The “coolest little capital in the world” is only a short airplane ride away. It’s a city with more cafes and bars per capita than New York; Lonely Planet says its “cool with a capital C” and after the blockbuster successes with Lord of the Rings, everyone knows that Wellywood has the goods. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Wellington.
4pm: Find your Mojo
Start off with a leg stretch down at the waterfront and a coffee at Mojo Coffee Central (Shed 13, 37 Customhouse Quay). Wellington’s strong coffee culture makes it impossible to get a bad cup of coffee anywhere. Wellingtonians are fussy about the brand of coffee they drink and Mojo is one of the well-known ones. You can take a peek at the roasting process inside the beautifully restored Mojo building, which was once a working waterfront factory.
5.30pm: A meal that won’t break the bank
Dining in the chandeliered former 1920s banking chamber of Logan Brown Restaurant & Bar (192 Cuba Street) will most likely impress. What’s more, you can have a three-course bistro meal (N$39.50) and soak up the grand atmosphere without breaking the bank, as long as you vacate the table before 7.30pm. Make sure to take a peek at the salt-water fish tank that’s built into the bar top.
7.30pm: Cocktails and cuckoos
As it’s a compact city to walk around – downtown Wellington is about two kilometres from one end to the other – it’s the perfect destination to go on a bar crawl. Begin with a Hemmingway Daiquiri or Backyard Bellini at the Matterhorn (106 Cuba Street). Then head to Queens Wharf where the quirky Cuckoo Cocktail Emporium (33 Queens Wharf) not only sells drinks but also has their entire collection of eclectic furniture for sale.
Foxglove (33 Queens Wharf) is a sleek drinking hole with a number of small lounges ranging from one that dazzle with 1940’s vintage glamour to the comfy Sitting Room, which has an open fire place, overstuffed couches and ottomans.
10am: Head for the hills
After a big night, you’ve deserved a sleep in. After a late breakfast, take the Wellington Cable Car (Cable Car Lane, 280 Lambton Quay) from Lambton Quay to the Wellington Botanic Gardens for views of the capital. The Wellington Botanic Garden has over 26 hectares of landscaping with exotic forests, native bush, colourful floral displays and gorgeous specialist gardens.
12 noon: Cuba Street
There are plenty of trendy shops on and around Cuba Street. But first, pop into Fidel’s (234 Cuba Street) for lunch and a Havana coffee fresh from the roastery around the corner. There’s a sunny outdoor courtyard and a couple of atmospheric indoor spaces. Across the street, Madame Fancy Pants (217 Cuba Street) is the place for handmade jewellery designed by Claire Terry.
2.30pm: Cultural contact
New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa (55 Cable Street; open 10am to 6pm), is housed in a contemporary waterfront building. As museums go, it’s one of the best I’ve seen and has interactive galleries on the subjects of art, history, the Pacific, Māori culture and the natural environment.
6pm: Head back to the InterContinental Wellington (2 Grey Street) to freshen up for dinner. The hotel is located in a central spot within walking distance of just about everywhere including shops, museums, galleries, the cafés and bars.
7.30pm: Dinner at Duke’s
Duke Carvell’s Swan Lane Emporium (6 Swan Lane) is a cosy and moody hotspot that offers small plates and large plates from midday to midnight. It’s a favourite haunt for the movie crowd who fly into Wellington to work on cutting-edge movies (the current one is The Hobbit). You never know who might be dining at the next table.
10.30pm: Scholarly pursuits
After dinner, there’s time for a night cap at The Library (Level 1, 53 Courtenay Place), which combines lounge bar, reading room, live music venue and dessert venue in one.
9am: Panoramic views
Although downtown Wellington is best explored on foot, if you’re keen to explore the surrounding areas you’ll need to hire a car. The drive to the top of Mount Victoria follows a winding road that leads to panoramic views of the city and the harbour. But a pleasurable way to discover Wellington like a local is to get lots on the snaking back roads in Roseneath, where there are beautiful views at every turn.
11am: Hooray for Wellywood
Most people realise that the “Lord of the Rings” movies were filmed on location in some of the most stunning landscapes of New Zealand. What is not so well known is that much of the production was done at the Weta Workshop in the suburb of Miramar in Wellington. The five-time Oscar-winning visual effects studio, was responsible for the stunning effects in “Lord of the Rings”, “Avatar,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. The Weta Cave (Corner of Weka Street and Park Road, Miramar) screens a short film that will take you behind the scenes and movie buffs can buy books, magazines posters, figurines and limited-edition sculptures hand-crafted by the artists at Weta.
12.30: Lunch at the surf club
On the way to the airport, grab a quick bite at the funky retro Maranui Café in the Maranui Surf Life Saving Club (The Parade, Lyall Bay). The salads are Mediterranean-licking good and the date scones are to die for.