What to do in Wellington
Back in February, I betrayed my beloved Auckland and dubbed Wellington the "cooler" of the two North Island cities.
Whilst it is not the most populous city in New Zealand, Wellington is our capital. There is so much more to this city than just the politics though, Wellington has a booming art, coffee and culture scene and has commonly been called " the coolest little capital in the world".
Wellington is located at the bottom of New Zealand's North Island, which makes it the "middle of Middle Earth", which is apparently in a Lord of the Rings movie... but I don't really get the reference because I haven't seen a single one of the movies which were filmed right here in New Zealand (I know, how un-kiwi of me!).
While I may not have seen the Lord of the Rings movies, I was absolutely 'blown away' (LITERALLY) by Wellington from the moment that my plane flew over the hilly cityscape. I flew in just after the sun had set, the hills were distinct silhouettes and the houses perched on the hills looked like a sea of fairy-lights.
So here is a bunch of things that I have done based on recommendations of true Wellingtonians that would be worthwhile if you are planning to visit:
EXPERIENCE THE WELLINGTON WIND
When I came to Wellington back in February, I was only in the city for a day. It was a beautiful, sunny and pretty wind free day. This trip was a whole different story! When I left Auckland, I was hoping to experience that infamous Wellington wind - I felt like I wouldn't have had a true Wellington experience without it. I jinxed it - my whole trip was filled with chilly gale force winds that made me question the fact that New Zealand is only a week out from summer. This wasn't light sea breeze, or hair-tousling wind; this was small children getting blown over and suitcase-practically-flying-as-a-try-to-drag-it-down-the-road kind of stuff! But it sure was an experience! My friends and I pulled our hair out of our tightly fastened pony tails and stood with our backs to the wind.
VISIT THE BEEHIVE
The Beehive is the Parliament ... not the prettiest parliament building, but it is still our parliament so it is a pretty significant place to check out I guess. Parts of the building are closed off to the public but there are free guided tours. It is located at corner of Molesworth Street and Lambton Quay and is very accessible by public transports with bus stops and train stations nearby.
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is our national museum. It is huge, it is modern, it is engaging and it is insightful. The exhibits don't just inform you of the different aspects of New Zealand's history but they really draw on your emotions and make you feel something! If you are short on time and only want to check out one exhibition, I would definitely recommend the Gallipoli one which is a collaboration between the museum and Weta Workshops. It covers the history of the ANZAC's who fought in Gallipoli, Turkey in WWII. The doors to the museum open at 10am and entry is free.
Cuba street is one of the most prominent streets in the Wellington CBD. It known for being quirky, eccentric and a little bit bohemian. Unfortunately it has become a bit more commercialized, with the likes of Farmers and Cotton On taking real estate there. If you look past the franchise stores, you will find the gems - the buskers, graffiti-adorned alleyways, art galleries, little boutiques and authentic eateries.
I could eat out for every meal for about a year and still not try all of the food I want to try in Wellington. The food scene here is next level. I was trying to work out what the difference between eateries in Auckland and Wellington is and I came to the conclusion that while Auckland cafes do great food and create great atmospheres, Wellington cafes and restaurants create an experience and tell a story. For example, the American-inspired restaurant Sweet Mother's Kitchen on Courtenay place transports you to New Orleans, with Southern Style American food in a cozy but quirky setting. Floridita's on the other hand is the epitome of elegance with homemade sweets and breads and a specialty egg dishes. Who would have thought you could perfect the art of eggs on toast to this kind of level! These are just two places that I visited. I could ramble on and on about places I ate at or want to eat at but I guess you will have to go and explore, taste and see for yourself! Some places that I tried and would highly recommend are Loretta, Six Barrel Soda Co., Olive, Enigma and Egmont St. Eatery.
Mount Vic is slightly east of the CBD and is a great place to go for views of the city. You can either walk or drive up the mountain.
Nestled at the foot of Mount Victoria, Oriental Bay is the closest beach to the CBD. The inner harbour beach is perfect for swimming, picnics, strolls down Oriental Parade, admiring the killer views or enjoying a game of volleyball.
Wellington is a rising star in the area of screen and film production. The suburb of Miramar is where director Sir Peter Jackson, special-effects genius Sir Richard Taylor and editing guru James Selkirk run an empire of multimillion dollar film studios and production facilities that have produced movies such as King Kong and the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. I would recommend checking out Weta Workshops which is home to the sets of the movies created here in Wellywood.
The waterfront of the Wellington Harbour is a great place to wander, people-watch, eat, drink and just hang out! There was even a pop-up sauna on the waterfront when I was there! I was surprised to see that people even SWIM in the Wellington harbour.
RIDE CABLE CAR
Wellington is home to New Zealand's only functional cable cars which have been running for over a century. The service runs between Lambton Quay and Kelburn daily. Tickets are $4 one way. There is even a Cable Car Museum at the stop at Kelburn with free entry.
Isn't this just the cutest wee street?! It is just off Courtenay Place, with the bright yellow wall, you wont miss it!
