When travellers talk about the coolest cities, what first comes to mind? Berlin? Austin? Melbourne or maybe Bologna? When Lonely Planet dubs you the ‘coolest little capital in the world’ it’s a lot to live up to. Wellington is an energetic city (not yet a metropolis) and as I soon discover really does punch way above its weight in the cultural and culinary stakes.
Said to have more cafes, bars and restaurants per capita than New York, Wellington is a culinary hot spot with boutique brewers, fresh food markets, serious coffee and casual dining Kiwi style.
Size does matter and getting around this compact city on foot is easy. Wedged between a splendid harbour and steep forested hills, eye-catching Victorian timber homes are a bonus for walkers. You can climb Mt Victoria or catch the Wellington Cable Car for some magnificent views.
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is a great starting point for first-time visitors to NZ to get a handle on the country before the full Aotearoa experience. Immersive galleries tell the Maori story and some of the short-term exhibitions feature dazzling collaborations with Weta Studios.
Opened in 2014 to commemorate the WW1 centenary the extremely moving Gallipoli: The scale of our war immerses you in eight stories of the ANZAC Gallipoli Campaign with models 2.4 human size. Weta Workshop took 24,000 hours to create the models alone.
Bug Lab is a hands-on exhibition for the whole family. Billed as ‘designed by bugs for humans’ you can help defeat the giant hornet to save the beehive. Or watch as a giant iridescent jewel wasp skilfully prepares dinner for the kids by slowly turning a cockroach into a zombie. Again thanks to Weta Workshop the marvellous detail of the giant bugs is spellbinding.
From city-sponsored to extraordinary graffiti, there is a wealth of street art that gives Welly a resolute boldness. The waterfront political statement against shark finning on Cable Street sets a tone for laneways emblazoned with South Pacific symbolism and urban whimsy.
Look up at Wellington Airport for Gandalf, eagles, Gollum and more. Outside QT Museum Art Hotel on Cable Street, there’s Chris Parkin single-handedly pulling the hotel across the street.
Look down for bas-relief sewer/manhole cast iron covers throughout the city with Maori waves.
QT Museum Wellington
With all that walking you really need a little bit of luxury at the end of the day. The QT Museum Wellington location can’t be beaten: Harbourside across from Te Papa, the Sunday Harbourside Market and a stroll to Oriental Bay – Welly’s manmade CBD beach.
Formerly the Museum Art Hotel, in what could have been an epic folly the hotel was moved to its current location 180 metres down and across the road to make room for the Te Papa National Museum in 1993. The hotel’s owner, Chris Parkin oversaw the gargantuan effort without a single wall crack or broken bottle in the bar.
With undeniably one of the finest hotel art collections in the world, the offbeat and opulent hotel is now part of the equally unconventional QT Hotel’s portfolio. From check-in to checkout the QT ticks all the boxes for comfort with Malin & Goetz toiletries, black velour bathrobes and a minibar that threatens to cause all sorts of problems with next month’s credit card bill.
Onsite French, fine diner Hippopotamus will be joined by Hot Sauce – a Japanese/Korean restaurant bar later in 2017. Our full review of the ultra-glam Hippopotamus High Tea is coming soon in our look at the Wellington food scene.
Close enough to the harbour to hear the seagull’s early morning squabbles, the 4 star Park Hotel offers recently renovated, spacious and extra comfy rooms and suites in the centre of the CBD for a bargain price.
My Heron Superior King Studio combined a Super King bed, contemporary design furniture (sofa, armchair and desk) with a kitchenette with all the bells and whistles. Despite a few teething problems at check-in/check-out, the Park Hotel is a great base for exploring the city.
The best way to get your bearings in Welly is to take the cable car. Literally (yes, I do mean literally), a stone’s throw from the Lambton Quay entrance to the hotel, the cable car gives you an unrivalled view of the city with a bonus disco light display in the tunnels.
When you reach the top, you can take a stroll through the peaceful Botanic Garden or experience Space Place at Carter Observatory. Best of all, just stand back and breathe taking in that view and experience a few, peaceful minutes above the city in your own little bubble of solitude.
Weta Studios Tour
They don’t call it Wellywood for nothing. Thanks to Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor Wellington is now an international filmmaking hub and the associated industries that support the industry.
Long before Game of Thrones hit the tele, Wellington was the epicentre of Middle Earth. Wellingtonians regale anyone in earshot of how much Sir Peter’s last Christmas Party cost or how the city should be renamed Jacksonville because of the economic boost from Weta Studios and Weta Digital.
Richard Taylor and his team’s talent lay in making fantasy come alive through visual effects, models and prosthetics. The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, as well as King Kong and other Peter Jackson blockbusters, have won the Weta Studio’s team 5 Academy Awards.
The Weta Studio Tour is not merely for LOTR fan boys or sci-fi geeks; it is an up-close look at working artists creating movie magic daily. Thunderbirds are Go is another tour visiting the shooting stage, models and miniatures of the 21st-century version of the cult 60’s TV show.
The world’s southernmost capital is not merely a 24hr stopover to somewhere else. Take a 4-day weekend minimum to see the sites and get to the Wairarapa wine district aka Wellington Wine Country. This really is the little wine region that could.
Wellington is the best place to start a New Zealand adventure. The New Zealand capital glimmers on sunny days. No Instagram filter is required for the dazzling blue waters of Oriental Bay – a man-made beach in the CBD! The world’s southernmost capital is not merely a 24hr stopover to somewhere else.