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Coolest little suburbs: Newtown

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 11:53 09/01/2012
cool suburbs - aro
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

Joseph Slater co-owner of Monterey Bar, Newtown.

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Newtown is in places a little rough around the edges, but the city-fringe locale is bursting with culture and characters.

If you sit quietly you can hear people speaking their native tongue as they swish past in colourful dress and with flowers in their hair.

Characters including "Shuffling Man", who reckons he was an actor in a previous life, spend their time mooching around the melting pot, trying to scrounge a dollar or two for smokes.

But it's not all cheap council flats and soup kitchens.

Up on the hill is the grandiose Government House looking over the bustling suburb, which was the first to spring up in the city.

Having begun life as a working man's suburb it is now the epitome of New Zealand's cultural mix.

A smorgasbord of food joints reflects the diversity from cheap noodle houses and burger bars to curry houses and fine dining restaurants.

For some of the best fish and chips in town, hit Fish Finns in Riddiford St - its battered terakihi is reputed to be amazing.

Moshims in Wilson St is a treasure trove of bulk ingredients, with shelled pistachios by the barrel, but they keep the saffron behind the counter because it's about the same price as gold.

The halal butcher is also jam- packed with customers and newcomer Monterey has upped the ante. A local pleaded to keep the diner and bar a secret, but it's just too good to ignore.

"That place's popularity is already getting out of control," the local says. "It doesn't need weird people from other suburbs crowding out the locals."

Too late, says co-owner Joseph Slater. "It is crazy popular. We are already pretty much as busy as we can be most nights."

It has books that smell like your grandma, games that remind you of being a kid and pencils to draw on the paper-covered tables.

Mr Slater started calling Newtown home four years ago after returning from his OE. "It's no Brooklyn, or even Ponsonby, but it's starting to get there."

People have been saying for years that Newtown is on the brink of becoming ultra-hip but it never seems to cross the line. That it's on the brink makes it cool.

The Saturday fruit and vegetable market at Newtown School has taken off after launching a year ago.

More than 80,000 people attend the street party during the annual Newtown Festival, which celebrates the community spirit.

Multinational businesses are hiding in Newtown too, including Phil & Teds, which makes baby buggies, and it's also home to the country's largest online secondhand bookstore, Book Haven.

It has several op-shops, plenty of churches, free short-term parking and three hospitals - one of which is the public Wellington Regional Hospital, where it has been based since 1878.

Yup, Newtown has it all.

Newtown facts

Did you know: Athletic Park hosted the first full- scale rugby test in 1906 and its last in 1999.

Average house value: $492,111

Go: Wellington Zoo, which opened in 1906 when a visiting circus gave Wellington City Council a young lion named "King Dick".

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See: The books at Newtown Library on Constable St.

Taste: A curry from Planet Spice on Riddiford St - they never fail to please and they have uplifting decor.

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