Wellington blends creativity with politics as it looks to become New Zealand’s events capital


James Cameron lives in Wellington. Yes, Hollywood mogul behind Avatar, Titanic and Terminator left behind Los Angeles to settle in New Zealand’s capital. Peter Jackson also calls Wellington home, as do New Zealand’s greatest cultural export Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, aka Flight of Conchords. The PM lives here as well. And it’s not the weather that brought them here.

The city has to be doing something right then. In Wellington’s case it does a lot of things right. It does coffee right. It does gin right. It does bars right. It does food right.

It also does conferences and events right with the new build Tākina conference and exhibition centre only a few weeks away from its first events. Tākina uses space well. Built adjacent to Te Papa Tongarewa, the national museum on the waterfront precinct, Tākina hits the sweet spot for the types of conferences and events heading to Wellington – with 1,800sqm of exhibition space and a plenary of 1,600 for conferences, the spaces across two floors can be split up to run multiple concurrent events, with plenty of natural light.

Tākina is hosting its first events in May ahead of its official opening in June.

Its proximity to Te Papa, which also has a host of dedicated and dual purpose event spaces, allows for some very creative but easily organised switch ups between the two venues – helped in no small part by the fact both are under the umbrella of Tākina Events. Helmed by Jake Downing, Tākina Events takes care of the logistics for both venues. Downing used to work at Wētā Workshop, Peter Jackson’s creative powerhouse studio that is responsible for so many creative heavyweights calling Wellington home, whether temporarily or permanently.

It’s that creativity that gives Wellington its mojo. Southward Gin is a case in point. Owner Frankie Mcphail opened her small-batch gin distillery out of impatience. Gin is just so much quicker to make than whisky. Based on Cuba Street, this distillery pumps out an eclectic range of gins with some intriguing flavour profiles. The philosophy is, if it tastes good do it. Groups can also try a hand at gin mixing at one of their blending masterclasses. The best part is taking home the results.

Cuba Street is home to an eclectic mix of bars, cafes and restaurants.

Another example of Wellington’s can do attitude is the Whistling Sisters brewery. A family run business that was born from a desire to honour family member Karen Louisa, who died of breast cancer. This brewery dedicates a share of its profits to funding research and treatments for advanced breast cancer. Drink beer, save lives – genius!

Bring a touch of glamour to any event at the historic St James Theatre. Part of Venues Wellington’s portfolio of event spaces, this splendid theatre, which is also home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, can be used for all sorts of events including unforgettable dinners under the spotlight.

Wellington is also the nation’s capital, with parliament housed in the aptly named Beehive. It’s a brutalist building that juxtaposes the original Parliament House it sits next to. Both offer event spaces in very different styles but which echo New Zealand’s evolving history.

More of the nation’s history can be found at National Library Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, with New Zealand’s founding documents including te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) on display.

The Beehive stands apart from the rest of the city in terms of style.

Wellington is looking to Australia to help fill the calendar of the soon to open Tākina, and it appears it won’t have much problem attracting new conferences and events.

Helen Vertoudakis, of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, said she was “pleasantly surprised” on her recent visit to Wellington.

“The variety of venues and social options for conferences such as ours are plentiful and I’m incredibly excited about hosting our 2024 Annual Scientific Meeting in the city and at Tākina,” she said.

Rodney Cox, from the International Gas Union, was also impressed by his first visit to the city.

“The versatility, knowledge and ease of access across the city is magnificent,” he said.

“The opportunity to meet with local industry ambassadors certainly showcased the depth of support that Business Events Wellington is able to offer.”

Business Events Wellington’s Irette Ferreira said bringing events decision makers to explore what the city offers is a vital way to demonstrate its expanding event capabitlies.

“They not only see the variety and versatility of our venues and events infrastructure in-person but get a sense of the vibrancy of our city and how easy and appealing it is to hold events here,” she said.