Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

The coolest little capital: What to eat, do and see in Wellington, New Zealand

The small, windy but remarkably pretty city is at the bottom of the world

A view of Wellington's inner-city waterfront from one of its many green hills. Getty Images
A view of Wellington's inner-city waterfront from one of its many green hills. Getty Images

My home town is the world’s windiest city: but people there are pretty glass-half-full, so let’s just say the air is always fresh. At the very bottom of New Zealand’s North Island, the capital is home to about 250,000 people, lots of coffee, some seals, a breathtaking hill-dotted and ocean-hugging landscape and one Sir Peter Jackson.

My top day out

Wellington’s inner city features a glorious stretch of coastline that makes for a lovely stroll. Start near the Eastbourne Ferry Terminal and spot kayakers and boats on the water, then traverse the whole Waterfront Walkway, keeping an eye out for poetry inscribed on the pavement. Stop at the fantastic and free museum Te Papa, pop into Civic Square (grab a bite to eat at Nikau Cafe) and finish off at Oriental Bay for some ice cream from Kaffee Eis.

If you do this walk on a Sunday, come hungry, because the Harbourside produce market boasts food trucks flipping everything from whitebait fritters to dim sum (from 7.30am to 2pm).

My favourite food (and drink)

Really, this is a city that’s all about cafe culture. The famous stat once quoted by The New York Times is that Wellington has more cafes per capita than any city in the world. Floriditas on Cuba Street, Maranui in Lyall Bay and Prefab on Jessie Street all serve delicious modern Kiwi cafe food.

The inner-city streets of Wellington actually reek of roasting coffee, which I love. It’s also one of the few global cities in which Starbucks hasn’t really found a foothold (which I’m proud of). There are coffee carts everywhere, and you basically can’t go wrong: if a place served bad coffee in Wellington, it would have gone out of business by now.

Flat white stalwarts include Customs, the Flight Hangar, Mojo, Havana and Lamason Brew Bar.

My actual favourite food spot in the city, however, is gourmet supermarket Moore Wilson’s Fresh. Coffee, bakeries, fresh orange juice, rotisserie chicken and produce galore. Go there, pick up food (called ‘kai’ in New Zealand) and walk to the waterfront for a mini picnic. Glorious.

A history of its geography

Wellington’s inner city is a valley surrounded by ocean on one side, and hills on the other (good for the quads). The city remains remarkably verdant, and almost anywhere you stand you can see forests and swathes of untouched land, which defines the city’s geographical identity.

This is because, when the city’s plans were drawn in 1840, 425 hectares were reserved for parks and recreation, never to be sold. That land remains mostly open and free to visit, and there are walkways aplenty (go to wellington.govt.nz to find a track that suits you).

Why did they reserve so much land? Partly because they wanted to ensure the city had ‘lungs’: they were mostly from the UK, and over Britain’s smog and parklands being privately owned. They weren’t pure altruists, however; they also wanted to keep land prices high so the rich stayed rich. So much land being untouchable certainly did just that.

Updated: November 18, 2019 03:08 PM

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