Blown away but not by wind
YOU'VE probably heard Wellington is windy.
That was about the only information I was getting out of anyone ahead of my first visit, so it's fair to say I wasn't expecting to be blown away.
But good things come in small, easy-to-get-around packages, and New Zealand's cool capital is bursting with colour, creativity and character.
Without being assaulted by so much as a mild breeze, I fell in love with Wellington in one whirlwind weekend. Here are some reasons you will too.
YOU DON'T NEED A CHAMPAGNE BUDGET TO SCORE THE ULTIMATE WATERFRONT VIEW: While the central business district is home to a smorgasbord of accommodation, Oriental Bay affords arguably the prettiest outlooks.
Just a couple of minutes' walk from central attractions, the four-star Copthorne Hotel boasts priceless harbour views.
Soak up the scenery from your bed or cross the road to explore the waterfront walkway.
Copthorne Hotel Wellington: 100 Oriental Parade, Oriental Bay, millenniumhotels. com
YOU'VE SEEN IT ALL BEFORE: The Lord of the Rings, District 9, King Kong, The Chronicles of Narnia, Ghost in the Shell, Power Rangers - if you've seen a movie - any movie - you've probably seen more of Wellington than you realise.
Whether welding weapons or bringing whole worlds to life, the biggest filmmakers in the world turn to five-time Academy Award-winning design studio Weta Workshop to make it happen.
Visiting Gollum's birthplace is a rite of passage for many film-lovers and An Evening with Weta and CoCo is a chance to go behind the scenes in style.
Picked up from the CBD, guests are chauffeured from Middle-earth to Tracy Island before being whisked to the bygone glamour of the Roxy theatre for a three-course meal at on-site restaurant CoCo.
Heavy curtains part to reveal the stunning Art Deco setting, where you can swirl a martini surrounded by incredible art and movie memorabilia.
Unlike Hollywood, they've adopted a very Kiwi attitude to their success ... one of the biggest film studios in the world shares a fence with a New World Supermarket.
Welcome to Wellywood.
An Evening with Weta and CoCo: wetaworkshop.com
THE FOOD SCENE IS NEXT LEVEL: Where to begin in a city claiming more cafes, bars and restaurants per capita than New York ...?
Here are some ideas: masterful modern Asian at Dragonfly, burgers and brews (and butter chicken fries) at Burger Liquor, high tea at Hippopotamus in the QT Museum, cosy cocktails in The Library and seasonal snacks at alleyway encounter Egmont Street Eatery.
For coffee, I really enjoyed Flight Hangar, a specialised roaster on Dixon Street, and Memphis Belle.
The choice really is overwhelming, which is why I can't recommend a Zest food tour highly enough.
It includes a stop at Wellington Chocolate Factory where you can sample the Craft Beer Bar, a marriage of house-blended cacao and Nelson Sauvin hops.
Zest food tours: Depart i-SITE Visitor Centre at 101 Wakefield St, zestfoodtours.co.nz
TAKE A HIKE: If you're visiting Wellington for a weekend there's no need to hire a car - the best way to explore this compact city is to just keep walking.
That's not to say you should skip a ride on the shiny red cable car that's synonymous with the city - just don't buy a return ticket.
The charming carriage shoots you to the scenic summit of the Wellington Botanic Gardens and it's all downhill from there. Paths unfurl through native and exotic gardens, snaking past ancient trees, fields of flowers, lily ponds and secret waterfalls.
Pause at the rambling, romantic Lady Norwood Rose Garden to smell the blooms and enjoy coffee and a cake at the Picnic cafe.
Wellington Cable Car: Cable Car Lane, 280 Lambton Quay
LEARN SOMETHING: Unable to nip down to the local Kathmandu for a compass, New Zealand's ocean-faring early settlers relied on another sensitive navigation instrument.
"He used his testicles!” Te Papa tour guide Roger Gascoigne gleefully declares, recounting how a wayfarer would read the swell by squatting nearly naked on the bottom of his canoe.
There's nothing dry about the highlights tour of Te Papa, or indeed about New Zealand's forward-thinking national museum and art gallery, which specialises in sublime storytelling.
One deeply moving exhibit draws on the local filmmaking connections to humanise the legends we've grown up with.
Gallipoli: The Scale of our War should be mandatory for any Aussie, capturing the cruel eight-month campaign through the eyes and words of eight ordinary New Zealanders who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances.
Each is frozen in a moment of time and 2.4 times human size.
The sculptures took 24,000 hours to create.
Te Papa Tongarewa: 55 Cable Street, tetepapa.govt.nz
CULTURE COMES TO YOU: There are plenty of ways to immerse yourself in Wellington's creative culture, starting with a walk along the waterfront.
The Wellington Writers Walk consists of 11 hidden sculptures along the harbour, each unlocking a quote, poem or prose from one of the many literary talents that have made the city their home at some point in their lives.