Opinion: Wellington’s still the ‘coolest harbour metropolis’

“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 to the city.

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, head’s up 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 car park 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 diaspora 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. From where I’m sitting it’s emerging as the craft capital.

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. But the catch of ordering a fresh oysters starter is that the dish can’t be beat.

So, 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 streets 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.

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, see you next time 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.

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