Let’s get this out of the way: Wellington is meant to be a blustery windy city.
So regularly pummeled is this place that they even have a special work of art dedicated to how defiant the inhabitants are in the face of a strong breeze: ‘Solace In The Wind’ by Max Patte. It stands on the Waterfront and leans into the harbour’s harsh draughts like a bronzed nude Spartacus.
The cause of this bothersome flurry has something to do with the currents coming off the Cook Strait. We’re not meteorologists. All we know is it’s kind of inconveniently placed (doesn’t help that it’s also adjacent to a large fault system — there are some 100 mini-earthquakes a day).
Locals simultaneously praise and protest these gales, on one hand thanking them for the almost complete lack of air pollution but then often complaining that it’d be nice to not have to wear a coat once in a while.
For this reason, “you can’t beat it on a good day” is the city’s unofficial slogan. [Gotta love that Kiwi wit].
And yet, we experienced none of this. Rather we were treated to pristine, still, sunny days almost the whole time we were in town. Obviously we arrived smack bang in the middle of one of Welly’s famous good days.
And yes, we can confirm, this city cannot be beaten.
1. They want to wine and dine you (and you should let them)
For a city on the southern-west point of the North Island, down under Down Under, far, far away from the big ticket foodie haunts like London and New York, Wellington is undeniably batting above its average.
With reportedly more restaurants, bars and cafes per capita than NYC, you could say that the residents are more than over catered for. But why would you? Instead, open your mind and your belly to a world of flavours on your doorstep.
Ortega Fish Shack and Bar is a headlining act, merging low-key beach vibes with very fine dining and garnering a lot of attention in the process. A visit to Welly isn’t complete with trying their scampi ceviche and getting a tour around the wine menu with owner/maitre’d Davey McDonald.
Ortega Fish Shack and Bar
16 Majoribanks Street, Wellington, New Zealand
+64 4382 9559
But you prefer turf over your surf then you want then you MUST hunt down Egmont Street Eatery, which isn’t content to just serve up a standard beef pattie. No, no, these guys take aged beef and smoky beetroot relish to sinfully delicious levels, winning the coveted Wellington On A Plate Award in the process. In this case it’s well worth breaking the diet (for anthropology’s sake, of course).
Egmont Street Eatery
11 Egmont Street, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand
+64 4801 6891
Welly is also a haven for craft beer lovers and booze mavens will feel like they’ve found their Mecca at Garage Project in pretty Aro Street. This converted service station turned brewery is so cool they even display their numerous awards in wire bin basket on the floor by the door. It’s also home to the prettiest beer bottles in the business thanks to their many collaborations with local artists. Drop ins for tastings are welcome any time.
68 Aro Street, Aro Valley, Wellington, New Zealand
Other must-do restaurants, bars & in-betweeners
Poneke By Mojo
1 Clyde Quay Wharf, Wellington, New Zealand
+64 4979 9283
We loved Poneke’s beautiful high-ceilings, clean tiling and light wood panelling to warm the room up. We loved their giant breakfasts and views across the harbour even more. This is flagship eatery from Mojo Coffee, the main roastery in town (more on that below).
Fix & Fogg Peanut Butter
5 Eva Street, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand
+64 4 21 190 5695
Fox & Fogg sounds like something out of Harry Potter and it even has that Diagon Alley hole-in-the-wall vibe as well. Kneel down into the window and ask for a taste test of their varied and unique peanut butter creations. Take some home and try the combo of peanut butter, sliced tomato at home and you can thank us later.
Moore Wilson’s Fresh
Corner of Tory and College Streets, Wellington, New Zealand
+64 4384 9906
There’s obviously a LOT more to Welly then burgers and seafood and the best place to get acquainted with the diverse produce from the region is at Moore Wilson’s Fresh. A traditional supermarket this ain’t. Here you’ll find an endless supply of fresher than fresh foods, local cheeses, deli meats and treats of all types. We’re getting indigestion just thinking about it.
Level 1/53 Courtenay Place, Wellington, New Zealand
+64 4382 8593
You have to climb from deceptively staid steps to get here but behind the door is a sexy, low-lit, reading room, music venue and dessert bar. Live bands every Tuesday and Friday.
82 Tory Street, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand
+64 4 890 3724
A recommendation from everyone we spoke to, Hawthorn blends the plush leathers of an old school gentleman’s club with the inclusivity of a 1920s prohibition era speakeasy. Tell bartender Jamie your flavour leanings and he’ll whip up something mysterious and delicious. Or choose from their seasonal cocktail list (when we were in town the drinks were dedicated to crimes of the 1860s. Of course).
A standard coffee is always a double-shot. So if you don’t want to be buzzing more than a teenager at a festival just let your barista know that you’re from out of town and a single shot will suffice.
You’ll notice that almost every single bean in town originates from MOJO Coffee, a boutique roastery founded and run right in the city. If you’re a foodie, design aficionado or even just a caffeine fanatic, it’s well worth paying a visit to their ingenious set up at MOJO HQ.
