Noni Did NZ: Grog and Grub

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You may have noticed that I went to Wellington a while ago, probably long enough ago that I should have stopped banging on about it by now. I’m almost done, I promise. But if you want to read about some of the magnificent things I did and have already written about, you can find them here.

This is the penultimate post in this series. I promise that it will be over soon and we can all go back to (ir)regular programming.

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This post was initially meant to be a part of my post about my favourite Wellington places, but when I was editing what was already a 2000-plus word post, I figured I should probably cut some of the things on my list. Unfortunately, there was nothing at all I wanted to cut.

After a while, I noticed that there were a number of places on my list that had something in common: they were places where one would eat or drink. Thus, this highly uneducated guide to Wellington’s feeding stations and watering holes was born.

I have to say, I really was impressed by the various eateries that the Kiwi Capital had to offer. I don’t think I had a single dud meal in the whole week I was there. Not only was the food absolutely delicious, the cafés themselves were something to behold as venues.

Here’s a little something about each of my favourites:

Mucho Mucho Cafe

On my first proper day in the city, I wandered and wandered looking for somewhere to have breakfast. Due to a highly questionable encounter with an “Eggs Benedic” in Newtown a few days before, I was keen to make sure that I was going to get the best possible start to my day and my trip.

I can’t really remember what made me turn into this cafe instead of any other, but I was immediately impressed. The room was vibrant, the music wasn’t too loud, and there were already a handful of locals in there breaking their fast. And by gosh, it was tiny, but that just added to its charm. Seriously, it was freakin’ adorable.

An interesting thing I noticed: table service isn’t that common in Wellington. Most of the places I ate, you had to order at the counter. It caught me off guard a couple of times, especially in this case, but it was no biggie.

I ordered French Toast with banana, bacon and maple syrup. I think it may have had a fancier name on the menu, but I’ve forgotten what it was. All you need to know is that it was DELICIOUS.

If you’re in Wellington’s CBD, turn down Taranaki Street and grab a bite here. Not only will you get a fantastic feed, it’s a great way to introduce yourself to the strange fascination that the city seems to have with Cuba… but more on that later.

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The General Practitioner

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When you first see The General Practitioner on the corner of  Willis and Boulcott Streets, it immediately commands your attention. Like so many parts of Wellington, it looks like it belongs in a fairy tale or a Disney movie. Straight away, I pulled out my iPod and took a photo, which led to the story on the left. The memory of that conversation still makes me chuckle.

The chairs out the front were how I worked out that it was some kind of eatery, but I think I would have walked in anyway, just out of curiosity. It was just so intriguing!

I ordered a fancy sounding fish and chips and a Tui, because their billboards are so incredibly wonderful/offensive/I saw them on the internet a bunch of times, that I simply had to try one to see whether the beer was worth all that advertising.

From the first bite, the meal was absolutely amazing: crisp, not too much salt, and the sauces alongside were brilliant as well. The fancy dish it was served in was a bit of a pain to negotiate, but everything else was so wonderful that it was easy to forgive. Thanks to some impeccable timing (I arrived just before the lunchtime rush), I even managed to get a seat near the window. Some would say that a view that consists mostly of an intersection is less than desirable, but I found it fascinating, with plenty of other interesting buildings to catch my eye, and lots of Wellingtonians buzzing around on the street below.

IMG_0356As for the Tui? Well, it was okay. Actually, it was entirely underwhelming. I finished it, but I can see why they advertise it so heavily – it’s not good enough that I would buy it off merit alone, especially since my trip led me to a much nicer example of what Kiwis can brew.

Either way, if you’re in Wellington, visiting The General Practitioner is definitely something I would prescribe. (Oh dear. That line was terrible. Sorry.)

Enigma Cafe

I ducked into Enigma Cafe on Courtenay Place at about 2pm on Thursday for a late lunch. I wasn’t expecting much, but when I walked in I found a brilliant space with dark walls and a feeling that this is where all the cool kids probably hang out. Thankfully, there was a good mixture of different kinds of folks, so I didn’t end up feeling too out of place.

I took a while to choose what I was going to order, but I finally decided on the gnocchi with mushroom and bacon.

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AND OH MY GOD. IT WAS AMAZING.

Right across the week I spent there, Wellington constantly treated my taste buds with beautiful flavours and delightful places in which to consume and savour them. Everything was wonderful and delicious and just magnificent. So basically, if you’re in Wellington, don’t skimp on meals – you’ll have no idea what kind of joys you’re missing.

Now we move on from beautiful food to brilliant bars… And trust me, Wellington has plenty, but I’ve managed to whittle it down to the three (well, four) most notable.

Boogie Wonderland/Alice

Source: Jinx In The Sky
Source: Jinx In The Sky

I touched briefly on the wonder that is Boogie Wonderland in my What We Did At The Premiere post, but I need to mention it again because it really is a place that should not exist, but I’m very, very glad that it does. Mirror balls galore, a flashing dance floor, and excuse me while I put my radio voice on: all the best hits of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and Noughties!

