The Insiders Guide: Wellington

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4 December 2023

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Heading to our stylish capital city? Wellington local, Sopheak Seng, has shared their hottest spots and hidden gems, with everything from great coffee shops to memorable day trips, so you can make the most out of your stay.

Best Coffee

Coffee is serious business in Wellington, everyone has their faves and will fight to the bitter end, ‘scuse the pun, over whose recommendation reigns supreme. While Customs Brew Bar and Pour & Twist were also a tie for first, I had to choose just one… Evil Twins: A local family-run business that started as a hole in the wall, that now has its own bricks and mortar coffee shop. Its vibe is all about community, connection and creativity. The usual fare of choice when it comes to coffee, but these guys also do the best jar drinks with their ‘Matcha Love’ being their absolute best seller. 

Best Thrift

Wellington style is always eclectic and fashion forward thanks to its treasure trove of thrift stores. You can simply walk Cuba Street and find many a door to the thrifting of your dreams, but my standout of them all is… Zigguarat: With true vintage pieces from the twenties right through to modern fashion, Zigguarat is truly a fashion lover’s dream. Beautifully arranged in a way that you can lose hours in there with something for everyone, at every price point. From costume jewellery to archival Karen Walker, it’s a Wellington institution for a reason.

Best Bar

With special mention to Elixir in Chews Lane, because it truly is a hidden gem with superior sips and an equally delicious menu, however, my take on the tipple of the town is… Puffin: Dark and moody with velvet banquets and taxidermy – think luxurious speakeasy vibes. The menu focuses on classic cocktails with a twist, beer on tap, with a focus on natural organic wines. This is where you come to either start off your night or end it as its cosy intimate seating is perfect for couples as well as big groups.

Best Takeaways

The Wellington food scene is never short of amazing options when it comes to takeaways, whatever your mood is there is something for everyone. KC Cafe: A Wellington institution and is perfect for those seeking something cheap and cheerful and always reliable. The menu is extensive, but well worth it. Their dumplings are some of the best, as is their duck. Hearty Asian fare that always delights. Good Boy Sammies: Born out of a few drinks at the pub, Good Boy Sammies really do deliver some of the best sandwiches in town. A hole in the wall that is only open Wednesday to Sunday they serve up some truly out of this world combinations. Tomboy: If you are after a sweet treat, you really can’t go past Tomboy based in Mount Victoria. Kate is a true master of their craft. The cheese scones are legendary as are her cakes and sweet treats. Her cabinets are always filled with some of the most delicious and Insta worthy food.

Best Day Trip

On a nice sunny day, catch the ferry to Eastbourne and spend the day at the beach or enjoy lunch at the Pavillion or one of the beautiful cafes around. Alternatively, you can also take the ferry across to Matui/ Somes Island and walk the trails. Pack a lunch and enjoy the views of Wellington from the other side. This is a great way to escape the city for a few hours and be at one with nature.

Best Beach Spot

There are so many options when it comes to beaches in Wellington, being surrounded by water means that there are so many choices, so much so, I couldn’t choose just one. Lyall Bay is great for surfing and people watching, Scorching Bay is the perfect summertime family beach with a beautiful grassy area for picnicking and soft sand for swimming, sunning (safely) and watching boats. Also, you must stroll across the road to Scorchorama for an ice-cream or one of their famous thickshakes. Oriental Bay Beach is an oasis in the middle of the city. You can sit along one of the park benches and watch the world go by with a coffee or good book.

The IYKYK Spot

Wellingtonians love nothing more than getting out into nature. There are so many fabulous places to walk and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. From Massey Memorial walk, which takes you to the memorial, the old gun embankments and through to the old Miramar prison in the Eastern Suburbs, to Mount Kaukau which is great for seeing an almost 360 view of Wellington Harbour – yes, it is worth the trek up the hill. You also can’t beat Mount Victoria lookout and the Green Belt- there are so many tracks and ways that you can get there depending on where you start and the level of intensity you want to go for.

City Escape

Nothing beats getting out of the city and heading over the hill to Wairarapa/ Martinborough. An hour’s drive away from Wellington, this is the perfect day trip or weekend away. Here you can visit local galleries or for the wine and food lover there are numerous wineries and eateries, and trust me, Moy Hall is a must for lunch while overlooking their vineyard. You could even hire a bike and do wine tastings. My top picks to try are Escarpment, Palliser, and Ata Rangi.

Hidden Gem

Take the cable car up to a true hidden gem – Fragrifert Victorian Perfumery. A truly unique Wellington experience. There you will find fragrances by artisan perfumer Francesco van Eerd, featuring NZ florals and botanicals. It’s a great place to not only view Wellington from up high but also learn about the craft of distilling from the knowledgeable staff.

Local Must Do

Sunday Markets on Wellington Waterfront is a great way of seeing Wellington in action. This small haven is perfect for picking up the week’s veggies, discovering local producers and food artisans, as well as watching the coming and goings of Wellingtonians and visitors alike. Grab a souvlaki from the Greek Food Truck and sit on the steps of the Te Papa and enjoy a few hours of the Wellington vibe.

Art Scene

There are so many choices when it comes to galleries and the art scene. From private galleries to public institutions there is always something happening art-wise. Enjoy Contemporary Art Space: Features an ever-rotating schedule of work, Enjoy is perfect whether you are an art aficionado or a casual art lover. You will always find something that will tempt you in to view. McLeavey Gallery: A name that is synonymous with the art world. Started by Peter McLeavey, dealing in contemporary NZ art, the gallery has held over 560 exhibitions to date. The Dowse: Located in the Hutt, The Dowse has managed to carve out a niche for itself by showcasing interesting and fantastical exhibitions where applied arts is concerned. With a focus on ceramics, textiles, weaving and the likes, the museum has garnered over 3,500 objects to delight its visitors. Its focus on accessible art and exhibitions makes it one that is also very family friendly.

Top Eats

Kisa Slinging Turkish and Middle Eastern inspired eats, Kisa is a must-dine spot and its open windows overlooking Cuba Street also make it an ideal place to watch the world go by. Koji: Asian cuisine with NZ ingredients, Koji serves up great eats with an unusual spin that is forward-thinking and always creative. Liberty: From the team at Logan Brown, Liberty is a more casual take on its older sibling. More sharing plates and an innovative menu. Liberty is all about pushing the boundaries of what you would expect and making the ingredients the star.
Rita: Book in advance… if you can. This one’s harder to get into than your local doctor, but well worth it! Cute cottage serving incredible food. The three course menu changes frequently, so no two meals are ever the same! Hiakai: Helmed by celebrity chef Monique Fiso, this is a gastronomic tour of the taste buds. Hiakai celebrates Māori ingredients and cooking styles and serves up truly mind-blowing creations.

Related Article: What’s On This December

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