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Wellington

The Wellington region, on the southern tip of the North Island, extends from the fine white-sand beaches of Kapiti in the west to the wilder east coast of Wairarapa and includes the challenging Tararua Range and the breathtakingly lovely Wellington Harbour.

Wellington city, besides being the nation's capital, takes pride in being a centre of arts, culture and diverse entertainment. It is home to the National Library, the National Archives, the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa), a separate and distinctive Wellington museum, the city art gallery and numerous private galleries. Wellington's café and restaurant scene is big and busy and international in character. Live theatre thrives in the city. The waterfront is always interesting to visit, whatever the weather, as are the old-established Botanic Gardens. Most travellers make time for a ride on the Kelburn cable car.

For the more active, there are numerous pleasant walks in Wellington and its surrounds, there are excellent mountain bike trails within city limits and, on the waterfront, rollerblades (in-line skates) and kayaks can be hired. The Tararuas, accessible from both Kapiti and Wairarapa, are a drawcard for serious trampers. Surfers and windsurfers will often find themselves "spoilt for choice" around the region.

Further afield is Wairarapa, a region built on sheep farming but increasingly becoming known ­ notably around Martinborough - for its first-rate vineyards and wineries. Wairarapa is part of a "wine trail" that extends from Gisborne and Hawkes Bay to the north, down to Marlborough in the upper South Island. Wairarapa's main town, Masterton, hosts an international sheep-shearing contest every March. Thirty kilometres north is the Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre, where visitors may see New Zealand's bird life well represented, including some of the rarest, endangered species. The Wairarapa coast is largely remote but worth the effort to visit for its often dramatic scenery and opportunities for surf-casting, swimming and surfing.

The coast of Kapiti, in contrast, is easily accessible and makes an enjoyable summer playground with parklands adjacent to sandy beaches. An outdoor tramway museum and a vast, superbly maintained, under-cover car museum are well worth inspecting, and a little further north a major attraction is Nga Manu bird sanctuary. Picnic areas, bush and dune walking tracks abound in this area.