A few weeks ago, my work wife sent me a link to an article about being a newbie living in New Zealand. She prefaced it with a simple “Bet you can relate!” And I totally could. Recently I’ve read a couple of articles about living in New Zealand, and why people love it, and it got me thinking about my own motivations.
See, I love New Zealand, specifically Wellington, a lot. I’ve always had a soft spot for the country cause of my love affair with Lord of the Rings but I never would have anticipated my love of Wellington. For one thing, I loathe the wind. LOATHE IT. And Wellington is the windiest city in the world. Lord help me, it never lets you forget it. Did you know that the average wind speed in Wellington is 27km/ph? And often said wind is blowing straight off the arctic to turn you into a walking icicle? Well it does. And it sucks.
But there is a trusty cliché here that people like to trot out and like most clichés it’s grounded in truth – you can’t beat Wellington on a good day. And when Wellington’s good, it’s magnificent. Lonely Planet was 100% correct when it named the city the world’s coolest little capital and here are my reasons for loving it so damn much.
1. One big community vibe
You may not think that this matters but it really does. Wellington is ridiculously small compared to other cities I’ve lived in. This means that when I’m out with people we will, more often than not, run into other people they know. You’ll see it all the time, friends running into each other, completely by chance. The other day I went to an offsite meeting and a mutual friend’s husband, who I had never met, was chairing the thing. How is that real life? While big city anonymity has its loner appeal, there is something beautiful about the way that Wellington just glows with six degrees of separation. Everyone seems to know someone you know. Which leads me to my second point…
2. Everyone is so nice
So effing nice. You have no idea. They’re welcoming and friendly and will go out of their way to help you. I rented a car once and when I returned it, the car rental guy gave me a lift back in to town so I wouldn’t have to wait around for the bus (and Wellingtonians say thanks when they get off said bus). My colleagues offer to lend me their cars on the regular without even thinking about it. Not to mention giving me lifts all the time. Everyone’s looking out for each other. Maybe that’s because everyone knows someone who knows someone they know but whatever it is, it’s fabulous.
3. Coffee, coffee, coffee…and brunch
This is the country that invented the flat white so just stand aside and let the experts look after you. It feels like there’s a café on every corner, and maybe there is, after all Wellington has more cafés and restaurants per capita than New York. And ok yes, the abundance of good coffee can turn you into an insufferable coffee snob in next to no time but still…COFFEE. My personal favourite spots are Red Rabbit, Memphis Belle and the Flight Coffee Hangar…but there are so many I am yet to try. Another great thing about the café culture is a healthy appreciation for brunch, the best meal of the day. All day, or late, breakfasts are pretty easy to come by and from the bottom of my so-not-a-morning-person heart, I thank you Wellington.
4. Cinema love
I’ve always enjoyed going to the movies. I pretty much lived there in high school and I developed a healthy habit in the UK as well. Wellington has an overload of awesome cinemas though and it will ruin you for mainstream movie theatres forever. I complain every time I have to step foot inside a chain multiplex now. Every time. Can you really blame me when you could just go the Embassy Theatre instead, a lovely 1920s cinema with a bar that’s straight out of a Bond villain’s lair? Or a couple of streets over, you can go to the Light House, an indie cinema that has super comfortable couches to snuggle into. Or go for an adventure out to the art deco loveliness of The Roxy, owned by Peter Jackson and home to random retrospectives (currently Tarantino, we saw Pulp Fiction just last week and it was brilliant). Or The Penthouse, another art deco one out in the burbs. Or The Empire. Or the Paramount. Just…why would I go to a bog standard cinema? Make it an occasion! Plebs.