Oh my. So much kitsch in one room. It made me very confused and very, very happy. Be sure to jump into this nonsensical retro indulgence if you’re ever in Wellington. It needs to be experienced to be believed, trust me.

But if you head out to the toilets, you will find another door to another bar. This is Alice, where the walls and shelves are adorned all kinds of bits and pieces from Lewis Carroll’s classic books, the music is eclectic (I honestly heard “Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords come over the speakers and I couldn’t hold in my giggles), and the cocktails are delicious and sometimes served in teapots.

Jane and I settled in for some “White Rabbits”. They were freaking delicious.

Photo by @powderkeig
Photo by powderkeig

One Wonderland in Wellington would have been enough, but two right next door to each other? Well, that’s just spoiling me!

Havana

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On the Friday night, I was on the hunt for some live music. At the exhibition launch where I started my evening, I met Vanessa (well, for the second time – we’d also met after the premiere), who told me that she was actually playing a set at a bar called Havana, just off Cuba Street. (Hmm, funny that.) I told her I was planning on doing some general wandering, but I’d see if I could make it.

The wandering was pretty uneventful, save for meeting this guy. I strolled up and down Cuba Street, stopping into a few little bars that seemed like my kind of place, but they were all pretty full, and not particularly appealing to the solo traveller. (My criteria were that there had to be somewhere I could sit without awkwardly jumping in on another group; decent music, live or otherwise; a reasonable drinks menu and preferably a friendly enough crowd to find folks who would adopt me into their fold.) There were plenty I would like to visit again (namely Laundry and The Rogue and Vagabond – I intend to spend more time in both on my next visit), but none of them seemed right for me at that moment.

This little shrine was set up in the hallway that led into the main bar.
This little shrine was set up in the hallway that led into the main bar.

So I kept walking up to the far end of the street, trying to remember Vanessa’s directions to Havana. I wandered down one dodgy-looking side street, then another, until I finally stumbled across this little house nestled in among some more modern, less friendly looking buildings. I walked up the passage to the front door and was let in my a lovely gentleman and was met by one of the most beautiful bars I have ever seen, and my gosh, it was busy.

It was at this point that I really began to come to realise just how much of an influence Cuban culture seems to have had on Wellington venues, most notably along… ahem, Cuba Street. From cafes like the aforementioned Mucho Mucho Cafe, right through to Laundry and (obviously) Havana Bar, there is a lot of iconography that harks back to that island in the Caribbean. It really is a little bit odd when you think about it, and incredibly kitschy, but it is also kind of nice and brings a lot of colour to those bars and cafes that choose to buy into it.

When I arrived, Vanessa was up in a corner, serenading the crowd. (Holy dooley, the lady’s got pipes!) I waved, then grabbed a cocktail from the bar. It was delicious. Knowing there was nobody there for me to talk to, I squeezed through the crowd into the garden area out the back, found myself a seat and got to work on my scrapbook as I sipped my drink. A few people came over and chatted with me as I cut and pasted and scribbled, and it was just really nice. I’d love to head there with friends next time I’m in town; the vibe was lovely, with beautiful decor throughout. Havana Bar is definitely worth the detour.

Concrete

Jane and I hung out at Concrete on the Saturday night, and to be honest, it was quite underwhelming. But you know what? I simply have to share this with you.

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This is their bathroom. Notice anything missing? Like, I don’t know… Taps?

It took me far too long to work out what how to get it to work. Initially, I thought it might be the silver things, so I tried pushing on them. Nope. Maybe it was a sensor under the top shelf? No, still too logical.

Let’s take a look at it from another angle, a little bit closer.

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Nope. I’ve still got nothing.

Seriously, all I wanted to do was wash my hands. How on earth was I to go about it with no taps? Did I have to utter some kind of Lord of the Rings incantation? Sacrifice my first born? Telepathically compel the water to begin flowing? I was completely stumped.

Until I noticed the little round notches in the bench top. Here’s the same photo, except the “taps” are now circled in red.

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Seriously…

Apparently, this incredibly stupid piece of “design” managed to win a ton of architectural awards, which is proof that architects are either completely insane, or have a terrible sense of humour.

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Ridiculous bathrooms aside, Wellington is full of interesting, unique, intriguing and delicious places to eat and drink. It’s definitely worth the time, money and effort involved in getting out there and sampling as many of them as you can. Ranging from the sublime to the silly, there’s certainly something for every taste.

(Oh god. That was terrible. Sorry. Again.)

Next time: Putting It Down on Paper – why the scrapbook beats social media.

Noni Did NZ: When in Wellington, Take the Bus.

Me at the "Vellington" sign.

This time last week, I was marvelling at the fact that I had just come off the most incredible week of my life. Tonight, I’m struck by the bizarre thought that all that magnificent stuff happened a little under a fortnight ago. I’m pretty sure that it’s going to take another week for it to sink in that it’s all flitted off into the past, so I’m dedicating the next few posts to the week I spent in Wellington earlier in the month.

Each post will look at a different aspect of my trip: the people, the places, the premiere and the picture that made it all happen. And you know, some other shit too. And it will probably be out of order. Sorry about that.

