It’s an interesting experience to write a post about enjoying a day in your own city. You know it so well because you have spent so much time there, but you haven’t experienced it in a 24 hour block. It is not often that you sit down and distill exactly what it is that makes your hometown – mine being Wellington – special or unique, or why it’s worth a visit.
I think Wellington is the kind of place that you do appreciate more once you leave. Sure, its nice when you are there. But it’s also very windy. The houses have poor insulation. Good weather days are so rare, everyone in the city comes out to play. Traffic crawls to a standstill around Oriental Bay, and you can’t find a park anywhere. Wellington is an infinitely livable city. It is just hard to remember that when you are walking down Lambton Quay, being buffeted by a southerly that whips through your six layers of clothing. I should know. I’ve been through ten Wellington winters, including that notorious time it snowed. I was working at the Ministry of Fisheries, and I had to borrow some winter Fisheries Observer gear to make it home without freezing. Stylish.
Anyway, Wellington gets plenty of crummy days. I’ll write more about what to do on a rubbish day another time. This post is all about how to enjoy Wellington on a good day. You really can’t beat it.
BRUNCH AT LORETTA
Start your day with a solid breakfast. Us Wellingtonians love breakfast.. or brunch, as we call it. Brunch is something else entirely in Dubai, but in New Zealand, it’s an eggs and bacon kind of affair. My favourite brunch spot in the city is Loretta, on Cuba Street. The menu changes slightly every day, but I see they are still serving my old faithful, the coconut yogurt waffles. They are certainly more than just eggs and bacon, and have a range of vegetarian dishes on offer. Their tea selection is also divine. It is usually busy, so try arriving at quarter past or quarter to, I imagine you’ll be more likely to get a table.
Wander down Cuba Street, a pedestrian mall, towards the city. If it’s the weekend, you can pop into Matterhorn, a Wellington institution, for a morning cocktail before it shuts its doors later this year (sob). You’ll be sure to find a few interesting characters on Cuba Street, along with the famed bucket fountain. There are some great, quirky little shops on this road, including Eyeball Kicks, Iko Iko and Madame Fancy Pants. Wander down past the Michael Fowler Centre and towards Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. If you are a Peter Jackson, you can detour past the Embassy, the historic theatre where The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King premiered. It’s much prettier on the inside, I promise, and often features New Zealand movies.
MUSEUM OF NEW ZEALAND TE PAPA TONGAREWA
I remember when Te Papa opened! While some of the exhibits are showing their age a little, it is still a must visit for anyone to the city. Best yet, most of the museum is free. The Gallipolli Exhibition is great, with massive, oversized models of eight New Zealanders, created by Weta Workshop. The stories of each individual is told through the words of the people portrayed, and some of them are quite harrowing.
Te Papa is six stories high, and worth a visit of a few hours. There is a short suggested itinerary available on the website, but it’s a pretty fun place just to wander around.
If you feel like going for a bit of a wander at this point, walk through Waitangi Park to Oriental Bay. Do as the locals do, grab an ice-cream from Bernies on the Bay (RIP Bernie) or coffee at Beach Babylon, and people watch. You can sit by the boat sheds near Clyde Quay Wharf, or head round to the old Fisherman’s Table building, that round abomination sticking out on the water. If you are really keen, you can even rent a lovely reptilian ride from the Enormous Crocodile Bike Company, just off Herd Street. Even if you don’t borrow one, you’ll spend plenty of time dodging them.
WELLINGTON WATERFRONT WALK
Meander back along the Wellington Waterfront Walk, which starts next to the Crocodile Bike Shop. Along the way, there are a number of sculptures to admire, including the Solace of the Wind. You can often find him having his hand held by a tourist for a selfie, or wearing a random feather boa or hat. Various sculptures with poems inscribed on them are in the rocks near the water. You can go and take a spin on the famous rickety seagull slide, or if it’s a Saturday, enjoy the Underground Markets. Here, you can pick up fantastic gifts, homewares, clothing and jewelry made by local artisans. During the summer, there are lots of events in Frank Kitts Park, from food and wine festivals and sports events to fundraisers.
LUNCH ON THE WATERFRONT
By this time, you are probably craving lunch. Wander along past Shed 6 at Queens Wharf (where you can go rock climbing or rent a kayak from Fergs). You will have your pick of fantastic dining options. For classic fare, you can opt for Shed 5, Foxglove or Dockside (where I got married!), or for a slightly more casual (but still delicious) meal try Bin 44 or The Crab Shack. On a great day, you will see half of Wellington sitting outside and enjoying a vino with their lunch. Outdoor seating is usually at a premium, but many of the restaurants add a few extra tables to cram you in (or bean bags!).
If you are interested in art, a trip to the NZ Academy of Fine Arts is also worthwhile. It’s exhibits rotate on a regular basis, and outside you can see the monument to Paddy the Wanderer, a lost doggo that befriended the wharf workers in the 1920s. The drinking fountain commemorating his life also has two doggy drinking bowls in its base. The Wellington Museum has recently been renovated, and among its features is the original ‘Clucky the Hen‘ from Kirkcaldie and Stains. I spent a few afternoons inside Clucky, manually dispensing chocolate eggs, when I worked as a university student at the much-loved (and now closed) department store. I can’t believe someone still has to sit inside that thing.
