Wellington has become the main city for the New Zealand film industry due to, in no small part, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and director Peter Jackson. Jackson has been making movies in the area for many years - starting with featurette The Valley in 1976 and feature film Bad Taste in 1987 (my favourite being Brain Dead) - and the area has grown in this capacity.
This has been also thanks to Weta Workshops who provide a vast amount of digital and all sorts of other functions in the making of movies.
At the end of Courtenay Place there is a large sculpture which is really an oversized movie camera on legs - looks like a sort of star wars type machine.
According to oral tradition, explorer and navigator Kupe found New Zealand and it was his wife, Kuramârôtini (behind every great man & all that!), who named it Aotearoa (long white cloud).
Kupe's journey was triggered by difficulties with fishing in Hawaiki, his homeland (thought to be Rai-atea in the Society Group). Oral tradition tells the story of the problem being a great octopus belonging to Kupe’s competitor, Muturangi. Kupe set out in his canoe with his brother in law in another to kill the octopus and such was the length of the pursuit that it brought them to New Zealand.
A monument to this great man in NZ history can be found on the waterfront not too far from Te Papa with his wife and one of his mates.
The other thing that absolutely fascinates me about Wellington is partly linked to the mass of pohutukawa around the place. Those trees are the perfect food source for honeyeaters and therefore attract the tui in the thousands.
Those big blackish birds with their fluorescent feathers and the distinctive white tufts on the throat fly around everywhere, even in the busy centre – wherever you find pohutukawa or NZ flax. I have photographed them in front of Parliament, in the Botanic Garden, at the War Memorial, just about everywhere.
The facts that we do not have tui in Christchurch surely adds to my fascination with those birds. Our main honeyeater is the bellbird. Having such exotic birds in a city centre where you would rather expect concrete buildings and traffic jams, adds to this fascination.
Photo 2 shows a tui singing in a tree next to the War Memorial.
If you have not read about my love for pohutukawa – New Zealand’s Christmas Tree – on some of my other pages, let me just tell it again: Since my first visit to NZ those beautiful trees which are covered in red blossoms around Christmas time, have a place in my heart.
First thing after settling in NZ, I planted several ones in containers, so they do not lift the house with their impressive roots at some point ;-) But as inhabitants of the east coast of the South Island we do not a terrible lot of them, just in Christchurch’s seaside suburb of Sumner, and even here in Lyttelton, and the most impressive pohutukawa town on the wet and more suitable West Coast in Greymouth. The pohutukawa clearly is more wide-spread on the North Island, and Wellington is a brilliant example of that.
The drive from the airport to the city is like a parade through pohutukawa-lined streets, and somehow they are everywhere, as the absolutely dominant tree of the city and its suburbs. They are in front of Parliament, around the main War Memorial, the university grounds, parks and gardens. It is a big joy from the start until the end of a visit.
Flowering starts mid November already, starting on the sunnier north sides of the trees. It can vary, depending on the general weather conditions, like everywhere.
At the bottom of the Plimmer Steps, running between Boulcott St and Lambton Quay, stands a monument to the man awarded the title 'Father of Wellington'. The statue is of Plimmer and his dog - probably out escaping from his 11 children (spread over 2 marriages) - he had 11 siblings of his own!
Plimmer came to Wellington in 1841 and settled at Te Aro. He was a bit of a businessman with his most successful early venture being the purchase of a wrecked ship the "Inconstant" which he transformed into a wharf warehouse commonly known as "Noah's Ark. A that stage the warf came up to modern day Lambton Quay! What is now the old Bank Archade sits on top of the original site of Noahs Ark.
He died at the ripe old age of 92 in 1905.
Favorite thing: Courtenay Place is the centre of night life in Wellington. It has quite a few drinking spots along its length including some coffee houses. If you take a walk down Courtenay place at night you'll probably come across the large number of very young people staggering beetween pubs as they find their mojo.
Wellington goes to great lengths to bolster its reputation as the arts and cultural capital of New Zealand. This includes to give scholarships and support to artists of different genres. One scheme is the Artist in Residence programme (which BTW is not only available in Wellington). The programmes include free accommodation, studio and a monthly honorarium. Normally such residences are for six months.
In Wellington those artists – painter, poet – live in historic places. When I was there last time I met up with Jennifer Compton, better known as VT member craic. She is an award-winning writer and poet, and was granted the Writer in Residence programme in Wellington from March to September 2008, residing in Randall Cottage in the hilly suburb of Thorndon, right behind the Botanic Garden – watching and feeding birds when she is not writing ;-)
I copied this info about Jennifer’s life from the website of the French Embassy:
Jennifer Compton was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1949 and had two poems published in the NZ Listener when she was 15.
