city slicker: Wellington

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The Independent Culture
In the light of France's decision to resume nuclear testing in the Pacific, we offer a guide to the New Zealand capital - while it's still radiation-free

Quote they'd rather forget: "Wellington is half the size of the New York City cemetery and twice as dead." Once uttered by a visiting American tourist. No longer true. Few cities have woken up so quickly and so vivaciously.

Where to be seen: The 24th annual Wellington Film Festival at the Embassy Theatre is a must this month, with drinks at nearby Cafe Paradiso or Mondo Cucina before or after. And the Tatou nightclub is not hot, but the coolest place in town.

Where not to be seen: At the French ambassador's Bastille Day knees- up. The entire Cabinet is boycotting it because France is resuming nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Food: Forget lamb chops and big steaks with chips, Malaysian, Thai, Turkish and Japanese restaurants have replaced Chinese as the only ethnic alternative to old-fashioned Kiwi tucker. But mashed potatoes and other "nursery food" are in at the cafes that make the city one of the best eating places in the Pacific.

Drinks: Sauvignon blanc is de rigueur at the best watering holes and lager is passe. There's a ginger beer renaissance and "smart drinks" (healthy, vitamin-packed fruit juices and the like) are big with the young set. Tea is out and good coffee is very in.

Best walk: Around the waterfront, past Oriental Bay, the city's nearest harbour beach - but watch out for jogging Cabinet ministers.

Wildlife: About 3,000 male seals, exhausted after a hectic mating season in the south, head for the Wellington coast to recover in the winter and pose sleepily on the rocks. Blue penguins cross the road at Eastbourne (there's a roadside warning) and Kapiti Island protects some of the world's rarest birds.

Newest tourist attraction: A 100ft-high experimental wind turbine - like a giant propellor on a pole - atop the Brooklyn hills. You can see it from all over the city, but tourists want a close-up view - goodness knows why. But Wellington is the only capital in the Roaring Forties and sometimes the wind has to be seen (or felt) to be believed.

Most literary tourist attraction: Katherine Mansfield's birthplace, in quaint Thorndon suburb. But you'll have to elbow your way through the Japanese, who flock there for some reason known only to them.

Pastimes: There's no let-up to the keep-fit craze and aqua-jogging is very popular. For the less energetic, pool tables have made a big comeback in the bars and a rash of new art-house cinemas, many with cafes and bars, pose a major threat to video shops.

Music: Abba and anything from the Sixties is hot. So are Celtic jigs at the city's packed Irish bars.

Caution: Don't get the wrong idea about all those attractive young women lurking outside city office blocks in broad daylight, with fags hanging out of their mouths. They're not allowed to smoke at their desks.

What to talk about: Whether the city council was right to withdraw financial support from the annual international grand prix motor race, which takes place around the waterfront, because it was too disruptive, even if it did attract thousands of visitors.

What not to talk about: The Rugby World Cup which the All Blacks lost to South Africa - though it's OK to talk about how the All Blacks will beat Australia next month.

Don't even think about: Earthquakes. They don't call New Zealand the Shaky Isles for nothing, and Wellington is long overdue for what they call "The Big One".

DAVID BARBER

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