An insider's guide to Wellington
It's a windy day in Wellington. Like any other day here, the air is crisp, clear and pleasantly cool, especially from where I'm from — the sweltering city of Singapore. Touted as the cosmopolitan capital city of New Zealand, Wellington is often, if not always, upstaged by its Northern Island neighbour Auckland. And if I didn't know better, I would have easily crossed Wellington off my New Zealand checklist.
But after a week in Welly, as affectionately termed by the locals, here's my verdict: A diminutive, vibrant city that's deeply misunderstood. There's way too much emphasis on the high-rise corporate buildings and too little of the creative affluence that can be experienced just on Cable Street alone. Of course, Wellington is most known for its humble Lord of the Rings beginnings with Weta Workshop as a popular tourist attraction. But even the LOTR fanatic in me agrees that there's much more to this city that just a Peter Jackson success story.
The best way to conquer? Most definitely by foot, as Wellington is marvellously compact with popular hotspots, exuberating with stunning architecture, craft beer breweries, and an abundance of dining spots. Here's the low-down on where to stay, eat, drink and shop whenever you're in Wellywood.
QT Museum Wellington
Being a guest at the QT Museum Wellington is like falling down a rabbit hole — you never know what you're going to find. Just like any other QT establishment, the hotel is fun, fresh, and tech-driven. It boasts of avant-garde luxury and is essentially a millennial trap (their colour theme says it all). Besides providing food and lodging here, QT Museum Wellington also doubles up as an art gallery, showcasing a fusion of high and low-brow art pieces and sculptures. But what will really enrapture any visitor here are the chic detailings of the hipster hotel — think neon-lit mini bars, luxe fur arm chairs, and complimentary Wellington chocolates. Let's just say I wished check-out time was never.
Peppers Parehua Martinborough
If you're looking to trade round-the-clock room service for private cottages, here's where you need to be. Hop on the train out of the city, and you'll find yourself in the quaint town of Martinborough. Check yourself into the charming country estate of Peppers Parehua, set amongst vineyards and luscious gardens. And unlike a conventional twin-sharing room, your abode in this quaint town takes on the form of a spacious private cottage complete with a snazzy fireplace. Mornings here include waking up to the view of a private lake and slow walks around the idyllic residence. It is probably best to stash your phones away for the optimal solitude experience.
Egmont Street Eatery
Stowed away in an old industrial carpark, you'll feel right at home at Egmont Street Eatery, a contemporary eatery slash bar. Their approach is simple and forthcoming — combining fresh local ingredients and varied cooking techniques, while birthing a modern spin on classic dishes. You'll find yourself digging into honest plates, which incorporates Asian influences like rice cakes and Chinese spices. The best seat in the house? By the bar, where you can watch the kitchen operate in full force while striking up a conversation with their friendly head chef.
A general rule of thumb: Never leave Wellington without sampling the seafood. Especially at Whitebait, where the best seasonal and local produce is celebrated and done solid justice, merely over a charcoal fired oven. If their dim lighting and sophisticated furnishings doesn't strike a chord, the table fare here will certainly do the trick. Make sure you order their signature green-lipped mussels as well as their succulent oysters.
Sabbath Sundays are made best with long naps and various forms of indulgence. Start off by eating your way through Wellington's Harbourside Market, which only opens every Sunday out on the corner of Cable and Barnett Street. The weekly affair is a great representation of the diverse culinary influences in Wellington, where numerous street vendors are lined up for your picking. Have your way with fluffy French pancakes, before chomping your weight through the House of Dumplings and the Paella Boys. Needless to say, this visit is best savoured with an empty stomach.
The name probably rings a bell — considering that it has already made its international rounds, in good name and reputation (it came as no surprise that my flight over on Singapore Airlines served it, too). It's no surprise that the drinking hole located at Aro Street, is a hot spot for Wellingtonians who love a good jug of beer. The casual free-standing bar is almost always swarming with thirsty aficionados who usually make it a point to survey the menu, and by survey, we mean having a taste from the sprawl of craft beers on tap. Expect to find interesting concoctions with yuzu notes and even cornflakes stout, which turned out to be dangerously addictive.
Havana Coffee Works
Like most first impressions, the first cup of coffee you have in any foreign place is extremely crucial — it could either make or break your experience in the city. That said, sip your first cup at Havana Coffee Works. These guys started roasting coffee since 1990, so you can expect to be served quality, unpretentious brews from the Cuban-styled café backed with eclectic rustic walls, that could get you all the likes you need on your next Instagram post.
There's something deeply romantic and inviting about Poppies Martinborough. For one, the owners are a couple who made their craft by hand, and with love from their very own vineyard. You'll get to taste some of New Zealand's best wines here, and only here, as their bottles are sold exclusively from their cellar door. So take a seat, warm up by the fire, and slowly drink in Martinborough's finest.
In the quaint Greytown of Wairarapa, just an hour away from the city of Wellington, is where you'll be able to enter the hidden gem of Oggi Domani. Artist Josephine Durkin has conveniently converted her backyard shed into a humble store and workshop that specialises in creating unique ceramic pieces accented with traditional Italian motifs. A word of caution: It's hard to leave without picking up one of her creations, whether it be a plate, mug or bowl. All of the above will add prettily to your dining table aesthetic back home.
Here's saving the best for last — it would almost be a crime not to visit Weta Workshop when you're in town. Even if you're not the biggest fan of LOTR franchise, this phenomenal space has made the hands and feet of blockbuster hits, like King Kong and Ghost In The Shell. Movie buffs, don't head home without picking up collectibles that are exclusively housed by the real professionals behind your favourite films. They don't call it Wellywood for no reason.
Thinking of a holiday in Wellington? Singapore Airlines's 'Capital Express' service now connects Wellington to Singapore via Canberra.
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