In 1972 she travelled to Sydney, Australia with her husband Matthew O’Sullivan and attended the Playwrights’ Studio at NIDA. The play she wrote for this course, Crossfire, jointly won the Newcastle Playwrighting Competition in 1974 and premiered at the Nimrod Theatre in Sydney and was published by Currency Press. The play was presented by Downstage Theatre in Wellington in the late 70s.
Before her two children were born, in 1983 and 1984, she flew backwards and forwards across the Tasman and worked in both countries. For instance, her radio plays (A Wigwam For A Goose’s Bridle, Morning Glories, Several Local Dandelions) were produced by the ABC and RNZ. And she won the Bank of NZ Katherine Mansfield Award in 1977 for her story The Man Who Died Twice.
Then she moved with her family to Wingello, a small town on the Southern Highlands of NSW, and concentrated on writing poetry and short prose.
In 1995 her poem Blue Leaves won the Robert Harris Poetry Prize and she was awarded the NSW Ministry For The Arts Fellowship, the first time this had been awarded for poetry.
During her Fellowship year she wrote a book of poetry, Blue, which was short listed for the NSW Premier’s Prize, and a stage play, The Big Picture, which premiered at the Griffin Theatre in Sydney and was published by Currency Press. It was performed by Circa Theatre in Wellington in the late 1990’s.
She has been a guest at many Festivals in Australia, including the Sydney Writers’ Festival, the Spring Writing Festival, the Australian Poetry Festival, the Shoalhaven Poetry Festival and the Overload Poetry Festival. In 2005 she was a guest at the International Festival Of Poetry in Genoa and in 2006 was a guest at the Sarajevo Poetry Festival.
Her book of poetry, Parker & Quink, was published by Ginninderra Press in 2005 and her next book of poetry, Barefoot, is ready to go. A book of reflections about travel and place - The Wrong Side Of The Road - is nearly complete.
In 2006 she was resident in the Whiting Library Studio in Rome from February to July. And in 2007 she spent a month as a Creative Writing Fellow at the Liguria Study Centre in Bogliasco.
In 2008 she is happily ensconsed at the Randell Cottage working on her novel which is set in the Wairarapa and is called All The Time In The World.
Fondest memory: Jennifer’s tales about the bad food in Rome. During her stay at the Whiting Library Studio in Italy’s capital she made some very bad experience and told me stories about Italian food and customs surrounding the food I had never heard nor experienced, and so she made me laugh a lot. To convince her how wonderful Italian food is I suggested we go to La Casa Pasta for dinner – which was a very bad idea as this restaurant serves all but Italian food LOL
Ah, and as we are talking Wellington… Randall House is a very cute white weatherboard cottage, a bit with not only the look but also the scent of yesteryear. Relocate it to Christchurch, and you would freeze to death. But I just love such cottages, everything so tiny and cute. While I was there in the afternoon for a cuppa and identifying birds a gardener trimmed the hydrangeas – which would not have disturbed us inside but the birds waiting impatiently to feed on the wholemeal crackers Jennifer sprinkled on the lawn for them.
Interestingly enough Jennifer once lived in another landmark cottage: in the cottage of the famous painter Rita Angus in nearby Sydney Street West. We went there at the time when they had the big Rita Angus exhibition at Te Papa - and I went back again to the exhibition to compare the real cottage with the painting of it :-) This is always nice - like visiting Monet's garden in Giverny...
And, ah, ah… On the way to the cottage we watched a dozen tuis flying, singing and creaking in the trees. A magic moment in nature.
I never stay awake long enough to see the ugly face of such places like Courtenay Place which is not a place in the meaning of: square, but a street which is the centre of Wellington’s dining and café scene. At its eastern end is the Embassy Theatre. It is just two or three blocks from the Waterfront and Te Papa, so you will always get there at some point.
There are talks to convert Courtenay Place into a square – which I think would be fantastic. Police would also praise this as a fantastic idea as it could help to solve the problem of car hoons cruising the street on weekends and endangering the thousands of people who are only out there for dinner or a drink and having fun. (Not to talk of what happens in the early morning hours when most revellers are drunken and the rate of violent encounters raises dramatically…)
There are some great Italian places at Courtenay Place, some with nice outdoor seating. Great to watch other people ;-)
Quite a while ago a VT member wrote in a tip about Wellington that “the cables” destroy everything.
I would not go that far – but those mysterious wires make you go to extra lenghts if you want to take perfect photos. And those, of course, do not include wires running across facades, through the centre of your photos, or as ugly black lines across a brilliant blue sky. We tend to make nature and even city scapes look more beautiful than they are – and power cables in the middle of a fantastic landscapes are pure horror, as they destroy the impression of an untouched world.
