12 Reasons to Visit Wellington, New Zealand’s Cool Capital
It’s been dubbed as the ‘coolest little capital in the world’ by Lonely Planet and Wellington is the city that doesn’t disappoint. It’s known to many as the capital of New Zealand but to those who are lucky enough to call this great place home, it’s a compact and creative city that is filled with culture! If you need any more reasons to visit Wellington, stand by as I share with you why this city should be the next place you visit.
It’s the City that Meets Nature
New Zealand is well known for its natural beauty and Wellington is no different, even though it is home to nearly 500,000 people. The city is rich with native wildlife, beautiful landscapes and even has a stunning coastline. There are many parks, gardens, and reserves in the area which means it doesn’t take long to get away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. One of the most amazing sights in Wellington are the hills that surround the central city. The hills are visible from wherever you are in the area and they create an amazing backdrop for the skyscrapers of the CBD, this really is the epitome of a city that meets nature.
It’s the Film Capital of New Zealand
Wikimedia Commons by: Gordon Haws
Sometimes referred to as ‘Wellywood’, if you’re a lover of film and cinema you have to visit Wellington. Home to quality film studios and unique cinemas, Wellington’s film empire has been making a name for itself.
To start off, Weta Workshop should be at the top of your list of places to visit. Weta Workshop has helped some of the world’s most prestigious directors bring their visions to life. They are well known for their contributions to films such as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Avatar and King Kong, to name a few. The best thing about Weta Workshop is anyone can go for a tour to see exactly what they do. They have a number of daily tours to choose from which are extremely popular among visitors.
There are also many cinemas worth checking out, especially if it’s raining outside. The Light House Cinema, Embassy Cinema and Penthouse Cinema are all great choices, but for a truly unique experience you’ll want to go to the Roxy Cinema. It has a beautiful art deco interior and is owned by some of Wellington’s most prestigious residents including an Oscar winning editor.
The Coffee Culture
Unsplash by: Joey Huang
Wellington’s coffee and café culture is a huge part of its identity, which partly explains how this small city came to have over 300 cafés. The demand for good coffee is high in this city so there is always room for more cafés, there are more and more opening each year. There are a number of coffee roasteries in the city, some of the most well known are Coffee Supreme, Havana, Peoples, Rich and L’affare. This city loves supporting its local businesses so you can expect to find coffee sourced and roasted by a business within Wellington.
The coffee in Wellington is great but so are the cafés, expect to find top-notch food to accompany your flat white. With so many cafés, competition is high but there are a few that stand out from the crowd.
Pour and Twist provide a specialty coffee experience, they brew coffee using only manual methods, which is unlike anything else in Wellington. The Hangar by Flight Coffee is another great location. Select from a number of single origin choices or if you’re feeling extra extravagant you can get one of their coffee tasting platters. Lamason Brew Bar is another great spot and probably the only place in Wellington where you can get your coffee made the Japanese way, using a siphon.
The Beautiful Coastline and Beaches
Wikimedia Commons by: Phillip Capper
Wellington is situated right on the southern tip of the North Island and because of this great location the area has lots of beautiful beaches and bays. Located in the harbour and within walking distance of the CBD, Oriental Bay is a popular destination in the summer months. It has a man-made beach and an amazing fountain in the sea, which shoots out jets of water high into the air above.
If you want to escape the city and catch some surf, Lyall Bay is the place for you. For the nicest beach in Wellington head to Scorching Bay, the sand here is golden and the water is very clear. Another popular place is Days Bay, which is further out from the city center but is accessible by boat from the Wellington Wharf.
The Museums and Galleries
Wellington is full of lots of interesting museums and art galleries but the most popular by far is the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Te Papa is actually the most visited museum in New Zealand and Australia. It tells the history of New Zealand with a particular emphasis on the story of the indigenous Māori people of the country. As well as Te Papa you can find the Wellington Museum, which tells the story of the city. Nearby the Wellington Museum is the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, and if you’re interested in contemporary art check out the City Gallery Wellington.
The Views from the Lookout Points
Thanks to the many hills that surround Wellington there are plenty of places where you can get high up to take in the views of the city. The most popular and well known lookout point is the Mount Victoria lookout. At the top of this lookout point you will be treated to 360 degree views of the city and harbour, it’s really no surprise it’s so popular. You can either walk to the top of the lookout point using one of the walking tracks, or simply drive and park at the top.
Wikimedia Commons by: thintruman
There are some other lesser-known lookout points if you want to escape the crowds. The lookout at the top of the cable car in the Botanic Gardens is pretty amazing. Simply catch the striking red cable car from the city center in Lambton Quay to the top of the lookout point. My personal favorite lookout point in Wellington is at the top of Mount Kaukau. You’re sure to beat the crowds here as the only way to get to the top is either by walking or riding a bike. For the best views of Wellington city, harbour and coastline, this is the place to be!
