I expected to arrive to cold, gale force winds coming off the sea and pelting rain when I arrived at the Wellington Railway Station, but outside told a different story. Outside was cool and fresh, not even windy. I spotted my friend, Richelle, inside the train station, searching for me. I was in Wellington to visit her and experience New Zealand’s capital for myself. Richelle is an American expat living here with her Japanese husband. They plan to open Neko Ngeru Cat Adoption Cafe in November in Petone, so be sure to check that out when you go. The three of us worked together in Shanghai, and I was excited to visit them and understand why, out of all the places they could’ve settled, they chose Wellington, at the southern tip of the North Island.
Like island life anywhere, it isn’t cheap to live here, but after four days of walking, eating, drinking, and visiting, I get it. Not only do I understand why natives choose to stay in New Zealand, I get why so many expats choose to live here even though it’s expensive. Wellington was the third place I visited in New Zealand, after two days in Auckland and two days in Waitomo to see the glowworms. This little capital city is my favorite.
So, you don’t want to live here where it’s expensive and wet much of the time? That’s fine, neither do I. But Wellington is definitely a place that should be on every traveler’s list when they visit New Zealand, and here are ten reasons why.
Ten Reasons to Visit Wellington
#1 Wellington is totally walkable. This city by the bay isn’t as big as it might seem on a map, and it has a great public transport system, but I discovered I didn’t really need to use it. I took the train from where my friend’s live, near Petone, and from the Wellington Central Railway Station, I walked everywhere! The most famous street in town is Cuba Street, where you’ll find amazing cafes and food, craft beers, retro shopping (vinyl, people, vinyl!), and so many venues to keep you busy all day. Cuba Street is just a 20 minute walk from the train station, and there’s lots to see in between. You can also walk along the wharf.
#2 Coffee is good and it’s everywhere! Much like people from its much larger neighbor, New Zealanders love their coffee and don’t settle for sludge. You’ll never have to look far for a good cuppa joe and a lively one-of-a-kind café to sip away an afternoon. I recommend Fidel’s on Cuba Street (You know who I’m talkin’ about, right?) if you want a generous flat white and some gorgeous food or sweets. The atmosphere here is bang on. Lamason Brew Bar, located on the bottom level of a parking structure on Lombard and Bond Street, is also a great way to try coffee brewed in so many different ways it seems like a science experiment. Great atmosphere here too. Their supplier is Peoples Coffee.
#3 International cuisine is on every street. Feel like some spicy Indian or Thai curry? No problem! They’e right across the street from each other, so close you can have both. Love Mexican food? Me too! Check out QBT (Quesadilla, Burrito, Taco) on the wharf behind Wagamama. It’s a little window where you’ll find authentic Mexican food made by a real Mexican, who might ask you if you want it hot like you. Savor your tacos on the benches nearby. Take your time because you’ll be sad when they’re gone.
#4 Craft beer is here! It has arrived in style on the Wellington scene, and in nearby Petone, and these Kiwis know what they’re doing when it comes to brewing beer. Black Dog Brewing Company on Blair Street has a great selection, and if you like a beer that breaks with tradition, try Garage Project on Aro Street, where you can taste everything on tap before deciding. Then head over to Baylands in Petone, just off the main street on Victoria Street in Lower Hutt. Their beers were my favorite, especially the Skullcrusher. Sprig and Fern in Petone serves up an amazing chocolate chili stout, and I don’t drink stout. I drank this and wanted more. The Third Eye on Arthur Street, pictured below, has a great selection of beers and is a just a cool place to hang out. My favorite here was a coffee lager.
#5 Wellington is a great place to walk around. Literally. When the weather’s nice, and sometimes when it isn’t, the trails around Wellington are busy with walkers and trekkers out to get some exercise and fresh air, although there’s nothing polluted about this city. On the trails around Wellington, there’s amazing plant and wildlife to experience, and it’s a birder’s paradise. If you like to explore city streets, there is no shortage of street art in Wellington, especially on Opera Alley. I took so many pictures of street art, I might just have to do a separate post about it.
#6 The many museums of Wellington are just waiting to be explored, and many of them are free, including the one you shouldn’t miss, Te Papa. Te Papa is near the wharf. It has an impressive exhibit about the battles of Gallipoli during WW1 that will help you understand why ANZAC Day is so special to everyone in New Zealand and Australia. This exhibit features larger-than-life figures of soldiers that look so real, you can see the sweat on their faces and the hairs standing up on their arms. There are exhibits that showcase the Maori culture and history, and lots of interactive exhibits for the kiddos. Te Papa is free, so consider leaving a donation. You might need more than one trip to this museum to fully experience it.
#7 Chocolate shops aren’t on every corner like cafes, but there are a lot of them and they create beautiful bonbons with unique flavors. My favorite are the shops that showcase bean-to-bar chocolates made in New Zealand, like The Chocolate Story on Jackson Str in Petone, which sells Hogarth Chocolates award-winning creations from Nelson, NZ, as well as some their own yummy bonbons and bars from other chocolatiers. I also took a tour of Wellington Chocolate Factory. They offer one-hour tours every Saturday at 11:00 for 45 NZD (I think). WCF creates bean-to-bar chocolates with some unique flavors and they pride themselves on an eco-friendly, fair trade, sustainable approach to chocolate, while still keeping it yummy.
#8 Wellington’s Parliament and Supreme Court buildings are open to the public! How many countries can boast about that? One hour tours of Parliament are offered M-F from 10 – 4 on the hour (no photos allowed). The tour not only shows off the beautiful buildings utilized by Parliament, but also offers a tutorial on the legislative process in New Zealand, which is also open to anyone. Anyone in the world, that is! Anyone in the world can contribute suggestions to their lawmakers for consideration. People can also watch the Supreme Court in session. If they’re not in session, they can still visit the building and see where they hold court.
#9 Wine tasting in Martinborough, which is just outside Wellington, is an experience not to be missed. I didn’t get to do this while I was here, but I did get to taste some Martinborough wines. I’m glad I did. They were excellent. People can rent bikes and tour the wineries in Martinborough at their leisure. People can also designate a driver to drive through the beautiful wine region, covering more ground and drinking more wine.
#10 There’s always something going on in Wellington, whether it’s an international film festival, an underground craft market by the wharf, or farmer’s markets scatter throughout the city. The wharf is busy with walkers and runners, dog-walkers, and people out enjoying the food and drink available. It’s small enough to feel like a community, but large enough to provide entertainment and other amenities that make living or visiting here very desirable. Be sure to check out Wellington when you visit New Zealand. It’s one country’s capital you won’t want to miss.