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Wellington, New Zealand

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It Gives you Wind

Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, but its reason for being so is nothing more legitimate than 'well, it's sort of in the middle, isn't it?'. A bit like Madrid, really. As a result, the centre of political and (arguably) economic power is founded upon a small amount of reclaimed land nestled among the hills, directly over the intersection of two major tectonic plates. It's a bit like keeping your good china in a cement mixer, really.

However, Wellingtonians have learnt to cope with the continual possibility of disaster, so much so that they have started to enjoy small tremors, and even mock them: 'Why that was nothing but a shallow 4.0; the paintwork hardly even cracked.' Admittedly earthquakes have occasionally proved beneficial; while the city was founded in 1839, it was not until 1855 that the major access route into Wellington was thrust violently out of the sea. (Yes, this is true.)

Both nationally and internationally, Wellington is known for two things: its bureaucracy and its wind. There are theories that these two features are related and symbiotic (giving rise to awful 'hot air' jokes), but even separately they are formidable characteristics.

Wellington's famous southerly wind comes directly from Antarctica, and it provides a great opportunity to try new pastimes like 'hang gliding', 'para-ponting' and 'getting all blown about the place'. Certain streets in the central business district are notorious as man-made wind tunnels, and umbrella manufacturers around New Zealand daily thank the city founders and planners for such blatant stupidity. However, always resourceful, Wellingtonians have taken advantage of Mother Nature's fearsome gusts through the construction of a wind turbine. Just one, mind you - 'we wouldn't want to get too efficient'.

Because historically, efficiency has been the capital's worst enemy, as the seat of government Wellington also plays host to its countless minions. These ever-present but public servants gave Wellington the long held image of grey suits, pocket calculators, trainers (with suits) worn to and from work, and forms to be filled out in order to fill out forms.

This was a problem. But rather than fight it, Wellingtonians embraced their city and in doing so changed it by using the magic word - tourism. Wellington is one of the very few cities of the world which has managed to market bureaucracy as a tourist attraction. And successfully; the capital is now the fourth most popular tourist destination in New Zealand1.

It is a mystery what visitors actually do in Wellington; its own citizens are often at a loose end most weekends - instead, they all go to the gym. However, countless local and foreign visitors are drawn to various attractions. Most recently the opening of Te Papa2, the New Zealand national museum, has proved a great success; disguised cleverly as a theme park so that learning can sneak up behind you and educate you unawares.

There are many other enticements: the harbour, gardens, galleries, architecture, even the cable car ('It goes up a hill... and goes down again!', may such wonders never cease). But perhaps the most legitimate attraction Wellington has to offer is its own culture: cosmopolitan, arty, heady but reserved, elaborate but never garish. Mobile phones are near-compulsory, coffee is a religion, and civic buildings are rebuilt or renovated back to former glories. There are hundreds of caf├ęs and restaurants (a few of them quite nice), and at night areas like Courtenay Place light up with the antics of revellers and drunken secretaries on hen nights. This is not to say things are perfect: everywhere seems to be uphill. The public hospital is falling apart and on Friday and Saturday night an array of various 13-year-old thugs and scumbags intimidate for your entertainment and general fearfulness.

Oh yeah, and there's the wind.

1Cynics suggest that there is a reasonably large drop between third and fourth, but Wellingtonians steadfastly maintain that civic pride overrides facts and figures.2Te Reo Maori for 'Our Place', although it is not recommended to rely on this statement for lodgings.

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