People are finding their way to Wellington, and not merely because it's the sailing point for ferries heading south. From the windswept green heights overlooking New Zealand's capital, a crystal-clear winter morning reveals stunning views over the deceptively quiet waters of Cook Strait stretching to the snowcapped mountains of the South Island; and it's sheer heaven on a mild summer night when a silver medallion of moon tops mysterious misty hillsides.
Wellington has developed a lively, friendly, and infectious spirit of a city coming into its own. Pleasant and compact enough to be a good walking city, you might find yourself content to laze around the harbor, perhaps sipping a chilled glass of Chardonnay from a nearby vineyard. The burgeoning film industry—thanks to the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and The Hobbit extravaganzas—has injected life into the local arts scene. Ardent film fans can still visit the many LOTR sites around the region, but everyone benefits from the lively cafés and the rapidly expanding restaurant culture. On the waterfront the first-class Te Papa Tongarewa–Museum of New Zealand has many hands-on exhibits equally fascinating for children and adults, and the Museum of City and Sea is dedicated to the history of Wellington.
Wellington and the adjacent Hutt Valley are the southern gateway to the Wairarapa, a region whose name has become synonymous with wine. Journey over the hills and meander along quiet byways from vineyard to vineyard for a day—or two, or three—of wine tasting. If wine isn't your thing, the Wairarapa is still worth an excursion for its gardens, fishing, walks, and even hot-air ballooning. Head for the coast, too, where waves crash against craggy, windswept beaches, and the dramatic sunsets intoxicate you with their beauty.