Those cables in Wellington make the electric trolley buses run in an environmentally friendly way. Last year 61 new and more reliable ones have been ordered to be added to the fleet over 2008 and 2009.
I think those overhead lines, mixed with power lines, are an eyesore if you want to take photos. If you just walk around they do not disturb your views, somehow you can blend them out. And if you think of the environmental profits those wires deliver you just have to accept and like them, as you can walk in the city centre without diesel clouds being blown right into your face and airways.
The problem is that the overhead lines can go down in heavy storms, and then a small chaos breaks out. However, the new buses carry a battery back-up, so break-downs resulting from power-outages will – hopefully – soon be a thing of the past.
Statistics show that about 8 million people used the trolley bus service per year, which is about 50 per cent of Wellington’s public transport volume. Those buses were introduced in 1924. The new ones are manufactured in Ashburton. Before the decision to modernise the fleet the service was under threat. There were big discussions about the funding, as trolley buses are more expensive to manufacture and to run because of the overhead electric system. Finally NZ Bus and the Greater Wellington Regional Council struck a deal to save the service.
This is not an accommodation tip as I have not stayed at the Museum Hotel which sits at a fabulous location next to Te Papa. I write about it because it formerly sat at the place where you now find Te Papa, and it was relocated in 1993 to make way for the new national museum. It was the biggest structure ever moved in New Zealand.
It took four months to loosen the building from its foundations, and only two days to move it 120 metres across the road on a railway. The hotel reopened five month after the spectacular shift.
If you are interested in details, read the full story of the relocation on the hotel’s website
In the hotel they have a model of the relocation.
If you want to stay at hotel – rates start at about $ 150 (weekend; up to 325 for a two bedroom suite), and during the week from $ 185. Weekend packages including breakfast buffet and a bottle of bubbly for $239, with three-course dinner for two $ 279. (Prices as April 2008)
Address: 90 Cable Street, Wellington 6011
Phone (04) 802 8900, (0800) 994 335
There are also some cafés and bars in Cuba Street (Mall) but for going out in the evening Courtenay Place is clearly nicer, has much better atmosphere. During daytime Cuba Street, also known for the Bucket Fountain, is more interesting, as there are many trendy shops, often with an alternative touch, tattoo studios and second-hand bookshops. When those shops and the cafés with their outdoor areas are closed at night the atmosphere is gone, and we thought it was not even nice to walk there, as it was so empty and lifeless.
Cuba Street has the problem of many pedestrian zones created in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s where the emphasis was on shops, and not on entertainment and hospitality. So such malls are great during the day and dead at night, and attract folk you would rather not meet.
As we went to a bar we had to walk there at night, but the dubious creatures hanging around did not really make us feel safe. It was not that we felt threatened but we were happy when we were back in a livlier area.
As we were there over the weekend and out of the city on a Monday we did not get aware of the daily problem Wellingtonians face in Cuba Street during the day. The business people were so fed up with drunken people fighting, urinating, and vomiting in front of their shops that they demanded action, and the city councillors were too happy to think about setting stricter rules to not let louts ruin Wellington as a tourist destination. So at the end of March 2008 they passed a bylaw, extending the liquor ban from the weekend and certain places only to the whole city centre and 24/7. This means that you as a visitor cannot drink alcohol in public places either.
Believe me, Wellington is not the only windy place in New Zealand, especially in spring, although it has the label Windy Wellington. Wind speeds are not much higher than in other coastal cities. What makes Wellington special in this respect are the powerful gusts of more than 63 km/h (34 knots) which blast the city on an average of 199 days per year. Such days are counted as windy days. Other cities might have such strong gusts on 30 or 35 days. Very windy days are days with wind speeds of more than 96 km/h (52 knots). Wellington has an average of 64 of these… (Source: www.nz.com)
New Zealand consists of long thin islands located in the roaring forties, so it is a windy place. Wellington, at the bottom of the North Island, experiences westerly gales sweeping through Cook Strait, and southerlies that come up from Antarctica. This narrow passage has the effect of a funnel that bundles the gusts which then sweep into the lenghty harbour basin.
The narrow streets, bordered by high-rise office buildings have the same effect – and so even make the gusts worse. When once you get into such a blast and it rains, do not even think of opening your umbrella. Either you lose it, or it breaks, and whatever happens – it does not protect you from the rain at all. Better you go to a museum or have a coffee break ;-)
The 1855 earthquake was the most dramatic tremor of the earth ever recorded in New Zealand but not the first and not the last one, especially not in Wellington. The magnitude was 8.2 on the Richter scale, and it rocked the southern part of the North Island. It was caused by a movement of a fault in Palliser Bay, east of the capital and the North Island’s southernmost point.
