Wellington's diverse and traditionally transient population, of more than 300,000, consists of an eclectic mix of colourful suburbanites and chic inner-city apartment dwellers. Many of the central and city-fringe suburbs were rejuvenated in the 1990s. This period of rejuvenation created a vibrancy and positive spirit that is reflected in the region.
Courtenay Place is the center of local theatrical activity and the favored destination for those seeking entertainment into the small hours. Restaurants, cafes, wine bars and pubs line both sides of this long, wide strip. A good spread of ethnic tastes is evident in their many and varied menus.
For the young urban dweller, Cuba Street and Manners Mall are the locations of choice in which to see and be seen. Street theatre and busking are common, especially during the Fringe Festival and the Wellington Festival of the Arts . This area also boasts innovative sculptures and water features that impart a colorful sense of creativity. Contributing further to this vibrant atmosphere is the phenomenal concentration of cafes on Cuba Street. There is something to suit every mood and palate!
The Golden Mile
For the sophisticated shopper, Wellington's so-called “Golden Mile” shopping district provides endless opportunities for spending. The entire length of Lambton Quay and the Willis Street area is home to a number of shopping malls. Some of the more popular ones include Lambton Square , Capital on the Quay , the BNZ Centre and the tasteful Old Bank Arcade . You will find Wellington's answer to Harrod's, Kirkcaldie & Stains , on Lambton Quay as well.
There are plenty of eating options here too, including the always crowded Caffe Astoria and Paris Watch out for the suit brigade as you pound the pavements, particularly between noon and 2pm when the surrounding office blocks, affectionately known as Wellington's filing cabinets, empty their drawers for lunch.
Civic Square was developed in the early 1990s and forms a natural boundary between the Cuba Street and Lambton Quay shopping precincts. A marvelous open area that incorporates clever landscaping, it is popular with the lunch time crowds in summer and is a regular venue for outdoor festivals and markets. Also, the square is surrounded by cultural institutions. These include the Wellington City Library , the City Gallery and the Wellington Festival and Convention Centre that incorporates the Town Hall and Michael Fowler Centre. The nearby waterfront is easily accessible from the square via the architecturally designed City to Sea Bridge .
Wellington's waterfront is one of the most accessible in the country—cycle paths and numerous parks span the full length of the inner-city harbor from Queen's Wharf to Oriental Parade . The area is a popular weekend destination for families and young people with activities and attractions to cater for all interests. Museum buffs are spoilt for choice—the Wellington Museum of City & Sea reopened in the late 1990s on Queen's Wharf. There is also the jewel in the museum crown, the majestic Te Papa Tongarewa that gracefully stands on the water's edge. A fantastic way to enjoy this area is on skates or by kayak, both forms of transport can be hired from Ferg's Rock 'n' Kayak . If you are fancy a meal or drink while enjoying a waterside jaunt both Dockside and Shed 5 have excellent reputations.
Mt Victoria & Oriental Bay
Mt Victoria's colorful Victorian villas present a picture of island elegance perched precariously on the edge of this bush-clad hillside. The city's hilly terrain, unfamiliar to the original surveyors, has resulted in some eccentric yet delightful streetscapes. Keep an eye out for footpaths that are, in fact, narrow-winding streets, and for private cable cars that provide access to some of the more remote hilltop homes. The Southern Walkway rambles through the bush to emerge at the top of Mt Victoria for spectacular 360-degree views of the city. At its foot, tree-lined streets frame the pleasant inner-city suburbs of Mt Victoria and Oriental Bay . Several excellent guest houses can be found here including Dunrobin House , as can some of the finest restaurants that are subtly located in nooks and crannies throughout the area. Try the Roxburgh Bistro , or for something a little different Theo's Greek Taverna . The award-winning Parade Cafe is a popular place for brunch, particularly with bathers that swim at the adjacent Freyberg Pool .
A quaint mix of old and new characterises this up-market inner-city suburb. One of the oldest areas of the city, it was divided by a motorway extension in the 1970s that ripped through the middle of the Bolton Street Cemetery . Although the motorway has changed the landscape, the colonial charm of Thordon survives in the narrow backstreets that can be explored on foot. Ascot Street and Sydney Street West are two streets that provide the finest examples of colonial cottages but there are numerous other architectural gems to be found along the main suburban axis, Tinakori Road.
Historic Thorndon is rich in architectural and cultural attractions. Katherine Mansfield's Birthplace can be visited on Tinakori Road and the magnificent Old St Paul's should not be missed. Do not confuse it with its newer and larger neighbor, St Paul's Cathedral .
Just across the water from the city center lies the pleasant waterside settlement of Eastbourne—it is only a short crossing by ferry. Days Bay is a popular destination for families and sun seekers in summer. This area is also conveniently located near several excellent reserves and walking areas including Butterfly Creek and the Pencarrow Lighthouse . The unrestricted views from the lighthouse across Wellington City and the harbor entrance are truly magnificent.
