Wellington is the first place in New Zealand in which I’ve had anything approaching the standard out-of-the-box life, with an 8-5 job, a daily routine and a house shared with friends (as opposed to a hostel, tent or caravan). I spent some time living in Berhampore in south Wellington, and now I’m out in Miramar, an eastern suburb and virtual peninsula, surrounded by water and famous as the home of Weta Workshop and – by extension – Wellywood. Indeed, the Weta Cave is just five minutes’ walk from my house, and I frequently end up in the vicinity when I forget to get off my bus.
Wellington has just celebrated 150 years as the capital of New Zealand and I’ve been here a few months now, so it seems a good time to take stock and write a sequel to A Brief Guide to London.
The 5 Best Things about Wellington
For a bustling capital city (‘bustle’ is all relative, I suppose), people are remarkably chilled out. Indeed, it’s the Aucklanders up north who get all the rap for being miserable. Down in Welly, people are friendly, even government employees, and even bus drivers, who have conversations with you and I think actually applied for the job, rather than it seeming like a mandatory part of their prison torture programme.
- Work-life Balance
Wages – even for temporary employees – are decent, and accommodation is relatively affordable. New Zealanders might disagree, but if you compare it to London, it’s a utopia of free money. More than this, there’s an air of relaxation that Londoners would probably call laziness. It’s not though, it’s just an implicit understanding that there’s more to life than work. Wellingtonians are surrounded by the sea, and spend their days wistfully wishing that they were sailing and correspondingly knocking off work at 3pm. It’s hard to be too ambitious when you’re feeling wistful.
Wellington is the coffee capital of New Zealand. It’s also the actual capital of New Zealand, but that’s less important. Wellington is almost submerged in cafes serving great coffee, but unfortunately I never actually drink it, because whenever I end up in a coffee shop, I always end up ordering delicious chai lattes instead.
Compared to the rest of New Zealand, Wellington is a veritable feast of culture. As well as its recent 150-year birthday celebration, Wellington has hosted both a jazz festival and an international film festival in the last two months. Add to this a healthy dose of theatre, live music and poetry slams, and there’s more than enough to keep you entertained when the wind forces you inside. Also the night market has pretty decent roti canai and some guy who blows up balloons.
- Easy Access to South Island
Let’s face it, if you’re in New Zealand and you’re not on the South Island, you want to be next to the South Island. Wellington is as close as you can get. All North Island ferries leave from here and head to Picton, although half the time it’s cheaper just to fly to Christchurch. Wellington was chosen as the capital city due to its central Kiwi location, and if you hang around long enough, pretty much everyone you know in New Zealand passes through.
The 5 Worst Things about Wellington
- The Weather
The weather’s not that great, but it’s not terrible. The only reason it sometimes seems cold is because New Zealand doesn’t believe in central heating. However, the real issue isn’t the weather at all; it’s that about 90% of small talk with Wellingtonians revolves around the weather. If they’re not talking about which direction the wind is coming from (it’s a massive bloody deal whether it’s a Southerly or a Northerly), then they’re telling you that You can’t beat Welly on a good day. On actual good days in Wellington, this is the only sentence anyone says. It’s like living in a parrot sanctuary. Look, you know it’s bad when a Brit thinks people talk about the weather too much.
- No Way Out
Wellington might be close to the South Island, but it’s miles away from everywhere else on the North Island, with only two roads out. At the end of May, a massive weather front flooded the entire region, literally trapping everyone in the city. The central library had to stay open all night to provide commuters with a place to sleep, and a couple of resourceful entrepreneurs made money by ferrying businessmen away from Wellington on their boats – for almost a day, this was the only way in or out.
- The Bucket Fountain
The Bucket Fountain on Cuba Street is a deeply polarising, infamous sculpture in the centre of Wellington. It is gaudy, pointless and artistically-moribund, and it sloshes water all over the place with absolutely no sense of rhythm or timing. It’s mildly entertaining when it sprays unsuspecting tourists, but even then it doesn’t do it with any conviction.
Everything in Wellington is a hill. You are always walking upwards, even after you reach the top. Whenever you think you’re walking flat, it’s simply because you’ve been walking upwards for so long that your brain has recalibrated the tilt of the world to make things easier. Wellington is so hilly that everyone has to wear shorts, because they’ve shredded all their trousers with their massive calves.
- Sometimes There is a Dead Horse Outside Your House
Snapshots of NZ
NB: I already posted photos of central Wellington in this earlier Welly-themed blog.