Wellington: Where Words Are Waiting

Photo: flickr.com/people/feefoxfotos

Like a beautiful, moody lover, Wellington doesn’t need to treat you kindly. Friends may sometimes wonder what you see in it, but when the city is good to you with its days of almost painful gorgeousness and clarity, you can forgive its bluster, its temper tantrums and cold shoulder. You may be clutching a lamppost, but at least you know you’re alive. Kate Camp 

Wellington has been named “the coolest little capital of the world” and one of the top ten places to escape to. Affectionately known as Wellywood, New Zealand’s hipster capital is a city of film, sculpture, and creatives. Yet its literary credentials extend far beyond Tolkien.

Katherine Mansfield casts a long shadow. In stories such as “Prelude,” “The Garden Party,” and “At the Bay.” In the restored Katherine Mansfield House and Garden where she spent her early years. In Woman of Words, the three-meter-high sculpture laser-cut with her words and phrases, depicting her striding along Lambton Quay. In her featured words, among those of twenty-three writers on the Wellington Writers Walk.

From the landmark Wellington Central Library with its nikau palm columns, walk through Civic Square over the sculptural City to Sea Bridge. Scattered along the waterfront, often in the most unexpected places, lie concrete and metal inlaid quotations from some of New Zealand’s best-known writers.

Everywhere good words are waiting to be found. In independent bookstores with their helpful, knowledgeable staff: Unity, with its excellent range of intelligent New Zealand and international titles, its launches and readings; Kelburn’s Vic Books and Ekor with their superb coffee and food; Thorndon’s Millwood Gallery, which also sells artwork; Marsden in Karori; and the Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie. In secondhand bookstores: Arty Bees, with over one hundred thousand books; Pegasus, with its great readings; and The Ferret. But hide your books as you pass nearby Cuba Mall’s quirky bucket fountain. It’s designed to splash. 

The International Institute of Modern Letters organizes lunchtime Writers on Mondays at the national museum, Te Papa, and produces the online Best New Zealand Poems and literary journal Turbine. Wellington’s many literary journals include two of the country’s best—Sport and the only one exclusively dedicated to reviewing the nation’s books, New Zealand Books.

Bursting with literary activity, Wellington hosts the internationally star-studded biennial New Zealand Writers and Readers Week, the hugely popular LitCrawl, National Poetry Day events, poetry slams, and monthly poetry readings in the inner city and up the coast. 

What’s not to love in the world’s windiest city? Find a sheltered spot with a craft beer or one of the world’s best flat whites. Look out at the hills, the harbor, the sea. The city opens like a well-loved book.


What to Read with That Craft Beer

Selected PoemsJenny Bornholdt

Selected Poems

Victoria University Press


WellingtonKate Camp, ed.

Wellington: The City in Literature edited



The Pale NorthHamish Clayton

The Pale North

Penguin Books New Zealand


The Godwits FlyRobin Hyde

The Godwits Fly

Auckland University Press


A History of SilenceLloyd Jones

A History of Silence



How to Be Dead in a Year of SnakesChris Tse

How to Be Dead in a Year of Snakes

Auckland University Press


TrifectaIan Wedde


Victoria University Press


Dad ArtDamien Wilkins 

Dad Art

Victoria University Press


Editorial Note: Alison Wong’s historical novel, As the Earth Turns Silver, is set in Wellington. For more by Alison Wong, read her story “Home,” and her poem titled “Little Blue Penguins.” Her Wellington reading list appears in the Takeaway in the print edition of this issue.

Photo by Nitch Photography

Alison Wong is a fourth-generation New Zealander living in Geelong, Australia. Her poetry collection, Cup, was shortlisted for Best First Book for Poetry at the 2007 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and her poetry was selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2006, 2007, and 2015. Her novel, As the Earth Turns Silver, won the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the 2010 Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. She is working on another novel and a memoir about New Zealand, Australia, and China.