As home to the New Zealand government, Wellington offers a delightful mix of tradition and modernity. Visitors will enjoy discovering its treasures.
Wellington is a small capital city by international standards but you would not necessarily guess given the outstanding choice of bars and restaurants that are squeezed into the downtown area. A vibrant assortment of ethnic and European cuisine and the local fusion fare, "Pacific Rim," cater to every taste and wallet size.
Courtenay Place is one of several distinct restaurant quarters in the city and is renowned for its lively nightlife. Restaurants, bars, theaters, cinemas and street musicians vie for attention day and night. For a superb meal treat yourself at contemporary favorite Cafe Bastille , which attracts a lively crowd who love fine food with a kiwi twist. For those who like a quirky, low light, lounge bar feel visit Castro's on Majoribanks Street. It is famous for its cocktails and original food. For a world-class menu with Pacific Rim and French provincial influences Icon at Te Papa Tongarewa has a wonderful balcony and fine sea views is unsurpassed.
If you are looking for value for money then head to the multiple Courtenay Place Turkish, Thai, Malaysian, Mexican, Indian or Chinese restaurants. Enjoy yum cha at King Wah or try the murtabak at Satay Kampong located on the restaurant-lined Allen Street. Both ensure culinary pleasure that will not break the bank. Little India on Blair Street comes highly recommended by Wellington's own galloping gourmand Des Britten. For gourmet pizza the popular One Red Dog is recommended—wash down a Thai Chili Chicken pizza with a naturally brewed beer before a show or movie.
If you want neon dance rhythms and a party then this is the district to start cruising. Check out Molly Malones , an Irish pub that has live bands playing most nights. For drinking, dancing and playing pool try The Grand or the Big Easy for late night drinking and a techno beat.
The Cuba Street area is another treasure chest of eateries and the center of Wellington's alternative scene. For a taste of the variety the city has to offer in clothes, art, music and food stroll up Cuba Street and back down again. On the way, those seeking impeccable coffee and inexpensive snacks will be drawn to the popular Krazy Lounge . With its funky decor, crazy sculpture's, half moon-shaped booths and music, it attracts those who like fast, friendly, reasonably priced all-day dining. The popular Logan Brown , one of Wellington's leading restaurants, is the haunt for lovers and bankers. Located in a 1920s banking chamber it offers fine dining in elegant surroundings.
Yes, Wellington is hip, it is cultured, and it is lively, but it is also a city that is dedicated to, and surrounded by, the sea. Reflecting this love for the water, many of the city's restaurants specialize in fresh local seafood. The best place to find a taste of the ocean is the waterfront. Located here is Shed 5 a stylish up-market seafood restaurant in a painstakingly restored wharf woolshed built in 1888. There is a formal dining section excellent for a business lunch or dinner, a more casual cafe, bar and alfresco seating. Next door is the popular Dockside Restaurant and Bar that provides quality seafood in a converted wooden warehouse. This spot is always crowded on Friday nights with after-work drinkers and throughout lunch hours particularly when the sun shines.
Central Business District
The central business district, with Lambton Quay and Willis Street at its heart, is popular with business people and locals. The area is not renowned for its nightlife but there is a range of quality restaurants that are especially suited to a corporate lunch or quiet dinner for two. Try Copita on Featherston Street which serves Spanish/New Zealand cuisine in classic white tablecloth surroundings or the famous Boulcott Street Bistro which mixes top of the line wine and food with an historic and relaxed ambience. Petit Lyon offers truly exclusive dining in a small two-story colonial building on upper Willis Street. Frequented by food lovers of all persuasions, this is a great place for an extra special dinner for two. It is not cheap, especially for a meal poetically titled "I must go down to the sea again." For quality daytime eating in this area, you cannot pass up the Nikau Gallery Cafe . It is attached to the City Gallery in the heart of Civic Square , one of Wellington's favorite places to relax on a fine afternoon. Alternatively there is Caffe Astoria , or Revive Sandwich & Espresso Bar or The CD Store Cafe , or Wholly Bagels or… The list could go on and on.
And that is why Wellington has become something of a haven for those who love to eat and drink well, or even just linger with friends over coffee. Some say Wellington has more restaurants, cafes and bars per capita then the sprawling metropolis of New York. It is certainly your duty, as a visitor, to meet the drinking and dining challenge that is Wellington City. It will allow you to experience, as nothing else can, some of the diversity that makes Wellington tick.
Confined by the boundaries of hills and harbor, Wellington is a compact city with a streetscape ideally suited to a pleasant day's exploration. All of the city's attractions can be reached on foot within the central city confines, however there are excellent bus routes if you prefer to travel in comfort. The City Circular Bus Route is especially recommended with stops by many of the major landmarks, running every 10 minutes through the central city.
