Gotta hand it to the city of Wellington – it’s morphed into one cool capital. Lonely Planet’s Top 10 cities for 2011 places Wellington at No.4 on the list, saying it is “crammed with more bars, cafes and restaurants per capita than New York, and a slew of gourmet producers including some 10 independent coffee roasteries”.
Even though I no longer live there I consider it my home town, and I don’t mind bragging about it. It’s a gutsy place, and you need a certain tenacity to live there. It’s guaranteed to connect your mind, body and soul.
The New Zealand capital, on the southern tip of the North Island and facing the elements of Cook Strait and dramatic weather roaring up from the Southern Ocean, is home to 389,700 people. The 2010 Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranked Wellington 12th in the world on its list.
The geography is dramatic and steep with plunging valleys and vertiginous peaks, yet the wide harbour with its many bays is the scene stealer. Wellington’s traditional architecture is wooden colonial villas, often painted in white and accented with bright tones, or straight up eye-catching primary colors. The homes populate hillsides in orderly lines or randomly scattered like dice and heaped jewels, or crouched in valley crevices with gardens of giant ferns, trees leaning to the wind, lavender, daisies and roses.
The climate is, well, bracing. Or called just plain shitty. People used to grouch about the windy city’s climate, people still do, but Wellington has defied the critics and grown into a city to be reckoned with. On the upside, there’s never any smog and the ion-rich air is a tonic in itself. And on a fine day, it’s dazzling.
Unfortunately, the day I visit Wellington’s weekly foodie market on the harbour’s edge, it’s soggy but as you can see, joggers in a race are undeterred by conditions. That’s the tough stuff Wellingtonians are made of.
The central city district is compact and walkable, and Wellingtonians often walk everywhere. New Zealand produce is one of the country’s main exports and attractions, and Wellington showcases this spectacularly well. The City Market is a pivotal place for people to go on weekends.
The market is championed by award-winning chef Martin Bosley and Rachel Taulelei of local food company Yellow Brick Road. They’ve created a destination full of robust flavours. Stallholders at the City Market have been selected based on their authenticity, quality and location in the Wellington region, and include Emporio Coffee, Schoc Chocolates, Loukoumi Turkish Delight, Lot 8 olive oils, Hardie Boys Ginger Beer, Lavender’s Green, Archer McRae Wine Merchants, the French Baker and Horowhenua Produce Growers.
The tiny town of Greytown, 70km northeast of Wellington, is the home of a quality French bakery. Every Sunday The French Baker’s Moise Cerson packs up a van full of produce at 5am and drives over the winding Rimutaka Hills to The City Market. The sourdough breads, ciabattas and traditional French pastries and croissants are one of the market’s highlights. Normandy-born Cerson is famous for his chocolate eclairs – it’s worth driving all the way to Greytown just for that.
Another highlight is the stall Le Marche Francais, for its unpasteurized raw milk cheeses imported from France – there’s a lot of controversy about this. They’re on trial in New Zealand. Unlike the European Union, the United Kingdom and most of the United States, Australia still bans the home-grown production of unpasteurized or raw milk cheese. At Le Marche Francais the products range from mature cheddars to Bleu d’Auvergne, Cabecou soft goat cheese, Buche de Chèvre pasteurized goats cheese to morbier – which has a layer of vegetable ash running through the middle.
Wellington was named after Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and victor of the Battle of Waterloo. The Duke’s title comes from the town of Wellington in the English county of Somerset.
The Kiwi capital has a food festival in August called Wellington On A Plate. Stay tuned for details.
Wellingtonians know their coffee so well it’s frightening. For more details go to Fuel Espresso: www.fuelespresso.co.nz
Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Cities for 2011: www.lonelyplanet.com/usa/new-york-city/travel-tips-and-articles/76165
More info on Wellington: www.wellingtonnz.com