My husband and I traveled to Wellington New Zealand for spring break, which was, of course, the country’s early fall. We arrived exhausted but ready to explore.
Most Memorable: Eating oysters and drinking champagne on the waterfront
Best Food: Logan Brown
Most Surprising: The intimate feel of the capitol city
Most Disappointing: I wanted to stay one more day.
Although the seat of the government was originally located in Auckland, South Islanders complained about the distance. In 1865 it was moved to Wellington, located at the tip of North Island and the geographic center of the country. The Wellington Harbour, as seen above, is a bustling shipping and boating hub with restaurants and “sheds” lining the waterfront.
Arriving in Wellington
Our first glimpse of Wellington was, fittingly, the giant eagles of Peter Jackson’s Lords of the Rings trilogy soaring in the airport. One of soaring figures had a tiny Gandolf perched on top. Peter Jackson is Wellington’s most famous son right now, with his Weta Cave and Workshop outside of the city. Although we did not have time to make the trek to visit it, we did see Jackson’s workshop’s giant sculptures in the Gallipoli exhibit in Te Papa Tongarewa.
Wellington itself feels like a small, intimate city, especially compared to Auckland. That suited my husband and me perfectly since we tend to be walking tourists. Our late summer/early fall weather was wildly windy and punctuated by rain with temperatures anywhere from the 50s to low 60s. When we mentioned this later to Aucklanders, they replied, “Of course.”
We stayed in the wonderful Intercontinental Wellington, located two blocks from the waterfront. The modern, comfortable room provided a good night’s sleep after a grueling two days of air travel. The staff couldn’t have been friendlier or more accommodating. The hidden gem of this hotel is their Chameleon restaurant, with its unassuming and rather bland décor belying its innovative cuisine.
With limited time in the city, we opted for an efficient walking tour on our first day. To begin, we took the Kelburn Cable Car, the base of which is located in a narrow passage between buildings on Lambton Quay — look for the signs — up to the park with its view of the city below. We strolled through the quiet grounds of the Wellington Botanic Garden and down to its Lady Norwood Rose Garden (still in bloom in March) and the Begonia House. From there, we walked down Ascot Street, past the Parliament Buildings with its famous Beehive on the other side, toward Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, a remarkable wooden structure built to withstand earthquakes on Wellington’s shaky ground.
We spent a good portion of the following day at the Te Papa Tongarewa or the Museum of New Zealand. The museum houses exhibits on the Maori culture and history of New Zealand. Closer to the central business district, the Wellington Museum is tiny in comparison. Still, it’s worth popping in for an hour or so to learn of the city’s history. Wellington New Zealand has many small museums and art galleries for those who have an extra hour or two in the day.
Restaurants worth splurging on include Logan Brown, Wellington’s top dining establishment located on the otherwise low-end Cuba Street in a converted bank with a high, decorative ceiling that lends majesty to the setting. The chef embraces sustainability and farm-to-table ingredients, so expect the menu to change daily. The food is stunning to both the eye and tastebuds. Service is exceptional.
Because we had a late dinner reservation one evening, we stopped by Shed 5 for their Bluff oysters and Mumm champagne afternoon happy hour. For a less upscale but still delicious lunch, try Dockside for its fish-and-chip platter and on-the-water views, or the casual and quirky Smith the Grocer inside the Old Bank Arcade building.
If we had an extra day or two, I would have gone, in addition to the Weta Caves workshop, to the Katherine Mansfield House, Zealandia, and Space Place at Carter Observatory. The free Zealandia bus can be caught at the top of the Kelburn Cable Car, and Space Place is also located up there, adjacent to the Botanical Gardens. Those sights we missed while probably ensure that one day we will return to Wellington New Zealand.
~Debbie Lee Wesselmann