Tiny town: Miramar

Tiny town: Miramar

Most Wellington visitors head towards Miramar purely to access the airport, so as a motorhomer or caravanner, you’ve probably never made your way there, but there’s plenty to enjoy in this peninsula, says Pamela Wade

If you follow the stream of cars towards the airport, but instead, turn left to drive past the famous wind-blown Wellington sign, you’ll find yourself at the base of a peninsula that’s packed with all sorts of treats.
While many of the establishments are for dining and drinking – often in modest-looking buildings that you could easily mistake for a corner dairy – if you look a bit closer, you’ll notice locals (or those in the know) heading inside or sitting hunched against the wind at the outside tables.

Café Polo is a prime example: simply furnished but welcoming and full of scrumptious treats, including an Anzac scroll guaranteed to form a mouth-watering memory after just the first bite. Swimsuit, too, is worth tracking down for its excellent coffee.

In Scorching Bay, the quirky Scorch-O-Rama is, on the other hand, easy to find, thanks to its colourful exterior. Just as brightly decorated inside, the liveliness continues in its menu, which, besides listing genuinely delicious dishes, has plenty of jokes to enjoy. The description of a vegan option concludes: “No animals were harmed in the making of this unless Chef chopped another digit off. No? High three!”

Tiny town: Miramar
Miramar has many architectural wonders to discover

Another unassuming building houses Oikos Hellenic Cuisine. The focus here is on simple, rustic sharing dishes, which are so richly flavoured that the family atmosphere could easily disintegrate in the competition for the last tasty morsels on the plate.

Fans of Italian food should certainly visit Archimboldi for its excellent pizzas and pasta at the Seatoun end of the peninsula. If ambience is as important as the food, then the elegant surroundings of CoCo at the Roxy are certainly a must, ideally before seeing a movie at this distinctive little art deco cinema built in 1928.

Tucked away in an unprepossessingly industrial block of the suburb is Double Vision Brewery, which is well worth seeking out for its adventurous attitude to beer-making. Here you’ll find all sorts of imaginative variations, involving fruits, berries, citrus, even pine, chocolate, and spirits, especially in their daily special cocktail offerings. Purists need not apply, but open-minded drinkers will be delighted.

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Not far from here is Miramar’s most famous attraction: Wētā Cave. The giant troll outside is unmissable, and in the shop, a close inspection of the intricate collectables is irresistible. You don’t need to be a Hobbit or LOTR fan to be fascinated: Wētā has worked on a hundred or so other movies. While there are plenty of videos and exhibitions to enjoy, the best thing to do is sign up for one of the behind-the-scenes tours available. Led through the workshops by an enthusiastic guide, you can get hands-on with some iconic props, hear the stories, talk to working artists, and even have a go at making your own convincingly – and revoltingly – suppurating wound.


Tiny town: Miramar
Wētā Workshop is a world of creativity and movie magic, offering guided tours and workshops

While these suggestions can be enjoyed anytime, if you’re fortunate to be there on one of Wellington’s famously (rare) good days, then you should explore the peninsula on foot.

As well as the quiet road that follows the coast, there’s a network of trails through the bush, up to summits and down to beaches, many of them with links through pretty suburbs. Miramar has its fair share of steep hills, but the rewards for climbing them are the splendid views, across the harbour to the city and Remutaka Range and even over to the South Island where, on a clear day, you can see the Kaikōura mountains. Miramar is, not incidentally, Spanish for ‘sea view’, but Miramar Peninsula (Te Motu Kairangi) means ‘precious island’.

If you enjoy a spot of photography, make an effort to get up close to the artistic murals. You’ll find Century of the Machine mural on Cobham Drive, just under the Wellington sign. Painted in the form of a 35mm film negative, the mural is 80 metres long and features 17 large paintings of a diverse array of transport modes, ranging from steamships, locomotives, to seaplanes and even water slides. The images are taken from photographs held by the Alexander Turnbull Library Collection. The artist chose to paint in simple black-on-white to create high contrast, slightly abstracted forms, which remain easily recognisable even in low light.

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Tiny town: Miramar
Scorch-O-Rama celebrates its individuality, inside and out

The Miramar Dog mural in Park Road is named after a book by a local author and depicts an oversized bookshelf painted on the front of a power transformer building. This was a collaborative project between the artist and the community. All of the books (several hundred) were titled by local people via a Facebook page set up for the project.

Closer at hand, there are notable sites to discover, from the Atatürk Memorial in the south to the impressive Massey Memorial and classically striped lighthouse at the northern tip.

In between lies a lot of history, including Kupe, a former prison, a 1907 theme park, the film studios, and even New Zealand’s first-ever state house – such a milestone that PM Michael Joseph Savage personally helped the new tenants to move in. Probably though the greatest joy in following these trails is when they cut through the bush. Its loud and lively population of birds, from cutely clumsy kererū to tiny flitting piwakawaka, is a marvel so close to the city. Their impressive numbers are down to the recent triumph of pest-control teams and 20,000 locals in eliminating the last of the rats, stoats, and weasels on the peninsula. It’s now officially predator-free – a world first. That alone has to make Miramar a must-visit.

Tiny town: Miramar
There are splendid harbour views along the Maupuia Walkway

Where to stay

There’s much to see and do in Miramar for just a day trip, so aim to stay over. There’s freedom camping at Evans Bay Marina, a short drive towards the city from Miramar, and, more peacefully, at Te Kopahou Visitor Centre along Owhiro Bay, a 15-minute drive. There are also two paid sites in the city.

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