The Wellington region takes in Wellington, Hutt, Upper Hutt and Porirua cities and the Kapiti coast. It includes all of the territory of Greater Wellington (the Wellington regional council) except Wairarapa.
From the summit of Mt Hector (the highest point in the southern Tararua Range) you can see the entire Wellington region. To the north-west, the Ōtaki River cuts across the coastal plain to the sea. To the south are the harbour heads and Wellington city. Beyond lies Cook Strait, and the South Island.
Lying between the southern limit at the harbour, and the northern limit at Horowhenua, the region consists of 212,300 hectares of rugged country. Flat land is limited. Settlements have developed at Wellington, around Porirua’s twin harbours, in the Hutt Valley and on the Kapiti coast. Elsewhere there is little housing.
In 2013 the Wellington region had 430,197 inhabitants.
Many of the capital’s workers live in satellite communities. For most of the 20th century a large proportion worked for the government, but in the mid-1980s, government departments were drastically reduced. Since 1999 the public sector has been growing again.
Wellington’s public transport system is well used by commuters, and is said to be the most efficient in the country. Rail links the city with the northern suburbs, the Hutt Valley, Porirua and the Kapiti coast.
Living on faultlines
The region is riven by earthquake faults, most of them still active. Over 75% of residents live within 10 kilometres of the Wellington Fault, which runs through the heart of the city. Roads and rail are vulnerable to natural hazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis.
Rūaumoko, the Māori earthquake god, has been active in Wellington. In 1460 a massive shake lifted the seabed, linking the island of Motukairangi (now Miramar Peninsula) to the mainland. In 1855, a magnitude 8.2 quake lifted land around the harbour by several metres. The harbour surged and ebbed like water sloshing in a bowl. In the Remutaka Range, near the epicentre, entire hillsides collapsed. The scars are still visible today.
Wellingtonians are used to earthquakes. There are many each year, although most are too slight to be felt. Many city buildings have been demolished as unsafe, or strengthened to comply with a stringent building code. This is prudent, as the region is overdue for a big earthquake. It could have a severe impact, especially on downtown Wellington city, which is built on reclaimed land.
If the shaking makes the region’s residents nervous, there are compensations. Opportunities for recreation abound in the hills, on the harbour or around the varied coastline.
Wellington’s vibrant urban culture supports its claim to be the ‘arts capital’ of New Zealand.
Wellington city residents, with incomes above the national average, are well placed to nurture the arts. Elsewhere in the region incomes are lower, especially in the Hutt Valley and Porirua where local industry and manufacturing are based.
On the Kapiti coast, a mixture of young families and retired people live in one of the country’s fastest growing communities. A more equable climate and a relaxed lifestyle make Kapiti especially attractive to the elderly.
The islands of Kapiti, Mana and Matiu/Somes (in Wellington Harbour) are important habitats for restoring the region’s diversity of plants and animals. The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, just 2 kilometres from the city centre, is a predator-free haven for endangered native birds and other wildlife. Ōtari–Wilton’s Bush is the country’s only botanic garden devoted exclusively to native plants, containing about 1,200 species and cultivars.
Wellington was once ignored by tourists, but it gets many visitors today, thanks to attractions such as the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The capital is an essential stopping place on the visitor’s itinerary.
In the early 21st century the entire region was growing strongly, led by Wellington city. Its population increased by 16.6% between 2001 and 2013 – 11.6% for the region as a whole. Wellington appeared confident and prosperous. Yet residents are also aware that Rūaumoko (the Māori god of earthquakes) is a fitful sleeper, and may one day abruptly awake.