You can have your Tokyo, your London, your New York. You can have your Vancouver and Vienna and Copenhagen. Your loveable, liveable Melbourne.
We adore all those places, but at the moment we are obsessed with Wellington, New Zealand. Tucked away downunder, it’s got a fraction of the population of most capital cities, but heaves with the excitement of a town five times its size.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of pounding the pavement in this criminally underrated city, or need a go-to guide to send a friend out on the road in New Zealand – here’s the lay of the land in our favourite Kiwi town.
First things first
Nothing beats a stroll by the waterfront on your first day in town. Once there, head north along the waterfront and jump on the famous Wellington Cable Car for some birds-eye views across the city and harbour.
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You can grab a bite at the top of the cable car, but it’s well worth coming back into town to eat. Especially if you’ve got time for a stroll along Oriental Bay before dinner (head east of Kent Terrace along the waterfront and you can’t miss it). Wellington, being by the harbour, is a great city for seafood, especially New Zealand staples like whitebait and crayfish. If you splash out on one seafood meal here, do it at the Ortega Fish Shack, on Majoribanks St (just near the waterfront). It’s a little more upscale than it sounds, but it won’t disappoint. For a more affordable hit of fresh seafood, head to Mt Vic Chippery (a stone’s throw away from Ortega) for the best fish and chips in town.
A three-minute walk west and you’re on Courtenay Place, which is full of great places to eat. Sit down to some old-school Italian at Nicolini’s (worth it for the baked cheesecake alone); better yet, head to Pizzeria Napoli three doors down, in the old Kenny’s Café building. It feels (and tastes) just like the backstreets of Rome, even with that big mural of an Italian street on the wall. On the other side of Courtenay Place there’s Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, serving up a long, long list of delicious New Orleans-style fare that won’t stretch the budget.
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New Zealand is world famous for its wine which, in Wellington, is perhaps best sampled at Noble Rot Wine Bar just off Cuba Street. But it’s the craft beer that gets all the hype here, and rightly so. Grab a Craft Beer Capital map to get your bearings; there are 19 craft beer bars on it, all within walking distance of each other. Malthouse on Courtenay Place has the superior tap selection; Rogue and Vagabond is the place to go for some party vibes and live music; and Hop Garden, tucked away just off Kent Terrace, is a place to go when you need to curl up by the fire with some chips and stout. Brewery-wise, Garage Project on Aro Street is our favourite. And they’ll do you a take-away in a flagon, straight from the tap.
Top local craft beers picks:
- Garage Project – Fugazi (a nice dose of hops, but very drinkable. The best low-alcohol beer out there)
- Choice Bros – Tropaeolum Red Ale (a party in your mouth; punchy and sweet)
- Turatara – XV Imperial Russian Stout (the chocolate mud cake of stouts. At 11% ABV, one is plenty).
EXPLORE WELLINGTON AND BEYOND ON AN EPIC NORTH AND SOUTH ISLAND ADVENTURE WITH INTREPID
Coffee & brunch
Wellington’s go-to ‘bohemian’ strip, Cuba Street, has a massive range of cafes. The food doesn’t get much better than at Floriditas, an upscale but unpretentious spot with all your brunch and lunch classics done right. For the night owls, local favourite Midnight Espresso on the opposite side is open until 3 am (you won’t find a cup of java that good, that late in too many other cities). Fidel’s is another beloved spot for breakfast/brunch/lunch, with hearty food that stays true to the Cuban theme. You are on Cuba Street, after all.
Shopping-wise, too, Cuba Street is a winner. Think books, records, antiques, vintage clothing and more vintage clothing. It’s where the Wellington Night Market is held every Friday – a chance to buy some New Zealand handicrafts and grab a bite of quality street food. At the slicker end of the shopping spectrum there’s the ‘Golden Mile’, northwest of the city centre – formed by Courtenay Place, Willis Streets and Manners Streets. This is more your high-end fashion and department store area. If you’re up there, definitely check out the Old Bank Arcade on Lambton Quay, set in a grand old Edwardian Baroque building.
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An afternoon (or a day or two) at Te Papa Tongarewa is mandatory. It’s New Zealand’s premier museum, and has just got even better with the addition of the double-story Toi Art gallery in early 2018. Thorough and inexpensive tours run daily, and it’s best to go on one of these to get the full experience if you’re new to Maori and Pacific cultures. When you get kicked out at 6pm, pop over to Kent Terrace to the BATS Theatre to see what contemporary plays or comedy shows are on. There are loads of theatres in Wellington, but BATS won’t break the bank (tickets average $16) and there’s something happening almost every night.
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Got some time up the sleeve? Some of Wellington’s best is found on the outskirts of town, and because Welly’s so compact, you’re never really travelling that far. Take in the gothic beauty of Old St Paul’s Cathedral, one of New Zealand’s most important heritage structures. It’s a short cab ride or half-hour walk north from the city centre. On the west side of town there’s Zealandia, a cutting-edge urban ecosanctuary doing great things to protect New Zealand’s native wildlife from introduced mammal predators. You’ll probably want a full day for that one.
Lord of the Rings and Hobbit freaks should head out to Miramar, the spiritual heartland of New Zealand’s film industry. Its Weta Cave is a museum and shop of legit collectibles from the Weta Workshop, co-owned by director Peter Jackson. It’s interesting for all travellers, but mind-blowing for film buffs. While you’re in the neighbourhood, snap a photo of (or catch a meal or movie at) the art-deco Roxy cinema.
Got a taste for New Zealand? Wellington is only the beginning. Explore this adventure playground with Intrepid now.