Windy Wellington. What started off as a weekend trip to Australia magically transformed to spending most of my time in New Zealand and stopping by the hipster city of Wellington. But why Wellington? What was there? Honestly, I had no clue. But I did have a friend, Tiffany, that lived there and a visit was long overdue on my part.
Tiff and I had been friends for about a decade. Born and raised in Wellington, she came to live and work in Canada after her studies and we had met while working retail at Nike. She quickly became my partner in crime during a main chunk of my partying days in my early 20s. Even after she had moved back to New Zealand, she had came back to visit Canada (mainly to shop) and I would always make time to see her. I had promised her I’d come visit - and now it had finally happened! As soon as I had found out that my trip to Australia was confirmed, I messaged my long time friend, Tiffany, who resides in Wellington, to ask if she would be around. After all, this trip was really for her.
Soon after, I had booked my flight not knowing what to do or what to expect from Wellington. I had quickly learned that it was the foodie capital of New Zealand (score!), it was also one of the windiest places on earth, and it was home to Peter Jackson, director of Lord of the Rings. All completely random. This would be an interesting trip, for sure. During my initial research, I also found out that it is quite the hipster town! Art-filled laneways, craft beer, coffee shops on every block - sounds like it was right down my alley. But where to start?
The location. I was SOL when it came to hotels. Wellington isn’t nearly as big as Auckland so I didn’t have any luxury hotels to choose from from either of my jobs. Luckily, I opened up my AirBnB app and found the most perfect flat centrally located in the Te Aro district. A mere 10-minute walk from everything, this high ceilinged flat was situated in the best location amongst some of the best coffee shops and steps away from the bustling Cuba street. Its minimalistic design featured matte black and mid century modern furnishings and was a complete delight. I’d be happy to give you the name but I was the very last person to have booked that flat and it is no longer available - suckers! But it did make for a very comfortable stay during my time in Wellington.
In terms of things to do, there are loads of activities to do based on your interests. Besides restaurant and bar hopping, there are quite a lot of hikes, museums, gardens and cultural things to do in the city. In the CBD, many are accessible on foot (Wellington is a very walkable city) and lot of the activities are free! Yes, free! Although meals have the potential of getting pricey, I would say it was definitely worth it - I never had a bad meal at all in all of Wellington.
Getting around Wellington:
Walking - As mentioned above, Wellington is a highly walkable city. Stay in the Te Aro district and you won’t ever need a car to get around. All the main tourist attractions are a 10 to 15-minute walk away.
Uber - I only used this once as I had an early morning flight to the airport and it was quick and reliable. An UberX should cost somewhere between $16 - $21 NZD with no traffic or surge pricing.
Car - Highly recommended if you are spending more than a few days in Wellington. As Wellington is quite small, you might get bored! I literally did all the tourist-recommended things in a day in the city. Tiff drove and we were able to drive around the suburbs and past the mountains to do a bit of hiking. Plus, the leisurely strolll around the surrounding bays were absolutely astonishing.
Bus - I did not take the bus since my friend drove me around but I did research the bus options and they were quite cheap and affordable. The Airport Flyer is also an option if you opt out of using Uber - a great method of transport to get from the airport into the CBD.
Things to do in Wellington:
Te Papa - Excellent museum and free to the public. Really well-done exhibitions on Maori culture. The Mana Whenua exhibit on the second floor must not be missed!
Mount Victoria - A great mini mountain hike located right by the city and offering panoramic views of Wellington. I’d recommend starting off in the city and taking the walk down via Oriental Bay. Easy hike and takes about 30 minutes to go up.
Wellington Cable Car - Yes, very touristy, indeed but Wellington is hilly and it saves you from the sweaty climb up to the top! I’d advise you to get a one-way ticket up and walking down back to the CBD through the Botanical Gardens. It’s a beautiful and shady walk!
Botanical Gardens - 25 sprawling hectares of land featuring flora and fauna native to New Zealand. This attraction is free to the public an an excellent thing to do on a hot summer’s day.
Parliament Building & The Beehive - Wellington is a government city with 100,000 workers working in parliament. The colonial architecture may be interesting to some, especially the beehive-shaped building which is accurately nicknamed, The Beehive. Tours are available as well if you’re into that sort of thing and is on the edge of the CBD right by Wellington Station.
Wellington Harbourside - Wellington’s version of the seawall. Treat yourself with a relaxing walk by the bay. There are lots of restaurants and patios by the harbourside which are great for people watching or if you need to give your feet a well-deserved break!
The Bays - Baywatching. Bay strolling. Take your car and ride from Oriental Bay over through to Evan’s Bay all the way over through to Miramar. Park alongside the road as there are many scenic views and fishing joints (and lots of mussels!). Some of my favourite spots include Karaka Bay and Scorcher’s Bay.
