Gaynor Stanley follows capital trails to wild wine, wild life and wild creativity.
I had smelled a kiwi – sweet and earthy – in the new Te Taiao Nature exhibition at Te Papa. I had heard the male’s high-pitched call across the dark native bush-clad valley and the female’s low grunt in reply. And now I was standing about 10 metres away from one on the Zealandia By Night Tour. At least 140 kiwi are known to be roaming predator-free in this remarkable urban wildlife sanctuary, located just 10 minutes from Parliament in the Karori Hills. The tail end of our group had seen one kiwi scurry under a log earlier, but it was swallowed into the undergrowth before I doubled back. Now the German bird watcher, who’d also spotted a tuatara popping its gnarly head out of its burrow earlier, the French conservationists stopped in their tracks by critically-endangered takahe and paths illuminated by glow worms (their romanticism dims when our guide Peregrine tell us we’re entranced by fungus gnats) and most of my family have the little spotted fella in their red torch beams. Alas, despite my daughter’s excitedly whispered directions, could I see the kiwi? Its camouflage and my night vision defeat me. Still, I leave seriously impressed having learned the female gives birth to the equivalent of a four-year-old child and of Zealandia’s 500-year vision (they’re 20 years in so far) to restore this fully-fenced 225-hectare valley to the environment our rarest wildlife enjoyed before man and introduced predators descended.
First there was the obsession with coffee. Then it was craft beer. And right now our culinary capital is embracing the wine world’s newest fascination with gusto. Natural wine is introducing a whole new lexicon to wine lists at bars and restaurants across town like ‘pet nat’ (pétillant naturel, French for natural sparkling) and ‘carbonic maceration’. Don’t be mistaken in thinking natural (or as Garage Project terms their locally produced range ‘wild wine’) is simply another term for organic or biodynamic wine. While it’s likely those with a bent for making it have chosen to grow the grapes organically, that’s not essential. Natural wine actually means wine made with minimal intervention and little or no additives, allowing the grapes to ferment as naturally as possible with skins and stems on. When I ask the waiter at foodie hotspot Loretta (181 Cuba Street) for advice, she cautions the wines are likely to be cloudy with flavours unlike those we’re used to and offers a tasting of two orange wines. Not Orange as in the New South Wales wine region, but actually orange in colour due to the skin contact. The pinot gris/gewurtraminer from Waipara’s Tongue in Groove tastes like a bone dry fortified wine so I play tame with a glass of Loveblock Orange Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. It’s a decent match for the buffalo mozzarella with cucumber and feijoa entrée. But as I devour an aubergine, farro, kale, feta and mint pie, with a side of wood oven roasted Jerusalem artichokes and a Ottolenghi-inspired salmon and freekeh salad, Loretta’s food is the only thing I’m going wild for.
1154 Pastaria (132 Cuba Street) unpretentious newcomer serving classic pasta dishes lovingly made from scratch
Glass (Chews Lane) French bistro favourites in a new window-walled restaurant come wine bar
Golding’s Free Dive – a cool pub in the must-visit Hannahs Laneways between Leeds and Eve Streets strewn with artisan food producers like Fix & Fogg Peanut Butter, Lashings specialising in brownies (try the vegemite), Wellington Chocolate Company, Leeds St Bakery, one-hatted Shepherd restaurant, and Fortune Favours Craft Beer Brewery.
Garage Project (91 Aro) the Taproom just up the road from the cellar door.
Maranui Café (Lyall Bay) – I lied about the wine, but go for the delicious natural foods and setting overlooking pounding waves in a quirkily restored surf club.
