Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wellington: Very Hip & Cool

My parents arrived in New Zealand on February 9, 2011. They were interested in seeing Wellington as they felt they had not seen it properly on their first visit to New Zealand. We had not spent much time there either, so on the weekend of February 11 - 13, we traveled an hour and half south to New Zealand's capital city.
Wellington, World Headquarters of the Verb
As you may have read in previous posts, we found Auckland disappointingly dull and thought Christchurch was scenic and friendly. Wellington made me wish I was 25 again. It was very hip & cool.

Read the small writing under 'Malone's'
Hopping Courtenay Place - Friday 7:30PM
Earlier in the week, it had taken me 4 or 5 attempts to finally find a hotel for the 7 of us (our family plus my parents). I finally landed two large rooms in the Quality Inn on Cuba St.. This chain hotel  made me think budget accommodation, but it turns out that was just the price! Score!

Happy Hour on Cuba Street
Gigantic luxurious rooms, roof-top pool and deck and the best location you could imagine. One block from our hotel, Cuba St. turned into a pedestrian promenade that was half populated with stores and half with pubs that spilled onto the pavement, very similar to Prince Arthur in Montreal, except with more alcohol and less cheap Greek restaurants.

After we checked into our hotel, we turned out into the twilight and followed the waves of people onto the hipper part of Cuba Street. The bars were full to capacity, music and street performers were everywhere and we had stumbled into the thick of the action. We ducked into a small Italian restaurant. The food was mediocre, the decor worse than that, but within 20 minutes of sitting down, every table was taken with under-25s each sporting 1-2 bottles of wine. The weekend had arrived and Wellingtonians were out in force.

We didn't know what this monument was for, but Harrison thought of something (just pretending!).
After dinner, we again followed the flow of people onto Courtenay Place. If Cuba St was like Prince Arthur, Courtenay Place was like St. Laurent. There were bars & clubs along here to fulfill any taste and they were all crowded. We made a pit stop to get ice cream and got the kids back to the hotel just as the scene seemed to be reaching full steam.

Cuba St. Sat am - Bars closed. Cafes and shops open for business.
Part of the deal for the weekend was that the girl's would get a chance to spend a couple of hours shopping. We started on Cuba St. again and discovered that places that would crank the music and serve beer after 3:00pm metamorphosed into cafes that sold cappuccinos and second-hand books by day. But there were still plenty of street performers. That was good for Harrison, my dad and I, but the girls still felt that we short-changed them when I veered the tour away from the shopping district.

"Hey Dad - there's a phone in here!"
Truth be told, we just kept walking to the end of Cuba St until we reached the Wellington Town Hall and Civic Square. I just didn't steer the ladies towards another shopping district. Cuba St. is trendy and fashionable but caters to the young & poor. Lambton Quay, on the other hand, would have left my credit card in embers as it caters to the manicured and BMWed clientele. Best not to risk that one!

Civic Square - the silver fern orb replaced a gigantic ork
We arrived at Wellington's waterfront which starts with the enormous Te Papa museum to the south and has a continuous 4km boardwalk around Lambton Harbor.  It's very well developed with parks, restaurants, breweries and wine bars peppered among museums, adventure companies and souvenir shops. The waterfront scene clearly held appeal for both tourists and locals alike.

Wellington's waterfront

I felt like exploring Mac's Brewbar at left ...
... but could have easily settled down for a glass of wine.
The kids had other ideas for entertainment
An underground parking lot on top of Frank Kitts Park is transformed into an Arts & Crafts market on Saturday morning, but we didn't find anything to buy. After a short break at the playground and ice cream truck, we left the waterfront to head up to New Zealand's parliament buildings.

Cassandra's Future Alma Mater
New Zealand Parliament and Mackenzie
Some kind of library beside the parliament
After a lot of walking, the kids started to renegotiate the day's itinerary. The first stop was the small market beside St. Paul's cathedral. In a classic case of zigging when I should have zagged, I steered our route along The Terrace instead of Lambton Quay. While the route I chose was uphill and a longer distance, it proved to be quicker and cheaper as compared to the credit minefield of the Lambton Quay shopping strip.

We grabbed a late lunch at The General Practitioner, a medical themed brewpub at the corner of Boulcott & Willis streets. We then had to chose between more shopping or return to the hotel for a nap and a swim. I always get these tough choices.

So after a swim, a soak in the hot tub and a nap, we started Saturday evening feeling very refreshed. The girls similarly felt charged after an afternoon of treasure hunting. We headed half a block down to Southern Cross. It was barely 5:00pm and the place was jumping. Someone was BBQing free Italian sausages on the patio, one band was packing up to make way for another, the outdoors patio was slippery with beer and sangria and every single table had a "Reserved" sign on it. Two "Hens' Nite" (Kiwi for bachelorette) groups were in full swing.  We pulled a few tables together in the bar to make enough room for our group.

Stonegrill Dining
The groove could easily have lent itself to a huge evening. We ended up eating Stonegrill which is a dining style where the restaurant serves you a superheated stone and you grill your own meat at the table with a variety of different sauces. It's like fondue except you cook things on a stone instead of in a pot of broth.

Chinese New Year in Wellington
After supper, we headed up Wellington's Cable Car to catch some altitude views of the city under the setting sun. We kind of got lost on the way there, so ended up taking the cable car down and then up, but this was lucky as by the time we got back up again, it was dark and there were fireworks in the sky. Wellington's Chinese population were celebrating New Year.

The next morning, we were the first clients at Roxy Cafe on Cuba St. We needed energy as we had a big day planned. Right after breakfast, we headed to Te Papa Museum, New Zealand's national museum. Five floors of New Zealand culture with plenty to see and touch for the kids.

Maori carving
Life-size whale heart for the kids to climb in.
After a couple of hours, we were "museumed out" and ventured outside to take in the crowds along the waterfront After a 25 minute stroll, we ended up at the TSB Arena to savor a lunch of Chinese food made by local merchants.

Chinese New Year along Wellington's waterfront

It was well into the afternoon and about time to head back to Palmerston North, but there was one last treat in store for us on the way back to the car. We had not anticipated intercepting the Chinese New Year parade, but it was a cool diversion for a few minutes.

Back in Palmerston North, we finished off the weekend with a bottle of Hawke's Bay Reisling, delicious takeaway Indian food and a screening of "The Social Network" that I had downloaded from iTunes.

Great weekend!

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