Wellington - a great birthday city

The 1 and a bit hour plane ride from Auckland is comfortable, especially in the premium seating area of the one class aircraft. A little more leg room for my longer legs and slightly compromised knee. A great blessing is a realisation by most passengers of unspoken aircraft etiquette – do not recline your seat.


Landing in Wellington is always a thrill with the approach from the Kapiti Coast, a left turn out over Cook Strait with touchdown  on the eastern side of suburban Lyall Bay. We had stayed in Lyall on a previous visit when we had arrived by car and were unaware of the airport proximity. We spotted an aircraft on final approach and wondered where it was heading for! It seemed to land on the edge of the bay.  Now we know. We all know Wellington can be WINDY but this day was quite calm and settled. Bag collection is followed by a very pleasant ride around the pretty Wellington Bays to our centrally located city hotel. For our special occasion visit we select the Intercontinental which has always been a reliable brand and no exception on this 3 day stay. Our harbour view room on the 6th floor looked directly out to  Port Nicholson over the beautifully restored Wellington Harbour Board building. Over to the right our view takes in Oriental Bay and the Convent on the hill.  


We are planning to spend our evening at Charley Nobles, a very nearby eclectic eatery having been established in the old Wellington Central Post office Building or better known as Huddart Parker Building. Looking at the original floor boards we imagine busy Posties and Telegraph boys rushing out into a Wellington gale with the latest post or telegram deliveries. The mail must get through! No bookings are possible with a table about 45 minutes away. No trouble as the very busy bar area awaits and the attentive bar person quickly provides 2 generous glasses filled with that red liquid which rounds the rough edges off life. Time becomes unimportant seeming only a few minutes until a tap on the shoulder alerts us to a free table. The bar packed and not a free table anywhere in the large dining space but our orders arrive in good time. This place is a smooth runner. The quality of our dinners is excellent rounded off with a complimentary dish of ice cream. The Birthday Girl’s dish is topped with a lit candle to celebrate. How did they know? I try to claim credit but couldn’t quite pull off the fib. Not bad Charley Nobles – well done indeed.


Day 2 started a little damp, clearing later. Great conditions to visit Te Papa Museum and tour the Gallipolli display. Although we know a lot about this epic World War I battle the display immerses you in the horror; arduous war conditions and the enormity of life lost. The double life size figures depicted could transport your mind to the landing beaches, the trenches and the ghastly injuries suffered by many.  The individual soldier’s stories and notes  added detail embedding this battle from over 100 years ago firmly into our understanding of New Zealand history.

Clearing now and we can walk on towards Oriental Parade and possible lunch. We remember a lunch with Tammy at a waterside bistro ‘Lola’ and come across it again. Inside, out of the wind with a window table for the view.  Little Tammy is not with us on this trip, spending 4 nights at the luxury Pets in the City. We do miss her but know she is well looked after. Our Lola lunch is 10/10 and with most of the afternoon ahead of us a CBD walkabout  fills the next couple of hours perfectly. Near our hotel we pass by a restaurant we remember from some years back – Pravda. Not too many restaurants survive as long as Pravda and we decide immediately that it will be our dinner venue. Best to book so we pop inside and no trouble for a table at 7pm.  Raining a little now as we hurry along the street, around the corner and into the hotel foyer.  Feet up on the bed for half an hour or so, enjoying the now grey view out over the harbour. One of the BlueBridge ferries is turning in front of us to reverse into the dock. Quite an imposing sight so close. A shower to freshen up gets us out the door at 10 to 7 to be at our Pravda table in good time. Just as well we had booked with only one other table free as we sit down. The Pravda chefs have not lost their touch for deliciousness and considering  the restaurant’s popularity, delivering our orders in good time.


