As we drive down the Ngauranga Gorge into Wellington I offer sage advice to the driver: “Watch your speed, see that camera up there.” An encounter, a few years back, with a white NZ Transport Agency envelope containing an instant fine, brought my attention to the 80-kilometre speed sign.

At the bottom of the hill, thoughts of fines disappear as an expanse of blue ocean fills my vision. Hills line the bay that wraps in each direction. In the distance to the right, tall city buildings rise from the foreshore. It is a ‘wow’ moment. Wellington is the exclamation mark at the bottom of the North Island.

Forest walks lead down to Lowry Bay

Until recently, Wellington was just the place I went to to catch the ferry after a visit to Te Papa. But since we’ve had a member of the family based in Wellington playing for the Hurricanes, there have been frequent trips to watch games in the ‘Cake Tin’ (Westpac Stadium). As our visits have usually been in winter, it is a pleasure to arrive on a hot sunny day in January. I am enjoying the opportunity to discover hidden gems in this compact city overlooking the ocean.

The drive around the waterfront to the city offers views of the port of Wellington with rows of cars lining up for the interisland ferry. Soon we drive through a short tunnel before winding our way down the narrow streets and out to Island Bay. My partner Rick has a date with his son Ricky, a rugby ball and a beach. The two Riccitelli’s enjoy getting together for a throw – “It’s how we communicate,” says Rick.

Typical Wellington road, narrow and winding

It’s near sunset when Ricky and Jazmin arrive in his black pick-up. Everyone is ready in their swimsuits as the rugby ball starts flying around, but my enthusiasm for a swim is waning, as the water looks chilly. Ricky tosses a series of lineout throws to the ‘old man’ as Rick moves his position around the beach. The throws continue at a fast pace out onto the concrete pier until the inevitable happens – the rugby ball hits the water.

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