Championing the city

20:53, Jul 06 2013
Sarah Bennett
SARAH BENNETT: "I've visited places I would never normally have visited, like backpackers' bars. I'd slink in there with a little notebook."

Sarah Bennett has sipped,supped and explored the capital all in the name of research, writes Bess Manson.

Few Wellingtonians knowthe lay of the land better than Sarah Bennett.

The writer and publisher has dedicated herself to imbibing, eating, cycling, walking and generally leaving no culinary or recreational stone unturned in her pursuit to promote our fair city.

Her guide book - The Best of Wellington - is co-written with her husband, Lee Slater.

The couple have been compiling this new edition for the past three years and it has been a labour of love, if you can call chowing down and daily adventures a labour of any sort.

As far as research goes, Bennett says she and Slater have well and truly enjoyed doing the rounds to give abroad range of options.


''I have done stuff I never thought I'd do,'' Bennett says.

''I'm naturally a cautious, self-preserving person who would never have thought to sky dive, bungy jump or go white-water rafting, but since we've been doing these books, I've done it all. There is no restaurant, bike trail or walk wehave not eaten at, ridden or meandered along. Basically, I bike to eat pies and drink beer.

''I've visited places I would never normally have visited,like backpackers' bars. I'd slink in there with a little notebook in my pocket.

"You know you do not quite fit, but you have to look at the attributes of a place from other people's perspective. You have to imagine you are 18 and backpacking around the world. It might not be your natural environment but you have to be open to its appeal.''

The advertising-free book covers not only the big-ticket spots, but the hidden gems on all fronts, from shopping and dining out to physical activities of every variety.

This is the fifth edition of the Wellington guidebook. Bennett and Slater published the first edition of The Best of Wellington in 2003.

They have sold about 10,000 copies of the book since then - not bad going in New Zealand publishing terms.

It's a book for locals as well as visitors, Bennett says - something to dip into when stumpedf or good stuff to do.

Born and raised in Blenheim, Bennett came to Wellington at 17 and has never really wanted to live anywhere else. It's a bit of magic, she says.

''It's a real community ofpeople where everyone knows everyone. There is a real energy about the place.

''Why would you want to live anywhere else? We're surrounded by green spaces and there's great accessibilityto the outdoors, the Tararuas, the Rimutakas. And I know we complain about the weather ,but there's something about it that can be energising.''

Bennett's bread-and-butter job is as associate publisher at Awa Press. She also co-wrote the guide Let's Go Camping and is a restaurant reviewer for Positively Wellington Tourism's online magazine Word of the Street.

But it is her work with Slater as a Lonely Planet New Zealand writer that rates as her best gig.

They are two of the five Lonely Planet writers who have covered New Zealand for the past seven years.

Bennett,who worked for the company in the 1990s as a marketing coordinator while living in the UK,says it's the ''ultimate writing gig''.

''Lonely Planet is the last bastion of independent travel advice. I value what that represents - integrity,impartiality. You get to promote all that is good inNew Zealand, while retaining professional integrity.''

She and Slater are a great team,she says.

''We call ourselves Bullshit and Stats. I bring the books to life with words and he gets all the facts and figures.

''We once wrote the final manuscript for a guide to tramping in New Zealand while doing a roadie trip around Europe. We were literally writing it a sentence each, one after the other. We have a real hoot working together. It's just so much fun.''

The Best of Wellington by Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater, Bennett & Slater, $26, can be found in Unity Books, Parsons Bookshop, Moore Wilson's and Regional Wines. 

The Dominion Post