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Wellington: here’s why you should visit

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Why Wellington? With its strong arty vibe and world-famous cafe culture, Wellington, the parliamentary home to New Zealand’s golden gal Jacinda Ardern is an enigma of a city with a huge, quirky heart. The country’s capital is offbeat, unconventional and sophisticated and wears this badge proudly. Its lengthy trophy list includes ‘the capital of cool’; ‘the creative capital'; ‘the coffee capital’; and, due to its notorious gales, ‘the windiest city’.

Unlike other sprawling cities, this perfectly compact city packs a punch with a hefty dose of culture. Whether it’s shopping, bars, restaurants, cafes or clubs, you just know where to go in Wellington and it’s not very far from anywhere. The city’s famous catchphrase is true – ‘you can’t beat Wellington on a good day'.

Where to eat

Boulcott Street Bistro

Nestled unexpectedly between towering office blocks in the heart of the CBD, a sweet and teeny heritage cottage is home to Boulcott Street Bistro. Year after year (since 1991), this grande dame of the Wellington food scene has been delivering award-winning classic fare with an innovative twist.

Hiakai

This multi-award-winning restaurant celebrates Maori cuisine with inventive, boundary-pushing menus created by Chef Monique Fiso. Hiakai was recently named in Forbes’ ‘The 10 Coolest Places to Eat in 2020’ as "one of the leading culinary lights in the southern hemisphere".

Logan Brown

Logan Brown is the premier destination for elegant and innovative fine dining but it’s equally ideal for a casual get-together, where you can enjoy a gold-star experience without the price tag to match. Logan Brown wears many hats, including those received from the Cuisine Good Food Awards.

Shepherd

Shepherd joyfully punches out a dining and foodie experience that delivers quality and comfort. With an ethos of sustainability, this restaurant proudly sources local produce and ingredients. Passion filters through every element of this stalwart of Wellington’s dining scene, from the thoughtful and vibrant menu to the knowledge and ease of its service team.

Where to shop

Cuba Street

This bohemian paradise is for those seeking the eccentric, the eclectic and the unexpected. The gritty aesthetic and lashings of cool make this the go-to for those wanting to bypass the bright lights of traditional shopping malls. Don’t miss the neighbouring Hannahs Laneway – a tiny hidden secret and foodie heaven. Now you really are in the inner sanctum of a Wellington local.

The Golden Mile

The ‘Golden Mile’ is Wellington’s main shopping district covering Willis Street and Lambton Quay, bursting with malls, department stores and arcades. Stop by the historic Old Bank Arcade, a building as beautiful as the shops that it houses.

Where to stay

QT Wellington

Recognised in Condé Nast Traveler’s ‘Top 10 Hotels in Australia and New Zealand: Readers’ Choice Awards 2019’, QT Wellington has become a firm favourite among visitors. With its unpredictable aesthetic, explosions of colour and chic yet fun style, it’s comfortably at home in this fabulously unique city.

Bolton Hotel

Wellington’s only five-star boutique hotel, Bolton offers elegant and contemporary accommodation in the heart of the CBD. Rich in luxe sophistication, this independent hotel has stamped its mark firmly by doing things a little differently.

See and drink

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The Wellington Cable Car

Have you even been to Wellington if you haven’t gone on the Cable Car? For a quick trip between the city centre and Wellington Botanic Garden, make it a historical ride on New Zealand’s only operating funicular railway. Once you reach the top, there’s a free cable car museum to peruse, lookout areas with viewing platforms, and a nearby cafe. Don’t forget to take a cable car selfie.

Te Papa

A Wellington must-do is the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the country’s national museum. Proudly showcasing the best of New Zealand’s history, science and culture, this is a worthwhile place to spend a few hours. Where else should you experience the ShakerMod earthquake simulation than in this city known for its occasional ground shaking?

Noble Rot Wine Bar

Cosy and inviting, this chic wine bar is a comfortable combination of boutique wine bar and five-star dining. With knowledgeable, friendly staff and arguably the best wine list in New Zealand, Noble Rot is on high rotation with its loyal customers. There are over 800 wines available – 100 of them by glass – so you’d be forgiven for thinking this bar is just about the wine. But be prepared for culinary nirvana with an innovative, seasonal menu, carefully curated by Head Chef Shantanu Saraf to match the wines.

