Wonderful Winter in Wellington

Looking for wintry festivals, cosy nooks, or an exciting line up of events? Look no further than Wellington. It’s the perfect place for your winter getaway.

In Māori culture, Matariki is the name of the Pleiades star cluster and the celebration of its first rising. The appearance of Matariki marks the beginning of the new year in the Māori lunar calendar and is a time of remembrance, joy, and peace. For the first time, Aotearoa will  celebrate Matariki with a public holiday on Friday, 24 June.

Wellington will celebrate Matariki ki Pōneke 2022 with experiences around the city from 23 to 26 June including projections and  performances, fires and braziers, whānau fun, installations, and exhibitions. On the public holiday itself, fireworks will light up Wellington  Harbour at 6.30pm.

For three nights during the Matariki weekend – from 23 to 25 June – Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi, better known as TEEKS, will be performing  with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) at the newly re-opened St James Theatre. A favourite on the local arts festival circuit, TEEKS was named Best Māori Artist, Best Solo Artist, and Best Soul/RnB Artist at last year’s Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. The  singer says it was a long-held dream to perform with Aotearoa’s leading professional orchestra. “I’m extremely excited to experience the  grandeur and the might of the NZSO. I feel like this is going to be really special,” he says.

Up the coast in Ōtaki, the Māoriland Film Festival  from 29 June to 3 July uses the power of storytelling to share important and engaging indigenous stories from all angles and styles. As the largest international indigenous film festival in the Southern Hemisphere, it presents over 80 films including award-winning feature-length  dramas, illuminating documentaries, and a diverse collection of short films.

Back in the city, new exhibition Matarau – at City Gallery  Wellington Te Whare Toi until 14 August – explores the role art can play in navigating the complexities of everyday life. Politics, economic  mobility, whakapapa, and love are themes that pervade some of the large scale works that have been commissioned. Curated by Walters Prize winner Shannon Te Ao, the exhibition continues the current trend of New Zealand institutional galleries to highlight the significance of contemporary Māori art.

Winter also marks the return of international productions to New Zealand stages. One of the first is The Wedding Singer Musical, which can  be seen at the Opera House from 10 to 19 June. The theatre production brings the easy, fun atmosphere of the 1998 Adam Sandler and Drew  Barrymore flick, but with all the music, lights and dancing of a good musical. The songs, costumes and set will take you straight back to the  best of the ‘80s and the tale of Robbie Hart, a wedding singer who comes to discover the true meaning of love.

Also at the Opera House is the critically acclaimed Girl from the North Country, described as the number one theatre show of the year, and  opening on 29 June. This musical theatre masterpiece features the music of Bob Dylan and is written and directed by celebrated Irish  playwright Conor McPherson. Set in 1934 Minnesota, the story centres on the residents of a rundown guesthouse trying to survive the
winter in Depression-era America. Over 20 of Dylan’s songs from across his career are performed, as roof-raising ensemble pieces through to soul-stirring solos. Dylan himself told the New York Times that seeing the show made him cry: “I can’t even say why. When the curtain  came down, I was stunned. I really was,” he said in the interview.

On a different world stage, international rugby also returns to the capital this winter with a good old-fashioned rumble between two great  rivals, as the All Blacks face off against Ireland in three test matches. The final showdown of the All Blacks 2022 Steinlager Series, which first  visits Auckland and Dunedin, takes place in Wellington’s Sky Stadium on Saturday, 16 July. With 10 years since Ireland’s last visit, this  will be an unmissable match for all rugby fans.

Meanwhile foodies rejoice, as Visa Wellington On a Plate transforms the Wellington region into a gastronomic paradise during August. You  might struggle to choose between the hundreds of pop-ups, events, special menus, burgers, cocktails, and exhibitions on offer, but you  certainly won’t go hungry.

There’s something for wine lovers too, when Winetopia presented by Singapore Airlines converges on the capital at TSB Arena, on 1 and 2  July. More than 50 prestigious wineries from all over the country will open their latest vintages and award winners for tasting at this  extravagant, eclectic, and thoroughly delicious celebration of New Zealand wine. There’ll also be gourmet food offerings, masterclasses, and talks. Whether you are just vino-curious or a bona fide connoisseur, you’ll leave with a smile and your favourite bottles.

No matter what brings you to the capital this winter, at some point you’ll need to refuel in a cosy spot. Noble Rot, a wine bar off Cuba Street,  really comes into its own in chilly weather. It’s reliably warm and cosy, with dim lighting, rich wood, exposed brick, and brown leather sofas  to relax into.

On Courtenay Place, The Library is an oasis where, at the top of the stairs, you’ll find a book-lined bar serving delicious cocktails  and nibbles. If you prefer crumpets slathered in butter with your cocktails (who doesn’t?), Crumpet offers just that. Snuggled inside the historic  Opera House on Manners Street, it’s perfectly located for a pre-or post-show drink and a great spot for people-watching.

Brand new venue Kuikui Lane is the latest bar to open on Victoria Street. Inspired by the kuia (grandmothers) of the world, past and  present, manaakitanga (respect, generosity and care) is front of mind at this cosy spot. With Māori influence woven throughout the whole  space, this is a relaxed environment where you are always taken care of and can be yourself – just like at nan’s house. Order from a te reo  menu, and choose from locally-sourced food and drink such as Māori flatbread and kūmara chips.

Another recent arrival to the restaurant scene is inner-city restaurant Concord, where elegant dining and delicious comfort food come  together. Owned by Wellington hospitality legends Sean Golding and Shepherd Elliot, Concord is inspired by European bistros of the 19th  century. Luxury foods like lobster and steak tartare sit alongside classic comforts like cheeseburgers and roast chicken – and all mains come  with bottomless fries and salad greens. Sit in a velvet booth and enjoy seasonal cooking, thoughtful wines, and impeccable hospitality.

Or, head up to Kelburn and visit Graze, a neighbourhood wine bar with a thoughtful, ethical menu and a considered wine list. Owned by Max  Gordy, a chef who has worked around some of Wellington’s most famous kitchens – including Hillside, Matterhorn, Hummingbird, and Shed  5 – Graze is a community-focused restaurant to relax, reconnect, and enjoy some excellent food.

Over the Remutaka Hill, in the Wairarapa, the Greytown Festival of Christmas is on throughout July, with Main Street festively lit each evening. Don’t miss the launch, The Big Switch, at 6pm on Friday 1 July, which kicks off a programme of spectacular lights, workshops, events, Matariki activities, parties, festive food and beverages, and family fun.

This year’s theme of ‘gingerbread’ will see gingerbread baking competitions, The Great Gingerbread Hunt, a Gin & Spice pop-up bar, mulled  wine, and more. The festival has all the hallmarks of a Northern Hemisphere winter escape, including European-style night markets on Main Street from 3pm to 8pm each Friday and Saturday night, all with a distinct Kiwi flavour. You can also see award-winning Kiwi comedians perform live by the fireplace at The White Swan every Thursday.

Or, to celebrate the winter solstice in an age-old manner, visit the Stonehenge of the south. Stonehenge Aotearoa, near Carterton, is the hub  of astronomy in the Wairarapa. The open-air astronomical observatory was built following ancient knowledge of the stone circles and  adapted to the conditions of New Zealand.

With all these events, flavours, music, art and more to choose from, start planning your wonderful winter escape in the Wellington region  now. For more information from the people who live and breathe everything Wellington, visit WellingtonNZ.com