We had been in Wellington for a mere two hours before we started wondering why on earth we had not chosen to live there over Auckland. It may be New Zealand’s second city (despite being the capital) and it may be much smaller than Auckland, but there is more character packed into those streets than I have ever seen in Auckland.
That’s not to say I don’t like Auckland because I do. I think Auckland gets an unjustifiably bad rap. And yet, whilst we were in Wellington I found myself regretting the decision not to move there. Just walking around on our first night in the city I saw cool bars I wanted to try, enticing restaurants, street food stalls and a quirky night market. In Auckland you have to dig a little deeper to get to the really cool places. But in Wellington its all out in the open. There was street art covering the walls and art installations all around (although who on earth ever thought the water installation on Cuba Street was attractive I don’t know) and a buzz to the city that I’ve rarely found in New Zealand. It reminded me somewhat of Manchester at home – an edgy, cool city with good music and a great atmosphere.
We were there for Cuba Dupa, an art and street food festival held on Cuba Street each year. When I first booked the flights I got slightly mixed up. Seeing the name Cuba Dupa I expected it to be an actual Cuban festival, a misunderstanding that was further perpetuated by pictures on the website of women dressed in Carnival outfits. Dom was even more excited about this than I was. He spent months talking about the Hawaiian shirt he was going to buy and how much rum he was going to consume, picturing himself as a character from The Rum Diaries. I was similar, managing to get myself through my tough Pinnacles walk the week before by thinking of all the rum I was going to be consuming the following weekend in Wellington.
However, despite being a little disappointed when we realised the festival was not so much a Cuban festival as a Festival on Cuba Street (Wellington’s famous bohemian street), we were still pretty excited to be going there.
Arriving in Wellington
The flight was on a Friday night after work and, I’ll be honest, I was a little hungover. More than a little in fact. It was the day after St. Patrick’s Day and I have an Irish boyfriend. Its to be expected. But after a challenging day during which I vowed to never again even look at a drop of alcohol – EVER – I perked up significantly once we got to Wellington. But given that we were still a bit fragile and had a big day of rum drinking ahead of us we kept Friday night fairly low key. We found a restaurant, ordered some chicken wings, ate and went back to the hostel to sleep.
The next morning was spent wandering around the Te Papa museum waiting for the festival to begin. Admittedly, I am not a huge museum fan. I tend to get bored very quickly (I often say – and this is completely true – that visiting the Louvre in Paris was one of the most boring days of my entire life). However, the first exhibition we visited at the museum was particularly interesting. A fascinating insight into New Zealand’s involvement in Gallipoli, something I have very little knowledge about. The most impressive parts about the whole exhibition were the huge and incredibly lifelike wax models of people. They were like nothing I have ever seen before.
True to form, after the Gallipoli exhibition I got a bored, Dom trying (and failing) to pique my interest in some stuffed animals. We gave up and left – time to hit the festival!
The whole of Cuba Street was consumed by the festival (and believe me, this is one big street). One end of the street was lined end-to-end with street food stalls. There was any kind of food you could imagine – Thai, French, Turkish. There were stalls selling traditional Hāngi, waffle stalls and pop up bars.
Further along the street there were stages with acoustic performances and street performers (people on stilts, people dressed as pirates and people covered in hundreds of balloons). And the street was packed. There were crowds everywhere. People would be pushing up against your back whilst trying to squeeze past you, walking straight for you and bumping into you. But it all added to the atmosphere.
After walking around for a while and watching some of the performances we decided it was only fitting for us to start drinking rum. It was past noon after all. We found a Cuban bar, ordered a couple of Cuba Libres and sat watching the festival go by. That is pretty much how we spent the rest of the day – drinking rum, eating street food and people watching – jumping from Cuban bar to Cuban bar. I don’t know about you but that is my definition of the perfect day.
That evening we ate mexican food before heading to The Library for a cocktail. The Library had been recommended to me by a colleague at work. He had also specifically recommended I try the Lemon Meringue cocktail so we headed there just for that – a lemon meringue cocktail, topped with actual meringue and served with a spoon was just too good for me to miss. So I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that it cost $25 for one! Oh well – that was one time I did splash out. And then promptly left afterwards before being enticed to part with even more of my hard earned cash. But it was nice. Tangy sour lemon offset by sweet and fluffy meringue. A dessert in a glass. Yum!
We then bar hopped, ending up at Basque, a bar specialising in cava and sangria (my god – I was loving Wellington) and then into another bar which served us a deconstructed Dark and Stormy with real ginger ale. We went back to the Cuban bar for some more rum and ate even more dumplings before calling it a night.
A slow second day in Wellington
The next day, my illusions about Wellington wore off somewhat. I still loved it. I still thought it had amazing character. But I was already getting a little bored. Aside from heading out of the city to the cable car there was not much else for us to do. And I doubted the views could match the numerous other cable car rides we have taken whilst in New Zealand. We took a walk along the water front from the centre to Oriental Bay, past traditional boating sheds and a small Sunday food market. Cue even more eating. Pizza and Nutella crepe for breakfast anyone?
Then we walked around some more. We walked the entire length of Cuba Street and the festival at least twice. We watched dancers in the street, stumbled upon an interpretive dance performance tucked away in a little cove down an alleyway and ate even more. We found a craft beer bar and sat outside watching the performance of a guy who could make all sorts of sound and music just using his mouth and his own voice. It was very impressive…if a little odd.
And just like that it was time to say our goodbyes. Our short weekend was over and we were headed back to Auckland and back to work, not quite as disappointed as we originally were not to be staying there.