If you’re looking for the full list of entries on this topic, you can find them here.

The first entry is about something that is incredibly important to me: public transport.

Shut up. This is serious stuff. Pay attention.

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Not being able to drive can be an absolute pain in the arse. It can leave you in quite a spot of bother, especially if you’re in a place you don’t know and travelling alone. Unless you want to be shelling out regularly for cabs, you have to work out the buses and trains and timetables pretty quickly, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to be living in or visiting a place with any to begin with.

Luckily for me, Wellington’s all over it: their public transport system freakin’ rocks.

First and most importantly, like most major cities, they have their transport timetables integrated into Google Maps. It seems like a stupid thing to get excited about, but when you’re as navigationally challenged as I am, not to mention terrible at remembering what time things come and go, this is an absolute lifesaver. It means that even if you’re at a bus stop with no timetable, or are struggling to find a bus stop at all, you’re not stuck. Sure, you get the same thing in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, but it’s the little things that can make all the difference. Without this little bit of beautiful technology, my trip would have been a lot more difficult.

Look! Getting places is EASY. (Of course, I used it on my mobile, not the icky new desktop version. Yuck.)
Look! Getting places is EASY.
(Of course, I used it on my mobile, not the icky new desktop version. Yuck.)

The other thing that impressed me was how punctual all the buses were. Now, I’m not one to complain about services running late, as long as they don’t run early. After all, you can always catch a bus if it turns up after you do, but you’re buggered if it’s already left. I don’t think I encountered a single bus that arrived before its scheduled time or any that ran later than about 5 minutes behind schedule. As much as I love Canberra’s ACTION buses, they could learn a bit from the Go Wellington bus system.

At a number of the major stops, there were even automatically updating signs that told you how far away the next bus was, probably powered by some kind of black magic, or GPS or something, kind of like the ones at the Civic Bus Interchange except there were a lot more of them and they were all over the place.

And there were the trolley buses. I found them incredibly bewildering (“Wait, that bus has a power connector… thing?”), then comically endearing (“HA. THAT BUS THINKS IT’S A TRAM!”). Apparently they’re on the way out, so I feel incredibly privileged to have been blessed by their presence, even if I didn’t take the chance to ride one.

Seriously, Trolley Bus. Pick a side already.
Seriously, Trolley Bus. Pick a side already.

I only had a short trip around the bays to get from where I was staying to the city, but it can be pretty easy to mess up these things when you’re a tourist. Thankfully, all of the drivers were remarkably polite and incredibly helpful with directions and tips. I didn’t miss my stop once, and I didn’t have a single unpleasant trip. I was beginning to think that someone had sent out a memo saying, “There is a plump Australian woman coming from Canberra who is a bit of a bus aficionado; be sure to give her the best public transport experience she has ever had,” because it really was pretty damn good.

That said, like all public transport systems, there were areas that were less than brilliant. There were no services to the city from where I was staying on the weekend, but there was a stop about 30 minutes’ walk down the road (but holy crap, what a beautiful seaside walk it was)… The signage to find stops often wasn’t that great, and there were some really weird streets that were just for buses that were also deceptively dangerous for pedestrians. That said, it’s still a pretty damn good service, as long as you remember to look both ways, you bloody idiot.

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Me: “Seriously? That’s the only photo I got? Why am I even allowed to have a camera?”

But it’s not all about buses. The Wellington Cable Car initially seems to be just a gimmicky novelty for the tourists, kind of like Sydney’s Monorail (RIP), but it turns out that it’s also another cog in the public transport machine, if you’ll forgive the heavy-handed metaphor. Sure, there were a couple of families on board who were obviously out for the day to see the sights, but there were also a significant number of travellers who looked kind of jaded and were busy reading newspapers, most of whom got off at the stop for Victoria University. Whoever they are, I thank them, because they’re probably the reason why my little tourist jaunt to the top of the mountain only cost me $4! Nice.

So that’s the practical aspect of all the public transport options I sampled.

Then you get into the more ridiculous stuff that only weirdos like me care about.

https://twitter.com/NoniDoll/statuses/478653018011729920

Seriously, look! Look at the seats! They’re really pretty! Ferns! Fresh! Green! Lovely.

(Especially when you compare them with the seats of Canberra’s ACTION buses, which look like somebody murdered a Ken Done painting.)

ARGH. MY EYES. (Thanks to Ali for the photos.)
ARGH. MY EYES.
(Thanks to Ali for the photos.)

Basically, getting around Wellington was really bloody rad, from the buses to the cable car to the fact that there were effectively taxi spruikers when I got in at Wellington Airport. (Seriously, that was kind of weird.) Everyone was friendly and didn’t want to charge me through the nose and got me to where I was going with a minimum of fuss.

As a non-driver, Wellington is easily one of the most non-driver friendly places I’ve visited, at least in terms of the routes that I took. Sure, next time I head over, I’ll have to do a little more exploring outside the inner city area, but for now I just want to say well done, Wellington.

Image: Ed Jones via Getty. Click for source.
Well done.