top, there's a lovely view of the city and several choices of paths to take back down the hill.   As far as Botanic Gardens go, I wouldn't say this one was spectacular, more like a pleasant place to take a walk (It is free, which is nice!) A few pieces of sculpture dot the area, although there was more art to see in town.   The charm of the garden is watching people make their way to work in the city by walking through every day - what a great lifestyle!

Linger over the interesting
carved headstones on your
way back to the city.
As you make your way down, don't miss the rose garden as it is truly one of the highlights of the garden.  As we exited the Rose Garden and continued our journey, the path meanders through the remains of the old Bolton St. Cemetary which was truly fascinating.   The gravesites are all of early settlers, mostly 1800s, and elaborate headstones and carvings mark some, while others are planted with small gardens.  The graves continue here and there throughout the walk downhill and it was quite interesting to read and photograph them.

Time For Lunch
For lunch, we took the recommendation of some locals and made our way across the harbor a bit to the Chocolate Fish Cafe.  They specialize in BBQ Seafood sandwiches with garlic aioli and watercress.  It's a quirky, casual place with a lovely outdoor deck   I had the crayfish fritter sandwich (yum) and they also feature whitebait, scallop, mussel, a fresh fish of the day, among several others.  Definitely recommended but may be a bit difficult to get to without a car or a bike.

Sights to See
Cuba St. is your stop for
unique shopping
Once back in the city, there's plenty of charming shopping and sightseeing to do.  Head over to Cuba Street -  previously the "red light district", but now home to an eclectic mix of historic buildings, interesting shops and unique people meandering the pedestrian-only zone.   We loved the unique cut aluminum and stainless artistic wall hangings, wood puzzles, felt jewelry and other unique souvenirs at Abstract Designs.

Meandering through the city back toward the waterfront, you'll notice the great sculptures sprinkled along your path.   The fern motif is a recurring theme in New Zealand, in honor of the "Silver Fern" which is an important symbol to New Zealanders.

If you've got a few extra hours, you may want to venture to one of Wellington's top tourist attractions, the Te Papa museum.   Although we did not get a chance to visit, our local friends gave it a big thumbs up.  And entrance is free, so you can afford to pop in and check it out.

If modern movie-making is more your thing, Wellington's Weta Cave gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the visual effects team behind this decade's hottest movies, like Lord of the Rings and Avatar. It's also free!

Dinner At the Waterfront:
After a long day trekking around the city, head down to the waterfront district for some of the best dining and people watching.   We enjoyed Foxglove in the Queens Wharf district for its modern and inspired outdoor bar area and its artfully presented, delicious food.

Getting to Wellington:
Domestic flights are inexpensive and frequent from Auckland and various points on the South Island - we found that booking through Air New Zealand directly (make sure to use the domestic / NZ website for best fares) or through Web Jet made it easy.  Wellington is also the launch point for the ferry between the North and South Island.

Spend longer than a day - book a great hotel in Wellington!
Hotels.com: Special Deals in Wellington

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