Monday, June 29, 2009

Wellington - the World's Most Southern Capital

By Jill Lang

Wellington, situated on the southern tip of New Zealand's Northern Island is the southernmost capital city in the world. The harsh winds that blow non-stop off Cook Straight have earned it the nick name "Windy City".

Wedged between steep hills, Wellington's limited space for expansion has forced the city to build high in order to accommodate increased demand for commercial and residential space. Victorian structures fell victim to new construction and modernization, giving Wellington the most modern skyline in the country.

The Maori people called the area around Wellington "the Head of Maui's fish", a reference to an incident in the Polynesian Maui Cycle when the hero, Maui, battled his brothers over a huge fish, leading to the land being cut up both by the fish's thrashing tail and by their knives.

When James Cook made a side trip here in 1773, the rough landscape of the bay was densely settled. Maori tribes fought one another constantly for the best coastal locations. This, along with the strong, unfavourable winds, may explain why Cook did not drop anchor and go ashore.

European settlement began with the landing of the warship Tory on 20 September 1839. In January of the following year, William Wakefield, commander of the first expedition of the New Zealand Company, "bought" the area from the Maoris for one hundred muskets. Wakefield thus became the founder of Wellington. The city was named in honour of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and England's national hero in the Napoleonic Wars. Wellington was named New Zealand's capital on 26 July 1865.

Wellington is more than the political centre of the country; it has also made a name for itself as a city of culture. Wellington is the home of Te Papa, New Zealand's pioneering, interactive national museum, as well as to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and such national treasures as the original Treaty of Waitangi.

New Zealand's most famous writer, Katherine Mansfield, was born in Wellington and published her first short stories in a local literary magazine. New Zealand's capital is remarkably diverse topographically, with mountains and hills embracing the compact city and its prodigious harbour.

At the summit of Mount Victoria, which can be reached by a cable tramway built in 1902, visitors can enjoy the beauties of Kelburn Hill and the Botanic Gardens. The gardens, established in 1869, now cover 26 hectares.

Watch out for penguins Wellington is almost certainly the only capital city in the world where penguins freely roam the streets. This encourages visitors to walk alongside them; the city centre is best experienced on foot. Visitors (and penguins) can wander through its shopping arcades, lovely cafes and, less happily, constant traffic.

Nowhere else in the country is urban life lived as intensely as in Wellington. Unique adventure tours are available along the Kapiti coast and hiking trails run all along the craggy coastline, just off the coast, the world famous bird sanctuary of Kapiti Island attracts visitors from afar.

The environs of Wellington are known for their luxurious country lifestyle. Many great estates lie inland, just over the hills. Directly north of Wellington is Hutt Valley, where visitors can arrange bush and coastal hikes, SUV trips, golfing, mountain biking and angling.

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