The Craft Beer Scene
Unsplash by: Julianna Arjes
The art of making craft beer is something that Wellingtonians have embraced fully, it’s another beverage this city has gone crazy for. There are countless craft breweries in the city and more seem to be opening each year. Notable breweries include Parrotdog, Garage Project, Fortune Favours, Fork and Brewer, and Heyday.
Most of the breweries double up as bars and are some of the best places in the city to get a taste of the beer on offer. Although the best beer is obviously at the breweries, expect to find a good selection of craft beer at most of the restaurants and bars in the city.
If you love craft beer as much as I do then you’ll want to take a craft brewery tour. There are a few businesses in the area that offer tours to a number of breweries including to Brewtown in Upper Hutt. My favorite tour is a behind the scenes tour of the Parrotdog brewery. On this tour you learn about the brewing process at Parrotdog as well as enjoying 5 little taster beers along the way.
The Specialty Chocolate Stores
I can’t think of a better reason to visit Wellington than chocolate. The city is home to a few amazing specialty chocolate stores. Wellington Chocolate Factory is well known in the city for creating high-quality, award-winning bean to bar chocolate. If you’re interested in learning how chocolate is made, Wellington Chocolate Factory offers tours and classes. If however you just fancy trying some chocolate, you can check out their location on Eva Street where you can enjoy a seriously good hot chocolate!
Bohemian Fresh Chocolates is another great chocolate destination in Wellington. Only the best fresh ingredients are used to make chocolate of the highest standard. This is another great location for hot chocolate. Choose from a number of different flavors, including your choice of milk, white or two different types of dark chocolate. Bohemian Fresh Chocolates also offers the opportunity to learn about the chocolate-making process through individual or group classes.
The Local Unique Wildlife
New Zealand was once a place full of unique flora and fauna seen nowhere else in the world but when humans arrived to the land that was almost destroyed. Lots of species of animals and plants have become extinct and many others are endangered. There is however a place in Wellington where you can get an insight into what this land was like before the first humans arrived in the 1300’s, that place is Zealandia.
Zealandia is a conservation ecosanctuary located just outside the city center. The ecosanctuary is over 500 acres in size and is home to over 40 species of native birds, lots of reptile species including the ancient tuatara, invertebrates, and many plants species. The sanctuary is a safe place for these animals and is an important part of protecting the endangered species. It’s a great place to visit and if you’re lucky you may even get to see the infamous kiwi.
The Food Scene is Strong
Food is something Wellington does very well, the food scene is strong with plenty of great options to choose from. If you love a good brunch then you’ll love Wellington, there are so many good spots throughout the city but some highlights include Fidels cafe and Olive on Cuba Street. The Botanist and Spruce Goose in Lyall Bay are also fantastic options for a laid-back brunch by the sea.
If you’re dining in Wellington then you’re in luck as the city is home to many award winning eateries. The list is endless, Boulcott Street Bistro, Field & Green, Atlas, Logan Brown, Rita and Hiakai are among some of the most highly regarded restaurants in Wellington. Hiakai is a particularly interesting restaurant as it specializes in providing a modern Māori inspired dining experience. Hiakai is an innovative restaurant and has a sophisticated menu created by world renowned chef Monique Fiso.
The Hiking Trails
Image by: Chris Gin (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
As you can probably guess, Wellington is the perfect city for those that love the great outdoors. When it comes to walking and hiking tracks, there’s no shortage of trails to explore. Many tracks start right within the city such as the Southern Walkway, Northern Walkway and shorter walks like the Mount Victoria Lookout Walkway.
Two of the most popular and most impressive walks are located just outside the center of Wellington, these are the Escarpment Track and Skyline Walkway. The Escarpment Track travels along the Kapiti coastline where you can soak up the coastal views in all their glory. The Skyline Walkway will have you walking from Johnsonville to Karori. A particular highlight of the Skyline Walkway is when you reach the top of Mount Kaukau, the views from the top are quite special.
It’s the Gateway to Explore the Rest of the Country
Once you have finished exploring this great city you are in the perfect place to start venturing to other parts of this beautiful country. The Bluebridge and Interislander Cook Strait ferries are a great way to access the South Island. The ferry journey is pretty unbelievable especially once you get closer to the South Island. If you want to explore more of the North Island, the airport and State Highway 1 will allow you to travel wherever you want.
About the Author: Jonny Baker is the photographer and general earth enthusiast behind The Photographers Passport. With his blog he aims to provide the best information to help others explore and adventure our beautiful world. Want to see more of his great Wellington-based content? Check out this post he wrote detailing some of Wellington’s finest walking tracks.