Welling­ton is still coun­try’s ‘coolest har­bour me­trop­o­lis’

One-time Welling­to­nian and now Napier res­i­dent re­vis­its the cap­i­tal for a whirl­wind cir­cuit of some of its newer restau­rants and tourist hotspots.

Hawke's Bay Today - - Local News -

‘Windy Welling­ton’ wasn’t windy. Sur­pris­ingly we’d flown from a wet Napier to a calm, dry cap­i­tal.

That was the first myth de­bunked as I stepped on to the tar­mac for a 48-hour whis­tle stop tour of some of Welling­ton’s ur­bane new eater­ies and not so new at­trac­tions.

One of the less vaunted tourist stops in Welling­ton, if you’re fly­ing, is in fact the air­port.

There’s lit­tle doubt this is the best we have. I’d been in Auck­land the week prior and suf­fice to say there’s an awk­ward con­trast.

Com­pare Auck­land’s draughty gates and bot­tle-necked pedes­trian cor­ri­dors to the way Welling­ton Air­port flows and breathes.

Its em­pha­sis on art and cul­ture el­e­vates it to some­thing much more than just a busy gate­way.

Within 30 sec­onds’ taxi drive we passed a hand-writ­ten bill­board: “Wel­come to nu­clear free Welling­ton”. I won­dered which of this coun­try’s ci­ties were nu­clear?

Ei­ther way, we were in the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal hot­bed.

Af­ter check­ing in to the Grand Mer­cure ho­tel in res­i­den­tial Te Aro, we ad­dressed our hunger at the sub­urb’s Eg­mont St Eatery.

The joint was a for­mer carpark ren­dered an in­dus­trial bunker-like premises, a notch be­low-ground but with a great vista of scores of pedes­tri­ans.

Ser­vice was a high­light, with a front of house per­son­al­ity that talked up the kitchen’s rus­tic fare from neigh­bour­ing Wairarapa, where much of its wine and raw prod­uct is sourced.

Still, my sliced rib­eye with sprouted broc­coli and fried egg was mildly dis­ap­point­ing — the di­avola but­ter was on the bit­ter side of the spice-scale and fleeced the beef of its sweet­ness.

How­ever, the made-on-site salted caramel dough­nuts put paid to that.

A few pounds heav­ier we trudged to Te Papa for a guided tour with a tall chap called Nor­rie.

It dawned on me that I’d never been to the na­tional mu­seum with­out chil­dren. This was a new fron­tier be­cause, as any par­ent will at­test, the high­light of a Te Papa visit with kids is leav­ing.

Nor­rie knew the kau­papa, so much so that as a New Zea­land na­tive one left feel­ing pre­vi­ously ig­no­rant of facts about our na­tion one should have known any­way.

For in­stance, did you know New Zea­land is strictly a con­ti­nent?

This chap was a smart and the­atri­cal guide, well able to pick and ar­tic­u­late the best bits from our col­lec­tive col­lectibles.


Keep­ing with the Kiwi tra­di­tion we popped in to Ghuznee St’s craft brew­ery Husk. A cloudy and bal­anced IPA aptly dubbed City on the Wind went down eas­ily.

This en­tic­ing block boasts a raft of hops pun­dits and a brew­ery on al­most ev­ery cor­ner. Af­ter a brief si­esta at our ho­tel we headed to the in­for­mal eatery Shep­herd, on Han­nahs Laneway.

The trick was to find it. This bricked lane is a labyrinth of al­leys and hid­den eater­ies. Luck­ily, be­ing a Fri­day night the af­ter work-rev­ellers in nearby bars were happy to point us in the right di­rec­tion.

Shep­herd was great. While the next cour­ses of eel and oc­to­pus were out­stand­ing, you sim­ply don’t get any bet­ter than a raw oys­ter in its shell. A culi­nary les­son therein, me­thinks.

The more we be­came ac­cus­tomed to the wider Cuba Quar­ter and char­ac­ter of the hid­den gems like the Laneway and Eg­mont and Eva Sts ad­ja­cent to Courte­nay Place, the more we liked it.

This place and its niche busi­nesses are Welling­ton’s lat­est un­der­stated bolters.

The Laneway is aptly dubbed “Lit­tle Port­land” for its culi­nary con­flu­ence of bak­ers, roast­ers, grinders, brew­ers, choco­latiers, pizza slingers and soda mak­ers who shape a des­ti­na­tion for what was a for­mer in­dus­trial quar­ter.

Pub­lic art, mu­rals and plant­ings have made it a ter­ri­tory in its own right.

High­lights in­cluded peanut but­ter le­gends Fix & Fogg who ped­dle their spread from “the world’s only peanut but­ter win­dow”.

