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Window on Wellington, New Zealand

To understand Wellington there are some things you should know.

Firstly, it is the country's capital – not Auckland, as many automatically think, because it has a greater population. But don't imagine Wellington as the 'Canberra of New Zealand' either. Big mistake.

There is an energetic bar and cafe scene in the Courtenay and Cuba Street precincts, but the city has around 350 bars and restaurants – more per capita than New York. And as we discovered recently, this has spread to the waterfront area as well.

WATCH THIS video to get a feel for why people like this place so much...

Style-wise, the city's boutiques are crammed with designer gear to tempt  people across the Tasman, and quality arts and crafts and souvenirs using everything from iridescent paua shell, to fur from the ubiquitous possums (it's OK, they're a pest, introduced from Australia and intent, it seems, on stripping every leaf from New Zealand's lush forests) to timber products cut and carved from the many types of tree that grows in this country.

The cityscape mixes cream-painted Victorian public buildings with glass and steel towers. A curving esplanade lined with Norfolk pines and surprisingly like the one at Manly, follows the waterside, creating an ideal promenade for walkers and children, or an exercise path for cyclists or joggers, while the water suits kayakers and paddleboarders.

Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum is on the waterfront. You can walk there in just a few minutes from a central city restaurant and stop at a local fashion store or an art gallery on the way, then find yourself immersed in the original culture of this country.

New Zealand's Maori culture is proudly honoured here and the ancient legends are deeply spiritual and fascinating.

'Ten minutes' walk' is the answer you get if you ask the distance to almost anywhere it seems in this town – even if your destination is across the CBD, which is after all a mere two kilometres. This theatre is on the waterfront and was formed in 1976 after a breakaway group of actors and theatre practitioners decided a new way of producing theatre was required for New Zealand.

Wellington is a scaled-down city. Curled around its showpiece, the harbour, it has all the accoutrements of a much larger city – maybe that's the advantage of being the country's capital – but without the crime rate, pollution, traffic and congestion. There's the magnificent Te Papa, the National Museum, as well as the city museum and galleries, a striking Convention Centre doubling as an entertainment venue, five-star hotels, and top restaurants. 

The real shock for visitors though is the city of Wellington itself. Rather than a stodgy place, full of stuffy grey government offices, and a population of 350,000 civil servants, Wellington is surprisingly vibrant, with a bright young feel, apparently affluent and totally without affectation.

On a recent visit we took a walk along the waterfront. Sunday morning, bright sunshine, a cool breeze, and the lure of food markets - what more could we ask for?

New Zealand's seafood is legendary and this is a delicious way to enjoy the tiny almost transparent fish known here as whitebait - very different to any you may have tried in Italian restaurants back home - and only available in season.

Here, they are mixed with beaten egg and fried quickly on a hotplate...

.... then flipped to make a something like a fishy omelet. Delicious!

Close by was this strange bread being prepared for baking. These Hungarian chimney cakes are amazing and absolutely addictive. Read more about them....

Not everyone knows that New Zealand has three main islands. Tiny Stewart Island is the furthest south and is much beloved by hikers (called 'trampers' in NZ). It is here you can relax and perhaps even see some kiwis - the feathered kind.

This stand showcased produce from the island   these cnadles and locally smoked salmon.

The Sunday market stalls stretch on forever along the waterfront, and you could easily find your entire lunch here. Many people do. And when they're through, they fill their shopping bags with meat and fruit and vegetables from the open air market at the end.

Wellington's waterfront has developed into a wonderful place to roam and relax.

 Kids on scooters, skateboarders, joggers, bikes...

...places for kids to play

...and for the older 'kids' we discovered an exhibition of classic cars, drawing attention from all age-groups.

Like many countries around the world, the fad of showing your love by padlocking your message on a bridge has caught on here too. 

While the waterfront is mostly about exercise and energy and a place of relaxation, along the way you'll discover even more – such as these wise words to make you think!

As our ship slowly made its way out of lovely Wellington Harbour, we were followed by the InterIslander ferry which carries passengers and cars across the strait between New Zealand's north and south islands.

Scratch a Wellingtonian and you find a fan, so proud of the place it almost hurts. It's no surprise then that Positively Wellington is the name for the city's tourism department, a slogan that has served it well in the last two decades. 

After all, this place has a lot to be positive about.

 

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