12 Things to love about Wellington, New Zealand

Lonely Planet gave Wellington the title of “Coolest Little Capital in the World”. And while it initially didn’t seem like a vast departure from anywhere I’d lived before, I soon became privy to the quirky and quintessential features of my new home.  Here’s what I love about this capital city.

1. The green space is incredible

Native bush and hectares of forest within minutes of the central downtown area makes Wellington the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether it’s the Skyline Trail, Town Belt, Te Ahumairangi Hill or any of the reserves along the waterfront, this city has an endless number of trails for when you need to become one with nature. I love taking a lunchtime stroll through the Botanic Gardens to feel a world away in just a matter of minutes.

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Botanic Garden entrance
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Johnston Hill section of the Skyline Trail

2. Wellingtonians are low-key obsessed with coffee

It’s no secret: Kiwis love their coffee. Wander into a random cafe, gas station or even a parking lot and you will almost certainly find a full espresso set up (no filter coffee that’s been burning in the pot for hours!). And since Wellington boats more cafes per capita than even New York City*, you’ll be sure to find the perfect brew.

*http://media.newzealand.com/en/story-ideas/cwc-2015-wellington-fact-file/

3. No one minds the rain

I moved to Wellington from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada – one of the most miserable cities (weather-wise) in the country. I arrived in Wellington fully equipped with rainboots, an umbrella and several raincoats, but soon noticed that when it rained, no one cared. Designer rain boots (i.e., Hunter) are non-existent, umbrellas are at an all-time low, and maybe on the odd occasion you’ll see someone put their jacket hood up. Wellingtonians just don’t seem to care about wet shirts, soggy shoes or frizzy hair. And you know what? I’ve become one of them!

4. Honk your horn in Mount Victoria Tunnel

Pass through Mount Victoria Tunnel and you’ll hear other drivers honking their horns. But – don’t be alarmed – they’re not honking at you. During construction in the 1930s, a woman was murdered by her lover and buried at the construction site. The honking can accomplish one of two things: saying hello to the ghost or an attempt to keep her at bay. Whichever reason you choose, make sure to give your horn a toot the next time you pass through.

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5. The impractical suburb shopping districts

I don’t know who did the city planning – sometimes it seems like it was just a “yolo” moment in Kiwi history when they built some of these narrow streets, but each suburb has its own little shopping area with cute antique and gift shops, bakeries and cafes, and convenience stores. They are completely impractical and often you need to drive a good distance to reach a full-sized grocery store or any amenities and services such as a dentist or gym. But I’ll be damned if you don’t think these shops are the most adorable thing about Wellington.

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Tinakori Village is home to perfectly impractical antique shops and cafes, set amongst stunning heritage homes from the late 1800s

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6. Craft beer and cider changed my life

The ciders and craft beers that come from Wellington are just so good. There’s no shortage of new breweries to try or Beer Fests to attend when you’re in Wellington. If you find yourself in the ‘impractical suburb shops’ of Aro Valley, check out my personal favourite: Garage Project.

7. It’s often walk-up access only

With most of the city built in the hills, Wellingtonians had to get creative. I quickly learned that many homes don’t have direct street access and can only be reached after a series of hidden pathways and crooked stairs. It’s truly incredible to see the ingenuity used to build these unique homes and I love finding new places where homes are crammed in. And the plus side of all the stairs? Buns of Steel!

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The only access to some homes on Dixon Street
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Do you want to take the stairs or the elevator?

8. Stilettos and heels have no place here

This is perhaps my favourite thing about this city. Stilettos are seldom worn and ladies instead opt for perfectly functional dress flats. This is likely due to the impracticality of wearing anything higher than three inches in this hilly city. And when Wellingtonian women do wear heels, it’s usually a chunky (comfy) heel or wedge. My feet have never been happier!

9. The bus drivers have mad skills

I vividly remember the first time I took the bus from Mairangi Road to Wellington CBD. I sat in my seat, white-knuckled as we rounded one blind corner after another. It took me nearly a year to feel comfortable driving a car in Wellington, due to the narrow, winding streets – many of which have cars parked blocking one lane. The fact that a bus can make it down all of these streets without a scratch is nothing short of a miracle.

10. The Gatekeeper: The Rimutuka Hill

Perhaps even more terrifying than Wellington’s narrow streets is the Rimutuka Highway – the gateway to the Wairarapa region of the North Island, home to beautiful vineyards, pristine farmland and the picturesque Taurarua Range. Unless you take the train and go through the hill, there is no other way. Bring a sick bag.

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11. The ode to great women

Wellington City has installed special crosswalk symbols throughout the CBD to pay homage to great people in New Zealand’s history, including Carmen Rupe, who guides pedestrians down Cuba Street, and Kate Sheppard, who will get you safely across several intersections near Parliament.