MOJO HQ & Roastery
Shed 13, 37 Customhouse Quay, Kumutoto Plaza, Wellington Waterfront
+64 4 385 3001
2. Creativity is celebrated (& so is small business)
Everywhere you walk in Wellington you’ll spy hints and clues of the city’s passion for the arts. Large detailed graffiti murals take pride of place, often brightening up a dreary car park, and visitors will love the adventure aspect of winding through the alleys and hunting down fresh works and never worrying about getting lost.
Eva and Leeds Streets are a highlight, with a number of new boutique eateries and venues popping up, such as Goldings Free Dive (inspired by the classic American dive bars) and Leeds Street Bakery (home to some of the best salted caramel cookies this side of the Southern Hemisphere).
But it’s not just painters and foodies that Welly’s keen to show off, New Zealand literary talent has a permanent place in the city’s heart on the Waterfront, with 23 poetic tributes dotted along the Writers Walk.
3. You are actively encouraged to take a risk here and there
Speaking of the Waterfront, if you fancy a bit of a dip while in town make sure you stop at the diving board near the Te Papa side. Sure, a rogue Blue shark might’ve found it’s way inside the enclosure earlier this year but apart from that one minor gaff, it’s an utterly welcoming little swimming hole and an eye-catching structure to boot. Other cities might get mired down in public liability fears but not Welly, residents are trusted to take care of themselves when climbing to the top and, we have to say, there’s really something to be said for a city that treats its inhabitants like adults. Also, it feels very Wellington to mix laid back beauty with a side of jeopardy (again, did we mention the 100 earthquakes a day?).
Alternatively, a great way to say land-bound but still enjoy some of Welly’s natural sea life in action is to book a Seal Coast Safari. The 2 hour tour takes you right into the heart of Fur Seal territory and even on a ‘slow day’ you’re pretty much guaranteed to spy a couple of them lazily warming up on the coast at Tongue Point.
However, as these things tend to be, the journey might be even better than the destination. The 4-wheel drive trip rambles across sheer cliff faces, offering frighteningly stunning views across the coastline and back towards the city. You’ll even pass the famous fault line that only threatens the city every 150-400 years or so. Yes, that’s quite a big margin.
Seal Coast Safari Tours
Departs from i-SITE Visitor Centre, Wakefield Street, Wellington, 6011, New Zealand
+64 800 732 527
4. They also have a Jurassic Park…
Okay so, there mightn’t be any murderous critters (they DO have the electric fences though) but what Zealandia lacks in man-eating reptiles it more than makes up for in 80 million years of historic study, aiming to recreate the look and feel of Wellington before human settlement.
Before you even step into the park you’re treated to an interactive exhibition exploring exactly what New Zealand was like before outside weeds and pests impacted the environment. Pressing the buttons and performing simple learning tasks might give you primary school field trip flashbacks but you know what’s totally not PG rated? Reading about the giant Haast Eagles that used to eat the ancient Maori children… That kind of stuff really sticks.
Outside and through the park gates you’ve got free reign to explore the regenerating native bush. Occasionally you’ll spy interactive bird feeding posts providing ample opportunity to get close to the fearless and friendly birds (no sacrificial goats required).
53 Waiapu Rd, Karori, Wellington 6012, New Zealand
+64 4920 9200
5. You’ll probably come out a better person
If the only familiarity you have with Maori culture is the All Blacks performing the Haka at the Rugby World Cup then never fear, Wellington’s Te Papa Museum is on hand to school you.
Even if you know your Ta Mokos from your Tikangas there’s something very special about having an elder weave the stories and rituals to you in real time. Our guide almost brought us to tears when he spoke about how his grandparents risked it all to move to the city so he could learn English as a child (because they believed (his words) “the English language, it’s going to be a thing”).
From there we learned about the Maori beliefs that land, water and air are all essential to human life and should be respected and used in a way that’s consistent with the environment. Also, talking oneself up in any sort of arrogant way is generally frowned upon (“there’s no room for people to praise your achievements if you’ve already praised yourself”). Now we know why New Zealanders have such a way with self-deprecating humour.
But there’s more to Te Papa than just personal self-help, in fact one of the best reasons to visit Wellington right now is on the ground floor inside the incredibly moving World War 1 exhibition, Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War.
Created in collaboration with Wellington’s multi-awarded Weta Workshop (that would be the acclaimed studio that worked on The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings), the exhibition features 8 larger-than-life silicon figures 2.4 times the size of the average human but more real than you could ever imagine. Every hair follicle, fingernail, bead of sweat, wrinkle and bruise is brought to life so vividly and with such painstaking intricacy that it has a profoundly powerful effect on all who experience it.
… and an honorary 6.
They also have a Colossal Squid
The specimen was captured by just off the coast of Wellington by a fishing boat when they accidentally snagged this 500kg nightmare as it lazily feasted on an ill-fated Antarctic Toothfish.
They rushed the beast to scientists who were keen to study its hundreds of sharp rotating hooks and club shaped tentacles.
Now it sits on display on level 2 of the Te Papa Museum, eerily encased in embalming fluid, just waiting silently for you to lay eyes upon it in order to haunt your dreams forevermore.
Entry is free. An unnatural fear of the ocean is the only price you’ll pay.
Te Papa Museum
55 Cable St, Wellington 6011, New Zealand
+64 4381 7000