Wellingtonians are a proud bunch. Before I moved here I was always struck by the love the locals seemed to have for their esteemed capital, a collective smile that seemed to run from the Kapiti Coast all the way to Island Bay. It made me wonder what it was that these people knew that I didn’t. So I started asking and here it is.. but this list is no means definitive. What you see below is merely a scratch in the surface. A tease. A little bit of leg showing above the stocking.
Use it as primer to kick start you own love affair with Wellington. Here, and in no particular order, are some the best places to piss about and share in some of this local pride:
Best place to view wildlife: The Beehive
View Wellington’s native and introduced species of Politicius Confusus in their favoured habitat, the debating chamber. Watch in awe as they battle each other for territory. See pecking orders and natural selection in action. If you’re really lucky you’ll catch them when they are on heat (Politicius only mate once every four years), where the bucking for territory reaches fever pitch levels. Parliament sits on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2pm through to 10pm, with a 90 minute tea break at 6pm. On Thursdays they sit from 2pm to 6pm. Of course they are often on holiday so check the Beehive web site for details.
Best place to see a baboon sex show: The Newtown Zoo
If you’re after something tamer and more sensible why not try the all ages sex show at the Newtown Zoo. Everyone likes to see animals have sex, and without a doubt the randiest creature in the animal kingdom is the baboon. While most animals can be caught in the act every now and then, the baboon welcomes and encourages an audience to its sexual escapades with a fervor that is lacking in other species. Whether it’s a solitary male having a wank in front of the school children or a gang of males going at a female like an off duty Rotorua policemen, the baboon is sure to put on a show that will satisfy the whole family. It’s a good place to take a date, or to teach your young nieces and nephews the facts of life. Audience participation is not encouraged. No tipping allowed but private shows can be arranged.
Best place to watch TV: The New Zealand Film Archive
Situated at 84 Taranaki Street, this excellent facility is a haven for film buffs, history buffs and couch potatoes that want to get out of the house. The New Zealand Film Archive dates back to 1895 so you can catch such early classics as fairy tale adaption, The Bush Cinderella (1928) and erotic comedy Daughter of Dunedin (1928). There is also an extensive collection of New Zealand telly dating back to when everything was black, white and wooden. I relived the time Dad could have won our family a car on Sale of the Century except he didn’t know who wrote the song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, (he answered ‘The Monkees’). Have a competition to see who can watch the most consecutive episodes of Shortland Street without going bonkers. There’s a cafe as well. They are open Monday to Friday from 9am and Saturday from noon.
Best place to see a ghost: St James Theatre
A Wellington landmark in its own right, this fantastic venue is currently home to the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof, about a Russian peeping tom who installs satellite dishes. Another Russian said to inhabit the theater is a ghost by the name of Yuri. Apparently in better days he was a performer in the theatre but fell to his death when another Russian performer, a woman with the strangely appropriate name of Pasha, pushed him from above the stage where he fell several metres.
Yuri is more mischievous than scary; he just likes playing with the light switches to freak the cleaners out. He is also somewhat of a hero after apparently saving the life of a projectionist and his son when they were standing on stage in the path of a falling beam. Yuri swooped in there and pushed them out of the way just in the nick of time. Less friendly is a ghost known as the ‘Wailing Woman’. You can probably guess what her shtick is. She is said to have been an actress trying to make a comeback when she was booed off stage. Not one to take criticism lightly she went back to her dressing room and slit her wrists and now she haunts the theatre jealously trying to sabotage the careers of other lead actresses who perform at the St James. Her victims may include the many actresses that have sprained ankles on stage, one actress who fall from a ladder and another who mysteriously caught a sudden cold just before she was due to perform an operatic piece. There are unconfirmed rumours that Yuri and the ‘Wailing Woman’ are an item. This would at least provide some explanation for all that wailing.
One of the more surreal ghosts that is said to haunt the place is that of a boy’s choir. Before their death, the choir played their last song at the St James during World War II before sailing off on tour. However the ship disappeared without a trace and workers at the theatre often hear their music in the stands. The choir’s version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ is said to be particularly chilling.
Best place to hurt yourself when drunk: Brooklyn Playground
The playground at Brooklyn beside the Renouf Tennis Centre is world class. Seriously, playgrounds have come a long way since I was a nipper. I don’t even know what you’re meant to do with half this stuff.
Of note is the geometric jungle gym with a spider web in the middle.
Ply yourself with liquor and play a game of mid air Twister with your friends. Clothes optional. Just make sure you don’t need to use the loo first cause once you get tangled you could be there for a while. The main drawcard is the flying fox, which is way more scary than you think it’s going to be. Though not high off the ground, this infernal contraption builds up a decent amount of speed as it sends you rushing towards the tyres at the end where you bounce off sharply and eventually come to a stop. The more irresponsible you are in your approach, the more fun you will have. Blindfolded is good, upside down is great, holding a cat is for experts only.
