Wellesley Boutique Hotel: rugby, fashion, politics and me

Isn’t it funny how things happen: in Wellington for nearly two years, I had never heard of The Wellesley Boutique Hotel when in less than ten days I find myself attending three events there – rugby, fashion, and a soiree.

At the first, I was invited by  Peter Cullen (The Employment Law Firm) to breakfast to hear the great Hugo Porta (legendary Argentinian  No.1 fly half ) speak along with the All Blacks coach Steve Hanson, and Los Pumas former player and now coach, Santiago Phelan, talking before the 2012 Rugby Championship match in Wellington, New Zealand.  I enjoyed hearing all of them talk and especially, Hugo talking of the charity he runs – he is in the New Zealand Rugby Hall of Fame.

A week later, also by invitation to breakfast from Peter Cullen, I was there to hear Dame Suzie Moncrieff talk about WOW, the World of Wearable Art, due to start only days later. I have not been to a show, yet, but have been to its Gallery in Nelson  – I have also seen the touring exhibition when it was showing in Christchurch – at the museum – recently.

Dame Suzie, the founder of the World of Wearable Art (WOW) show, has made an outstanding contribution locally, nationally and internationally in the arts scene.

Once described as “Mardi Gras meets Haute Couture at a Peter Gabriel concert directed by Salvador Dali,” WOW twists conventional perceptions of art and fashion. WOW creates a world where art and the human form combine, and where dance, music and lighting blur the lines of fashion and art.

WOW is proudly a New Zealand event, but the extravaganza attracts thousands of visitors and dozens of entries from all over the world each year. Now in its 24th year, this year has been a big year for Dame Suzie:

  • She has been made a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to the arts in the New Years Honours;
  • She was a finalist in the Kiwibank New Zealander of the year;
  • She took WOW to Hong Kong for its first public show overseas where it played to sold out audiences.

She was an inspirational speaker.

The following day I was back at The Wellesley Boutique Hotel  for a celebration of their hotels in the greater Wellington region, and which is now part of the Heritage Boutique Collection, a division of Heritage Hotel Management.

As someone new to Wellington it was good to meet travel industry people from the Martinborough  and Wairarapa areas – they have convinced me I need to head over the hill for a few days to explore the region – and it’s great that summers coming!

I’m told the “Heritage Boutique Collection Hotels are designed for corporate, leisure and the conference traveller, and offer guests a certainty when selecting boutique accommodation because of our high and exacting standards” said Ronnie Ronalde, General Manager of Heritage Boutique Collection.

The Wellesley is a four-story Georgian Revival building (seems it won an architectural gold medal in 1932) that sits solidly on a quiet corner in the CBD – perfect for any guest to Wellington – handy to everything in this great walking city.

I haven’t eaten at the Wellesley’s Maginnity Restaurant – once I have I’ll let you know about it!

So there you go – never heard of a place and suddenly I’m a regular –and I’m back there later in October to hear the Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key.

Post-quake update from Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch locals love their gardens and often call it ‘the garden city’. Since the September 2010 quake we locals have added another nickname ‘the city that rocks’ – a saying of resilience and pride!

Thought it was time I gave you another post-quake update and background to this city of the plains down-under in New Zealand.

Because of the dry alluvial plains we farm on, Canterbury farmers and locals consider our grass-fed lamb to be the juiciest and best in the world, and over-the-hill on volcanic Banks Peninsula there are many places you can taste the ‘earthy, fruity and spicy wines at vineyards or picnic by the sea with crackers and local cheddar, havarti or gouda from the historic (1800s) cheese factory.

We consider we’re pretty cultured too and keep producing people who are prominent in the NZ and international contemporary music scenes: opera, rock, jazz, and rap are specialities.  Love books? Make sure you grab a bus and visit the hillside home of Dame Ngaio Marsh, the international ‘Queen of Crime’ and see where she plotted and wrote her ‘who dun-its’.

Artist Rita Angus is a favourite daughter: her small piece Cass, in which she evocatively portrayed the bare emptiness of our Canterbury landscape, and has been voted ‘NZ’s favourite painting’ My favourite current artist is Marie Le Lievre,  of course as a friend I’m unashamedly biased – however,  as she’s got  exhibitions this year in these galleries: Wellington, NZ; Sydney, Australia; and Paris, France I’m obviously not the only one who think she’s great.

Maori and settlers started the first city centre in Market Place, now Victoria Square and Maori continue to add to the city. Check out ancient and modern Maori culture performances at either Ko Tane or Tamaki Heritage VillageRestart - Cashel Mall

Since the quake our new city centre is the colourful and vibrant container shopping centre in Cashel Mall – a must visit.

A few things you need to know about my home city: Christchurch woman Kate Sheppard was prime organiser of the petition that lead to New Zealand women being first in the world to get the vote in 1896.  19th September is celebrated each year – she’s on New Zealand’s $10 note.

The first organised settlers arrived here in 1850 and because it had a cathedral, Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter on July 31, 1856, making it officially the oldest established city in New Zealand – of course as I write, sadly this piece of our history is being demolished

And, despite some inner city hotels being demolished and rebuilt, there are plenty of places to stay from The Jailhouse back-packer – an award-winning backpacker in funky and trendy Addington – through to another place that’s also been converted. The Classic Villa has been transformed from an Italian style historic home, to a 5-star boutique hotel in the cultural precinct of our city centre. Just two of many!

See this link for up-to-date official Christchurch tourist info

Placido Domingo in Christchurch for quake fundraiser

One of the world’s musical superstars, opera tenor Placido Domingo, will have a single show in New Zealand:  in Christchurch on 6th October,  to support Christchurch’s earthquake recovery. Click here to buy tickets.

The Spanish-born tenor, who lost four family members in the 1985 Mexican earthquake, has opted to make his Christchurch concert a fundraiser for two quake-hit institutions, the Court Theatre and Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.

Make it a wonderful night by staying at the beautiful Classic Villa  right opposite the Arts Centre (I’ve just stayed here and can well recommend it.)

An unusal sight - snow at the Classic Villa

Sailing across the Cook Strait then training down the Coastal Pacific

After sailing crossing the Cook Strait on the Interislander, yesterday I was on the first Picton to Christchurch train (after the February quake). The newly named CoastalPacific was great and more stories will follow.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from the trip on the Kaitaki and the TranScenic Coastal Pacific.

The Kaitaki leaves Wellington city behind
The observation carriage on the CoastalPacific is loved by photographers

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I’m staying at the wonderful boutique Classic Villa, right in the middle of the Cultural Precinct, Christchurch. (Check out the snow photos I posted too)

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