“You can’t beat Wellington on a good day”, say those proud locals of New Zealand’s capital. Fortunately, they are absolutely right as the city is situated on the harbor at the very edge of the North Island, with hills surrounding the city that offer stunning views and hiking trails; unfortunately, Wellington sees only about a handful of “good days” throughout the year. The other 300 will blow you away, literally. Windy Wellington is a rightful nickname and one solid piece of advice I can give to travelers is, ladies: leave the short skirts at home or you will be giving Marilyn Monroe a run for her money, and gentlemen: enjoy the views (from Mount Victoria, of course).
Things to do
Despite the more than slight breeze, Wellington is incredibly known for its coffee and craft beer culture, having more cafés per square mile than New York City and three local breweries in town, not to mention the sales of craft beer that are native to the rest of New Zealand cities. By morning you can enjoy your trim flat white at Memphis Belle, a post-modern hipster café where the cool music invites you in from a block away, and by night you can sip from your pint of Parrotdog Bitterbitch IPA on the grass outside of Rogue and Vagabond bar while The Dancing and Drinking Society play some catchy jazz music to set the scene. If you’re not so much into the drinking, have no fear, because you can spend morning, night, and every hour in between taking in all five stories of the Te Papa Museum. The best part? It’s unlimited free entry, so go ahead and soak up all that New Zealand culture every day if you’re keen! In addition to Te Papa, the City Gallery is also free (!) and extends their hours every Thursday nights for exhibition openings where you can enjoy your art with a glass of wine in your hand. Countless independent galleries also scatter the city and contribute to its eclectic and artsy culture, and you won’t walk far down Courtney Place without spotting a few. All you outdoor junkies will not go bored either! With Mount Victoria right on the edge of the city, hiking and mountain biking trails are just a hop, skip, and a jump away from your hotel. The top of Mt. V offers incredible 360 degree views of Wellington, and you can even visit a Lord of the Rings filming spot (Hobbit’s Hideaway) on your way there. On the opposite side of the city are the Botanical Gardens, which are accessible by cable car or by foot if you’re trying to work off your coffees and beers. The gardens are a highlight of the city and offer tranquility and peaceful surroundings in contrast to the hustle and bustle of Windy Welly. The summertime is also perfect weather for kayaking in the harbor or lying on the beach at Oriental Bay with a picture-perfect backdrop of the coastline.
Now, if you’ve done your research on Wellington, you won’t have gotten far without hearing about the vibrant and happening Cuba Street. Cuba Street is the heart of town where you will find festivals like Cuba Dupa, street performers, bar after bar, café after café, and the Night Market every Friday evening where food vendors pitch their tents to cure the hunger of Kiwis and travelers after a long hard week at work (or at Te Papa). You will find everything from pizza to dumplings to burritos to waffles to fried bananas, and you will only spend about 5 to 13 NZ dollars per meal. Getting hungry? Make sure to also check out Ekim Burger on the corner of Cuba Street and Abel Smith Street, where you can choose from about fifteen different burgers and burritos for no more than $13 and enjoy the retro islander outdoor seating. Cuba Street is also home to some of Wellington’s best nightlife. Clubs, laid-back bars, and live music venues invite you in to experience the eclectic mix of cultures and personalities of this city. One of my favorite bars in Wellington is Havana Bar. Here you will find Cuba-inspired décor with friendly staff and kick-ass cocktails. Sometimes you’ll even see a bit of swing dancing!
Travel and accommodation
Okay, so I know you’re hooked. Now the only question is, how do you get there and where should you stay? Luckily, Wellington is accessible by air, car, boat, and bus. If you’re coming up from the South Island, hop on one of the Cook Straight ferries (Inter Islander or Blue Bridge) from Picton that takes you right into the city. If you’re traveling from the North without a car, Naked Bus and InterCity Bus are New Zealand’s top national bus companies with cheap fares from $1 a ticket, just be sure to book in advance. Whether you’re on a budget or splurging a little extra, there’s an option for everyone, especially when it comes to accommodation. There are over ten hostels in central Wellington alone, and numerous hotels ranging from 3 to 5 stars. YHA, Base Backpackers, and the Cambridge Hotel are some of the most centrally located and average about $29-$33 per night in a dorm room, while the Amora Hotel is more up-scale, also centrally located, and averages about $170 per night. Another option for accommodation is Airbnb.com, which allows you to rent a room from a local’s home. The biggest perk of Airbnb is that you get a home away from home setting as opposed to staying in a hostel or hotel room and dealing with unwanted noise and cleanliness (or lack thereof). The downside is it could potentially be a bit pricier and out of the way.
Perhaps the best thing about Wellington, as I hope you have gathered thus far, is that there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you’re the foodie, the artist, the outdoorsman, or the night owl, this city has much to offer your New Zealand vacation! So don’t let the grumpy negative nancys in the backseat get you down, come and enjoy the nation’s capital. If you’re really lucky, it may just be a good day.