When I broke free from the confines of my Auckland high school, I recall scrutinising New Zealand’s university options. Like any other slap-happy fresher fleeing the nest, my selection process admittedly disregarded common sense – employability chances and university rankings were of little interest compared to the generic stereotypes of each dwelling.
I decided I was restless to rid myself of Auckland’s haughty influence, yet I was dubious about contracting liver poisoning and hyperthermia in order to acquire the South Island student experience. Basic survival instinct repelled me from the savage swamplands of Palmy, and I knew to keep a wide berth around the Waikato region for various sexual health reasons. Old pal Wellywood was the last remaining option – it sure seemed like a friendly hub, and a metropolis carefully curated through a rich history and diverse arts scene. Fate was decided: so began my wild ride down the debt-riddled rabbit hole and into student life in the so-called “Coolest Little Capital.”
Wellington is a vulnerable city in the physical and metaphorical sense. Literally, it exists on absurd topography, and it is regularly nudged along its tectonic boundaries by quakes. Violent weather conditions batter its very existence, and the city’s residents furthermore bear the brunt of banter like cringey tourism campaigns and ridiculous annual news footage of residents failing to cross Featherston Street in gale force winds. But Welly’s student population are a clever bunch for choosing the lower New Zealand’s political, cosmopolitan and artistic melting pot as their study-base. And I reckon we’re the best off in the country.
It goes without saying that any form of tertiary study is synonymous with sky-high stress. In Wellington that stress manifests in law students tearing their hair out over torts and design students running berserk around the city with enormous folders in their hands. Yet our habitat is plentiful with therapeutic offerings if you only know where to look. An utterly breath-taking coastline is ten minutes drive away. From serene Eastbourne to the raw Red Rocks, to the aesthetic shores of Makara Beach to Miramar, fresh air is abundant, and so are the prime locations in which to devour fish n chips. Further mental health restoration options include the consistent stream of fluffy four-legged friends along the waterfront, and the utterly delectable sunsets to which we are treated most nights. A personal favourite escape of mine is the Freyberg Pool’s generous sized spa pools overlooking Oriental Bay and the Harbour.
My mad 3-year calf gains also stand testimony to the benefits of studying in Wellington. Violent fluctuations in altitude seem to divide every useful facility within the city, and for an out-of-towner, every errand becomes a trek. While there’s nothing fun about arriving to lectures beetroot red and wheezing for the first three months of your university education, it’s undeniably refreshing to inhabit a city where the fresher five isn’t an issue. In Wellington, a catch up with mates frequently takes the form of “yo, let’s walk up Mt Vic.” Yoga is everywhere you turn, and wicked gym facilities are speckled around the CBD. It’s hard to resist a healthy lifestyle when your city literally imposes one on you – cheers to a hearty lifespan, or at least justifying a food pyramid that contains regular portions of Scrumpy and $1 Continental Alfredo Pasta.
Simultaneously, we Wellington students are privileged to share our stomping ground with real-life corporates. This distinction from smaller student towns awards us with generous advantages. Living alongside legit people does not only provide some slick tracks into real employment, but top-notch coffee is made thoroughly accessible. Businessmen in suits and sneakers bustling down the streets on push scooters provide a 9 a.m. daily dose of amusement. When these corporates are released from their nine to five slogs on Fridays they descend on Courtenay Place for a cheeky Sav and a groove (and no-one’s going to judge you for joining in on the Boogie Wonderland fun).
The hackneyed old cliché goes something like this: study in Wellington and you’ll become some elevated long-black drinking, durry-munching (yet also vegan, gluten and dairy free), bearded Recycle Boutique activist hipster ha ha, LOL, roflmao. Wellington does seem to have a curious effect of exuding stubbornly non-conformist behaviour from its residents, yet the bigger picture is a happy story. We live within the pulsing heart of self-expression! Few other New Zealand cities showcase creativity so readily and regularly. Talent in every thinkable art form oozes from the Wellington population and yields a range of exciting regular gigs and spectacles. There’s a thriving LGBTQI pride scene, and a phenomenal number of people out and about giving their two cents to solid causes. This all goes to prove a unique momentum in our city. Wellington leaves little excuse for idle hands or brains.
It’s blatant that the experience of any city is subjective. If you’re viewing the world from the windows of a feral flat, it’s going to feel mediocre – in fact, any New Zealand dwelling can feel like a shithole when you remember you’re an indebted, overworked and cold uni student. As the inhabitant of a cramped and drafty casa last year, I will concede I’ve had my ups and downs with Wellington. But I’ve opened my eyes of late, and come to see that New Zealand’s capital city cultivates inherently superior students on a number of levels. Wellington city leaves whingers and fuck-arounds in the dust; instead pummelling us into shape with wild climate, heated university rivalry, intense terrain and a fiery arts and culture scene.