Wellington: a beginner’s guide


Wellington: a beginner’s guide

Where to eat, drink, stay and explore in the New Zealand city we should all be visiting in 2018

Sarah Jappy

BY Sarah Jappy19 December 2017

Welcome to Wellington – hailed the ‘coolest little capital’ in the world by the folks at Lonely Planet. What this diminutive city on the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island lacks in size, it makes up for in attractions and distractions. In 2017, the Financial Times named it the best city in the world when it comes to quality of life. (A reputation for world-class food and drink may have helped.) It’s also a deliciously easy city to navigate: you can gad about from one side to the other within 20 minutes. Starting with the glittering waterfront and those majestic hills in the background, New Zealand’s famous great outdoors is never far away and Wellingon’s an excellent gateway to the rest of the country, too: South Island is just a 25-minute flight or short ferry ride away. Here’s our guide to what to get up to in this pocket rocket of a capital…


Admire rare native wildlife at Zealandia, a non-profit sanctuary that’s set within a peaceful reservoir, perfect for enviable #nofilter pics. Follow one of the walking trails through the bushland, keeping your eyes peeled for feathered and four-legged locals. You might spot scuttling tuatara prehistoric-flashback lizards and T2 and Puffin the takahē birds back from the brink of extinction and scrabbling around for food. Over on Wellington’s cinematically rugged south coast, incredible rock formations await: the region’s Red Rocks were formed around 200 million years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions. Between May and October, don’t miss the fur seal colony on the coast; you’ll also want to meet Manukura – a rare, snow-white kiwi – at the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre. Walkers will go weak at the knees (literally and metaphorically) for Wellington’s trails: start from the waterfront and stroll through Wellington Botanic Gardens or test your limit on the Skyline Walkway. You could even go tramping and spend a night under the stars…


Lord of the Rings movie tour, Wellington, New Zealand

Hobbiton movie set tour

Wellington is known as New Zealand’s cultural heart, so make the most of its horizon-broadening lures, which include more than 55 art galleries, the national orchestra, ballet and opera, plus Te Papa Tongarewa, the interactive national museum. Any movie buff worth their Butterkist will already know that Wellington has nurtured an Oscar-winning film industry; go behind the scenes with Weta Studio Tours. Fans of Sir Peter Jackson can sign up for a full-day Lord of the Rings tour, which includes a behind-the-scenes whizz around Weta’s workshop. When in Middle-earth and all…


There’s no chance you’ll go hungry: Wellington has more restaurants per capita than New York. Start at arterial Hannah’s Laneway, where plenty of the top spots are clustered: try imaginative sharing plates at Shepherd, thin-crust pizza at Pizza Pomodoro and sweet treats rustled up by Leeds Street Bakery. Other worthy contenders include Apache, which dishes up fresh, spicy modern Vietnamese (its bold Bang Bang Burger won the ‘Burger Wellington’ competition at Visa Wellington On a Plate 2016). For a midnight feast, hit up Tommy Millions, which serves nocturnal, New York-inspired pizza from a takeaway kiosk on Courtenay Place. For fishy business, book a table at Whitebait, whose succulent seafood comes with winsome views over the harbour. Want your surf with a side of turf? Ortega Fish Shack is a vibrant, lively eatery with ridiculously friendly service and succulent, hefty steak. Capitol sticks to classic Italian principles, serving fresh and unfussy food. Three words: molten chocolate pudding…

Ortega Fish Shack, Wellington, New Zealand

Ortega Fish Shack


The locals love their coffee here, as evidenced by the characterful cafés on almost every street corner. CNN recently named the city one of the top eight international coffee destinations; find out why by paying a trip to caffeinated faves such as People’s Coffee in Newtown, Memphis Belle Coffee House on Cuba Street and Flight Coffee Hangar, whose owner Nick Clarke came in at #5 in the 2013 World Barista Championships.


Thanks to its daring crafty breweries, wealth of lively beer bars and famous brew fest, Beervana, Wellington is known as New Zealand’s craft beer capital. Wine lovers are in luck, too: the city is at the centre of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, a self-drive route that lets you sip your way around New Zealand’s celebrated wineries. Hawke’s Bay is the land of punchy cabernet sauvignon and merlot; in Wairarapa, pinot noir is the headline act; Marlborough is the blockbuster sauvignon blanc country. There are 230 wineries on the touring route and more than 100 cellar doors, so take it slow and go thirsty.

QT Museum Wellington hotel, New Zealand

Lobby Bar at QT Wellington


Ever eaten French toast with candied bacon and banana, listened to Kiwi reggae while sipping a mint-muddled whisky smash, or seen a life-sized golden hippo on a roof? If you answered ‘no’ to any/all of the above, we’re prescribing a stay at Wellington wonder hotel: QT Wellington. Like its sister QT hotels in Australia, this quirky and creative spot is tastefully over-the-top, with a 1,500-piece-strong rotating art collection, and staff outfitted by an acclaimed Broadway costumier. Book with Mr & Mrs Smith and you’ll get welcome drinks for two at the Lobby Bar, and free late check-out until 12 noon.