I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to spend my days off scoff­ing peanut but­ter from a jar, but this was a nos­tal­gic ex­er­cise be­cause with peanut but­ter coat­ing ev­ery sur­face of my mouth I felt five again.

Their cof­fee and maple flavour was bliss.

A tour of the nearby Welling­ton Choco­late Fac­tory was a nicely told story of the com­pany’s “bean to bar” phi­los­o­phy, and how choco­late is per­fect in its nat­u­ral sim­plic­ity.

Flavour pro­files were un­cov­ered, with words I’d never as­so­ci­ated with choco­late like “crack, win­now, conch and tem­per”.

The choco­latier’s Craft Beer Bar was note­wor­thy be­cause within the nearby precinct there are craft brew­ers mak­ing beer with choco­late notes, peanut but­ter mak­ers in­cor­po­rat­ing cof­fee into their prod­uct and said choco­late maker pro­duc­ing choco­late with beer flavours.

It summed up the syn­ergy be­tween them. Staff at each place we ven­tured into sug­gested vis­it­ing other joints in the area. It was a lovely vil­lage-like col­le­gial­ity.

A quick stop at Taranaki St’s Mr Go’s hawker-themed pork bao buns added a wel­come fra­grance to bal­ance the choc, peanut but­ter and cof­fee-heavy morn­ing.

About mid­day it started to rain — and didn’t stop — ahead of our two-hour twi­light walk through Zealan­dia eco-at­trac­tion in Karori.

I’m not sure why it was staged at twi­light. Pos­si­bly be­cause the late win­dow cap­tures an evening cho­rus.

Phys­i­cally the sanc­tu­ary re­sem­bles Juras­sic Park with huge preda­tor- proof fences, rare an­i­mals and misty, ver­dant fo­liage.

The guided trek in­cluded botany as well as birds, and cul­mi­nated in the sight­ing of tu­atara and a lit­tle spot­ted kiwi.

Our guide said for most of us it was prob­a­bly the first time we’d seen a kiwi “in the wild”. But was it in the wild if it’s a gated sanc­tu­ary with feed-sta­tions?

Ei­ther way, our guide was full of facts on all things flora and fauna.

We were late to our 8.30pm din­ner reser­va­tion at Rita. And, cue the week­end’s high­light.

This his­toric Aro Val­ley cot­tage boasts a quaint sin­gle room that din­ers share el­bow to el­bow. Guests on your ta­ble’s east and west flanks be­come part of the con­ver­sa­tion — but we ac­cli­ma­tised quickly.

I’m not sure how to de­scribe the sim­ple but el­e­gant food (in that sense it echoed the premises).

Broad­bean pods in light tem­pura with saf­fron aoili, thin pork-belly slices atop fen­nel, ravi­oli en­cased runny egg (how do they do that?) and, by far and away my best meal of the week­end, crisp­skin snap­per cooked as Tan­garoa in­tended in a leafy-green broth.

Out­stand­ingly good. I adore meals that re­quire a chew and slurp.

We were greeted at the door — and farewelled at the door hours later. This was first-class host­ing. We felt as if we’d vis­ited a friend for tea. The to­tal ex­pe­ri­ence was a tri­umph of tone.

Our fi­nal stop the next day was Weta Stu­dio in Mi­ra­mar.

The film in­dus­try mo­tif is a ap­pre­cia­ble thread that runs through the cap­i­tal so it was only fit­ting we stopped at the at­trac­tion.

I was sur­prised at the size of the crowd. The guide said the stu­dio tours at­tracted “twice as many vis­i­tors as Welling­ton Zoo”.

The high­light was a brief ad­dress by leg­endary ef­fects wizard War­ren Beaton. He said the busi­ness wasn’t just about tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances in cre­ativ­ity, but about old-fash­ioned man­ual tech­niques.

In his words, Weta had fa­cil­i­tated a resur­gence of the craft and had be­come “a haven for the lost art of sculp­ture”.

In many ways, Beaton was Weta’s “Doc” Brown of Back to the Fu­ture fame — pas­sion­ate in the ex­treme and a per­fect front­man for the in­dus­try.

Any­way, au revoir Welling­ton. You seem to shift from strength to strength at each visit and mix your an­tique charm with con­tem­po­rary bou­tique. You’re still the coolest har­bour me­trop­o­lis in the coun­try.

No­to­ri­ous poet and drunk De­nis Glover is one of many writ­ers pub­lished on Welling­ton Har­bour.

Welling­ton Choco­late Fac­tory’s tours are ed­u­ca­tional and mor­eish.Rita restau­rant (right) in Aro Val­ley is a foodie must-visit, writes Mark Story.

Fix & Fogg is an ar­ti­san peanut but­ter maker sell­ing from a small win­dow in down­town Welling­ton.

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