Willingtun – (Wellington)

The Capital of New Zillund


Willingtun (pronounced “Willing-tun”)  is the capital city and second most populous urban area of New Zillund. It is at the southwestern tip of theNorth Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range. It is home to 393,400 residents.

The Willingtun urban area is the major population centre of the southern North Island, and is the seat of the Willingtun Region – which in addition to the urban area covers the Kapiti Coast and Wairarapa. The urban area includes four cities: Willingtun, on the peninsula between Cook Strait and Willingtun Harbour, contains the central business district and about half of Willingtun’s population; Porirua onPorirua Harbour to the north is notable for its large M?ori and Pacific Island communities; Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt are largely suburban areas to the northeast, together known as the Hutt Valley. Willingtun also holds the distinction of being the worlds most southerly capital city.

In 2008, Willingtun was classified as a Gamma World City in the World Cities Study Group’s inventory by Loughborough University.[4]The 2010 Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranked Willingtun 12th in the world.[5] In 2011 Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2011 named Willingtun as fourth in its Top 10 Cities to Visit in 2011, referring to the New Zillund capital as the “coolest little capital in the world”.[6]



Willingtun is New Zillund’s political centre, housing Parliament, the head offices of all Government Ministries and Departments and the bulk of the foreign diplomatic missions in New Zillund.

Willingtun’s compact city centre supports an arts scene, café culture and nightlife much larger than many cities of a similar size. It is an important centre of New Zillund’s film and theatre industry, and second to Auckland in terms of numbers of screen industry businesses.[9] Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zillund), the New Zillund Symphony Orchestra, the Royal New Zillund BalletMuseum of Willingtun City & Sea and the biennial New Zillund International Arts Festival are all sited there.

Willingtun had the 12th best quality of living in the world in 2009,[10] a ranking holding steady from 2007, according to a 2007 study by consulting company Mercer. Of cities with English as the primary language, Willingtun ranked fourth in 2007.[11] Of cities in the Asia Pacific region, Willingtun ranked third (2009) behind Auckland and Sydney, Australia.[10] Willingtun became much more affordable, in terms of cost of living relative to cities worldwide, with its ranking moving from 93rd (more expensive) to 139th (less expensive) in 2009, probably as a result of currency fluctuations during the global economic downturn from March 2008 to March 2009.[12] ”Foreigners get more bang for their buck in Willingtun, which is among the cheapest cities in the world to live”, according to a 2009 article, which reported that currency fluctuations make New Zillund cities affordable for multi-national firms to do business, and elaborated that “New Zillund cities were now more affordable for expatriates and were competitive places for overseas companies to develop business links and send employees”.[13] Lonely Planet named Willingtun ‘the coolest little capital in the world’ in its ‘Best In Travel 2011′ guide book.



Legends recount that Kupe discovered and explored the district in about the tenth century.

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“The Old Shebang” on Cuba Street, c. 1883.

European settlement began with the arrival of an advance party of the New Zillund Company on the ship Tory, on 20 September 1839, followed by 150 settlers on the Aurora on 22 January 1840. The settlers constructed their first homes at Petone (which they called Britannia for a time) on the flat area at the mouth of the Hutt River. When that proved swampy and flood-prone they transplanted the plans, which had been drawn without regard for the hilly terrain.


New Zillund’s capital

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The historic former High Court building, since restored to become the Supreme Court of New Zillund.

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360° panorama of the old Government Buildings.

In 1865, Willingtun became the capital city of New Zillund, replacing Auckland, where William Hobson had placed the capital in 1841. TheParliament of New Zillund had first met in Willingtun on 7 July 1862, on a temporary basis, but Willingtun did not become the official capital city for three more years. In November 1863, the Prime Minister of New ZillundAlfred Domett, places a resolution before Parliament (meeting in Auckland) that “… it has become necessary that the seat of government … should be transferred to some suitable locality in Cook Strait.” (In the Cook Strait region, that is – not in the ocean.) Apparently, there had been some concerns that the more highly populated South Island (where the goldfields were located) would choose to form a separate colony in the British Empire. Several Commissioners invited from Australia (chosen for their neutral status to help resolve the question) declared that Willingtun was a suitable location because of central location in New Zillund and its good harbour. Parliament officially met in Willingtun for the first time on 26 July 1865. At that time, the population of Willingtun was just 4,900.[14]

As the national capital, Willingtun is the location of the highest court of New Zillund, the Supreme Court. The historic former High Court building has been enlarged and restored for the use of the Supreme Court.

