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August 25, 2008

WANDERING WELLINGTON AT MATE’S RATES

frank linn and david ellis

Trust the travel guides, the websites or the brochures? Frank Linn, David Ellis and some mates explored New Zealand's Wellington, based solely on the recommendations of mates who reckoned they knew it. Could they be trusted?

Where to eat and drink, what to see and where to stay were the key questions. So we decide to live dangerously and see how their recommendations pan out.

Recommendation 1: Lodgings. Something central, easy walking distance to everything, and "good value." They all suggest the Novotel. We book, getting one of Accor's weekend deals; it's only a few blocks to the waterfront and shops so we're off to a good start.

Recommendation 2: Te Papa Museum on the waterfront. Perfect because it's  bucketing down and we need somewhere to hide. Here's a fabulous insight into New Zealand's geography, history and peoples.  We weren't told, though, about the The Brewery Bar 50 metres away: a self-discovered gem.

Recommendation 3: Dinner, and its Saturday night. On the list are Logan Brown, Floriadata, Matterhorn, Juniper, Concrete, Martin Bosley – and the "cheap and cheerful" Momma's Kitchen which is what the wallet dictates: Sorry, Momma's doesn't take bookings and there's a 40-minute wait. Floriadata, a smart, buzzy sort of place is next, but it too doesn't take bookings and, as Kevin O7 would say, Do You Know What? A 45 minute wait. Cold and wet, we stumble into La Casa for some home-style Italian fare. It's not on the list but their lasagna's big and with the salad and a Pinot Noir hits the spot.

Recommendation 4: Breakfast at Pravda. But it's not open Sundays! Thanks. Ever resourceful we lurch on and discover Lido in the City Square that comes up trumps.  (We finally make brekkie at the Leninist-themed, minimalist Pravda a few days later, and it proves most worthwhile.)

Recommendation 5:  Start the day with the cable-car from Lambton Quay, close to the Novotel, to the top of the city, then a stroll through the Botanical Gardens. Vote? Thumbs up.

Recommendation 6: Hire a car from Europcar at the airport for the 70-something k's to quaint and gourmet Greytown and check out the pub and the chocolate shop. The pub is great for lunch with exceptional local food and wines enjoyed on the sunny verandah. And the building's something of an original take-away: it got there by truck from Wellington.  At Schoc Chocolate we sample chilli chocolate, chive, lemongrass, rosemary and herb and sea salt chocolate.  Top marks, and purchases made.

Recommendation 7. Motor on to vineyard country and stay at the two-storey colonial-style Martinborough Hotel, dine in their award-winning restaurant, play some snooker in the Whiskey bar, and have a beer with the locals. It's Sunday evening, so the restaurant's closed, the snooker table has made way for more restaurant tables due to Chef's expanding reputation, but the bar's open and serves a light meal. The upstairs high-ceiling bedrooms (claw-foot bath, tasteful decor, wide balcony) are superb, as is breakfast the next day. Worth visiting – and we get in at around half price this Sunday night via a last- minute hotel website (and despite what the website says, the restaurant is open.)

Final Recommendation 8: Back in Wellington, take a spin along the sea-level Scenic Route around the headlands west of the city, the beaches and the cute timber residences (occupied both by weekenders and commuters) hugging the base of the cliffs. An easy, gorgeous drive made all the more pleasant by a flat sea and relatively clear sky; give this a tick.

And while on the road, we're advised, check the Chocolate Fish Café and the bar in the timber-clad Maranui Surf Life Saving Club. And do you know what? Chocolate Fish is no more and the surf club stops serving at 5pm; a pity because it seemed warm and friendly.

We drive on and find La Bach café/bar. A perfect setting for a cleansing pilsner and a cool Sauvignon Blanc. But do you know what? Sorry, we're waiting on our liquor licence! So we head off over the hills and find ourselves in Cuba Street where we successfully become the night's first patrons at the Floriadata .Very good indeed.

(IF you don't have any friends able to share their experiences of Wellington, go onto www.wellingtonnz.com)

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