While I may currently live in Auckland, I have to say that Wellington is an easy contender for the title of New Zealand’s coolest city. Nestled in a large harbour at the bottom of the North Island, a visit to Wellington is a feast for the senses. Known not just as the political but also the culinary and artistic capital of New Zealand, Wellington is a city filled with delicious eateries, artisan food stores, world-famous coffee, trendy op-shops (only Wellington could prove this isn’t necessarily an oxymoron), and a thriving art scene.
While Wellington has all the urban features that usually draw visitors to cities, it also has the added bonus of beautiful natural surroundings. The city sits on the waterfront and is surrounded by lush bush-covered hills dotted with beautiful 19th century villas. Craggy cliff-tops are only a quick ferry-ride away and provide a stunning view of the harbour and, weather permitting, a view across the Cook Straight to the South Island. In case you are in need of a weekend escape, I thought I’d share some insights into how to spend 48 hours making the most of the quirky, hipster’s-dream of a city that is Wellington.
** Warning ** I can confirm that returning to eating and drinking home-made food and coffee after indulging in delectable brunches and the finest drip coffee all weekend may leave a bitter aftertaste…
DAY 1: DISCOVER WHAT THE CITY HAS TO OFFER
Morning- Get your brunch game on
As any true Wellingtonian would tell you, the most important way to begin a Saturday morning is to find your way to one of Wellington’s numerous fantastic cafés to wake up over a first-rate cup of coffee and delicious brunch. Here are a few hotspots to get you started:
Flight Coffee Hangar
This large, open-plan industrial-esque café which had a telling queue leading out the door and was well worth the wait. Known as one of the best coffee spots in Wellington (high praise from a city known for taking its coffee very seriously), Hangar is part of a group dedicated to serving ethically sourced, top-quality coffee. If you’re not a huge coffee connoisseur, I’d recommend sharing a tasting flight (a coffee platter with three different brews) as a great way to find out what your cup of tea coffee is. And if you are a big coffee drinker, order the tasting flight for yourself and you’ll be buzzing for the rest of the day! Hangar also produces incredible food as well; I tried the kumara (sweet potato) hash cakes and the hot cross bun French toast with grilled nectarines and oh my gosh I cannot stop raving about them.
This vegetarian café, set on Wellington’s waterfront in Lyall Bay, sports a cosy, lush interior and offers a wide variety of freshly crafted food and drinks to appease vegetarians and omnivores alike. If you head to The Botanist, I’d highly recommend the Bahn Mi Burger. Consisting of a doughy bun stuffed to bursting with tempeh, fresh veggies, and a sweet wasabi mayo, it creates a delightful explosion of flavours and is hands down one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. It’s enough to tempt even a devout meat-eater to the green side.
Afternoon: Explore Wellington’s quirkier side
One simply cannot leave Wellington without visiting its most iconic street. Cuba Street is a bohemian outpost that provides a hearty dose of Wellingtonian soul. Consisting of art galleries, curiosity shops, graffiti-art covered alleyways, and widely varying eateries and bars, Cuba Street is a great place to get lost in window-shopping wacky knick-knacks, checking out street art, and people-watching. Cuba Street is also famous for its eclectic assortment of shops which peddle a variety of wares. These range from second-hand bookstores filled with beautifully-bound books, to hip op-shops that have choice selections of only the coolest vintage-wear, to a store that has an entire wall dedicated to pun-tastic cards (there’s nothing like a good punch-line to envelop one in happiness).
Affectionately referred to as ‘Little Portland’, this once industrial zone has now been transformed into a full sensory experience. Hannah’s Laneway stimulates the eyes with brightly coloured murals and lighting installations which starkly contrast with the harsh grey of industrial concrete, the nose with the tantalising waft of artisan foods being crafted, and of course, the mouth with all the treats it has to offer.
Wellington Chocolate Factory
Situated on Hannah’s Laneway is the Wellington Chocolate Factory, a bean-to-bar factory with a commitment to supporting ethical trade and producing incredibly potent, rich chocolate unlike any I’d tasted before. The chocolatiers here truly understand the importance of bringing out the full, fruity flavour of a few key ingredients. The 70% dark cacao Peru Norandino bar consisting of two ingredients- cacao and cane sugar- so exemplified what pure chocolate is supposed to taste like that I fell in love at first bite.
Evening: Wine & dine time
Just in case you haven’t satisfied your gastronomic cravings during the day, Wellington has stepped up to the challenge of providing dinner and drink spots to match its brunch ones.
Egmont Street Eatery
This place is yet another underground (in this case literally) modern eatery fashioned from an old carpark tucked away in an alleyway. The food is seasonal and made of fresh often local ingredients, and the chefs have an art for creating new and inventive combinations whilst working with a few key ingredients. I’d recommend ordering several dishes to share and wine or craft beer to match.