The city is prone to earthquakes because it rests on the point where two tectonic plates meet. Several kilometres beneath Wellington the light and thick Australian plate rides over the heavier, but thinner Pacific plate. These plate movements have resulted in five major fault-lines running either through or very close to Wellington City. When one of these faults shifts suddenly an earthquake occurs.
Thanks to the frequent earthquakes Wellington has become one of the world's leading centres for the study and research of earthquake activity and for the development of seismic strengthening techniques in buildings. An impressive example of the latter – the shock absorbers – can be seen in the Quake Brake exhibition at the entrance of Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Museum.
The European settlers experienced their first major earthquake in Wellington in 1848 when a 7.1 magnitude shock claimed three lives. In 1855 – when 80 per cent of all chimneys collapsed - only one person died in Wellington when a two-storey hotel collapsed, and three people in the Wairarapa. The coastline was raised by up to 1.5 metres. Part of this land – which should have become a shipping basin – is now home of a famous cricket ground, named the Basin Reserve. (There, BTW, is NZ’s only cricket museum.)
One of the early safety measures was to replace brick buildings by timber constructions. However, whereas most residential homes were built of timber most commercial buildings were reconstructed in brick because of the fire risk of a wooden construction.
On the website of the Greater Wellington Regional Council I read that today a large, shallow earthquake magnitude about 7.4 along the Wellington fault during the day could cause 500 deaths and 4000 injuries. 100,000 buildings would be damaged in some way.
In the whole of NZ we have about 150 significant earthquakes every year, and 10,000 to 15,000 in total, many of them are not felt and are only measured by seismographs. Records suggest that NZ has to expect several magnitude 6 earthquakes every year, one magnitude 7 every ten years, and one magnitude 8 every century. But remember: Earthquakes are not evenly spaced!
In 1855 the Wairarapa Fault ruptured; it has a recurrence interval of 1150 to 1200 years. The Ohariu Fault ruptured about 1100–1200 years ago, and has a recurrence interval of 1500 to 5000 years. The Wairau Fault last ruptured more than 800 years ago and has a recurrence interval of 1000 to 2300 years. Shepherds Gully Fault last ruptured about 1200 years ago and has a recurrence interval of 2500 to 5000 years. The Wellington Fault last ruptured between 300 and 500 years ago producing an earthquake of about magnitude 7.6. This fault produces a large earthquake about every 500 to 700 years. So this fault has the highest probability of rupturing next in the Wellington region. And with five faultlines Wellington’s destiny is to shake more or less lightly every some days.
More information on the following websites:
You might wonder why Lambton Quay is a quay although it looks like and is a normal street. But it once was the fringe of the land, so a beach road – and not even the original one. Its name is testimony to the many harbour reclamations since the arrival of the Europeans who successively expanded the area of the inner city.
When European settlers arrived in Wellington in 1839 there was little flat land close to the harbour. Reclaiming part of the harbour started in 1852 when the provincial government reclaimed 0.3 hectares. Between 1857 and 1867 another 8.4 hectares were added in a succession of projects. In total the inner city area grew by a total of more than 350 hectares since 1852.
The actual Government buildings sit on the fourth reclamation of 1.1 hectares. Directly beneath this area was the Lambton Quay beach. Fill was taken from a hill behind the Parliamentary Library.
The early reclamations had been undertaken by horse and dray. Later, wagons which ran along railway lines, were used.
Two major earthquakes in 1848 and 1855 also helped to raise the land fringing the harbour.
Lambton Quay today is Wellington’s traditional main shopping and business street. Although some well-known shops have moved to other areas, it is still the heart of the CBD.
Lambton Quay starts at the intersection with Willis Street, and reaches up to the Parliamentary Buildings and Old Government Building at its northern end. There it continues as Molesworth Street.
Apart from many beautiful shops you also find the city stop of the Cable Car on Lambton Quay.
Wellington is certainly the coffee capital of New Zealand and probably of Oceania with Australia a long way behind. With such great places as Cafe Laffare, Iona, Plum and Mojo Wellington has major competition for the best cup of coffee. This situation is enhanced with the central city being quite compact so you need only walk 400 metres or so and you are at a new place to relax for a cuppa.
Fondest memory: The measure of any coffee house is the quality of its espresso or short black as it gets called in many spots. This is my drink of preference first thing in the day with the latter drinks often a Moccha (Laffare put a stick of chocolate in theirs!!!). I'm normally in too much of a rush to sit and enjoy my morning drink unless I'm on holiday so bring on the hoilidays!!
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