Garage Project

Listed among the top 100 brewers of the world, independent brewery Garage Project is proudly part of New Zealand’s ever-growing craft beer scene. Take home iconic brews by the flagon from the cellar door or head across the road to the Garage Project Tap Room, where you can be brave with sampling more adventurous blends across 18 taps that change daily. Fitting snuggly at home in the bohemian wonderland of Aro Valley, this is where you come for the beer and stay for the tasty bar snacks – they’re a worthy sidekick.

In the know

Josh Pointon, Co-Owner and Sommelier, Noble Rot Wine Bar

A Wellington local and hospitality veteran with 20 years in the industry, Josh loves wine and sharing his knowledge and passion in a relaxed and casual way.

What do you like to do on your days off?

Days off? They’re rare – but my perfect day would be hitting one of Welly’s awesome trails on my mountain bike followed by a beach walk with my little English Staffy. Later I’ll relax with Decanter, my favourite wine magazine, before cooking a meal at home with a nice bottle of wine and my family.

What is Wellington’s best-kept secret?

Wellington is compact but I think the many different walks and coastlines are great to visit. The Ataturk Memorial walk on the Eastern Suburbs Peninsula is worth checking out with plenty of old war bunkers and history to learn about while getting some exercise.

Your favourite foodie spots?

For a quick, cheap lunch I go to Mekong Cafe on Vivian Street for their excellent Pho. For a suburban cafe, you can’t go past Cafe Polo in Miramar (disclaimer: I used to own this but it’s still awesome!) and for a fun, vibrant atmosphere with great service, don’t miss Ortega Fish Shack.

Day tripping from Wellington?

Some of New Zealand’s best vineyards are only one hour away in Martinborough and the Wairarapa. The vineyards are small, mostly family owned and run with true passion. Bike around the vineyards and pop into the great craft stores and cafes of the village. The historic town of Greytown nearby is also worth a look.

Don’t leave Wellington without seeing or doing what?

Wander through Te Papa and along the waterfront; head up Mount Victoria for the best view of Wellington; and go to a gig at the best live venue in the city, San Fran.

Ingmar Becker, Chief Concierge, Bolton Hotel

As Chief Concierge of Bolton Hotel, multi-award-winning Ingmar is as passionate about showcasing Wellington and promoting New Zealand as he is in exceeding guest expectations. Also Treasurer of the prestigious concierge society Les Clefs d’Or New Zealand, Ingmar is known for making the impossible possible.

What do you like to do on your days off?

I’d start with a delicious breakfast at Artisan at Bolton Hotel – the waffles are to die for. I’ve recently taken up golf, so I’d play a round at one of Wellington’s great courses. Then it would be a visit with the family to Te Papa or Wellington Museum followed by a stroll along Oriental Parade with an ice cream or giant freak-shake from The Enormous Crocodile & Shake.

What is Wellington’s best-kept secret?

You can go hunting for glow-worms in the Botanic Gardens by following the creek that flows into the duck pond. Check out the Old Government Buildings – the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere. Or visit the Old Bank Arcade where the remains of a three-masted sailing vessel, Plimmers Ark is showcased under the floor.

Your favourite foodie spots?

That’s easy; Artisan at Bolton Hotel, Atlas and Ortega Fish Shack.

Day tripping from Wellington?

Head over to the Wairarapa where you can visit Martinborough for wine and Greytown for charm. While you’re there, stop at Castlepoint and Cape Palliser, home to a seal colony and a picture-perfect lighthouse. Don’t forget to take in the Putangirua Pinnacles where The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King was filmed.

Don’t leave Wellington without seeing or doing what?

Take a trip in the Cable Car and visit the Botanic Gardens, Te Papa, Parliament Buildings, Zealandia and Mount Victoria Lookout. Don’t miss Cuba Street for quirky shopping and a stroll along Wellington Waterfront.

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