Best place to get mauled by a seal: Red Rocks coastal walk.
Just past Owhiro Bay is the picturesque Red Rocks coastal walk. It follows the coastline from the old quarry out to a seal colony at Sinclair Head. You can also catch fantastic views of the South Island and of the leaning lighthouse at Sinclair head. It takes about two or three hours to walk there and back depending on your conviction and condition. If you are so inclined there are some good spots to indulge in a bit of rock climbing out this way as well. Funnily enough the rocks are very red in colour. Maori legend has it that the rocks are stained with the blood of Maui’s nose from when he used his own blood to bait the hook that fished up the North Island. Hardcore. Geologists think the Red Rocks were formed about 200 million years ago during submarine volcanic eruptions. The rocks are also a haven for male seals to get away from their better halves after the breeding season ends. They’ve come all the way from the South Island’s West Coast to feast on squid, octopus, hoki and barracuda so they can regain enough strength for the next (presumably quite arduous) breeding season. This blubber making session lasts from about May through to October, and the average weight of a bull seal is 160kg which requires a lot of sushi to maintain.
They are also pretty damn fierce and shouldn’t be approached under any circumstances. Unfortunately they have this neat trick where they lie really still amongst the rocks, perfectly camouflaged with their grey coat, so watch your step when rock hopping and keep your nose peeled for a fishy smell or you might be seal bait. To get there, follow the signs to Island Bay and then follow the coast road to Owhiro Bay.
Best place to imagine you’re a character in a horror film: Kahutara Taxidermy Gallery
For something a bit further afield and possibly awry, why not take a canoe trip up the Ruamahanga River to the Kahutara taxidermy museum? Students can get on a three to four hour canoe trip for just $20 or freedom paddle for the day for $40. Training, equipment and beautiful scenery are all included in the package. Your trip can either encompass negotiating class one rapids in a fast kayak, or a peaceful downriver drift in a sturdy double canoe – it is up to you. If you have any dead pets, (possibly flying fox victims) you can bring them along as well because along the way you’ll meet up with John McCosh also known as ‘Tuatara Ted’, who is apparently Wairarapa’s answer to Crocodile Dundee. He is a professional taxidermist and is available for contract work.
All canoe and kayak trips include a visit to his unique collection of mounted animals and birds. These can be seen in a delightful log-built display house constructed under the supervision of Canadian Allan Mackie, internationally acclaimed ‘guru’ of log builders, whatever that means. The veteran stuffers’ stuffees’ include lions, a tiger, an alligator, deer and a variety of other animals and birds. If it isn’t in his collection it ain’t worth stuffing. Bookings are essential. Give ‘Tuatara Ted’ a call on 06 308 8453.
Best place to get starstruck: Carter Observatory
Situated in Wellington’s beautiful Botanic Gardens (which are also definately worth a squiz if you haven’t already), the Carter Observatory gives you the chance to get up close and personal with the night sky through their large telescope. As well as Planetarium shows and tours around the observatory, it has telescope sessions from Wednesday to Saturday evenings. With the help of an experienced astronomer you can check out the ‘Jewel Box’ star cluster, the ‘Tarantula’ nebula or even the threshold of this countries student loan debt. It all kinda depends on the earth’s axis and stuff as far as what you’ll be able to see, so it’s worth going back several times over the year. Shows last 45 minutes and include the Carter experience where if the solar telescope is open you may be able look at the sun up close through special filters. Cost is $10 and bookings are essential.
Best place to take a date: Mount Albert Trig Station
After a romantic day of watching baboons root, cats being stuffed and seals gurning over freshly masticated squid, you and your partner may want somewhere quiet to take care of a few animalistic urges of your own. The Mount Albert trig station off Buckley Road in Island Bay is the perfect place to get to second base, third base, hit a home run or even take a walk after three fouls. Basically this is a nighttime destination and the attraction here is all about the view. We’re talking 360 degrees over the city, the sea, the suburbs and everything in between. Take your special someone, a picnic blanket, a bottle of wine and watch the aeroplanes take off from the airport. with that special someone.
Also take a rubbish bag, a jar of vaseline, hide in a bush and watch someone else with their special someone. It has actually been a bit quiet up there lately so it would be cool if some more people started going. Also, vaseline is on special this week at the supermarket.
Well, there you have it, some of the best places to do stuff in Welly, most of it to do with animals, but I guess that’s just my personal kink. And that is the point really. You’ll have your own interests and Wellington will most likely cater for them, legal or otherwise. So get out there and make you own ‘best places’ list. I haven’t even covered the birth place of Katherine Mansfield, the Putangirua Pinnacles, Titahi Bay, Te Papa, Surfing in Lyall Bay, the Dump Shop in Happy Valley, the City Gallery, the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, K world, Mermaids, the National War Memorial, etc. Happy hunting!