Hiking - Up for the climb? Try the Escarpment Track - a 10km hike that goes from Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki. You can do the trail the other way around but I’d suggest this route as Paekakariki has a little town at the end of the hike where you can grab some lunch or a drink. The train station is right by it too if you’re too tired to hike back to Pukerua.
Weta Cave - Are you a Lord of the Rings fan? Then this may be of interest to you! Located in the luxurious Miramar residential neighbourhood, Weta Cave features tons of LOTR paraphernalia, sculptures, tours and more. While I am not a fan, Tiff and I drove by and stopped to pose with some of the trolls. Makes for a great photo op!
Wellington Night Market - Like a baby Asian night market, this is right in the CBD featuring food stands, trinkets and more. There is live music so it’s great for a snack or a walkthrough.
Things to eat in Wellington:
With a new restaurant opening every week, it’s no wonder Wellington is known as the gastronomic food capital of New Zealand. Because of its British rule, much of the traditional food in Wellington is reminiscent of British fare. Seafood is also widely eaten and lamb is featured on almost every menu. Due to its close proximity to Asia, you may find excellent Asian fare here as well, specifically Malaysian and Indonesian. I didn’t have a bad eat here once!
Fish & Chips - Yes, this is an absolute must. Because of its island stature, there is a wide variety of different fish and seafood available locally. Try the wharehau, a native white fish that is commonly found in almost every fish ‘n chips joint in the city. Fish ‘n Chips on Tory hit the spot, serving up massive portions of fish - come hungry!
Kiwi Burger - It’s a thing! Add a couple slices of fresh beetroot and a fried egg and call it a kiwi burger. No, really. Don’t knock it till you try it! The sweetness of the beetroot and the oozing yolk of a fresh fried egg, sets these burgers apart from the rest.
Pie - The kiwis love a good meat pie. The flaky crust, the meat gravy. Go for a classic steak ‘n kidney pie and make sure they warm it up for you - makes a world of a difference!
Craft Beer - Who knew that there was a buzzing craft beer scene in Welly? Seems like beer is making a big splash across the pond! Although I personally did not like any of the beers that were on offer, it’s still worth trying what’s fresh and local. Loved the spot at Golding’s Free Dive.
Feijoa - Is it a guava? Is it a pineapple? The white-fleshy green fruit is commonly grown all through out New Zealand and is a delight. I’ve seen it in jams, chutneys and juices while I was in Welly. Its juice was absolutely refreshing!
Coffee - With so many coffee shops around town, how could you possibly choose!? My Airbnb was nestled amongst some of the best coffee shops in the city. Great vibes, free WiFi, and great brew. What more could you possibly ask for? My favourite spots in the city were Caffe L’affare and Prefab.
Wine - Although New Zealand sauvignon blanc is typically found in the South Island, the North Island also has its own wine region: Martinborough. Despite the change in my plans, I was still able to try some delicious New Zealand rose and sauv! This is a must-try and also so cheap too!
Asian Food - There is a huge influx of Malaysian and Indonesian restaurants in the city. And having been to both of those countries, the restaurants here very closely resembled what I’d had on those trips. Cheap and cheerful - I didn’t see any of these restaurants empty - always a good sign. Give KK Malaysian, Mrs. Kim’s Korean or Tulsi a try - you won’t be disappointed.
Chocolate - The kiwis are talented when it comes to chocolate. There are a couple of artisan chocolate shops around the city that offer tours but if you’re pressed for time, stop by your local Pak ‘n Save and be sure to pick up anything by Whittakers. Whittakers is a local brand and they sell everything from lollies to pop rocks chocolate bars and even their artisan collection. I picked up four, oops.
Manuka Honey - If you have a check-in luggage, go for New Zealand’s honey - it is what they are known for. Although I had a carry-on, I did bring home honey, albeit in the form of chocolate. Delicious!
Cocktails - You must know by now that I love myself a great cocktail. Wellington was no exception. i’d recommend Hanging Ditch, located in the best laneway in the city. Drinks are strong, well thought out and potent. Unfortunately, I wish the service had been better.
Pasta - This is random, I know. But I can appreciate a spot that offers fresh, handmade pasta…and on the busy and touristy Cuba St! I loved 1154 for their deliciously zesty summer veg and ricotta pasta. Great value for what you get here - I was completely stuffed.
Bakeries - Bakeries is a broad term but there are a lot of old school bakeries and bread shops around Wellington. The ONLY one you should be going to is Haitaitai Bakery. You absolutely must get the cream donut and the mini potato top pies! Best thing about this place is that it’s open 24 hours - score!
All in all, Wellington was the highlight of my trip. it was the longest leg of my trip (3 nights!) and the city won me over with its charm. I was worried that due to its small size I would be bored, especially after completing al the “touristy” attractions in one day but this was not the case. The city has so much to do for a person who does not mind getting lost to wander and explore.