This might not be for everyone, but the New Zealand Parliament is located very close to the city centre. Free tours are offered several times a day. I used to work in the most famous Parliament building – the Beehive – and they are quite interesting to visit. There are two different tours on offer several times a day, which are only 30 minutes and 60 minutes long, so a great way to kill a bit of time. You can find more information on what can be seen on each tour at the New Zealand Parliament website. On the way to the Beehive and the Parliamentary Buildings, you will probably pass by the old Government Buildings. This is New Zealand’s largest wooden building, and quite ornate. It is occupied by the Victoria University of Wellington Law School, but you can wander into certain areas and have a look. I attended lectures in this building!
Lambton Quay is Wellington’s golden mile, home to most large businesses and major retailers. During the week, it will be a sea of black suits on their smartphones. The ever-present New Zealand department store, Farmers, sits opposite David Jones – which is located in the Kirkcaldie and Stains building. It’s no Kirks – and it feels a little bit empty and bland to me – but its better than an empty space, and stocks some brands that are not available elsewhere in the city. Wander along the Quay and pass Cable Car lane (you’ll back-track here in a minute), duck up Plimmer Steps and visit the Vault. This design store has fantastic jewelry, homewares and other NZ made goods, and offer a way cooler souvenir than the mass-produced shops dotting the city. If you aren’t sure which alleyway is Plimmer Steps, look for a statue of a man with a dog stuck to his leg. It’s Mr John Plimmer, a former Wellington civil leader, and his dog Fritz.
Wander back to Cable Car lane (the Fix convenience store here is great if you need a snack or a bottle of water). Buy a ticket for the Cable Car. You can buy return tickets for a quick trip, or if you would like to wander back to the city through the Botanic Gardens, you can buy one way only. If it’s term time, it might be full of students – Victoria University’s Kelburn campus is one of the stops. It’s also regularly used by commuters. Take the car right to the top for a fantastic view of the city. Space Place (Wellington Observatory) is very cool if you are into that sort of thing. Either take the Cable car back to the city, or head towards the Lady Norwood Rose Garden if you plan on walking pack. Follow the directions to Bolton Street Cemetery, cross back over the motorway and find yourself on the Terrace, near Parliament Buildings.
A DRINK AND DINNER
By this time, you are probably feeling a little hungry – again. Good news, Wellington has many dining institutions to suit all budgets and tastes. Anywhere in the central city will be $15NZD or less in a cab, probably $10NZD in an Uber, and around $2.50 on a public bus. If you want to take a walk through the central city, take the time to admire some of the interesting sculptures – including Woman of Words, Shells and Protoplasm (aka the green spin-a-ma-gig).
For a classic feast, try Logan Brown or the Boulcott Street Bistro. Hippopotamus offers French gastronomic fare, and excellent dessert and cocktails. WBC, though small, has a delicious, small dish menu for sharing. Sweet Mother’s Kitchen offers cheap and cheerful cajun/southern eats. There are various craft beer bars throughout the city, including Goldings Free Dive, Little Beer Quarter and the Fork and Brewer. C.G.R. Merchants does a fine rum cocktail, and Poquito is a hidden gem, intimate and cozy. They also do a mean cheese scone during the day… it is located two minutes from my old apartment, I may have sampled a few.
I imagine by this stage you will be pretty tired, but if you’d like to go back for more, I’ve added a few other recommendations for you below – some of them a little further afield than the CBD. I haven’t added details for everything I’ve suggested, but clicking on the website link provided should give you all the information you need!
I hope you enjoy your time in Wellington. I know I’m going to make the most of it next time I’m back for a visit.
Other options for food and drink. The Ramen Shop. Delicious noodles in Newtown. Hawthorn Lounge. If you can find it, it has a fantastic speak-easy vibe. Louis Sergeant. Incredible desserts and sweet treats. Scopa. Tasty pizzas and Italian treats. The Library. Read a book while enjoying your drink. Maranui Cafe, and its (only slightly less busy) counterpart, the Spruce Goose. Kiwi food out by the airport, great on your way out of the city by flight. And if you are on a super tight budget, try Magic Kitchen (Asian food) on Courtney Place, or Dumpling’d on Boulcott Street.
Shopping at its finest. Andrea Moore, Karen Walker and Twenty Seven Names. New Zealand designer clothing. Wellington Apothecary. Botanical beauty products and skin care. Moore Wilsons. More than a supermarket, its a cultural experience! Voon and Kilt. Quirky NZ made clothing that you can wear up or down. Unity Books. Not your average bookshop.
Get out of the city. Zealandia. A forest preserve only minutes from the city, with native birds and reptiles. Wellington Zoo. The coolest little Zoo in the world. Weta Workshop. See the home of Peter Jackson, and be sure to book a tour in advance to make the most of your trip. Red Rocks Reserve. Seals! Mount Victoria. A quick but steep walk offering great views of the city.