A Day in Wellington, New Zealand’s Coffee Capital (and Actual Capital)
I recently returned to Wellington, a city I called home for four years, for a day of sightseeing, catching up with old friends and way too much eating and drinking. It’s New Zealand’s second coolest city (after Dunedin of course) and is full of historic buildings, cool cafes and the country’s premier museum. A day in Wellington might not seem like much, but it’s a compact city centre and you can end up seeing quite a lot.
FURTHER READING: Why Dunedin is New Zealand’s Coolest, Best Looking City
Arriving in Wellington
The main reason for our quick trip to Wellington was to watch Grizzly Bear play at the Opera House as part of the New Zealand festival (which was awesome). We arrived just before lunchtime and took the number 91 bus to the city ($9 per person). If you want to save money you can walk to Seatoun (10 minutes or so) and catch the number 11 bus into the city ($5). Wellington Airport is pretty cool — there are lots of Lord of the Rings references, including a huge model of Smaug’s head.
Lunch at Portlander
We were hoping to work with Rydges hotel but it (as well as most other hotels in town) was fully booked. However they were keen for us to try out the hotel’s restaurant, Portlander, which won the restaurant of the year award in 2015. It turned out to be the perfect start to our day in Wellington. We ordered the cheese burger and an Italian sandwich as well as some coffee and hot chocolate. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was nice and casual. I was also impressed with the prices (our lunch and drinks cost $50) — I’ve always had this idea that hotel restaurants were overpriced and underwhelming but Portlander was great (and I’m not just saying that because we received a complimentary meal, although I understand your skepticism).
Walking Through the City
I used to walk the narrow streets of downtown Wellington all the time, but it seemed so much nicer when seen through my more tourist-orientated eyes. There are heaps of historic buildings mixed in with the office blocks and miniature skyscrapers. It’s worth seeing the unique (and slightly ugly) Beehive, New Zealand’s parliament building as well as the train station and the “Old Government Buildings” which claims to be New Zealand’s grandest wooden building (and also one of the world’s largest wooden buildings).
There’s a cable car which travels up the hill from Lambdon Quay to the university and botanic gardens. I remember it as more a public transport service than a tourist attraction (I used to use it when I was too lazy to walk up the hill) but this time there was a massive line of tourists waiting to use it.
Wellington’s waterfront area was buzzing with activity due to the New Zealand festival being in full swing. There was music, a diving competition and some quirky art installations. It’s a cool place to walk even without the added distractions — the harbour views are nice and you can see the famous leaning man statue.
Keep walking around the waterfront, past the row of blue boat houses and you’ll soon reach Oriental Bay, Wellington’s top beach spot. It’s a man-made beach but that doesn’t take away from its beauty. On a good day it’ll be packed with sunbathers and swimmers, and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to retreat to if it all gets too much.
Hiking Mount Victoria
Despite living in Wellington for four years I never ventured to the top of Mount Victoria. This was a good chance to right that wrong, so after hanging out at Oriental Bay we started the steep hike. There are a few different ways to access Mount Victoria (including by road) but apparently the track from Oriental Bay (part of which is along the Southern Walkway) is the most scenic way. It was an overcast day so the photos didn’t turn out too well, but the views on the way up are really nice.
It was a hot, humid day in Wellington and we were pretty shattered by the time we made it to the top. The views are worth it though — you can see over the harbour and the low-key skyline of the city centre as well as the Basin Reserve (a famous cricket ground) and the beaches and bays of suburban Wellington. If you have a day in Wellington (or more) I definitely recommend hiking Mount Victoria.
Coffee on Cuba Street
Cuba Street and Manners Mall are home to plenty of hip cafes and restaurants. A couple of locals recommended Fidel’s, a Cuban themed cafe unsurprisingly located on Cuba Street. We had Cuban coffee, a couple of slices of cake and a massive Snickers thickshake which I couldn’t even finish (and I pride myself on being able to consume large quantities of ice-cream and milkshakes). The outdoor seating, helpful staff and Cuban-themed decor were also highlights.
You could spend hours navigating the interactive displays at Te Papa, which you’ll probably want to do if Wellington’s infamous windy weather makes an appearance. It’s a great place for young and old — you can learn all about New Zealand’s short but colourful history and also see a giant squid, which is more interesting than it sounds. There’s always a button to push or a knob to turn — it’s one of the more fun museums I’ve been to.
There are so many cool places to eat and drink in Wellington, and most of them are on (or close to) Courtney Place. We went to the Old Quarter for drinks and Vietnamese food before the show, and had planned to go out drinking afterwards until we realised we were way too tired. From what I remember from my youthful Wellington days the nightlife is great (although my old favourite the Big Kumara, which featured in the movie What We Do in the Shadows has long since closed). Red Square is another cool place (or it was when I was younger), although probably not as suitable for the married 33 year old man I’ve since become!
Are you planning on spending 24 hours in Wellington? Which places are you most excited to visit? Let me know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: I were hosted by Portlander during our trip to Wellington. All thoughts and opinions are my own.