Tour One: Walk the Waterfront
Wellington's waterfront is one of the most beautiful and accessible in New Zealand and a stroll along its fringe is a pleasant way to spend a sunny summer's afternoon. Start your walk under the sails at Queen's Wharf, a tastefully landscaped area sheltering several excellent cafes and restaurants. Nearby, Ferg's Rock 'n' Kayak hires out in-line skates and kayaks as a fun means of transport. Continuing around the inner harbor basin, you will pass Circa Theatre , one of three professional theatres in the city. Te Papa Tongarewa , Museum of New Zealand stands majestically before you round the headland. If you have time to spare, it is worth exploring the museum's excellent displays.
As you join Oriental Parade , Wellington's small boat marina and Overseas Terminal are on your left. Take a seat under the Pohutakawas (native trees) and watch the activity. If it is hot enough you may enjoy a swim at Oriental Bay or relax over a long cold lemonade at the aptly named Vista Cafe & Bar . If out with kids, Parade Cafe is a child-friendly alternative. For those who are especially keen walkers, the waterline walk can be continued as far as the Eastern suburbs.
Tour Two: Coastal Cruise
If you have access to a car, a far greater proportion of Wellington's coastline is accessible to you. Beginning your car cruise at Oriental Parade , wind your way around the foot of Mt Victoria to the Eastern suburbs. Following the coastline closely you will discover bays of individual charm and character. If it is a nice day, make sure to stop for a swim at Scorching Bay and have a coffee.
The Peninsula round trip is complete when you return to the airport. The road crosses the southern end of the runway so do not be surprised if a 747 roars in overhead.
If you have time keep following the coastline past the popular surfing beach at Lyall Bay , the colorful beachside suburb of Island Bay and on to wild Owhiro Bay . Take a break and watch the ferries that travel the Cook Strait. Alternatively, spend a couple of hours following the coastal walk to see the seals at Red Rocks . From Owhiro Bay the road climbs back through Brooklyn to the central city.
Tour Three: Political Wellington
It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but in terms of the New Zealand political scene, Wellington is where it all happens. Begin your day by scanning the local paper The Dominion over breakfast at a local cafe. Popular breakfast haunts for the city's movers and shakers are the Lido , Paris , and Caffe Astoria . Refreshed and ready for business, begin your political tour at the National Archives where the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document is held.
Returning to Lambton Quay, visit the Old Government Buildings . The first governments were run from the Northland town of Russell, but when the parliament later moved to Wellington it was housed for many years in these purpose-built wooden buildings. You can visit the inside on your own and there are many interesting photos and explanatory notes displayed. The building now houses the University's Law Faculty and the Department of Conservation information center.
Time for lunch and where better than the Backbencher Pub , famous for the political caricatures which grace its walls and for a menu based on current politicians. If you are lucky, you may even catch some of them dining here when the House is in session.
Across the road is the magnificent and newly refurbished complex of buildings which make up the current Parliament . Guided hour-long tours run throughout the day and will give you an excellent view of the interior of the complex including the Parliamentary Library, the Maori Select Committee rooms and, of course, the debating chamber.
Tour Four: Town and Gown
This walking tour will take you from the historic Thorndon Quarter at the foot of bush-clad Tinakori Hill to the lofty academic heights of Kelburn, home to Wellington's Victoria University. Beginning your walk at the base of Molesworth Street head towards Tinakori Road—on the left you will pass the majestic Parliament Buildings and the recently refurbished Wellington Cathedral of St Paul .
At the top of Molesworth Street, the Northern Motorway cuts a swathe through Wellington's oldest suburb—Thorndon. Despite its intrusion, much of the original charm has been retained and as you wander up Tinakori Road you will see the mark of colonial New Zealand in the wooden cottages and villas nestled into the hillside.
Continuing south on Tinakori Road, Thorndon Village is your next stop and provides plenty of options for dining. Tinakori Bistro is good for a long lunch and the adjacent deli for a quick bite or takeaway en route. Another option is the Shepherds Arms Cottage & Hotel for a perfect pub meal around the fire on a winter's day.
After lunch take a short detour down Ascot Street and back up Sydney Street West. These delightful 19th century streets are classic remnants of the colonial heritage. Your tour continues through the Botanic Gardens with several entrances on Glenmore Street. Climb the maze of tracks to the Carter Observatory and the peak of the hill. From here, return on foot to Lambton Quay via Kelburn Parade and Victoria University Campus or take the Cable Car , which descends to the central city in three short stops.
And if you have the time, a visit to Wellington's famous Karori Wildlife Sanctuary is well-worth the 10 minute drive. This urban sanctuary, the first of its kind, hosts an array of native flora and fauna, including New Zealand's renowned natives the kiwi and the tuatara.