I wonder if there are other major cities in the world with the unofficial slogan "you can't beat it on a good day". Because Wellington is not alone in being beautiful when the weather is nice. And yet from what I can gather, Wellington seems to have sole ownership of being unbeatable on a good day. Which implies something this Wellington-born traveller is nervous to say out loud: good days may be somewhat limited.
But it also has to mean something else: Wellington's harbour, its tree-blanketed hills and its compact (and architecturally impressive) CBD make it uniquely splendid when the weather is right.
Touching down at Wellington's international airport, it was one of those "unbeatable" days: clear skies, warm temperatures and for what is said to be the windiest capital city on the planet, barely a breeze.
My balcony view confirmed the great Wellington cliche. Just 10 rooms (each different), the less-than-a-decade-old Ohtel is decked out in mid-20th century furnishings and was set up by a Kiwi who found inspiration visiting a friend in New York. Wanting to establish Big Apple chic in his hometown, manager Alan Blundell found an old villa on Oriental Parade across the road from Te Papa.
He didn't want a generic big hotel feel, or generic hotel furniture. Two years of "lurking" around secondhand shops saw Blundell gather enough genuine artworks and pieces of furniture to get the feel he wanted. Turns out those 50s and 60s couches and chairs Granny owned would one day be cool again.
The Ohtel also has a strong eco ethos (solar hot water, double-glazing, extensive recycling) and as far as its location goes, well given this is Wellington, let's just say it's hard to beat.
Next stop was the valley. The suburb of Happy Valley is home to one of the more unusual mini-golf courses in the country, Carlucci Land. Evidently a one-man labour of love by a chap named Carl, this is a fantasyland for scrap-metal enthusiasts. Carlucci Land operates on an honesty-box system and is dotted with rusty steel sculptures of elephants, dinosaurs and abandoned machines like tractors. As for the golf holes, they recall the mad scientist breakfast-delivery contraptions of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Back To The Future. Thoroughly eccentric and awesome.
(105ha in the suburb of Wilton) reveals an almost subtropical aspect of a city that isn't traditionally associated with that word. But here I was, in a highly urbanised city and dwarfed by oversized ferns and some of New Zealand's oldest native trees. Definitely recommended if you enjoy the incongruity of dense tracts of bush within city limits.
On days two and three the weather turned, so I made a beeline for the Beehive and watched Parliament from the public gallery for half an hour and felt oddly patriotic.
Not because neck hairs stood up over inspiring speeches but more for the fact New Zealand is a country where the public are allowed to sit in on the political process. Not every citizen gets to waltz into their parliament and hear their representatives bicker. And then there's the beauty of the buildings -- they really are appropriately reverential for what we'd hope our politicians to be.
Next was what used to be the National Museum before Te Papa opened in 1998. For years relegated for use as university classrooms, the stately buildings of the Dominion Museum now house what's called
. Marking 100 years since the horrors of World War I where New Zealand lost more than 18,000 troops, the Peter Jackson-created displays (including life-size horses, airplanes, wax-works and miniature trench-warfare recreations) are extraordinary. Zooming in on my camera, the expansive miniatures evoked the diabolical reality of war in bloody detail. Incredible craftsmanship, incredibly sobering.
At Te Papa the next morning, miniatures were again used, though the main focus of this Gallipoli/WW1 exhibit is undoubtedly at the other end of the size spectrum with eight quite staggering giant wax works. Created by Weta Workshop over 24,000 hours, these are wax human figurines unlike anything the world has previously seen.
In my final Wellington hour before cabbing to the airport, I walked the streets of the CBD, admired buildings old and new and hatched plans to find a billionaire to help me convert the Hotel St George from a backpackers into something a little more 5-star. It is central city, architecturally imposing (Art Deco), has private balconies, possesses pop-royalty history (the Beatles stayed here in 1964 and famously waved to the crowds below from their balcony) and we're wasting it on students and Euro kids on gap years.