Pack the car, or jump on a plane, and head to Wellington for a weekend. Our capital is creative, cosmopolitan, quirky and cool.
There’s a lot you can do in two days - enjoy Te Papa and the City Gallery, visit Weta Workshop or take a ride on the city’s iconic cable car. And there’s a dizzying number of cafes and restaurants, and theatre or live music to occupy your evenings.
Te Papa. Images via WellingtonNZ.com
DAY 1: Start at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
What weighs 495kg, has three hearts and eyes the size of soccer balls? Yes, it’s the colossal squid. The largest specimen ever captured is on display at Te Papa Tongarewa, in Wellington; it’s also the only one of its species on display in the world. It was caught in 2007 in the Ross Sea, dissected, frozen, and eventually thawed and exhibited in December 2008. You’ll find it in Mountains to Sea on Level 2 of the Cable Street building.
Currently showing at Te Papa is Gallipoli - the scale of our war, a unique exhibition created by Te Papa and Weta Workshops working together. The exhibition tells the story of the Gallipoli campaign in World War 1 through the experiences of eight ordinary New Zealanders, who are captured on a monumental scale, 2.4 times life size. Complete with projections, miniatures and interactive experiences, Gallipoli - the scale of our war runs from April 2015 - April 2019.
If you’re visiting Te Papa with children, put aside half a day; there’s more than enough to keep them enthralled for hours. The best way to approach the museum is via a walk around the waterfront past the Civic Centre. There’s a good café in the museum, and several opposite in Cable Street.
You’ll also want to put aside some time to explore Civic Square. It’s a lovely open public space, bounded on all sides by historic and interesting buildings. There’s the City Gallery, the Michael Fowler Centre, the central library and more. The City-to-Sea pedestrian bridge takes you down to the waterfront from the square.
Cable Car lookout to the city. Images via WellingtonNZ.com
Don’t miss a ride on the Cable Car
It’s a short walk from Civic Square to the Cable Car in Lambton Quay. The 628m trip takes you to the Lookout, Carter Observatory, Planetarium and Cable Car Museum, and from there you can explore the Botanic Garden, down winding paths through native bush to the Lady Norwood Rose Garden. From the rose gardens, you can exit to Tinakori Road (Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace is at number 25) and make your way down to Thorndon. If you like historic churches, visit Old St Paul’s on Mulgrave Street. Formerly the city’s Anglican Cathedral, it was built in 1866 from native timber, and is a lovely example of Gothic Revival architecture. Parliament Buildings are a short walk from St Paul’s and if the House is sitting you can take a seat in the public gallery and watch the politicians at work.
Cuba Street at night. Images via WellingtonNZ.com. Credit: jesssilk
Find a restaurant in Cuba Mall, Courtenay Place or beyond
And that’s probably enough for one day. Across the road from Parliament, you could drop into the Backbencher Pub and Cafe. The TV show Back Benches is filmed here and it’s decorated with latex puppets of politicians. If you don’t have a reservation for dinner, take a wander up Cuba Mall and Courtenay Place – you’re bound to find a restaurant you like.
Neat Places has a nifty overview of places to eat, drink, shop and go out in Wellington. If you’re looking for a top flight restaurant, Cuisine Good Food Guide gives great reviews to Charley Noble, Ortega Fish Shack, Jano Bistro, Logan Brown, Whitebait and WBC.
Oriental Bay Boatsheds. Images via WellingtonNZ.com
DAY 2: Get out and explore on foot
If it’s a fine day, take a stroll along Oriental Parade to Oriental Bay, then climb to the Mount Victoria Lookout (on weekdays, bus number 20 will take you there). It’s a demanding hike, but the views are well worth it.
Zealandia Reservoir Tower. Images via WellingtonNZ.com
A visit to Zealandia
Then it may be time to see what Wellington has to offer outside the central city. Eco sanctuary ZEALANDIA is a 10-minute car trip from the city; you can also take the bus or a free shuttle to get there. There are 225 hectares of forest here, enclosed by a predator-proof fence. You’ll see tuatara if you’re lucky, plus numerous other native species. If you take a ZEALANDIA By Night tour you could spot a kiwi – there are more than 100 within the perimeter of the fence.
Gandalf at the Weta Cave. Images via WellingtonNZ.com
“Meet” Gandalf at the Weta Cave
The number 2 bus – or a 20-minute car trip – will take you to the Weta Cave in Miramar, where you’ll find a museum with characters and props from Peter Jackson movies, plus regular screenings of a behind-the-scenes look at Weta. Entry to the Weta Cave is free but be prepared to spend up on collectibles – the One Ring may draw you to it, even if you resist the lure of Wingnut Wings and Tintin figurines. You might want to book a workshop tour - these often sell out.
If the weather’s good while you’re out this way, you could enjoy the lovely beach and cafe at Scorching Bay.
Making the most of the end of your stay…
Tootle back into town and you can hunt down the perfect coffee or beer. Wellington is dubbed our “Craft Beer Capital” so if you like things hoppy, head to one of the many bars serving locally made, interesting brews. The Malthouse, Hashigo Zake and The Hop Garden are all popular places to try craft beers. The Craft Beer Capital Beer Trail has a handy map so you can wend your way round the best craft beer brewers and bars.
Wellingtonians are equally passionate about coffee, and you’ll find lots of tempting cafes dotted around Cuba Street and further afield, each with their own distinct character. Old favourites, such as Deluxe, Midnight Espresso and Lido, are still going strong today. There are some great innovators too, like Peoples Coffee, who bring you socially conscious coffee. You’ll find fantastic, locally roasted coffee at Fidel’s, Prefab, The Flight Coffee Hangar, L’affare, Custom’s Brew Bar and Red Rabbit Coffee Co, in Leeds St.
If you’ve got one more night in town, head out to a theatre. There’s a wealth of music, dance and drama on offer, at the historic and beautiful St James Theatre, the traditional Opera House, or institutions such as the BATS and Circa Theatres. And after the curtain falls, the applause ends, you’ll probably be wishing you had another 48 hours. Encore, Wellington…