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Having a Wellington Life

October 11th, 2013 by admin

Over the past year, The Lifer has been too busy navigating The Starfish and assisting The Lifer’s partner with Wellington infrastructure issues to give a virtual Wellington life much attention. Also, city blogging has become far more visual. It’s time for this blog to catch the trolley into the Wellington sunset. Thank you all for reading – here’s a glimpse of the Wellington we know, wear raincoats for, and love.

Meet you on Cuba for a coffee, because you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.

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Moving To Wellington: The CBD Experience

March 9th, 2012 by admin

If you want to live in a flat and have a semblance of urban life in Aotearoa,  downtown Wellington is one of your two options. Since there is currently no downtown Christchurch, the other option is Auckland, and – let’s face it, you’re not reading “It’s An Auckland Life,” are you?

It’s with downtown residences that Wellington is at its most Janus-faced, either awful or wonderful. Living in downtown Wellington is delightful – walking to work, or driving with a reverse commute! Going to weekend markets! Friends coming to visit, all the time! Being So Close To Things! But finding that downtown place to live is sheer hell. Due to demand, finding a desirable centre city residence in Wellington, whether to rent or buy, is as demanding as finding one in New York City. So get all the coffee, put your checkbook in your bag, and set the alarms…

Before last year, choosing a downtown flat in Wellington was simple. Avoid shouting distance of Courtenay Place (real estate agents save these flats for new migrants, who think being near Courtenay Place is a good idea). Then, pick an older building, constructed when builders had, if not the grandest materials, acceptable ideas about personal space and window placement. But the Christchurch quake a year ago changed that. Those gracious 1920s and 1930s buildings turned out to be some of the most quake-vulnerable in town. Rent there if you dare, and don’t buy. IAWL has friends who have bought there and are now dealing with the worst possible results short of the actual quake – huge disputes with insurers and building associations.

New buildings advertise themselves widely as being quake-proof. Unfortunately, they are also cramped, poorly soundproofed, and boxy. They are livable only if you want to live downtown because you’re never home anyway and your flat is destined to be a less expensive hotel room. Your best two options are either a free-standing house (wooden, not brick or concrete) or a flat in a converted industrial building. There are not that many of either option, so good luck.

Renting? We’ll tell you our secret. Grab the printed newspaper on Saturday morning. Who still puts an ad in the Saturday paper? Older landlords who can’t be bothered with putting ads online.  Make calls at 9 AM, preferably from a cafe table nearby, and show up to view with your checkbook in hand ASAP. Yeah, you’re getting up early to do this. No grumbling. You’ll be able to sleep in once you’re ensconced in town.

Once you do find the downtown place that will amaze everyone for years to come, buying or renting, lock it in as quickly as you can. Then get an air mattress for when your friends descend.

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Moving To Wellington: How ‘Bout Those Burbs?

February 15th, 2012 by admin

So, you want to move to Wellington, New Zealand? Your best first move is taking a look at Wellington’s many suburbs, even the nearby “towns” of Porirua and the Hutt Valley.

MSN News said it…

Apparently Wellington is now, according to some metrics, as expensive to live in as London.

The guy from Berlin I met last night said it…

He also said, “When I moved here, I thought, an apartment downtown, for that is how I always lived. Then I moved…near to a bay…the views….the space…yes, 20 minutes. But I can never go back to an apartment now.”

My friends who live in the Hutt all say it…

Startling amounts of Weta employees live in the Hutt – Cafe Reka at the Dowse is almost as good for talent-spotting as Floridita’s downtown. Possibly the best quote is from the gay guy I know who lives in Wainuiomata, pointing out that, living there, he can afford to travel to every queer Antipodean event that pleases him.

James Cameron…

Admittedly, while he hasn’t said it to me personally, has certainly shown it with his actions – taking his $20 million to the Wairarapa, an hour away. His $20 million bought a small fiefdom there, instead of the top floor of an apartment building.

Sexier Non-Central-Wellington Residential Options for your consideration.

Wellington City Itself: Newtown, Island Bay (both hip enough to have own t-shirts), Northland, Ngaio, Johnsonville (if you’re stodgier), anywhere directly on or with views of water. Except Maupuia, which has inexplicably limited bus service.

Anywhere In The Wairarapa. Works best for couples where one person gets on the Wellington train at dark o’ clock while the other homesteads/parents. People will visit on weekends and admire. And it’s so lovely that the children have room to play, and even space to have rabbits and three alpacas. Oddly, sexier than most of the more-accessible Kapiti Coast; the train service to Wellington is the least irregular, and the vibe is more “lifestyle rural” than suburban.

Porirua – Titahi Bay. Yes, you’ll drive to work, or at least to the train, and winter will lash you, but on the weekends you’ll walk to one of the most accessible beaches in the region. Plus, you can afford to tag along when your gay friends from Wainuiomata want to go shopping in Sydney.

Kapiti Coast – Paekakariki, Raumati South. Other Kapiti Coast towns are mocked as “God’s waiting rooms” but these two come pretty close to bourgeois bohemian heaven. See previous post. 