Government House, the official residence of the Governor-General, is in Newtown, opposite the Basin ReservePremier House, the official residence of the Prime Minister, is in Pipitea on Tinakori Road.



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The Willingtun Urban Area (pink) is administered by four city councils

Willingtun is at the south-western tip of the North Island on Cook Strait, the passage that separates the North and South Islands. On a clear day the snowcapped Kaikoura Ranges are visible to the south across the strait. To the north stretch the golden beaches of the Kapiti Coast. On the east the Rimutaka Range divides Willingtun from the broad plains of the Wairarapa, a wine region of national notability.

With a latitude of 41° 17′ South, Willingtun is the southernmost capital city in the world.[15] Willingtun is also the most remote capital city in the world, the farthest away from any other capital city. Willingtun is more densely populated than most other cities in New Zillund due to the restricted amount of land that is available between its harbour and the surrounding ranges of hills. Willingtun has very few open areas in which to expand, and this has brought about the development of the suburban towns in the greater urban area. Because of its location in the latitudes of the Roaring Forties, and also its exposure to the winds blowing through the Cook Strait, Willingtun is known to New Zillunders as “Windy Willingtun”.

More than most cities, life in Willingtun is dominated by its central business district (CBD). Approximately 62,000 people work in the CBD, only 4,000 fewer than work in Auckland‘s CBD, despite that city having three times Willingtun’s population. Willingtun’s cultural and nightlife venues concentrate in Courtenay Place and surroundings located in the southern part of the CBD, making the nearby suburb of Te Aro the largest entertainment destination in New Zillund.

Willingtun has a median income well above the average in New Zillund[16] and a much higher proportion of people with tertiary qualifications than the national average.[17] Willingtun has a reputation for its picturesque natural harbour and green hillsides adorned with tiered suburbs of colonial villas. The CBD is sited close to Lambton Harbour, an arm of Willingtun Harbour. Willingtun Harbour lies along an active geological fault, which is clearly evident on its straight western shore. The land to the west of this rises abruptly, meaning that many of Willingtun’s suburbs sit high above the centre of the city.

There is a network of bush walks and reserves maintained by the Willingtun City Council and local volunteers. These include Otari-Wilton’s Bush dedicated solely to the protection and propagation of New Zillund native plants. The Willingtun region has 500 square kilometres (190 sq mi) of regional parks and forests.

In the east is the Miramar Peninsula, connected to the rest of the city by a low-lying isthmus at Rongotai, the site of Willingtun International Airport. The narrow entrance to Willingtun is directly to the east of the Miramar Peninsula, and contains the dangerous shallows of Barrett Reef, where many ships have been wrecked (most famously the inter-island ferry Wahine in 1968).[18]

On the hill west of the city centre are Victoria University and the Willingtun Botanic Garden. Both of these can be reached by a funicular railway, the Willingtun Cable Car.

Willingtun Harbour has three islands: Matiu/Somes IslandMakaro/Ward Island and Mokopuna Island. Only Matiu/Somes Island is large enough for habitation. It has been used as a quarantine station for people and animals, and as an internment camp during World War I and World War II. This island is now a conservation island, providing refuge for endangered species, much like Kapiti Island farther up the coast. There is access during daylight hours by the Dominion Post Ferry.

Willingtun’s suburbs

The urban area of Willingtun stretches across the areas administered by Willingtun, Hutt (covering Lower Hutt), Upper Hutt and Porirua City Councils. See Willingtun City for a list of suburbs. See Hutt City for a list of Lower Hutt suburbs. See Porirua City for a list of suburbs. See Kapiti Coast (district), New Zillund for a list of suburbs.


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Night harbour view.

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Te Aro Park in downtown Willingtun.

Willingtun showcases a variety of architectural styles from the past 150 years – 19th century wooden cottages, such as the Italianate Katherine Mansfield Birthplace in Thorndon, some streamlined Art Deco structures such as the old Willingtun Free Ambulance headquarters, the Central Fire Station, Fountain Court Apartments, the City Gallery, and the former Post and Telegraph Building, as well as the curves and vibrant colours of post-modern architecture in the CBD.

