Saturday market adventures in Wellington
Head north on the motorway and, 25 minutes later, arrive at Lower Hutt's Riverbank Market. We make a beeline for the Mr Circle food cart, which sells delectable jian bing (Chinese crepes), stuffed with pork belly, bacon, egg and veges. Then, breakfast in hand, meander through the crowds. As well as bountiful fruit and veges, you can buy fresh fish, bread, eggs and flowers. There are also crafts, jewellery, cosmetics, used books and tables heaving with bric-a-brac. The coffee is good, but the best hot drinks come from the chaiwalla cart, where Delhi-born Rahul Minhas grinds fresh spices and brews milky concoctions on the stovetop while you wait.
Art and culture before lunch
Since it opened in 1971, the Dowse Art Museum in central Lower Hutt has consistently showcased New Zealand art, never shying away from the provocative and the challenging. There are some familiar names – Shane Cotton, Ralph Hotere – and some new discoveries. Maureen Lander's installation Flat-Pack Whakapapa, which includes giant double helixes, is made of rolled-up leaf strips that spiral all the way to the gallery ceiling.
Lunch is at Zany Zeus in the nearby suburb of Moera. The Zany Zeus factory has been churning out world-class cheese, milk, yoghurt and other dairy products since the early 2000s, but the shop/cafe is relatively new. It received a big boost this year when Scarlett Johansson deemed its chocolate cake the best she'd had "in my entire life". That might be why, when we arrive, there's a line zig-zagging through the cafe and out the door. Still, it's worth the wait to get the most comforting of all comfort foods: the $5 haloumi sandwich, which is nothing but a giant slab of haloumi cheese, sprinkled with lemon juice, herbs and seasoning, encased in a soft bread roll.
Hundreds of fur seals that congregate here before breeding season, forming the largest colony in the Wellington region.
Wellington kiwiana, fur seals and the Roxy
Then we head even further afield, aiming for Turakirae Head on the south coast. This is where to go in Wellington if you want to see quintessential New Zealand packed into this 35-minute drive: the humble suburban streets of Wainuiomata, and then hills, paddocks, cows, sheep, gorse, cabbage trees and a river running through the valley.
Suddenly, the ocean appears in front of us. We park the car and walk along the rocky coastline for a couple of kilometres. Winter is the best time to visit Wellington if you want to meet the sea mammals. Hundreds of fur seals that congregate here before breeding season, forming the largest colony in the Wellington region.
A few hundred seal photos later, we're ready to head back to Wellington. We end the day by catching a movie at the legendary Roxy Cinema in Miramar. This city has a lot to offer movie goers, from the majestic Embassy Theatre to the charming boutique chain of Light House Cinemas, but the Roxy is the most magnificent. It was built in 1928, in the art deco style of the time, and a luxe makeover saw it restored to its former glory in 2011. The only down side? It's all too easy to fall asleep in the cushy Italian leather seats.