5. Arty, indie nonsense
There’s always something happening in Wellington. From big events such as the NZ Festival, Comedy Festival and Film Festival to low-key community organised things such as photography exhibitions, comedy gigs, plays, open mike nights and the like, there’s always about 10 things happening at once. Considering how small the city actually is, that’s really a testament to how involved it is as a community. On Saturday, a local woman organised ‘A Big Dog Walk With Lots of Dogs’ that sort of blew up and attracted loads of attention. The Facebook page had over 2K people listed as going. It was one woman trying to raise money for HUHA – and it ended up being three events across the country. We went because I’m obsessed with dogs and just wanted cuddles, but that was the whole point – it was for people who loved dogs to get together, including those who may not have dogs. To me, the whole thing just sums up what Wellington is about. Random and awesome and full of life. There always feels like there’s lots to do in town but you don’t feel like you’re missing out if you don’t do it either. You can just play it by ear and go at your own pace.
6. Local is best
People love supporting local and independent shops and enterprises. Some of the most popular products are made in town, like Six Barrel Soda and Fix & Fogg peanut butter, not to mention chocolate and craft beer. Pizza Pomodoro is my go to pizza place now, lightyears ahead of the usual chain stores, while donut deliveries from Little Dough Co is fast becoming our go to for cheering up the work place after a shit week. And I think everyone can agree that Whittaker’s Chocolate is the best chocolate. I’m yet to drag myself out of bed early enough to get to one of the awesome farmers markets around town but I can vouch for the cool independent artists trading wares at weekend craft markets, and the independent shops all over town.
7. Cash isn’t a big deal
Apparently NZ is where they trialed paywave…and you know what, you can tell. Hardly anyone uses cash here. There are no minimum card payments and no fees. You want to buy that 99c chocolate from the dairy (and corner shops are dairies here), go right ahead. I can’t even really tell you what NZ notes look like cause I hardly ever see any. They recently changed some of their notes and as I was examining it in the shop, the woman rushed to assure me it was real legal tender. I had to explain that I hadn’t actually seen the note at all before. I’ve only been here almost two years…awks.
Yeah. I said it. I don’t care. I love the film aspect of life here. I’ve been on the Weta Workshop tour three times. I love randomly stumbling across props on display around town, or filming of some sort happening. Just a couple of weeks ago they were filming a car chase downtown! And of course about six of my colleagues happened to come across it as well if everyone’s Instagram feeds is anything to go by (see point 1, place is small!). It’s nice to think of all that industry and creative spirit existing around the place.
9. The Waterfront
I love that I live on the water…or 10 minutes’ walk from it, anyway. I grew up in a landlocked city and we used to take family vacations to the coast. I still remember the joy I felt when I first spotted the ocean appearing over a hill, and to some extent that never went away. In London, I was lucky enough to live near the river and that was always my favourite part. But while Sydney and Perth are both obviously coastal, I was never actually close to the water on a regular basis. Now it’s right there, every day. I can see it from the meeting rooms at work. I have bootcamp in the park next to it every Monday and Friday morning. I harass the boyfriend into taking walks along it whenever the opportunity presents itself (aka when it’s not blowing an effing gale). The waterfront is just an awesome part of town, pedestrian friendly with lots of random sculptures and quotes from NZ’s most well-known writers engraved along the way. It just makes me happy.
10. South Coast wanderings
Wellington’s pretty unique – it’s pretty much just jammed in between mountains and a rugged coastline. This does mean that it feels like an incredibly green city, with houses climbing up the hills, surrounded by trees and protected parks. One of my favourite spots is Red Rocks reserve, about half an hour out of the CBD, home to narrow beaches, looming hills, lots of rocky terrain and a very chill seal colony. It’s a bit of a hike out to the colony but heading back to town via Lyall Bay and stopping at Maranui Café for some scones or lunching at the Spruce Goose makes it one of my favourite days out.
Then there’s the bar scene with a new cocktail joint to check out every other week (even though I invariably spend most of my time at The Library), all the awesome places to eat delicious things (and forming small habits like going for Kaffee Eis gelato after dinner or heading to Scopa for hot chocolate), catching the latest exhibitions at Te Papa, various sport outings and so much more that I’m yet to even discover. I’ve only been here 18 months after all!
Once, years ago, I wrote a blog that mentioned New Zealand and I said something like, “If I was the type to settle down, who could be at peace, I imagine it would be here.” And now here we are. I’m 28 and tired of packing up my life every other year, tired of leaving friends behind, tired of starting over. I’m settling down. And I love it.