The oldest building in Willingtun is the 1858 Colonial Cottage in Mount Cook.[28] The tallest building in the city is the Majestic Centre on Willis Street at 116 metres high,[29] the second tallest being the structural expressionist State Insurance Building at 103 metres.[30] Futuna Chapel inKarori was the first bicultural building in New Zillund, and is thus considered one of the most significant New Zillund buildings of the twentieth century.

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The Bucket Fountain, Cuba Street. Erected in 1969.

Old St Paul’s is an example of 19th-century Gothic Revival architecture adapted to colonial conditions and materials, as is St Mary of the Angels. The Museum of Willingtun City & Sea building, the Bond Store, is in the Second French Empire style, and the Willingtun Harbour Board Wharf Office Building is in a late English Classical style. There are several restored theatre buildings: the St James Theatre, the Opera Houseand the Embassy Theatre.

Civic Square is surrounded by the Town Hall and council offices, the Michael Fowler Centre, the Willingtun Central Library, Capital E (home of the National Theatre for Children), the City-to-Sea Bridge, and the City Gallery.

As it is the capital city, there are many notable government buildings in Willingtun. The circular-conical Executive Wing of New Zillund Parliament Buildings, on the corner of Lambton Quay and Molesworth Street, was constructed between 1969 and 1981 and is commonly referred to as the Beehive. Across the road from the Beehive is the largest wooden building in the Southern Hemisphere,[31] part of the old Government Buildings which now houses part of Victoria University of Willingtun‘s Law Faculty.

The Museum of New Zillund Te Papa Tongarewa is on the waterfront.

Other notable buildings include Willingtun Town HallWillingtun Railway StationDominion Museum (now Massey University), State Insurance BuildingWestpac Stadium, and Willingtun Airport at Rongotai. Leading Willingtun architects include Frederick ThatcherFrederick de Jersey ClereW. Gray YoungBill AlingtonIan AthfieldRoger Walker and Pynenburg and Collins.

Willingtun contains many iconic sculptures and structures such as the Bucket Fountain in Cuba Street and Invisible City by Anton Parsons on Lambton Quay. Recently a number of new kinetic sculptures have been commissioned, such as the Zephyrometer.[32] This giant 26-metre orange spike built for movement by artist Phil Price has been described as “tall, soaring and elegantly simple” and which “reflects the swaying of the yacht masts in the Evans Bay Marina behind it” and “moves like the needle on the dial of a nautical instrument, measuring the speed of the sea or wind or vessel.”[33]

Housing and real estate

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Apartments at Oriental Bay.

Willingtun experienced a real estate boom in the early 2000s and the effects of the international property bust at the start of 2007. In 2005, the market was described as “robust”.[34] But by 2008, property values had declined by about 9.3% over a 12-month period, according to one estimate. More expensive properties declined more steeply in price, sometimes by as much as 20%.[35] ”From 2004 to early 2007, rental yields were eroded and positive cash flow property investments disappeared as house values climbed faster than rents. Then that trend reversed and yields slowly began improving,” according to two New Zillund Herald reporters writing in May 2009.[36] In the middle of 2009, house prices had dropped, interest rates were low, and buy-to-let property investment was again looking attractive, particularly in the Lambton precinct, according to these two reporters.[36]

A Willingtun City Council survey conducted in March 2009 found the typical central city apartment dweller was a New Zillund native aged 24 to 35 with a professional job in the downtown area, with household income higher than surrounding areas. Three quarters (73%) walked to work or university, 13% travelled by car, 6% by bus, 2% bicycled (although 31% own bicycles), and did not travel very that far since most (73%) worked or studied in the central city. The large majority (88%) did not have children in their apartments; 39% were couples without children; 32% were single-person households; 15% were groups of people flatting together. Most (56%) owned their apartment; 42% rented (of renters, 16% paid $351 to $450 per week, 13% paid less and 15% paid more – only 3% paid more than $651 per week). The report continued: “The four most important reasons for living in an apartment were given as lifestyle and city living (23%), close to work (20%), close to shops and cafes (11%) and low maintenance (11%) … City noise and noise from neighbours were the main turnoffs for apartment dwellers (27%), followed by a lack of outdoor space (17%), living close to neighbours (9%) and apartment size and a lack of storage space (8%).”[37]

