Wellington, New Zealand – Lonely Planet Travel Video
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Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, at the southwestern tip of the North Island between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range. The Wellington urban area is the major population centre of the southern North Island and is New Zealand’s third most populous urban area with 381,900 residents. There are 473,700 residents in the Wellington Region (June 2008 estimates).
Wellington’s suburbs lie across four cities. Wellington City, on the peninsula between Cook Strait and Wellington Harbour, contains the central business district and about half of Wellington’s population. Porirua City on Porirua Harbour to the north is notable for its large Māori and Pacific Island communities. Lower Hutt City and Upper Hutt City are suburban areas to the northeast, together known as the Hutt Valley. Although each of the four cities also contains a rural hinterland, almost all of the population is within the urban area.
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.
In Māori, Wellington goes by three names. Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara refers to Wellington Harbour and means “the great harbour of Tara”. Pōneke is a transliteration of Port Nick, short for Port Nicholson (the city’s central marae, the community supporting it and its kapa haka have the pseudo-tribal name of Ngāti Pōneke). Te Upoko-o-te-Ika-a-Māui, meaning The Head of the Fish of Māui (often shortened to Te Upoko-o-te-Ika), a traditional name for the southernmost part of the North Island, derives from the legend of the fishing up of the island by the demigod Māui. Wellington also has nicknames including The Harbour Capital, Wellywood and the Windy City .
Wellington is New Zealand’s political centre, housing Parliament and the head offices of all Government Ministries and Departments, plus the bulk of the foreign diplomatic missions that are based in New Zealand.
Wellington’s compact city centre supports an arts scene, café culture and nightlife much larger than most cities of a similar size. It is an important centre of New Zealand’s film and theatre industry, and second to Auckland in terms of numbers of screen industry businesses. Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand), the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Museum of Wellington City & Sea and the biennial New Zealand International Arts Festival are all sited there.
Wellington has the 12th best quality of living in the world in 2009, a ranking holding steady from 2007, according to a 2007 study by consulting company Mercer. Of cities with English as the primary language, Wellington ranked fourth in 2007. Of cities in the Asia Pacific region, Wellington ranked third (2009) behind Auckland and Sydney, Australia. Of New Zealand cities only Auckland rated higher with a ranking of fourth best in the world in 2009, rising slightly from fifth in 2006 and 2007.
Wellington became much more affordable, in terms of cost of living relative to cities worldwide, with it’s ranking moving from 93rd (more expensive) to 139th (less expensive) in 2009, probably as a result of currency fluctuations during the global economic downturn from March 2008 to March 2009. “Foreigners get more bang for their buck in Wellington, which is among the cheapest cities in the world to live”, according to a 2009 article, which reported that currency fluctuations make New Zealand cities affordable for multi-national firms to do business, and elaborated that “New Zealand cities were now more affordable for expatriates and were competitive places for overseas companies to develop business links and send employees”.
Legend recounts that Kupe discovered and explored the district in about the tenth century. European settlement began with the arrival of an advance party of the New Zealand Company on the ship Tory, on 20 September 1839, followed by 150 settlers on the Aurora on 22 January 1840.
The settlers constructed their first homes at Petone (which they called Britannia for a time) on the flat area at the mouth of the Hutt River. When that proved swampy and flood-prone they transplanted the plans, which had been drawn without regard for the hilly terrain.
Wellington suffered serious damage in a series of earthquakes in 1848 and from another earthquake in 1855. The 1855 Wairarapa earthquake occurred on a fault line to the north and east of Wellington. It ranks as probably the most powerful earthquake in recorded New Zealand history, with an estimated magnitude of at least 8.2 on the Richter scale.
It caused vertical movements of two to three metres over a large area, including raising an area of land out of the harbour and turning it into a tidal swamp. Much of this land was subsequently reclaimed and is now part of Wellington’s central business district. For this reason the street named Lambton Quay now runs 100 to 200 metres (325 to 650 ft) from the harbour. Plaques set into the footpath along Lambton Quay mark the shoreline in 1840 and thus indicate the extent of the uplift and reclamation.
The area has high seismic activity even by New Zealand standards, with a major fault line running through the centre of the city, and several others nearby. Several hundred more minor fault lines have been identified within the urban area. The inhabitants, particularly those in high-rise buildings, typically notice several earthquakes every year. For many years after the 1855 earthquake, the majority of buildings constructed in Wellington were made entirely from wood.
The 1996-restored Government Buildings, near Parliament is the largest wooden office building in the Southern Hemisphere. While masonry and structural steel have subsequently been used in building construction, especially for office buildings, timber framing remains the primary structural component of almost all residential construction. Residents also place their hopes of survival in good building regulations, which gradually became more stringent in the course of the twentieth century.
New Zealand’s capital
In 1865, Wellington became the capital of New Zealand, replacing Auckland, where William Hobson had established his capital in 1841. Parliament first sat in Wellington on 7 July 1862, but the city did not become the official capital for some time.
In November 1863 the Premier Alfred Domett moved a resolution before Parliament (in Auckland) that “… it has become necessary that the seat of government … should be transferred to some suitable locality in Cook Strait.” Apparently there was concern that the southern regions, where the gold fields were located, would form a separate colony. Commissioners from Australia (chosen for their neutral status) pronounced the opinion that Wellington was suitable because of its harbour and central location.
Parliament officially sat in Wellington for the first time on 26 July 1865. The population of Wellington was then 4,900. Wellington is the seat of New Zealand’s highest court, the Supreme Court of New Zealand. The historic former High Court building is to be enlarged and restored for the court’s use. Government House, the official residence of the Governor-General, is in Newtown, opposite the Basin Reserve.
Wellington’s cafe culture is prominent. The city has more cafes per capita than New York City. Restaurants are either licensed to sell alcohol, BYO (bring your own), or unlicensed (no alcohol); many let you bring your own wine. Restaurants offer a variety of cuisines from around the world, including from Europe, Asia, Polynesia. “For dishes that have a distinctly New Zealand style, there’s lamb, pork and cervena (venison), salmon, crayfish (lobster), bluff oysters, paua (abalone), mussels, scallops, pipis and tuatua (both are types of New Zealand shellfish); kumara (sweet potato); kiwifruit and tamarillo; and pavlova, the national dessert,” recommends one tourism website.
Wellington has become home to a myriad of high-profile events and cultural celebrations, including the biennial New Zealand International Arts Festival, biennial Wellington Jazz Festival, and major events such as World of Wearable Art, Cuba Street Carnival, New Zealand Fringe Festival, New Zealand International Comedy Festival (also hosted in Auckland), Summer City, The Wellington Folk Festival (in Wainuiomata), New Zealand Affordable Art Show, the New Zealand Sevens Weekend and Parade, Out in the Square, Vodafone Homegrown, the Couch Soup theater festival, and numerous film festivals.
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