Often falling into the shadow of livelier New Zealand travel destinations like Auckland or Queenstown, Wellington is quite possibly the most charming capital city you could hope to spend a long weekend in. From lazy brunches and hidden cocktail bars, to an impressive selection of museums and outdoor adventures, it’s got something special for every traveller.
Known as ‘Windy Welly’ for a reason, summer is a good time to visit, with peak season kicking in from December to January. So if you’re heading there to catch the ferry to South Island like most people are – be sure to linger for a few days, you won’t regret it.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Most travellers to New Zealand tend to be of the outdoorsy variety, shrugging off cities in favour of mountains, coastal hikes and adventure sports. Even in Wellington city it’s possible to enjoy the outdoors. Start by heading to Mount Victoria lookout – a steep uphill hike that rewards you with exceptional views of the bay and city skyline. Try to save this for a clear day – it’ll be worth the wait.
The city’s Botanic Gardens are another popular, and free, attraction. The old style cable car is only a few dollars each way, but you can also enjoy the walk there – it takes around an hour from the city centre. Take a picnic and sit and soak up the sun and some more impressive views of the city.
Finally, head out to ‘Zealandia‘ for the day if you’re a real nature enthusiast. With free tours running twice a day, this conservation centre is dedicated to preserving a section of natural New Zealand bush land in the city. Spend an afternoon wandering down the lake path and spotting native species such as Takahe, silver ferns and Tuatara.
It’s said that the wind in Wellington has made people spend a lot of time inside in long winter months – giving them a plenty of time to get creative, resulting in a thriving arts scene. Te Papa Museum is probably the most favourite destination for culture vultures – an expansive museum with collections dedicated to New Zealand history, from Maori culture to modern social history. It also features an intriguing art gallery with various installations and creative areas on its top floors.
Another great museum is the Great War Exhibition, with exhibits created by Sir Peter Jackson, the famous New Zealand film director who produced Lord of The Rings. It’s a creative and moving history of World War One and the involvement of troops from New Zealand and Australia.
For Peter Jackson fans and lovers of popular culture, follow this up with a trip to the ‘Weta Workshop,’ where all of the props and costumes for films such as the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Tin Tin, Avatar and more, are produced. A guided tour is well worth the money, as one of the team takes you round various creations and explains the magic behind the movies.
FOOD & DRINK
One of the most famous things about Wellington is its developing foodie scene. Whether it’s top quality fair trade coffee, inventive cocktails or all day brunches you’re looking for, there’s brilliant food and drink available to suit all budgets.
Olive Cafe: Located on the fashionable Cuba Street, this small rustic style cafe does an amazing brunch menu and features on many top foodie lists. Quieter on weekdays it’s well worth a visit.
Havana Coffee Works: Possibly the best coffee we’ve had ever, let alone in Wellington! This hipster lounge grinds its own beans on site, and has an extensive coffee menu with seriously reasonable prices.
Hawthorn Lounge: A cocktail bar with speak easy vibes, expect to be greeted by cocktail waitresses who will chat with you to understand your drink preferences before bringing over their recommendation. Dark and moody vintage decor makes for cocktails with serious atmosphere.
The Five Stags: This one deserves a mention for one of the best Sunday lunches I’ve had on my travels. Offering a relaxed vibe and great food, this spot is worth spending an afternoon if you get the chance to.
So hopefully I’ve persuaded you that this small, but perfectly formed, capital city is not a destination to be overlooked on your travels around New Zealand. Whether you’re a foodie, on the hunt for a cultural experience, or a lover of the great outdoors, I’m convinced you’ll find what you’re looking for in Wellington!
Whats your favourite place in New Zealand, please share your own tips with our readers in the comments below. Read Next > A Guide To Road Tripping Around New Zealand’s North Island