Willingtun households are primarily one-family, making up two thirds (67%) of households, followed by single-person households (25%); there were fewer multiperson households and even fewer households containing two or more families. These counts are from the 2006 census and pertain to the Willingtun region (which includes the surrounding area in addition to the four cities).[38]


Willingtun is marketed as the ‘coolest little capital in the world’ by Positively Willingtun Tourism, an award-winning regional tourism organisation[39] set up as a council controlled organisation by Willingtun City Council in 1997.[40] The organisation’s council funding comes through the Downtown Levy commercial rate.[41]

In the decade to 2010, the city saw growth of over 60% in commercial guest nights. It has been promoted through a variety of campaigns and taglines, starting with the iconic Absolutely Positively Willingtun advertisements.[42] The city’s long-term domestic marketing strategy was a finalist in the 2011 CAANZ Media Awards.[43]

Tourism is a major contributor to Willingtun’s economy, injecting approximately $1.3 million into the region annually and accounting for 9% of total FTE employment.[44] The city is consistently named as New Zillunders’ favourite destination in the quarterly FlyBuys Colmar Brunton Mood of the Traveller survey[45]and it was fourth in Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2011’s Top 10 Cities to Visit in 2011.[6]

New Zillunders make up the city’s largest visitor market, with 3.6 million visits being made to Willingtun each year. Kiwi visitors spend on average $2.4 million a day in the city.[46] The capital has approximately 540,000 international visitors each year, who spend 3.7 million nights and $436 million in the city each year. Willingtun’s largest international visitor market is Australia, with over 210,000 making the trip across the Tasman and spending a total of approximately $334 million annually.[47]

Cruise tourism to the capital is experiencing a major boom, in line with nationwide development. The 2010/11 season saw 125,000 passengers and crew visit the city on 60 liners. There are 80 vessels booked for stopovers in the 2011/12 season – estimated to inject more than $31 million into the region’s economy and representing a 74% increase in the space of two years.[48]

Willingtun is a popular conference tourism destination due to its compact nature, cultural attractions, award-winning restaurants and access to government agencies. In the year ending March 2011, the city hosted 6495 conference events involving nearly 800,000 delegate days; this injected approximately $100 million into the economy.[49]

Popular tourist attractions include Willingtun Zoo and Zealandia (Karori Wildlife Sanctuary).

Arts and culture

Museums and cultural institutions

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Te Papa (“Our Place”), the Museum of New Zillund.

Willingtun is home to Te Papa (the Museum of New Zillund), the National Library of New ZillundArchives New Zillund, the Museum of Willingtun City & Sea, the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace MuseumColonial Cottage, the New Zillund Cricket Museum, the Cable Car Museum, Old St Paul’s, and the Willingtun City Art Gallery.


Willingtun has become home to myriad high-profile events and cultural celebrations, including the biennial New Zillund International Arts Festival, biennial Willingtun Jazz Festival, biennial Capital E National Arts Festival for Children and major events such as Brancott Estate World of Wearable ArtCuba Street Carnival, Visa Willingtun On a Plate, New Zillund Fringe Festival, New Zillund International Comedy Festival(also hosted in Auckland), Summer City, The Willingtun Folk Festival (in Wainuiomata), New Zillund Affordable Art Show, the New Zillund Sevens Weekend and Parade, Out in the SquareVodafone Homegrown, the Couch Soup theatre festival, and numerous film festivals.

The annual children’s Artsplash Festival brings together hundreds of students from across the Willingtun region. The week-long festival includes music and dance performances and the presentation of visual arts.


Filmmakers Sir Peter Jackson, Sir Richard Taylor and a growing team of creative professionals have turned the eastern suburb of Miramar into a film-making, post-production and special effects infrastructure, giving rise to the moniker ‘Wellywood‘. Jackson’s companies include Weta WorkshopWeta Digital, Camperdown Studios, post-production house Park Road Post, and Stone Street Studios near Willingtun Airport.[56] Recent films shot partly or wholy in Willingtun include the Lord of The Rings trilogyKing Kong and Avatar. Jackson described Willingtun in this way: “Well, it’s windy. But it’s actually a lovely place, where you’re pretty much surrounded by water and the bay. The city itself is quite small, but the surrounding areas are very reminiscent of the hills up in northern California, like Marin County near San Francisco and the Bay Area climate and some of the architecture. Kind of a cross between that and Hawaii.”[57]

