There is an undeniably infectious energy, a creative spark and innovative edge that keeps refreshing the platter of urban temptations ripe for discovery on a leisurely prowl through Wellington. Just this week, it was announced that the convention centre will be joined by a dedicated movie museum, designed and furnished by Wellington’s movie-making heavyweights, and developed right across the road from Te Papa.
Two weeks out from Christmas, the capital is all abuzz with a variety of red-letter openings, including the summer blockbuster at Te Papa: the Dreamworks Animation Exhibition. Fresh from its barnstorming world premiere in Melbourne, summer visitors to Te Papa can lose themselves in the fantastical worlds of Po the Panda, Shrek the Ogre and Alex the Lion, with the exhibition now open.
Showcasing over two decades of Dreamworks Animation, it’s an immersive insight into the creative wizardry behind animation classics, from Antz (1998) through to the studio’s latest release this year, Home. The exhibition is a bit like prising open the vaults of Dreamworks, with never-before-seen original artworks and models, behind-the-scenes interviews and spectacular interactive experiences, headlined by Dragon Flight: a Dragon’s-Eye View of Berk. Melbourne went gaga over this exhilarating panoramic dragon ride, soaring through a virtual sky on the back of Toothless, featuring never-before-seen vision of Berk, the Viking township from How to Train Your Dragon. Even if you saw the exhibition in Melbourne, Te Papa has added its own ingenious twist to the exhibition, with a stack of interactive add-on activities, to fire up the creative spirit of Kiwi kids. The exhibition runs until March 28.
The capital’s bragging rights as a foodie mecca are constantly refortified, but the city’s ever-evolving artisanal prowess is triumphantly exemplified in Hannahs Laneway, which is celebrating the completion of its $500,000 makeover. Once home to Hannahs shoe factory and a sawmill, pencil-thin Eva Street and Leeds Street inter-connect via the building’s courtyard. What was once a grotty little thoroughfare has been radiantly re-worked into a living urban artwork, studded with a trove of artisan producers.
Wellington City Council has identified over 70 lanes in the CBD ripe for regeneration and Hannahs Laneway is a marquee expression of what is possible. Eager to reflect the industrial heritage into the design features, the courtyard carparks have been cheerfully painted to resemble shoeboxes, while a centre-piece chandelier, dripping with twinkling lights has been designed to look like shoelaces. Another enchanting and whimsical artistic touch is the bubble machine, shooting its liquid magic, outside the entrance to the Six Barrel Soda Company.
It’s where I met the council’s senior urban design, Anna Harley, positively fizzing about the laneway’s new look. Wellington’s bold approach to laneway development has even triggered “people from Melbourne to start phoning us,” Anna remarked. The ambitious vision to transform the city’s neglected passageways into a safe and funky pedestrian network is driven by the welcome renaissance in central city living and the desire for streetscapes to be more human scale. Another recent makeover to be completed is Masons lane, connecting Lambton Quay to The Terrace, and the next cab off the rank for is Swan Lane.
Six Barrel Soda is a delightful outlet in Hannahs Laneway, producing distinctive soda blends which are available on-site and distributed widely across New Zealand and Australia. Six Barrel’s creative flavours include feijoa, celery tonic and hibiscus – and they’re sticklers for fresh ingredients. Grapefruit and Hops is their in-season syrup, while you must try their divine New Orleans iced coffee. The brand’s headquarters in Hannahs Laneway (just look for the bubble machine) is a fabulous spot for a drink and snack. Plus you can buy their amazing takeaway syrups, which work perfectly in a sodastream, or just add soda water.www.sixbarrelsoda.co.nz
Egmont Street Eatery is one of the city’s uber-cool new haunts, which is situated in what was previously a carpark! Serving up fresh, seasonal and simple cuisine, matched with craft beer and wine, it’s hard to go past their gourmet burgers, which scooped all the accolades at Wellington on a Plate, earlier in the year.
Wellington Chocolate Factory has cultivated a strong following with its zealous commitment to ethical trade and bean-to-bar transparency. Like a mini-Willie Wonka factory, the Hannah’s Laneway establishment provides a multi-sensory insight into their crafted chocolate making process. Artfully packaged in colourful wrappers by local artists with accompanying tasting notes, their Salted Brittle Caramel is the runaway smash-hit.
Leeds St Bakery. When brothers Jesse and Shep of Ti Kouka Café fame revealed they were launching a new bakery, fans of their feted salted caramel cookies were ecstatic. With a wealth of industry experience, Jesse and Shep have been instrumental in transforming Hannahs Laneway into a culinary nexus with their fresh breads, pastries, sandwiches and cookies.Sharing the same location, you’ll find Red Rabbit Coffee Co roasting onsite, the perfect caffeine companion for some freshly-baked pastries.
