Travel

Waterfront home of Middle-Earth

Ranked the best place to live in the world, 
Wellington, New Zealand, harbours a vibrant culture

Skydiving, caving, bungee jumping, skiing, hiking - all these activities seem to be geared towards adrenaline junkies.

But, if you are not the adventurous sort, like me, don't let it stop you from visiting the "Home of Middle-Earth", the moniker New Zealand has adopted ever since The Lord of the Rings trilogy hit the big screens.

The extraordinary scenery that you see in the fantasy film franchise is not one conjured up in the post-production suite, but crafted by nature.

New Zealand's natural landscapes are a glorious treat for the eyes and an enriching experience for the soul.

Her rugged mountains, glaciers, fjords, volcanic craters and alpine lakes will leave nature lovers in awe.

The country is huge and it is likely you will only have time to explore one or two areas on any given holiday.

While it is common to decide between South Island and North Island, I picked the capital Wellington instead, as it would make an easy four- or five-day trip from nearby Melbourne.

I've often said that my heart is in the sea and the mountains, and Wellington - ranked recently as the best place to live in the world, beating the likes of Edinburgh, Melbourne, New York and London - has plenty of that.

This charming, cosmopolitan waterfront city is often overlooked by visitors who are more familiar with Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown.

I was personally attracted to Wellington's proximity to the harbour and its rugged coastline.

It was love at first sight for me when I saw the harbour and strolled along its waters in the wind.

It is not as busy as Auckland in the north, and surely not as remote as Christchurch in the south.

WONDERFUL WEATHER

There is plenty to keep you occupied - cultural activities, museums, sea tours and a healthy nightlife - and the wonderful weather all-year-round makes enjoying all of that a breeze.

Being close to the sea keeps Wellington's temperature nice and cool at around 19 deg C to 24 deg C in the summer and 6 deg C to 9 deg C in the winter.

Perched between North and South Islands, it boasts a vibrant culture and an energetic vibe fuelled by the creative arts, friendly people and great food.

You can witness this at the aptly-named Cuba Street, with the bustling street musicians and food peddlers transporting you to your very own bohemian Cuban moment.

I am not usually into museums, but New Zealand's national museum Te Papa fascinated me and I thoroughly enjoyed all the interactive exhibits and innovative story-telling features. Located right by the harbour, it makes for an excellent stopover.

If you Google Wellington, chances are you will be bombarded with images of a red cable car - a Wellington icon. It runs from Lambton Quay up to Kelburn, where you can stop for a lookout, visit the cable car museum or the space observatory.

On your way down, try strolling among the flowers and greenery at the Wellington Botanic Garden, perhaps the most popular garden in the country.

Immerse yourself in the fresh air of the native forest as you feast your eyes on an international collection of plants and its gorgeous rose garden.

For movie buffs, no visit to Wellington is complete without checking out the Weta Cave and witnessing the imagination and artistry that went into the making of the spectacular props, armour, weapons, costumes and special effects of several films, including The Lord Of The Rings.

My most unforgettable experience was going up the mountains on a four-wheel drive and then through a "secret" road down to the beach where a colony of huge, adorable-looking seals were sunbathing, without a care in the world - pretty much how I felt during my trip.

The local Maori greeting "kia ora" translates to "be well", and Wellington, touted as "the coolest little capital in the world", is the epitome of that.

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