Lower Hutt – “Hillside” hoods of Korokoro, Harborview, Belmont. If the houses, mostly built in the 70s, aren’t already ravishing, they’re large and renovatable; the hills are geologically stable; and nothing is going to take away the incredible views. Direct highway access makes slipping to Wellington  for coffee a 10-to-15 minute snip.

If you are pouting and hyperventilating at the idea – if you absolutely must have the downtown experience – wait for the next post.


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Announcing: Max Aidan Miro Wellington-Zealand

February 14th, 2012 by admin

The following email just got sent out to Will and Winona’s extensive Contacts lists:

Will and Win are now the proud parents of their new son, Max Aidan Miro Wellington-Zealand. Max was born at 20:47 last night, at Wellington Hospital, weighing in at 3.1 kg.  Win is staying at Wellington Hospital for a few days post-cesarian and would love visitors. Special thanks to Andy for giving Will a lift to the hospital at rush hour!

The attached photo, showing the normal scrunched-raspberry-newborn-mug looking redder than usual in blue swaddling, elicits sighs (and more than a few shrugs) from their friends around the world.

As Winona works on nursing, she is, of course, totally enchanted with the baby. But she allows herself a wistful thought or three for the dresses that will never be bought, in anticipation of watching rugby games in the cold windy rain, for the silent idea that a girl would be so much easier to bring up in Wellington.

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So, You Want To Move To Wellington, NZ

January 31st, 2012 by admin

February in Wellington is as good as it gets. Even though I woke up from a dream of summer clothing murmuring, “I need…a bathing suit…and…a parka…”

February is the month when Wellington turns up the summery charm. “We should take February off, instead,” everyone grumbles. But they don’t mean it, really. If they did, downtown would be a ghost town on weekends, instead of being packed. They’re enjoying the re-awakened, event-packed Wellington too much. It starts with (love them or hate them) the Sevens, follows on with every “regular” event starting up again, and, this year, is spiced with movie-celebrity-watching as The Hobbit filming and editing reaches its peak.

February is also  when we see more people than usual fumbling with bus schedules, walking into cafes without the ultra-confident body language of the ‘regular’, and gazing in despair at potential flats. It’s when the newcomers arrive. The students, of course, but other new Wellingtonians, too, after that “last Christmas” wherever they were before. Christchurch emigres continue to arrive, as do fed-up USAians, doomsday-anticipating Europeans, and predatory Aucklanders (the last hovering as National begins dismantling government departments into contracting opportunities).

So, over the next few weeks, here at IAWL we’ll be posting our Wellington Survival Guide. Housing, employment, style, surviving the weather, grocery shopping, wrangling your offspring and pets and vehicles, nurturing your social life.  Tips? Requests? Want to guest write? Let us know!

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Bummer Of A Summer

January 16th, 2012 by admin

There have been cheerier summers here in Wellington. This year, summer weather seems to be cancelled, Blanket Man is dead, another dead body disrupted the Harbourside Market on Sunday, and National is getting ready to privatize half the government offices.

At Wazzer’s job, Chelsea, the trim blonde waitress, is asking if Wazzer knows anyone looking for a flat mate. But the flat that Chelsea is seeking is elusive this year. Wazzer’s not much help. “Ram knows a guy, Gerard, he’s a mature classical musician. Okay, he’s a 58-year-old timpanist. And a friend of my sister’s, Hazel, is looking for someone. She’s in Northland. She’s also about to have a baby, on her own.”

Chelsea shakes her head. “Yeah, but no. Hey, did you hear? The Garden Club,” the venue for every mildly entertaining independent dance event, “has been sold. To a big chain of strip clubs based in Auckland. You think I could be a stripper? I could make enough money for a flat of my own, then.”

“Lookswise, totally. But who goes to a strip club when prostitution is legal? Except as a way to say they were ‘just’ at the strip club? If there were any money in stripping in Wellington, I’d know people who did it. Like with being a legal hooker. But I don’t know any strippers.”

Chelsea gapes. “You mean you know people who –-”

Then the kitchen yells “Order up!” and Chelsea whirls away.

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Starting the Future

December 31st, 2011 by admin

On a soggy, southerly-blasted New Year’s Eve, Wazzer, and more of Ram’s acquaintances than he was expecting, are packed into Ram’s apartment. They came to have a yarn with their mate. They came because the poor weather made their own porches and verandas a bad idea. And they came to have a peek inside of one of Wellington’s most dubious and disliked apartment buildings.

It’s one of the new ones, and if it’s the future, Wellington doesn’t like it much. It’s been sneered at from the outset for having an Auckland property developer’s number on the “Coming Soon” billboard two years ago. It’s garnered the dislike of the neighborhood for blocking views and clogging the streets with new “Resident Parking” vehicles. The residents themselves are ambivalent about it. Ram’s neighbors feel cramped and light-blasted inside the small white boxes of their rooms. But if you want two affordable bedrooms in a central location,built to the latest earthquake standards, it is, for the moment, the only game in town.

Wazzer peers at the glossy fittings with interest. “Just move right in and it’s all set up? Kinda sweet!”