Wellington is an incredibly arty city and there are plenty of galleries to look at. I didn't do all of them but some highly recommended galleries are City Art Gallery, The Dowse Art Museum, Peter McLeavey Gallery, Adam Art Gallery, Enjoy Public Art Gallery and the New Zealand Portrait Gallery.
PUKEAHU NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL PARK
This was the centerpiece of the ANZAC day commemorations in 2015, marking 100 years since the ANZAC troops landed in Gallipoli in WWI. It is a great place to come and reflect, as well as to learn about New Zealand's war history in the National War Museum.
From international brands such as Topshop to small niche boutiques, Wellington is a treasure trove for shoppers! I would highly recommend checking out kiwi designers such as RUBY, Deadly Ponies, Kilt, Kate Sylvester, Zambesi, and world renowned kiwi designer Karen Walker, who has a flagship store in Wellington. For men, there is I Love Ugly and Mandatory.
Stores such as The Service Depot, World, Area 51, Suprette, and Good as Gold curate the good stuff. They showcase a range of items from designer brands in beautifully merchandised stores. For vintage and recycled clothing, check out Hunters and Collectors, Thrift, Fruitti on Cuba Street, Ziggurat, Emporium on Cuba Street and Recycle Boutique, which has stock as low as $4.50. For gifts and home wear, check out Madame Fancy Pants, Made It, Matchbox and Iko Iko.
ADMIRE THE HOUSES
Sitting pretty, perched in the hills radiationg with character. Wellingtons houses are really something special!
FLIGHT COFFEE HANGAR
The Hangar, on Dixon Street in Te Aro is the flagship café of Flight Coffee, which is served at various cafes throughout the city. Rumor has it that their coffee is the best in all of Wellington! The Hangar is not just a place to enjoy a casual cup of coffee, but to really experience it - to understand the story behind the cup your cup of liquid gold as you sip away at it. They do serve food, but I just went for a pure caffeine hit - and boy did I get one! I ordered a 'Tasting Flight' - a taste of a single origin as a short black, flat white and cold drip coffee. They were all incredible, but I can never go past the good old flat white, which is always, always the winner in my opinion!
CITY TO SEA BRIDGE
This bridge connects Civic Square to Jervois Quay and is home to non-traditional sculptures by Maori artist, Paratene Matchitt.
FIDEL'S CUBA STREET
This one is separate from the 'eat' recommendation, simply because it is a must! I mean, come on! It is called Fidel's and it is on Cuba Street! Ironically, the day I visited was the day after the death of Fidel Castro so it was a little bit busier than usual! However, this funky Cuban-inspired cafe didn't fail to impress. While Cuba street was actually named after of 1840's settler ship and not the country, Fidel's really runs with the theme of the Caribbean Island nation serving the likes of Cuban sandwiches and breakfast burritos. Fidel's are also renowned for their coffee which is said to be some of the best in Wellington. Fidel's is located at 234 Cuba Street.
Just a short drive from the CBD, this inner harbour beach has a large grassy area that is the perfect hang out spot. In places like this, I would normally suggest packing a picnic... but if you are going to Scorching Bay then you HAVE to eat at Scorch-o-rama which is just across the road.
TOMMY MILLIONS PIZZA
When I talk to Welly-native friends who have moved up to Auckland, one of the first things they say they miss about home is Tommy Millions Pizza, so I simply HAD to give it a try while I was there! This Wellington icon serves pizza and coffee and is open during the day until late. There is a store at 105 Courtenay Place and another one on Featherstone Street.
WELLINGTON UNDERGROUND MARKETS
This is where the arty and crafty Wellingtonians come together and sell their goodies so you can take home something to remember their city. There are all kinds of stores selling all kinds of specialty bits and bobs. It is also a great place to grab a bite to eat at one of the street food stands. The markets are held in the carpark under Frank Kitts Park, Jervois Quay on the Wellington waterfront and they run from 10am until 4pm on Saturdays.
SPOT SOME STREET ART
Wellington is one of those "cool" cities where artistic flair is poured out on to the streets. It can be found in lots of places throughout the city, in alleyways on garage doors or on the sides of cafes. Just keep your eyes open and you are sure to notice it.
I was only in Wellington for four days so I didn't even make a dent in seeing all that the city has to offer, but I was certainly amazed by what I did see. Here are some things that I would still love to check out in Wellington:
- Climb Mount Kaukau
- Visit Zealandia
- Do the 'Stairway to heaven' hike in Paekakariki
- Visit Island Bay
- Eat at Hippopotamus
- Visit the Castle Point lighthouse
- Wander the Red Rocks Reserve
- Visit the Old St Paul's Cathedral in Thorndon
- Go to the Cuba Street Night Markets
- Visit the birthplace of Katherine Mansfield, a kiwi author who was actually a distant relative of mine.
Have you been to Wellington? If so I would love to hear what your recommendations are!
Wellington wasn't just a breath of fresh air but a GUST of it!