Wellington is famous for its restaurants and cafés – it’s said to have more per capita than NYC. But what to do when you’re between meals? We’ve got you sorted (warning: there’s food. More food. But you’ll find room).
Get close to a kiwi
Cue the Jurassic Park theme song because on entering Zealandia, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to prehistoric times. And that’s the idea: the 225-hectare conservation park in suburban Wellington was established in 1995 with a 500-year plan to return the land to a pre-human settlement state. Already, birdlife is thriving. Book a night tour and you’ll be armed with a flashlight and a guide to help you spot the elusive – and nocturnal – kiwi.
Waiapu Road, Karori; +64 4920 9213
Shake it up
Couture cocktails are everywhere in Wellington and you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad one. Among the top spots is Cuba Street institution Matterhorn, operating since 1963. The restaurant and bar offers 40-odd cocktails, with pages of the menu dedicated to “Vintage and Forgotten” drinks. The locals’ favourite? A modern mix called Falling Water, with feijoa-infused vodka and Kiwi soft drink Ch’i. Another good bet is The Library, where walls are lined with books (you can borrow one) and waitstaff dress as librarians. For beats, there’s live jazz, funk and soul; and for drinks, there’s the Duck Fat Sazerac, with duck-fat infused whiskey, cognac and spiced-honey liqueur.
Matterhorn, 106 Cuba Street, Wellington; +64 4384 3359
The Library, Upstairs, 53 Courtenay Place, Wellington; +64 4382 8593
Join the burger wars
The burgers are better in Wellington. No, really, they’re a big deal. If you’re in town from 11-27 August 2017, get involved in food festival Wellington on a Plate. Eateries all over the city release special burgers and obsessive locals vote on the 100-odd entries. To get through 25 burgers is considered a good effort; offices have spreadsheets and strategies to help their staff. You can try last year’s winning entry at Vietnamese/French restaurant Apache, which took the title with its Bang Bang Burger, featuring lemongrass chicken and fresh mango on a cashew-nut bun.
122 Wakefield Street, Te Aro; +64 4499 2999
Shop for vintage threads
Anything goes on bohemian Cuba Street, where you’ll find cheap eats and quirky shops (it’s a bit like King Street in Sydney’s Newtown or Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, Melbourne). Make sure to hit the vintage stores: there’s Spacesuit for fun finds from the States and Japan (think old Levi’s and Hard Rock Café jackets); Paper Bag Princess for affordable treasures with good intentions (all proceeds go to charities); and for designer labels, there’s Ziggurat and Hunters & Collectors (take heed of the latter’s sign, which says: “Nothing haunts us like the things we didn’t buy.”)
Spacesuit, 164 Cuba Street, Wellington; +64 4382 8786
Paper Bag Princess, 209 Cuba Street, Wellington; +64 4381 3737
Ziggurat, 144 Cuba Street, Wellington; +64 4385 1077
Hunters & Collectors, 134 Cuba Street, Wellington; +64 4384 8948
Catch up with Phar Lap
Give yourself a full day to explore the national museum, Te Papa – it’s excellent (and entry is free). It tells the story of Māori migration to New Zealand, featuring traditional buildings and a 19th-century war canoe. Plus there’s a 500-kilogram colossal squid and the skeleton of racing great Phar Lap (fun fact: he was a Kiwi). Brave the queues and don’t miss Gallipoli: The Scale of our War, a moving, almost-cinematic exhibition by Weta Workshop (the effects company behind The Lord of the Rings films).
55 Cable Street, Wellington; +64 4381 7000
Image: Michael Hall
SEE ALSO: Where to Eat and Drink in Wellington
Lest we forget
If you can do another museum, make it The Great War Exhibition. Created by filmmaker Sir Peter Jackson, whose British grandfather fought in the war, it follows a Kiwi soldier from the day he enlists in the Anzac forces to the horrors of Gallipoli and the Battle of Passchendaele. The exhibition gives presence to the troops’ suffering and sacrifice, with movie-like sets, battlefield models, military hardware and hundreds of colourised photographs.
Dominion Museum Building, Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, Wellington; +64 4978 2500
Hit the streets
Like speed dating for travelling gourmands, Capital Tastes walking tour gives you the chance to meet coffee roasters, gelato-makers and chocolatiers and get a feel for the city’s history – all in three-and-a-half hours. Trips are run by Zest Food Tours, which started in 2003 to show discerning cruise passengers the real Wellington (read: its amazing food); today, the company also offers daytrips to nearby pinot region Martinborough.
Departs daily from the I-site Visitor Centre at 111 Wakefield Street, Wellington; +64 4801 9198.
Get some perspective
For great city views without breaking a sweat, climb aboard the Wellington Cable Car. The five-minute journey from the heart of the financial district to the Botanic Garden has been a must-do for travellers since the little red trams started in 1902 (it’s also an important service for residents in Wellington’s steepest suburbs). For something more taxing, walk the Mount Victoria Loop, a 2.5-hour round trip.
Lower terminal, 280 Lambton Quay, Wellington; +64 4472 2199
Sugar and soda – and all things nice
Whatever you had for lunch, you’ve got room for Wellington’s favourite biscuit: a salted-caramel cookie from Leeds Street Bakery. The store uses local, mostly organic ingredients and is part of Hannahs Laneway, a small precinct that houses artisanal producers, including a soda-maker, peanut-butter producer and chocolatier. To find the laneway, follow your nose: the smell of chocolate hangs in the air, thanks to the Wellington Chocolate Factory. Once you’ve had their gnarly single-origin bars – made with just cocoa beans and sugar – you’ll find it hard to go back to the sweet stuff.
Leeds Street Bakery, 6G/14 Leeds Street, Wellington; +64 4802 4278
Six Barrel Soda Co., Level 1, 1 Eva Street, Wellington; +64 22 077 9553
Fix & Fogg, 5 Eva Street, Wellington; +64 21 190 5695
Wellington Chocolate Factory, 5 Eva Street, Wellington; +64 4385 7555
Head straight to the action
Finally, you’d be mad if you didn’t swing by Weta Workshop, the prop and special-effects company behind The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Avatar. Weta has transformed sleepy suburbia into a Hollywood of sorts, where filmmakers can produce a film from props to post-production. Take a Weta Cave Workshop Tour to see the painstaking process involved in making the props and costumes. And don’t miss the Miniatures Stage Tour, where you can wander among models for the Thunderbirds Are Go TV remake. The best part? Instagramming your selfie with the new Virgil Tracy.
1 Weka Street, Miramar; +64 4909 4100
SEE ALSO: The Best Places to Stay in Wellington