Have you ever come across a nut buttery? No, me either – until I discovered the boutique production prowess of Fix & Fogg, a pint-sized business in Hannahs Laneway. Established by two Wellington lawyers, Roman and Andrea, they started making peanut butter as a hobby, selling it around farmers markets, until it morphed. Fix & Fogg takes its name from Around the World in 80 Days, and the staff will happily offer you samples from the streetside counter window. Making just a handful varieties of their boutique spread – smooth, extra crunchy, Dark Chocolate and Smoke and Fire – the focus is on high-quality products, without additives or preservatives. Smoke & Fire is a taste sensation, revved up with chillies, paprika and natural manuka smoke.
Golding’s Free Dive is a whimsical little craft beer bar, tucked down Hannahs Laneway, largely decorated from recycled materials, with plastic buckets for lampshades and awnings made from old skis. Golding's Free Dive is a free house - meaning they aren’t on the short leash of any brewery, and they constantly showcase a range of fresh brews. True to the collaborative spirit of this laneway, you can also order pizza from Pizza Pomodoro ( across the courtyard) who will deliver it to your table. Nice!
Beyond Hannahs Laneway, I joined a Zest Food Tour to dig a little deeper into the capital’s astonishing culinary and artisan scene, where my fabulously plugged-in personal guide, Wilma, whipped me around a whirl of mouth-watering specimens. Wellington’s dining scene is casualising big-time – there’s been a marked retreat from the crisp white-table cloths and starchy formalities of yesterday. Small plates and fuss-free fun is very vogue.
Martin Bosley’s latest dining endeavour, Poneke, personifies the trend. Head to the beautifully transformed Overseas Passenger Terminal, now called Clyde Quay Wharf, which is where you’ll find this brand spanking eatery. With unblemished waterfront views backdropped by the CBD skyline, Poneke’s light, airy and relaxing space oozes freshness. It’s elegant but unpretentious – just the venue to share a selection of small plates, or you can opt for larger go-solo plates, if you prefer.
The Bresolin is the latest restaurant venture from Wellington food personalities Lorenzo and Leonardo Bresolin, which opened last month. Located in an Edwardian villa at the top of Willis Street, once again the focus is on shared dining. The Bresolin’s menu features small plates and lavish feasts, paired with exceptional wine and beer choices.
Wilma also ushered me to Gelissimo, another delicious waterfront haunt, which has been producing the most daring gelato creations for five years. It’s an essential stop in the summer. Did you know that ice-cream is legally defined as a frozen product with no less than 10% fat? What makes gelato so appealing is it’s guilt-free dynamic, on the fat front. Plus Gelissimo has cultivated a fiendishly popular following for its use of organic milk, along with being gluten and egg free. The flavours are simply wondrous. I adored their Turkish Delight Gelato, while other winning options include Rasperberry & Elderflower, Damson Plum from Hawkes bay ( an ancient plum variety, and Cool-as Cucumber. Yes, cucumber gelato, with a zesty twist courtesy of the Hardies Boys Lime and fresh mint.
We also whisked through Moore Wilson Fresh, a veritable food emporium with a spectacular centre-court bakery bay, comprising half a dozen of Wellington’s most decorated bakeries including Bordeax, Pandoro, French Cancan and Arobake. The pastries are to die for! And no visit to Wellington’s temples of great tastes would be complete without coffee and cake at that faithful old-standard, the beautifully appointed Italian affair, Floriditas, in Cuba Street. Grazing from Wellington’s flavourful and ever-changing food scene is seriously good fun with Zest Food Tours. Being such a compact city, you can waltz your way heartily through her finest food haunts, sampling as you go on foot, across the four and half tour. www.zestfoodtours.co.nz
Craft beer aficionados? Make a date with Garage Project , who famously hit the ground running in 2011, brewing and releasing 24 different beers in 24 weeks. Then, in 2013, they opened their Cellar Door at their Aro Valley premises, at 68 Aro Street. This established Garage Project as 'your local neighbourhood brewery', where customers stroll in and are immediately offered a taste of whatever brew has just been released. Flagons and riggers are filled, as well as bottles and cans on offer, and patrons have even begun bringing in their vintage glass half-gallon bottles. Garage Project brews change regularly, and the distinctive names and label artwork always stand out.
Mike Yardley is Newstalk ZB’s Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturdays. 11.20am