And last, but certainly not least…

12. There are beaches galore, and you can have your choice

There is no shortage of beach-side getaways – whether you want to bathe in the sun or dive into the crisp ocean water, there are nearly a dozen places in and around Wellington where you can get your water fix. On a hot summer day, Oriental Bay is scattered with locals and tourists soaking up the sun, but if you move beyond the city centre, there’s often more space to throw down a towel and pop open the chilly bin. Each beach is unique in its own way and just as beautiful as the last.

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Oriental Bay during a scorching summer day

What are some special features about the city you live in? I’d love to read about them in the comments below!

Favourite Places: Castlepoint, New Zealand

Castlepoint is more than just a beach-side destination. It’s a quiet getaway and vast departure from the daily activities of a busy lifestyle.

Even during the cold and rainy winter, spending an evening at Castlepoint is one of my favourite places to unwind. Brett and I have been coming to his family’s bach* since we first moved to New Zealand, and regardless of the weather, it’s an ideal weekend getaway for those in the Wairapara/Wellington region.

*bach = cabin/cottage/beach house, pronounced “batch”

Getting there
The two-hour drive from Wellington is complete with a heart-palpitating cruise along the Rimutaka Highway, a snapshot of the Tararua Mountain range, and endless rolling hills of farmland. The finale of the drive is a stunning view of the South Pacific Ocean. My favourite part is just before you enter the community of Castlepoint: green hills dotted with grazing sheep. I’m pretty sure Kiwis think I’m crazy for loving sheep as much as I do!

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Places to stay
There’s a campground at Castlepoint, complete with a nicely developed space for tents and camper vans. If you prefer to stay indoors, however, many of the baches along the waterfront can be rented for your holiday, along with the Castlepoint Hotel (located just before the entrance to the town).

Things to do
Castle Rock
The obvious activity is to walk up to the lighthouse for a stunning 360-degree view. This trail is well-maintained, accessible from the beach, and can be accomplished in nearly any weather condition (it’s also a great spot for checking out the water clarity).

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The Cave

Below the lighthouse is a beach-side trail – accessible at low tide – to a deep cave. Through the cave you can see light at the other end, which lets out on the opposite side of Castle Rock. Although tempting, the water on the opposite side is extremely rough and not fit for swimming! This area is also a popular hangout for the New Zealand fur seal. These cute blobs can be very territorial – especially if they have pups around – so keep a safe distance but enjoy the thrill. 😊

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Brett about to enter the cave…

Water sports
Throughout the year, it’s common to see people out boating, surfing, paddle-boarding, scuba diving, spear-fishing, snorkeling and on jet skis. In the summer months – pending that the winds take a day off – “The Gap” (aka Deliverance Cove) is an ideal place to lay in the sun amongst the calm waters.

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The Gap – view from Deliverance Cove trail

Hiking
I’ll admit that we don’t often check the forecast before driving up to Castlepoint, so most of my memories here involve high winds and pelting rain. However, we’ve stumbled across a few sunny days that make every rain drop so incredibly worth it.

On one such occasion, we hiked the Deliverance Cove trail, located behind the town of Castlepoint. This hike was very steep and is quite a test for those with a fear of heights. As you walk along the hillside, be cautious of the blowing wind.

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Can you see the tiny lighthouse in the distance?

The view from the top is incredible – with Castlepoint Lighthouse, the beach and The Gap on one side, and a view of sprawling fields and Christmas Bay on the other. We took a long rest at the top to really soak in the sun, watch the water for activity, and gaze at the glistening waters along Christmas Bay. Since that day, I’ve been waiting for ideal weather conditions to get back to the top.

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Christmas Bay

In the area
Amenities
The town itself doesn’t have a lot of amenities (stock up in Masterton if you need any groceries), however, there is a café, complete with classic Kiwi fish n’ chips, hot dogs and home baking. Across the street in the parking lot, you can often find a small camper van-style coffee truck, ready to serve you up a freshly extracted espresso.

Mataikona

Mataikona is a small community of homes further up the beach from Castlepoint. This area evokes a sense of seclusion and separation from the rest of the holiday homes nearby. And although the sandy beaches do not reach this settlement, the blanket of rocks along the coast make for ideal diving conditions, and is a popular spot for spearfishing. I highly suggest taking a short drive out this way to experience the uniqueness and contrast to Castlepoint.

. . . . .

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Castle Rock, Lighthouse, The Gap, Deliverance Cove trail (far hill), and town of Castlepoint

Perhaps the reason I enjoy Castlepoint so much is that it’s one of the first places Brett and I visited when we moved to New Zealand. With the stress and uncertainty of relocating to another country, Castlepoint was a close destination that we could always go to for a mini retreat.

I still remember our first evening at the bach. We sat on the front porch, bundled in blankets, and drank ciders as we watched the sun set behind Castle Rock. Castlepoint always reminds me of that perfect, care-free feeling we had that day, and is why I always look forward to going back – despite the weather forecast. 😊