In a city where a weekday lunch break can feel like a holiday, a Wellington trip has lots of potential. Along the waterfront, you’ll see groups of people “walking and talking”, and athletic types whizz past in flashes of bright Lycra. Others enjoy the café culture, catching up with friends over a delicious meal or a cappuccino.
You’ll find them sifting through fashion boutiques for designer threads, or wandering through City Gallery in Civic Square. Many head for harbourside parks to watch the world go by, or simply get lost in a good book. So, book a few nights at the beautiful InterContinental Wellington hotel and make this weekend a holiday.
A little slice of paradise
Wellington is small, in both size and population. The shopping, waterfront and arts precincts in the compact city centre are all within easy walking distance of each other, and the place retains a lovely village feel due to protective barriers against urban sprawl.
Along with the mighty Pacific Ocean on one side, steep hills with colourful wooden houses clinging to their sides define and separate the inner city suburbs. The city is encircled by a nature reserve known as the Town Belt, so you’re never far from some greenery. The Mount Victoria loop walk is just one of many ways to escape into nature. You can walk, drive or take a mountain bike up to the lookout for great views over the city.
Getting around: Do it like a local
Locals in the know navigate their way downtown using walkways, staircases and the odd slippery track through the bush. But you don’t have to scramble around the hills like a mountain goat to get around, because getting from A to B is a breeze. The entire downtown area is flat, and designed for walking. Cuba Mall is the perfect place to people-watch and soak up the bohemian vibe.
Driving in Wellington takes some skill, as the city’s trolley buses dominate the roads. They’re city icons, and part of a fleet of hundreds that roar around the streets every day. A bus ride to Wellington Zoo in Newtown or Zealandia nature reserve in Karori will give you great views of the city. So does the Wellington Cable Car, which takes you on a scenic ride up, overlooking the city, to the fabulous Botanic Garden.
Keeping it casual and staying grounded
To say that ‘Windy Wellington’ is famous for its breeze is a bit of an understatement. It originates in the freezing Southern Ocean, so having several layers of clothing is the best way to dress for comfort all year round. During summer the layers come off and the sunscreen goes on, but if the winter weather makes you want to hide indoors, you can enjoy some daytime star-gazing at the Carter Observatory, or check out what’s on at Circa Theatre.
The weather contributes to the locals’ down-to-earth attitude. With hairstyles and composure in tatters, they get regular reminders not to take themselves too seriously, as the bins full of broken umbrellas at the end of a blustery winter’s day testify. If you don’t feel like getting blown about but still want to do something active, you could try a bit of indoor rock climbing at Fergs Kayaks, down by the waterfront.
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum
New Zealand’s world-renowned national museum is a local treasure.
In the entrance, a stone ball slowly revolves in water. Most people stop for a moment to feel the 1.4 billion year-old rock glide smoothly past their wet palms. Strangers gleam at one another as they share the tactile experiences at the museum that lives up to its name: Our Place.
With a dynamic calendar of short-term exhibitions, there’s always something new to see. You can experience the creation of Te Ao Maori (the Maori World), explore the cultural history of the Pacific region and wander through 20th-century New Zealand. But this is no stuffy old institution. Many exhibits feature sound and light, and even movement. You can discover the Awesome Forces that have shaped our planet, and fun interactive activities let kids (and curious adults) learn about New Zealand’s native flora and fauna.
Dining out like a local
Said to have more bars and restaurants per capita than the Big Apple, Wellington is a food lover’s dream. Locals start the day with a coffee, a ritual that’s taken very seriously. Whether it’s fine dining at Logan Brown, Asian Fusion at Chow, or cheap eats at the night market in Cuba Mall, there’s an eatery for every mood. With such an array of choices, and a culture of food appreciation, the bar is set high. This makes any accidental eating adventure in Wellington a thoroughly worthwhile pursuit.
Whether you spent Saturday night at the theatre, in a dimly lit bar in Cuba Street, or on the dance floors of Courtenay Place, there’s only one place to be on a Sunday morning. Best preceded by a dip in the ocean, and a hot shower if you can get it, it’s sitting in a seaside café enjoying a leisurely brunch and pondering what you feel like doing for the afternoon.
Check out the city’s own website, Absolutely Positively Wellington to help you create your own vacation to Wellington.