David Whitley finds that he instantly loves Wellington – and there may be two good reasons why
I was knackered when I arrived in Wellington. I’d spent five hours driving to get there, and as beautiful as the last hour of that drive is (and, seriously, the scenery is sensational), I had no real enthusiasm for going out.
But I had to get something to eat, so go out I did. I found myself walking down Cuba Street. It was absolutely teeming with people; a hugely engaging swirl of buskers, street performers, night markets and youthful energy.

It was instant; I knew this was going to be my kind of city. It was an opinion that only grew by the time I left four days later. It has a gorgeous natural setting, excellent food, wine and craft beer scenes, some excellent cultural attractions and a remarkable green belt of parkland that surround the city centre.

But there were two aspects that struck me about Wellington that I’ve seen time and time again in cities that I really, really like. And I’ve seen them too many times for it to be a coincidence.

The first thing was that, when you speak to people, very few of them are actually from Wellington originally. The city’s population is somewhat transient – partly due to it being the capital. People move in, people move out. But those that are not moving in purely for work tend to be there because they want to be there. Cities full of people that have chosen to be there tend to be much more exciting and appealing than cities full of people who just happen to be there and have never got round to trying somewhere else.

Cities full of outsiders tend to be more receptive to new ideas too. There’s less of the parochial “this is the way we do things round here” mentality.

The other thing in Wellington’s favour is its geography. The city is sandwiched in somewhat by mountains and water. There are only so many places available for building in, making sprawling out over a large area and giving everyone their own bit of land to put a semi-detached house on impossible. That’s a good thing. It means people have to be closer to each other and mix.

It’s what makes Wellington’s city centre so alive and Auckland’s – a city that has fallen victim to urban sprawl – so miserable.

If cities are given room, they generally take it – leading to depressing, spread out, motorist-only horror shows like Orlando and Dallas. If they’ve only got a certain amount of space to fit everything into, they have to think carefully about what they do with that space. And these geographically limited cities – New York City and San Francisco are very obvious examples – tend to be much more engaging.

Outsiders and geography aren’t the only reasons why Wellington works, of course – but when you find the two ingredients together, it’s unusual to find a disappointing city.


Disclosure: David visited Wellington as a guest of Positively Wellington

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Indoor Wellington




David Whitley looks at how to stay warm and have a great time in the NZ’s capital


New Zealand is well known for its love of the great outdoors, but the weather doesn’t always suit. Luckily, the capital is well-equipped for a rainy day. There are plenty of fabulous indoor attractions in Wellington to keep everyone happy, such as...

Te Papa

Wellington’s crowning glory, Te Papa is also known as the Museum of New Zealand and the quality of the exhibitions matches the unique (and rather expensive) architecture. It’s possible to spend days wandering through and not see it all, while it has successfully avoided the usual museum trap of putting a load of old coins and knives in glass cases.

For a start, it’s great for kids, with a real hands-on approach to most of the galleries. There are four ‘Discovery Centres’ where the wee ones can touch and play with all manner of objects as well of create masterpieces of their own, while StoryPlace is aimed at the under fives. It’s all about singing songs, telling stories and arty activities.

For the grown-ups, there’s a good range of temporary exhibitions, while the permanent highlights include Awesome Forces, which explores the earthquakes, eruptions and weather patterns that have formed New Zealand’s landscape.

Te Papa also houses an excellent art collection.

Cafés and bars

Wellington proudly boasts that it has more cafés per capita than New York City, and the cultural scene is strongly linked to the sheer wealth of places where you can sit down and have a chat over coffee. For hanging out with movie types, the place to go is Chocolate Fish on Karaka Bay Road, while Cuba Street has an excellent selection of vibey little coffee shops

For those wanting something a little stronger than coffee, the windy city has an excellent nightlife too. There are seemingly hundreds of stylish little bars across the city, with Courtenay Place acting as the hub. Many of the coolest joints are on Blair and Allen Streets, just off it, but there are little enclaves of atmosphere across the capital.
The Beehive

Wellington’s most distinctive building is the Beehive or, as it’s more officially known, the executive wing of the parliament complex. It’s mostly ministerial offices, but it’s also home to the parliament’s Visitor Centre.

To find out more about the buildings and how New Zealand’s government and democratic system works, rock up in time for a free tour. They leave on the hour between 9am and 5pm every day. There’s also a souvenir shop for any wannabe politicians who are desperate to send postcards with a special parliamentary stamp.

Movies are a big business in New Zealand – apparently some reasonably successful flicks called Lord of the Rings were filmed here – and Mediaplex is the place for film buffs to head to. Part of the New Zealand Film Archive, this attraction has its own private screening room, and on Wednesday and Thursday nights, highlights from the archive are pulled out for a viewing. Better than heading to a soulless multiplex and catching the latest bit of fluff starring Matthew McConaughey any day.

Mediaplex also has a gallery specialising in computer and visitor artists and – as it’s Wellington – its own coffee shop.

Get arty

In case it hadn’t been drilled in yet, Wellington is something of an arty city. There are a host of galleries – some public, some run by dealers – throughout the city. The visitor information centre has maps and brochures about where to find them all, but the two big hitters are City Gallery Wellington and Academy Gallerie

Both have a good range of works by local and international artists on display, as well as regularly changing temporary exhibitions.

Museum of Wellington City and Sea

Wellington’s history is inextricably linked to seafaring, and this excellent museum is the place to go to in order to find out about how New Zealand’s capital grew up on the water. It goes back to the times of Maori settlement and extends to the present day, and has all manner of odd exhibits including chunks of ships and a great big lighthouse lens.

For a more moving experience, take a look at the exhibits on the Wahine. In 1968, the Wellington to Christchurch ferry crashed onto a reef, with 51 passengers dying as a result. The story is told in detail at the museum.

Watch Netball

Believe it or not, New Zealand isn’t all about rugby union. In fact, in Wellington, netball is the biggest participation sport. So why not go and watch a game while you’re there? The Shakers are the big team in Welly, and play games throughout May and June at the TSB Bank Arena. It’s the city’s largest indoor venue, and forms part of the Wellington Convention Centre complex.

National Tattoo Museum

There are few places in the world where the tattoo has as much importance as it does in New Zealand. Body art plays a large part in Maori culture, and the National Tattoo Museum on Abel Smith Street explores this. There are thousands of examples on display – particularly of Maori moko (facial tattoos) while those feeling brave can enter the studio and go under the needle too.

 by David Whitley



You can get New Zealand included as a stopover on a Globehopper RTW or a Navigator RTW or on our New Zealand via Australia deal