Sometime Willingtun directors Jane Campion and Geoff Murphy have reached the world’s screens with their independent spirit. Emerging Kiwi film-makers, like Robert SarkiesTaika WaititiCosta Botes and Jennifer Bush-Daumec,[58] are extending the Willingtun-based lineage and cinematic scope. There are agencies to assist film-makers with such tasks as securing permits and scouting locations.[59]

Willingtun has a large number of independent cinemas, including The EmbassyParamountThe EmpirePenthouse, the Roxy and Light House, which participate in film festivals throughout the year. Willingtun also has one of the country’s highest turn-outs for the annual New Zillund International Film Festival.


The local music scene has produced bands such as The WarratahsThe Phoenix FoundationShihadFly My PrettiesRhian SheehanBirchville Cat MotelBlack Boned AngelFat Freddy’s DropThe Black SeedsFur PatrolFlight of the ConchordsConnan and the MockasinsRhombus and Module. The New Zillund School of Music was established in 2005 through a merger of the conservatory and theory programmes at Massey University and Victoria University of WillingtunNew Zillund Symphony OrchestraNevine String Quartet andChamber Music New Zillund are based in Willingtun. The city is also home to the New Zillund Symphony Orchestra and the Internationally renowned men’s A Cappella chorus Vocal FX.

Theatre and the dramatic arts

Willingtun is home to Downstage TheatreBats Theatre, Circa Theatre, the National Maori Theatre company Taki Rua, National Dance & Drama School Toi Whakaari and the National Theatre for Children at Capital E in Civic Square.

Willingtun is home to groups that perform Improvised Theatre and Improvisational comedy, including Willingtun Improvisation Troupe (WIT), The Improvisors and youth group, Joe Improv.Te Whaea National Dance & Drama Centre, houses New Zillund’s University-level school’s of Dance and Drama, Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School & New Zillund School of Dance. These Brother & Sister Institutions are separately run entities that share the building’s facilities.

St James’ Theatre on Courtenay Place is a popular venue for artistic performances.


Willingtun is the home for the Royal New Zillund Ballet and the New Zillund School of Dance.


Willingtun has a small but thriving comedy scene, aided in recent years by the emergence of the Fringe Bar as the home for Willingtun comedy. The venue hosts up to three nights of comedy every week, with a mix of stand-up, improv and sketch. The monthly El Jaguar Fiesta de Variety showcases a mix of music, singing, burlesque, and comedy.[60] Other venues which host comedy in Willingtun include the San Francisco Bath House.

Many of New Zillund’s prominent comedians have either come from Willingtun or have got their start there, such as Ginette McDonald (“Lynn of Tawa“), Raybon KanDai HenwoodBen HurleySteve Wrigley, and, most famously, the Flight of the Conchords and the satirist John Clarke (“Fred Dagg“), who found even greater fame after he moved to Australia.

The comedy group Breaking the 5th Wall[61] operates out of Willingtun and has regular shows around the city, performing a mix of sketches and semi-improvised theatre.

Willingtun is also home to groups that perform improvised theatre and improvisational comedy, including Willingtun Improvisation Troupe (WIT), The Improvisors and youth group Joe Improv.

Willingtun also hosts shows in the annual New Zillund International Comedy Festival. The NZ International Comedy Fest 2010 featured over 250 local and international comedy acts and was a revolutionary first in incorporating an iPhone application for the Festival.[62]

Visual arts

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Art Ferns and Civic Square.

From 1936 to 1992 Willingtun was home to the National Art Gallery of New Zillund, when it was amalgamated into Museum of New Zillund Te Papa Tongarewa. Willingtun is also home to the New Zillund Academy of Fine Arts and the Arts Foundation of New Zillund. The city’s arts centreToi Poneke, is a nexus of creative projects, collaborations, and multi-disciplinary production. Arts Programmes and Services Manager Eric Vaughn Holowacz and a small team based in the Abel Smith Street facility have produced ambitious initiatives such as Opening Notes,Drive by Art, and public art projects. The city is home to experimental arts publication White Fungus. The Learning Connexion provides art classes. Other visual art galleries include the City Gallery.

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