Saturday is our last full Wellington day and on waking we can immediately see it is set to be mixed weather.  This morning it is the famous Wellington cable car, which is in technical terms a funicular railway, from Lambton Quay CBD up to Kelburn, high above the city. This cable car has been running for many decades and is a real gem. The red carriages sit steeply canted on their 1 in 5 grade tracks. Even though the tracks are at a severe uphill angle the carriages are step built in such a way as to be level inside. Very clever.  A little warning bell sounds, there is slight jerk and we are off, being cable drawn up the hill. Through three small tunnels, very close by some lovely old Wellington villas, then in under 10 minutes drawing into the summit terminal. What a view down over the city. A coffee beckons from the summit café, joined by a very fresh and tasty cheese scone. Good energy builder for the walk through the Wellington Botanic Gardens. Extremely picturesque and mainly downhill. The meandering paths leading to and past various native and exotic plantings, all beautifully maintained. About halfway down we come across the old brick stable buildings which are architecturally superior. Further on the begonia house is like a mini Kew but stiflingly hot. The tuberous begonias make a magnificent display being all colours from yellows, pale reds and oranges and everything in between. The longish walk starts to talk lunchtime and there are some good cafes in Tinakori Street but mostly closed today which puts us in front of The Shepherds Arms Hotel whose front doors are wide open and welcoming. Excellent cheerful service and a traditional pub lunch. There is some good photography in Tinakori Street with the turn of the century villas and shop fronts keeping my shutter finger clicking away. I am shooting medium format so am a little more economical taking care to evaluate the quality of the resulting frame. On a roll of 16 frames a keeper percentage of 60% should be easily achievable. Developing day will deliver the truth.

It is a pleasant downhill walk into Wellington CBD from Tinakori passing Government buildings on the way including Parliament House and the Beehive. We take a half hours rest in front of the Parliamentary Library, the elaborately stunning Victorian Gothic building finally completed in 1899 to the right of Parliament. Across the road to the old original wooden Government Building completed in 1876. It is still the largest wooden office building in the world.Use of New Zealand kauri throughout is an outstanding feature with the famous kauri hanging staircase the centre piece attraction. Not too far to our hotel home from here including a stop at David Jones new Wellington store which has been established in the old Kirkcaldie & Stains Department Store building. Small by DJ Australia standards and good quality offerings throughout.


We are thinking the wharf for dinner tonight - bound to find somewhere there that appeals. How mistaken are we. Mostly full and those that have any space, extremely rude. A bit deflated we are back at the Intercontinental enjoying a reviving glass of pinot in the Lobby Lounge where we are idly perusing the bar menu discovering the wide range of light snacks which can be ordered. Delicious and very relaxing. Our last evening is to be a positive experience after all.  Not too late a night as we are up early next morning to be at Wellington Rail Station catching the Northern Explorer on the daylight trip through to Auckland. Our train pulls out at 8am so our prebooked Corporate Cab is on time at the InterContinental by 7:30. We say a fond farewell to the Intercontinental, having enjoyed our stay very much.


As the Explorer pulls out it is raining steadily but we are snug in very comfortable seats alongside large rectangular panorama windows. A slow but interesting run out through the yards and suburban Wellington and on up the Kapiti Coast. This is a very pretty coastline in fine weather but today not so much. A walk up to the dining car produces 2 excellent long blacks and a very fresh chicken and lettuce sandwich. We had prepordered a nice bottle of New Zealand pinot which is being held for us in the dining car. We inquired about the bottle which was immediately produced, with the comment “you don’t have to take it now, we can keep it until later”. We don’t mind a couple of raised eyebrows, saying “no, no we might as well take it now”. It is a quarter past 10. You never know we might decide on an early lunch. Noticing that the rain has eased we stow our precious bottle safely and make our way down to the observation ‘carriage’ which is a converted , roofed but open sided cattle car tacked onto the end of the train. The wind whistles through from side to side – freezing. We can’t stand it for more than 10 minutes so I take a couple of representative frames and we make our way briskly back to our seats. Oh yes past 11 now and we are still on holiday so out with the pinot. Our neighbours across the aisle smile and nod raising their newly acquired beer in salute. Chases the chill away too.

On up the main trunk line, stopping at Paraparaumu, Palmerston North, passing through Taihape where we spotted 1 of our favourite road trip haunts The Brown Sugar Café, gliding past. Ohakune, National Park, Otorohonga, Hamilton, Papakura and into Auckland at 7:30. A long and rewarding day. From Hamilton on the journey dragged a bit due to track work slowing the train to a crawl for several kilometres, but this will be finished sometime soon, most likely cutting 30 minutes or more from the trip. We are pleased to experience the Northern Explorer, the great service on board and our beautiful New Zealand scenery gliding past.