RAINY DAY BLUES: The picturesque waterfront brightens any dreary day.
RAINY DAY BLUES: The picturesque waterfront brightens any dreary day.

Wellington boot camp

THIS can't be right. The path we're taking seems to be heading higher and higher up the hill.

"Surely they wouldn't make people walk up here to get to the cable car station?" I protest to my husband, otherwise known as The Keeper Of The Walking Tour Map.

But he continues to point out the red cable car symbol, reinforcing his belief that we are indeed following the road to the station.

So we climb, leaving the central business district behind and occasionally stopping to catch our breath as we take in the view of the city and harbour below on this bleak day in uptown Wellington.

Finally, we spot a ramp below a bridge with a sign indicating the way to the cable car station.

With the tram-like carriage coming along every 10 minutes, we will have only a short time to wait on the platform for the next one.

Still, that's long enough for us to realise two things:

1. We have only one stop to go to the top of the hill and the end of the line before the cable car heads back down; and

2. The symbol on our map actually indicates the cable car museum, not the station.

Welcome to Wellington, dumb Aussies.

We find ourselves in the city with the iconic cable car for a wet and wild 24 hours before joining a Sun Princess cruise of the North Island.

From our base near the waterfront at the Bay Plaza Hotel on Oriental Pde, we have ample opportunity to get intimate with New Zealand's capital city on foot.

With a coffee from the Skyline cafe at the end of the cable car's journey, we stroll to the nearby lookout for views over Kelburn Park to the harbour and city, before taking in the Carter Observatory and part of the Wellington Botanic Garden, which was established in 1868.

But as wet weather threatens to hit us from two sides, we are forced to miss the Lady Norwood Rose Garden and the highly recommended downhill march on the City to Sea Walkway.

At least we are able to make the most of our return cable car tickets and stay dry for a late breakfast at Cafe Viva and some shopping in chic Lambton Quay.

By now, this Sunshine Coast girl is freezing, having come totally unprepared for the 15C summer maximum, so I retreat into a boutique and walk out with the only warm jacket in store.

I can't believe my luck that the leather jacket not only is a perfect fit but also on sale and reduced by more than half the original price.

Only then do I recall the Seinfeld episode and realise I really shouldn't be wearing a leather jacket in the pouring rain.

I duck the raindrops, weave through the city workers late for their appointments, and sprint for the next shop awning.

But as we head closer to Te Papa - New Zealand's national museum - in Cable St, I have run out of cover and am forced to wear hubbie's jacket over the top of mine to avoid ruining my new purchase in the wet.

He's cold for only a short time until we're embraced by the warmth of Te Papa.

We follow the crowds to the colossal squid exhibit, learning how it came to be caught after eating a fish that had been hooked on a longline and how it was painstakingly prepared for display.

We are so engrossed seeing skeletons of marine mammals in the X-Ray Room and the pygmy sperm whale skeleton overhead as well as the bush city downstairs that we have no time for the rest of the six levels before our noon late check-out at the hotel.

Luckily, after arriving late-afternoon the day before, we had already had a pleasant walk along the waterfront and up famous Cuba St where the cafes, restaurants, bars and shops were surprisingly boisterous for a Tuesday.

We had our pick of early dining options and settled on Italian on Cuba where the two-for-one pasta night special made the linguine ai gamberi (marinara) and ravioli zucca even tastier when teamed with a glass of chardonnay and Heineken beer.

JJ Murphy's Irish Bar was the happening place with music blaring outside for the al-fresco diners and big-screen sports entertaining those inside having a quiet ale or the enormous Tuesday night spare ribs special.

The stroll back to the hotel (to end the evening with a tiramisu dessert and coffee in the first-floor restaurant) made us so thirsty, we had to make an unscheduled stop at Mac's Brewbar on the Taranaki St wharf.

The quirky collection of lampshade stands hanging from the ceiling in the centre of the bar area and the 1950s-style decor create a friendly atmosphere in which to throw down a few of Mac's speciality beers.

Mac's has a long history of creating award-winning, naturally brewed beers including our pick: the popular Sassy Red, a very hoppy English-style bitter ale.

Even without boots, Wellington is made for walking.

In 24 hours, we'd seen much more of the city than we had planned or anticipated - but we're so glad we did.

It seems even dumb Aussies can get lucky sometimes.

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