Wellington: Touring The World's Coolest Little Capital On A Budget
January 1, 1970
I first made my acquaintance with Wellington at 15 years old, when the plane I was travelling on abruptly nosedived out of the sky.
Beyond terrified, I gripped the arms of my seat, suppressing the urge to puke. The plane hurtled downwards. People gasped.
Dark clouds were flashing past the window at dizzying speeds.
I whimpered inaudibly. The plane seemed to rattle in response.
The lady sitting next to me patted my hand cheerfully. “Welcome to windy Wellington, love.”
That day, as my flight came bumpily into a blessed landing, the average wind speed was 140kmh.
This is considered average flying weather for the skilled pilots working in the world’s windiest city (beating Chicago for the official title).
However, I rapidly learned to love the place I queasily landed in four years ago. If you’re headed to Wellington, you’ve made a great choice.
Grit your teeth through the plane ride, and be prepared to have your hair messed up as soon as you leave the tarmac – the wind ruffles even the sternest of ‘dos – but congratulate yourself on choosing to visit the proud “Coolest Little Capital”.
Fantastic Coffee and Where to Find It
Right. First things first. You need a decent coffee. Luckily, Wellington is bursting with places to grab a brew. In fact, it has more coffee shops per capita than the cultural hub of New York.
Here are a couple of local and much-loved places to get a brilliant-tasting pick-me-up:
- Superfino – An absolute favorite of mine for the quality of their coffee alone. There are queues out the door of this Lambton Quay joint most lunchtimes. It’s sadly lacking in seats, however, so make your way out and across to the glorious waterfront to enjoy your brew with a view. On a sunny day, it’s hard to beat.
- Midnight Espresso – Don’t be fooled by this place’s grungy, tattoo parlor-esque exterior. The healthy dotting of hipsters reveals it as one of the best places you can go for a flat white in Wellington. Its popularity may be due to its generous quantities of food, as well as the fact it stays open till 3am (hence the name). If hunger strikes, their nachos ($11 NZD) surely will not disappoint.
- Fidel’s – It’s difficult to miss Fidel’s strolling up Cuba Street, particularly if you happen to be looking for a roof painted in the colors of the Cuban flag. The place is always jumping, with lively music, friendly staff, and brilliant Cold War-era décor. The coffee is outstanding. For the non-caffeinated, the Snickers milkshake is an absolute must.
- Scorch-O-Rama: A local treasure, Scorch-O-Rama offers its patrons brightly colored seats overlooking its namesake, Scorching Bay. Delicious coffee, quick service, and the chance to spot a celebrity amongst its native crowd. Its food menu is affectionately labeled “Sit Down And Stuff Your Face”. What more could you want?
Honorable mentions: Ti Kouka (enormous salted caramel cookies), and Flight Coffee (for espresso professionals).
What to Do in the CBD
With a coffee in hand, you’re now ready to start exploring wild Wellington – and there’s a lot to see.
On sunny days, the waterfront boasts live music, weekend markets, and ice cream vendors as excellent as Kaffe Eis. With a bit of navigational know-how, and perhaps a hire car, one can scramble up from there to the Mount Victoria Lookout to appreciate a stunning panorama of the city.
On rainier days (which are much more likely!), there’s no limit on things to do. If you’re travelling with kids, be sure to check out Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. General admission is free, and the exhibitions are fantastic – ranging from a larger-than-life WW1 exhibit, to earthquake simulators.
If you’re a film buff, Miramar’s Weta Cave is sure to attract you. Many brilliant movies have been filmed in New Zealand – The Lord Of The Rings most notably among them – and the Weta Cave is a testament to the creativity involved in making them. You can explore props, masks, and costumes for free, or take a behind-the-scenes tour for as little as $25NZD.
Honorable mentions: The Embassy Theatre (grand old building reshaped into a bar and cinema), and the variety of vintage stores on Cuba Street (home of all things hipster).
Wellington On A Plate
In many big cities, it’s difficult to find decent places to eat in the CBD without having to take out a second mortgage. Luckily, part of Wellington’s charm is its relative inexpensive nature.
In terms of dinner, three key places really spring to mind:
- Ekim Burgers: Ekim Burgers is something of a local secret, hidden away in a caravan on Cuba Street. Their burgers are consistently delicious, and served with local craft beer, such as Hard Eboys. It’s not at all uncommon to see suited businessmen sharing a few kumara fries in Ekim’s graffiti-strewn yard. Great place to spend a sunny evening.
- Aunty Mena’s: Wellington is famous for its ability to cater to vegan and vegetarian needs, and Aunty Mena’s is undeniably the best of these restaurants that do so. Drab exterior, but the food is delicious, healthy, interesting – and very reasonably priced.
- Sweet Mother’s Kitchen: Situated at the end of an infamous drag of bars and clubs called Courtenay Place, Sweet Mother’s have been serving up Mexican-American food since 2006. It has a fantastic atmosphere for a constantly busy restaurant, with cheerful music and eclectic staff. This makes it the ideal place to grab a bite to eat before heading out to explore Wellington’s nightlife. Note: try the key lime pie.
Honorable mentions: Joe’s Garage (great burgers and steaks), and the Mt Vic Chippery (takeaway fast food with the best fish in town).
Wellington has an active nightlife, with Friday and Saturday nights seeing the streets fill up with partying students. On Wednesdays, be sure to check out The Library, for 2 for 1 cocktails served in a dimly lit bar with bookshelves for walls. Otherwise, pubs such as The General Practitioner, or lounges such as The Motel Bar, are fantastic places to grab a few drinks.
All in all, for a capital city, Wellington’s a brilliant one. From the lively array of places to eat, to the vibrant culture, it’s easy to see why my hometown is dubbed a smaller – and, in my opinion, better – version of Melbourne.