Warren Beaton, aka Doc Brown, greets us in his lab coat in the Weta Cave Workshop where he’s working on models of Easter Island heads, a roll of tin foil in one hand, a teaspoon in the other. Despite being one of Sir Richard Taylor’s best friends and creative collaborators from way back (Warren made the goo that Neo wakes up in in The Matrix) he’s disarmingly honest when it comes to talking about his craft. We meet Warren at the end of a 45-minute tour that, to protect Hollywood studios’ intellectual property is tight-lipped about Weta’s current movie projects (Avatar 2 is one they’re allowed to talk about) and where you can look, but for the most part not touch or photograph the incredible practical effects created for the blockbusters we’re so familiar with. Warren explains how he starts all his sculptures the same way as he proceeds to scrunch metres of tin foil into a fluffy ball that he then kneads with his bare hands into a scull shape, perfecting the eyes with “my second best sculpting tool, the humble teaspoon”. Modelling, he says, is highly addictive and “one of the most calming, centring things you can do without all that climbing Everest, meet the Dalai Lama, meditating sort of rubbish”. He’s met a soul mate in my daughter who he’s inspired to start molding some plasticine and she departs for Thunderbird 6 with Warren’s tin foil skull as a souvenir to treasure.
Thunderbird 6 is what we dub our minivan taking us to the real Miniatures Shooting Stage for Thunderbirds Are Go; Sir Richard Taylor’s reinvented version of the 60’s tv classic, in partnership with ITV. We learn the marionettes and seductive Tracy Island sets are what inspired many of the modelmakers at Weta, but that today’s children don’t connect with puppets the same way so the Tracy family, Lady Penelope and Parker are now animated. Fab Lady P’s vice these days is pug dogs rather than smoking and though Parker is still voiced by the original actor he’s had to give up drinking on the job. One of the coolest things – apart from the Tracy’s still sunken living room and literally levering back the palm trees to reveal Thunderbird 2’s iconic runway – is the amount of recycled junk that kiwi ingenuity squeezes into the sets, everything from old mattress springs, to washing machine and computer parts and lemon squeezers.
Lovers of grand hotels will delight in a stay in Wellington’s newest luxury offering. The DoubleTree by Hilton opened last year in a category one heritage building that was once one of the city’s first office towers. Built in 1928, the former T&G Building is considered one of the capital’s finest examples of the Chicago style of architecture.
Fortunately, it remains standing only because developer Mark Dunajtschik lost an Environment Court case to demolish it and instead had to spend millions restoring it. Millions more have been spent on the hotel fitout to restore and complement its art deco interiors like the chandeliered marble lobby, wooden staircase, polished copper lifts and doors to Grey Street.
The 106 spacious guest rooms are distinguished by exceptionally high ceilings, soaring over 4.5m in our junior suite, where tall arched windows overlook Lambton Quay seven storeys below. We enjoy an Espresso coffee while munching a signature warm chocolate and walnut cookie that welcomes guests to DoubleTrees the world over. The brand is actually one of the world’s fastest growing with more than 525 upscale hotels across the globe and more heading to our shores. Though they share the same high thread count and service standards of their five star Hilton sister, DoubleTrees are distinguished by a warmer atmosphere through little touches like the cookies, the towels shaped into an elephant atop the king sized bed and the yellow ducky in the bathtub.
There’s room service, a mini bar and a small gym fitted with the latest Precor video workout machines and a restaurant that surpasses expectations. Spring is a sophisticated bar and dining room which is enjoying a reputation among Wellington’s discerning foodies for standout Indian cuisine. Forget butter chicken and vindaloos, here ?? is fusing subtle, fragrant Indian flavours with classic dishes like the venison loin in Nihari jus and smoked aubergine tortellini in masala green jus we devour with a sensational spicy roti stuffed with black olives.
One of the hotel’s best features is its location, a block from David Jones and the Lambton Quay big names, two blocks to Queen’s Wharf and restaurant stars old like Dockside and Charley Noble and new like Two Grey. Trelise Cooper and Dyrberg Kern areright behind on Featherston St, and just along Grey St, is a great little homewares find Tea Pea.
It’s a 10 minute stroll to Cuba Street’s retro gems (Trilbys and German scarves at Tangent, American Vintage at Thrift and Emporium and pricey premium labels at Hunters & Collectors) but do keep walking to Ghuznee Street for Precinct 35’s uniquely beautiful homewares, made to measure menswear at Mandatory, New Zealander designer stars at The Service Depot and ENA (including Yu Mei’s locally made handbags), Deadly Ponies, and to College Street for Orient’s carefully curated Japanese ceramics, gourmet food shopping at Moore Wilson, Kowtow’s flagship store, Nood, Citta and Ekor Bookshop and just across Tory St on Jessie St, No 16 for European and Japanese designer threads.