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Christchurch or Wellington?

08/06/2009
As of this month, New Zealand has three claims to fame:

1) Lord of the Rings,
2) We have the only rugby team allowed to dance before a game (ner ner),
3) We are the world’s most peaceful nation.

That last one is quite a substantial claim, and a claim that I, for one, am very proud of. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace List, we have knocked Iceland off the top spot due to some violent demonstrations that have taken place there in the past year. Luckily the authorities didn’t count the time that some guy tried to trip me up on Manchester Street.

This all helps to re-confirm that New Zealand is the place to live right now. Although … don’t tell anyone that as we quite like the peace and quiet.

If you have been thinking about moving to (or around) New Zealand, you may have been wondering which city is the best; Christchurch or Wellington. Ok, you may have been wondering about other cities, towns and hamlets but this blog entry happens to focus on Christchurch and Wellington because a) I live in Christchurch, b) I went to Wellington last weekend and c) it’s my blog.

I have been living in Christchurch for 8 years now. I actually landed here on September 11th 2001 – easy to remember, hard to get through customs. My parents decided to move here from the UK because they wanted to be near the Southern Alps and in a city that was a city but small enough to be in a whole different category to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester.

And Christchurch is exactly that. It’s a small city with heaps of character.

However, I’ve always pondered one day moving to Wellington. Wellington is our nation’s capitol and the word on the street is it’s the home of a great cafe culture and bar scene, with a real arty/trendy feel to the whole place.

Last weekend was a long one, what with New Zealanders having a day off to celebrate Queen’s birthday (we love the Queen. We Will Rock You is my favourite). So I decided to book a weekend in Wellington for my wife and I so we could find out if Wellington really is Absolutely Positively Wellington (BTW that’s their slogan. No, I don’t know what it means. Oh and BTW means by the way, BTW).

Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington, New Zealand

So we get to Wellington and I’m expecting an impressive cafe scene set amongst trendy/arty architecture in a bustling Wellington CBD. But … to be honest … I’m really not impressed.

Ok, Te Papa is an incredible museum and does well to represent what our national museum should be. And the whole setting of Wellington – right on the sea, nestled amongst steep, tree-covered hills – is very attractive (and I’m sure it would be even more impressive on a beautiful day), AND generally it has everything Christchurch has times 1.5. Wellington has a lot of stores and many of the larger stores reminded me of large department stores in the UK. Oh AND there’s obviously a lot of stuff that goes on in the way of big events and shows etc.

But … how can I put this? Well to start with, we headed to the great “Bee-hive” that is our national parliament building. Turning the final corner, we’re greeted by one of the ugliest buildings known to man.

New Zealand's Parliament Building. Fugly.

New Zealand's Parliament Building. Fugly.

To be fair, the building next to it was quite attractive and had a lot more of a grand appeal about it, but still the whole collection of buildings seemed to consist of 101 ways to stack up slabs of concrete. And besides, the actual parliament building doesn’t look like a bee-hive. Look at it. It’s a shuttle-cock. The Cock would be a more appropriate nickname.

This, in some ways, set the scene for the rest of our stay. The centre of Wellington seems to be struggling to find its style. There were lots of strange, almost rural looking, houses and buildings that would be sandwiched between two ugly corporate buildings, which would be next to a half-derelict looking place which would have a horific paint scheme. In fact, the most modern, stylish looking building on one particular street was “Mermaids” – a strip club famous for its large fish-tank that the … employees … swim around in (or so I’m told!).

It's like a giant clown has thrown up on the building.

It's like a giant clown has thrown up on the building.

I was expecting to see more historic architecture than that of Christchurch, but I was quite disappointed. History seems to go as far back as the 70’s and stops there, with a few exceptions. The Turnbull house is a great looking building and contrasts well with its surroundings, but Christchurch generally has a more consistent style to its buildings.
Turnbull House in Wellington

Turnbull House in Wellington

Instead of one particular area dedicated to coffee culture and nightlife, cafes and bars seemed to be dispersed around the city. Unlike Christchurch’s “The Strip” or “Sol Square” which are really beautifully placed clusters of trendy bars. The trendy art-scene was actually more reminiscent of the student areas of Liverpool that I remember from Uni. They seemed to be lacking in the warm character of Christchurch’s Globe Cafe, or of the cafe’s and restaurants around the Christchurch Arts Centre.
I expected Wellington to show some more history in its architecture than that of Christchurch but again I was disappointed. Christchurch’s character repeats throughout the city and so you get a great overall feel of a consistent style.
Christhurch's Cathedral Square

Christhurch's Cathedral Square

My own office in Christchurch's CBD

My own office in Christchurch's CBD

Renting a flat is also far more expensive in Wellington. A friend of mine spends nearly $300 a week for a small flat with peeling paint and leaky ceilings, 10 minutes drive from the city centre and my wife and I spend far closer to $200 for a similar sized, almost brand new flat just 3 minutes from the centre of Christchurch.

Don’t get me wrong, Wellington is a great place to visit. I’ve been told that the best reason to go to Wellington is to see some major show, event or concert and make a big weekend of it. My own view of the city could have been tainted by the fact that we had quite a tight schedule and the weather was horrific – as it was in Christchurch on the same weekend.

But I was very happy to return to where I live in Christchurch. Our streets are wider and the city is easier to navigate, we are close enough to the sea to pay it a visit in an afternoon, we have our own hills with some great short walks and the added bonus of a great view of the snow-capped Southern Alps and we have the lowest crime-rate of New Zealand’s cities.
Flower Path, Christchurch

Flower Path, Christchurch

Home, sweet home.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. danielhightnz permalink
    11/06/2009 11:31 pm

    Good write up, couldn’t agree more. The navigation issues in Wellington are what get to me most. If you miss a turnoff you can end up in China before you’re allowed to turn around. Yes, Wellington in fact extends all the way to China. A little known fact, but a fact nonetheless.

  2. Mark Lincoln permalink*
    12/06/2009 1:18 am

    Haha thanks for your comment. Yeah I think the big difference is Wellington is shoulder to shoulder with the steep hills that seem to surround it. This hasn’t given them much room to expand so they’ve become quite concentrated.

    Christchurch really gives the impression that it was planned with easy navigation in mind.

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