The Library Bar & The Arborist Bar
After dinner, Wellington’s nightlife beckons. The city provides a great selection of avant-garde bars which serve deliciously creative cocktails. Two bars that are well worth the visit are The Library and The Arborist. Both bars are aptly named- The Library is a lounge bar with well-stocked bookshelves covering every wall. It offers a wide selection of fantastic cocktails, wines, and sumptuous desserts, and has live music to set the mood. Pick a spot in the corner and enjoy the mellow 1920s ambience over a lavish drink that is a dessert in itself. The Arborist is Wellington’s tallest rooftop bar. Covered with a verdant spread of flora and providing thick blankets and large heaters which more than compensate for Wellington weather, The Arborist is the perfect spot to kick back with an incredible cocktail or craft beer.
DAY 2: EXPLORE THE SURRONDING NATURAL BEAUTY
Morning- Unwind with yoga & brunch
Pause Yoga Studio
After plunging oneself into the hustle and bustle of a new city, it is easy to forget to take a breather. There’s no better way to de-stress than with a spot of yoga. I’d suggest heading to Pause Yoga Studio, a modern wood-and-glass yoga studio which is magnificently situated on the side of a bush-covered hill and offers stunning views of the surrounding bush and harbour. Pause is located in Days Bay, a few minutes from Petone, which is just a short drive or ferry ride from central Wellington. The studio is reached via a short bushwalk, and I can’t think of a better way to detach yourself from your everyday cares by immersing yourself in the tranquillity of yoga while enjoying the native birdsong. Alternatively, if you’re not an avid yogi, consider hiking the bush and pine forest walk to the Mount Victoria Lookout, which provides a sweeping view of Wellington City, Cook Straight, and Hutt Valley.
If you are in the Petone area, be sure to check out this local favourite. Previously a seaside clubhouse used for dancing, Seashore Cabaret has been kitted up in a groovy retro-funk style with pinball machines, a carnival horse lamp, multi-coloured wall tiles, diner booths, and vintage signage. It comes with a substantial breakfast menu and a deliciously well-stocked cabinet, which tempts one to skip breakfast and go straight for cake. It also provides fresh onsite-roasted coffee to cater to the inevitable coffee lovers who frequent it.
Afternoon: Cycle to the Pencarrow Lighthouse
Starting at Eastbourne, hire a bike from Everyone’s Adventure (or walk if you’d prefer) and follow the 8km coastal track to Pencarrow Lighthouse, New Zealand’s first permanent lighthouse, which is perched atop a ragged, gorse-covered cliff-top overlooking Wellington Harbour. On your way you’ll pass shipwrecks, a fur seal colony, a small lighthouse, and Kohangapiripiri and Kohangatera Lakes. On a fine day there are breathtaking views across to the South Island, and it is a fabulous spot to get a good feel for the layout of Wellington.
Evening: Eat a well-deserved dinner
To finish off the day (and an epic 48 hours in Wellington!), I’d suggest paying a visit to Mr Go’s, a relaxed restaurant serving hawker-style street food combining elements of Asian and Kiwi cuisine. Great for sharing, I’d recommend ordering a mouth-watering Gua Bao and several sides to go with it (the pumpkin satay is pretty unbeatable).
Where to stay in Wellington
During my visit in Wellington I stayed at the Sofitel, Wellington’s newest 5-star hotel. Originating from France, the Sofitel provides the ultimate luxurious hotel experience with a wonderful dash of France. The rooms are elegantly designed and my room had a serene view out to the adjacent emerald bush-covered hills.
In recommending hotels in Wellington I’d be remiss not to mention the QT Museum. The QT is located on the waterfront and famous for its arty Wellingtonian flair both inside and out. The QT provides all the luxury of a top-quality hotel whilst at the same time its interior, creatively decorated with wondrously curious artworks, leaves its visitors feeling as though they’ve entered into the private gallery of an eccentric collector. The hotel’s fine-dining French restaurant and cocktail bar the “Hippopotamus” is a must-see with its glamorous 18th-century salon-style décor. It’s the perfect place to admire the sweeping view of the harbour whilst enjoying the sensation of being in another era.
If you’re travelling on a budget, I would recommend renting out an AirBnb in one of Wellington’s surrounding neighbourhoods. Last time I was visiting Wellington with friends, we stayed in an impeccably furnished 19th century villa for a very reasonable price (this is the place we stayed). It’s a great way to meet some of the locals (our host was very welcoming and hospitable) and for a few days’ experience what it’s like to live in a Wellington suburb. Plus, you can get $58NZD off your stay if you use this coupon code!
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This article was written in collaboration with the WellingtonNZ. As always, all opinions are my own!