Wellington is at the south-western tip of the North Island on Cook Strait, the passage that separates the North and South Islands. On a clear day the snowcapped Kaikoura Ranges are visible to the south across the strait. To the north stretch the golden beaches of the Kapiti Coast. On the east the Rimutaka Range divides Wellington from the broad plains of the Wairarapa, a wine region of national notability. With a latitude of 41° 17' South, Wellington is the southernmost capital city in the world. Wellington is also the most remote capital city in the world, the farthest away from any other capital city. Wellington is more densely populated than most other cities in New Zealand due to the restricted amount of land that is available between its harbour and the surrounding ranges of hills. Wellington has very few open areas in which to expand, and this has brought about the development of the suburban towns in the greater urban area. Because of its location in the latitudes of the Roaring Forties, and also its exposure to the winds blowing through the Cook Strait, Wellington is known to New Zealanders as "Windy Wellington".
Wellington has a reputation for its scenic natural harbour and green hillsides adorned with tiered suburbs of colonial villas—this natural landscape is popular with tourists. The CBD is sited close to Lambton Harbour, an arm of Wellington Harbour. Wellington Harbour lies along an active geological fault, which is clearly evident on its straight western shore. The land to the west of this rises abruptly, meaning that many of Wellington's suburbs sit high above the centre of the city. There is a network of bush walks and reserves maintained by the Wellington City Council and local volunteers. These include Otari-Wilton's Bush dedicated solely to the protection and propagation of New Zealand native plants. The Wellington region has of regional parks and forests. In the east is the Miramar Peninsula, connected to the rest of the city by a low-lying isthmus at Rongotai, the site of Wellington International Airport.
The narrow entrance to Wellington is directly to the east of the Miramar Peninsula, and contains the dangerous shallows of Barrett Reef, where many ships have been wrecked (most famously the inter-island ferry in 1968). Wellington Harbour has three islands: Matiu/Somes Island, Makaro/Ward Island and Mokopuna Island. Only Matiu/Somes Island is large enough for habitation. It has been used as a quarantine station for people and animals, and as an internment camp during World War I and World War II. This island is now a conservation island, providing refuge for endangered species, much like Kapiti Island farther up the coast. There is access during daylight hours by the Dominion Post Ferry.
The urban area of Wellington stretches across the areas administered by Wellington, Hutt (covering Lower Hutt), Upper Hutt and Porirua City Councils.
The four cities have a total population of and the Wellington urban area contains 99% of that population. The remaining areas are largely mountainous and sparsely farmed or parkland and are outside the urban area boundary. More than most cities, life in Wellington is dominated by its central business district (CBD). Approximately 62,000 people work in the CBD, only 4,000 fewer than work in Auckland's CBD, despite that city having three times Wellington's population.
Another major population area is the Kapiti Coast area, north of Porirua City and including the towns of Paraparaumu, Waikanae and Otaki. The population of the Kapiti Coast is . The beach and garden zones of these townships attract life-stylers and retired people: 24.6% are aged 65+ as at June 2011 estimates: See Waikanae River and Otaki Beach."
Counts from the 2006 census gave totals by area, sex, and age. Wellington had the largest population of the four city council areas with 179,466 people, followed by Lower Hutt, Porirua and Upper Hutt. Women outnumber men in all four areas, according to data from Statistics New Zealand, particularly in the Wellington City area. The 2011 Census was cancelled as it was due to take place just after the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake . The next census is expected to take place in 2013.
Source:Statistics New Zealand (2006 Census)
Age distributions for the four cities are given (see table below). Overall, Wellington's age structure closely matches the national distribution.
The relative lack of older people in Wellington is less marked when the neighbouring Kapiti Coast District is included. Nearly 7% of Kapiti Coast residents are over 80.
Source:Statistics New Zealand (2006 Census)
The city averages 2025 hours (or about 169 days) of sunshine per year. The climate is a temperate marine one, (Köppen: Cfb ) is generally moderate all year round, and rarely sees temperatures rise above, or fall below . The hottest recorded temperature in the city is, while is the coldest. The city is notorious however for its southerly blasts in winter, which may make the temperature feel much colder. The city is generally very windy all year round with high rainfall; average annual rainfall is, June and July being the wettest months. Frosts are quite common in the hill suburbs and the Hutt Valley between May and September. Snow is very rare, although snow fell on the city and many other parts of the Wellington region in July and August 2011.
Wellington suffered serious damage in a series of earthquakes in 1848 and from another earthquake in 1855. The 1855 Wairarapa earthquake occurred on a fault to the north and east of Wellington. It ranks as probably the most powerful earthquake in recorded New Zealand history, with an estimated magnitude of at least 8.2 on the Moment magnitude scale. It caused vertical movements of two to three metres over a large area, including raising an area of land out of the harbour and turning it into a tidal swamp. Much of this land was subsequently reclaimed - see Reclamation of Wellington Harbour - and is now part of Wellington's central business district. For this reason the street named Lambton Quay is now 100 to 200 metres (325 to 650 ft) from the harbour. Plaques set into the footpath along Lambton Quay mark the shoreline in 1840 and indicate the extent of the uplift and reclamation.
The area has high seismic activity even by New Zealand standards, with a major fault line running through the centre of the city, and several others nearby. Several hundred more minor fault lines have been identified within the urban area. The inhabitants, particularly those in high-rise buildings, typically notice several earthquakes every year. For many years after the 1855 earthquake, the majority of buildings constructed in Wellington were made entirely from wood. The 1996-restored Government Buildings, near Parliament is the largest wooden office building in the Southern Hemisphere. While masonry and structural steel have subsequently been used in building construction, especially for office buildings, timber framing remains the primary structural component of almost all residential construction. Residents also place their hopes of survival in good building regulations, which gradually became more stringent in the course of the 20th century.
Since the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, earthquake readiness has become even more of an issue of debate in Wellington, with a number of buildings officially declared by the Greater Wellington Regional Council to be earthquake-prone, as well as the potential costs of meeting new earthquake standards.
Every five years a year-long slow quake occurs beneath Wellington, stretching from Kapiti to the Marlborough Sounds. It was first measured in 2003, and has reappeared in 2008 and 2013. It releases as much energy as a magnitude 7 quake, but as it happens so slowly, there is no damage. During July 2013 there have been many more earthquakes mostly located near Seddon in the Cook Strait. Then on 21 July 2013, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake hit the city, but no tsunami report was confirmed nor any major damage to the city. On 16 August 2013, 2.31 pm, another earthquake struck, this time magnitude 6.6, but again no major damage occurred to the city, though many buildings were evacuated. On 20 January 2014, at 3.52pm, a rolling 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck the lower North Island, 15 km east of Eketahuna, and was felt in Wellington, but little damage was reported initially, barring at Wellington Airport where one of the two giant eagle sculptures commemorating The Hobbit became partly detached from its position.
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