Chris Schulz

Chris Schulz is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Wellington comes alive for Arts Festival (+videos)

A scene from Circenses, which runs until March 18. Photo / Supplied
A scene from Circenses, which runs until March 18. Photo / Supplied

Two dwarf leprechauns are sitting in matching wheelbarrows in front of Wellington's bucket fountain, passing the time by chatting to passers-by in Cuba Mall.

They're not part of the reason I'm here - they're part of the Wellington Fringe Festival - but it's random sights like this that make Wellington such a colourful city to visit, especially at this time of year.

If you're looking for an excuse to visit the Windy City, now could be the perfect time to go.

That's because the New Zealand International Arts Festival is in full swing, with hundreds of acts performing all over town, throughout the day and into the evening.

The first week of the 24-day annual festival saw acclaimed American acts Bon Iver and Death Cab For Cutie light up Wellington's Town Hall in exclusive performances, a major genre-busting coup for a festival dominated by theatre and arts events.

But it's not over yet. The next two weeks of festival performances promise to be just as exhilarating.

Acts still to come include Circenses, the Belgium circus act of two halves that has sold out almost every night of its festival run, boxing production Beautiful Burnout, giant puppet show Raoul, and Cantina - another circus with a twist.

If you're wanting something a little heavier, Grammy-winning desert blues band Tinariwen have received praise from Radiohead, TV on the Radio and Stephen Colbert. They play the Wellington Town Hall on March 13.

And if all that sounds too expensive, think again. In a new initiative, the festival is offering tickets to many shows for just $20 - even the sold out ones. That included Bon Iver - a show for which tickets were going for up to $400 on TradeMe.

The only catch is you have to be at the Festival Box Office in Midland Park from 12.30pm every day. Get there early - there might be queues.

Te Papa is getting in on the action too, with New Zealand artist Michel Tuffery's First Contact, a "giant digital artwork" that transforms the museum's western wall into a tapestry of Maori designs and homegrown imagery.

For the full First Contact experience, download the soundtrack here and set it up on your iPhone before you go.

CHECKLIST

General information: For more details about what's coming up, visit festival.co.nz.

Where to stay: If you're looking for accommodation, you'll want to say within walking distance of all the festival venues.

There are plenty of options, ranging from the five-star Intercontinental Hotel to the Downtown backpackers, and everything in between.

For last-minute deals, check wotif.com.

Food: There are reportedly more cafes and restaurants in Wellington per capita than New York and plenty of them are offering festival-friendly menus. Try Havana Bar's $29.90 for three-course early dinners, or Logan Brown's pre-show dining specials, which begin at 5.30pm.

They say you can't beat Wellington on a good day. During the arts festival, that seems to be every day.

What: New Zealand International Arts Festival
Where: Various Wellington venues
When: Until March 18
For more information: festival.co.nz

Chris Schulz travelled to Wellington courtesy of Positively Wellington Tourism and the New Zealand International Arts Festival.

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