Ram is, noisily, hauling a barbecue onto his tiny balcony. “I suppose. Don’t know what to make of it, really. My ex and I renovated our house, and by the time we were done, we split up. She bought it off me and I got a good deal on this place. Seemed like a good idea at the time and my boy has his own room. But I come home and there’s nothing that needs doing, you know?” Wazzer gets a glimpse of the cupboard that held the barbecue; rusty boxes and new plastic cases, overflowing with a lifetime’s worth of tools, all poignantly un-required here.

The scene on the balcony is more evidence that perhaps Wellington lives don’t fit into neat urban boxes. The wee barbecue is now belching smoke against the building’s white facade. “The neighbors won’t complain?” Wazzer asks.

Ram hands her a bottle of lager. “They’re all here. All up for a sausage,” he chuckles. “Cheers for the new year?” He holds his bottle up, ready to click it against hers.

She takes a quick glance at the flat, full of well-meaning professionals and semi-professionals, choosing all the compromises to be in the heart of Wellington.Very different, she thinks. And about time, too. “Cheers, mate.”



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Meeting The Wellingtons

December 28th, 2011 by admin

The newest addition to Wilhelmina Wellington’s family-only Boxing Day lunch is sitting there, stunned. For Chelsea, yesterday, the mum who raised her teased her for wearing shoes at the Christmas barbecue. Today, the  woman who gave birth to her, Karin Kapiti, is sitting beside her at an Edwardian rimu dining table, saying, “The entire arts scene is just imploding in the recession. Nobody’s got any money for anything. Which means you can actually get some really interesting work done. Can you pass the salmon?”

After two weeks of being reunited after Chelsea was given up for adoption, this is her first time meeting the Wellington clan. Birth mother and daughter have spent half the meal turning to the side so that the rest of the family can admire their matching profiles.

The matriarch, Wilhelmina, smiles regally. “My nose was just the same when I was your age. That was the 70s. You’re even in the same dresses we wore then, down to the floor. Time does fly. I’ll get some pictures out later.” Chelsea has been warned that Wilhelmina isn’t the sort to invite her new grand-daughter to call her Nanny. But Wilhelmina gave her a quilt dyed with locally sourced iron oxides, so gloomy and arty that it appealed to her Goth tastes, and Chelsea’s genuine pleasure set the seal on her welcome to the Wellington clan.

Helena Hutt bustles up. “Shall I bring in the pavlova?”

Her sister, Winona, stands up for the first time.  “I thought I was bringing the pavlova? I made one, it’s on the counter.”

“No, no, you’re not supposed to do anything, Win! I brought the pav.”

“I had a real kitchen for the first time this year, Mummy, I told you I was bringing a pavlova. With raspberries!”

“Oh well, nothing wrong with two pavs,” says their round little father.

“Dad!” the women shriek, together.

Chelsea slips away for a cigarette as the pavlova sniping grows more intense. But she’s not the only one seeking refuge. Win’s partner, Will, has stolen away to the side patio as well. “Are they always like that?” Chelsea asks.

“All intense about everything? Yeah, no…yeah. Relaxing isn’t a Wellington family thing. Even on Boxing Day. They’re kind of exhausting, but you get used to ’em,” he says, wiggling his bare toes on the cool flagstones with a cheeky grin. Chelsea slips her shoes off to join him.

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A Recession Courtship

December 21st, 2011 by admin

Wazzer’s unexpected date takes place at the most cutting-edge beer house in town. The middle-aged hipster, Ram, buys her a handle of stout. Not the most lavish date, but by choosing this beer house, he shows that he’s rich in social currency. Wazzer gets introduced to some of his friends who “just happen” to be there, and they munch a sample of organic caramelized hazelnuts that one of said friends is promoting as a new beer accompaniment.

After a day of being jolly to holiday lunchers, Wazzer is happy, for once, to let this guy talk. “I’m a project manager. Which, in the recession, is terrifying. Everyone’s been at their jobs too long – we’re all stagnating, but there’s nothing to go to. They did layoffs at my Ministry and I asked them to do me in, but they refused.”

“Yeah? Lucky for me, folks still eat and drink, mate.”

“Bloody brilliant!” He lifts his own stein to her. “My boy’s got it in his head that he wants to work at Weta doing digital animation. By the time he’s ready it will probably all be just read from Peter Jackson’s brain waves. Have you heard about the crazed Hobbit tourists? Weta told them not to come, but they’re coming anyway, and doing a documentary? I thought Mormons were supposed to do good works, not nonsense like that. I was an extra the first time around. One of the Gondorians. It was before I went bald,” he says, ruefully running a hand over his head.

Wazzer laughs and shares her 48 Hour Film Festival experience with him. He laughs, too, then says, “What are you doing for New Year’s? Anything planned? Going to have a barbecue on the balcony at my place. Fancy a snarler?”

Wazzer’s used to being bought favorable-exchange-rate dinners by her nomadic pick-ups. But she’s also used to them not getting her Kiwi jokes. “Do ya do them with the onions?”

“With the onions done all nice and soft on the barbecue griddle, with little brown bits. But not black bits. That’s when you’ve gone too far.”

“I like a man who stands for what he believes in,” Wazzer murmurs.


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