WELLINGTON is said to be the culinary, café and coffee capital of the country. I figured that a brilliant way to learn about a place is by sampling its food. So when I was in Welly, as locals affectionately call it, I decided to let my tummy dictate the itinerary.
I signed up for an interactive walking commentary with Zest Food Tours to get an insider’s guide to local stores, complete with tastings. Plus, I got to see the sights along the way.
Let your taste buds guide you
There are many coffee shops and independent coffee roasteries in the city centre — there’s probably one on every corner.
Courtenay Place is the entertainment district dotted with night spots and entertainment venues, while eclectic stores, eateries and funky bars line bohemian Cuba Street. In March, it comes alive with CubaDupa, a two-day street festival featuring music, circus and art.
My first stop was the Mojo Café situated within the historic St James Theatre (circa 1912). Starting out as a boutique roastery, Mojo now has over 20 outlets in the city. I savoured Dr Mojo’s Medicine, a house concoction.
Next, I headed to Moore Wilson’s supermarket. This Wellington institution is known for its deli, fresh food and local produce.
As part of my tasting session, I was offered a delightful platter comprising cheese (of note were the Kapiti Kahurangi creamy blue cheese and Moore Wilson’s own Linkwater aged cheddar), cold cuts, fruit and beverages.
Hail to the arts
Besides food, Wellington is also the country’s arts and culture capital.
En route to Te Papa Tongarewa, I was compelled to stop in at Gelissimo. This award-winning gelateria has many delightful temptations including its yuzu flavour, which garnered top honours in the 2016 New Zealand Ice Cream Manufacturers Association awards.
Sated, I strolled over to Te Papa — which means container of treasures in Maori — an award-winning museum cum cultural centre showcasing the history and treasures of New Zealand. There is an impressive collection of permanent exhibits, for instance, the colossal squid is the only one of its kind in the world. The Mana Whenua section offers an indepth look at the Maoris. It also has a functioning marae (community/religious building), which actually housed people displaced by the destructive Christchurch earthquake.
There are also longer-term temporary exhibits — Gallipoli is a tribute to the soldiers who fought in WWI with information gleaned from their comprehensive diaries.
Several blocks away, I discovered that new life has been breathed into the laneway surrounding Hannahs Factory, a defunct shoe plant. It is now inhabited by boutique food factories and eateries. These include the Wellington Chocolate Factory, Six Barrel Soda Co. (offers handmade sodas), Leeds St Bakery (famous for its salted caramel cookies) and Red Rabbit Coffee Co. Or drop in at Golding’s Free Dive bar for a craft beer (their specialty).
If you’re a Lord of the Rings (LOTR) fan, you have to visit Weta Workshop. Called Wellywood by locals, it is owned by several titans in the movie industry including Sir Richard Taylor and Sir Peter Jackson.
It is situated in a suburb close to a grocery store in a nondescript building. This is where the magic takes place, where blockbuster movie sets and props are made. Some scenes are even filmed here. Entry to the Weta Cave is free and you can take in the life-sized sculptures of orcs, uruk-hai, Gollum, and others from the LOTR movies, watch the behind-the-scenes film or purchase merchandise.
There is also a tour of the workshop, but you need to sign up for it prior to your arrival as walk-ins are not entertained. Tours are conducted by staff working at the studio. On my tour, a set designer provided the inside scoop on the costumes, props, etc used for the films.
The city is also home to Zealandia, a fully fenced urban eco-sanctuary. In a commendable groundbreaking conservation effort, Zealandia has managed to successfully reintroduce 18 species of native wildlife here, six of which were absent from New Zealand for over 100 years.
Zealandia is 10 minutes by car from the city centre. Spanning 32km, this wilderness valley plays host to the likes of kiwis, shags (part of the cormorant family) and tuatara (this prehistoric reptile is the last survivor from the Age of the Dinosaurs). I joined the guided night walk and saw a lot of wildlife, much to my delight. The icing on the cake was when we heard the distinct shrill calls of the kiwi bird and glimpsed two juvenile males fighting.
For a different kind of adventure, sign up for the three-hour Seal Coast Safari. Expert drivers take visitors on 4x4 vehicles, going over sand, rocks and gravel. The ride along the rocky shoreline is a tad bumpy but you get to spot wildlife and walk close to colonies of fur seals. It then ventures into private farmland country where you can see animals like deer and ostrich. The tour offers views of the city, Cook Strait and the South Island.
Wellington is also known for its craft beer culture. Check out the Craft Beer Capital Trail for a self-guided tour of Welly’s craft bars.
In the summer, head for the rooftop bars. Some places like Rogue and Vagabond allow patrons to lounge outdoors on a nice day — on plush beanbags.
Besides several smaller dining events, every August (from Aug 11 to 27 this year), the city hosts a two-week food festival called Visa Wellington On A Plate with over 100 events.
The city impressed me, and I left a little high on caffeine. If I received an invitiation to the festival, I would be on a plane before you could say Welly.
The writer’s trip was sponsored by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand.
Air New Zealand (ANZ) operates daily flights from Singapore to Auckland; from there, it’s an hour’s flight to Wellington. Since I was already in the country, it was slightly less than an hour’s flight from Napier.
- You can opt to travel on ANZ’s Premium Economy, with its more enhanced services — spacious seating arrangements, premium meal options, etc. In Economy class, passengers can book the Skycouch — a row of three seats that can be converted into a flat surface.
- During certain times of the year, Wellington turns into one of the windiest places in the world, with winds averaging between 22 to 60km/h!
- Stop by the i-Site Visitor Information Centre for details on what to do and to book tours, for instance, Weta Workshop.
- Tours will proceed regardless of rain or shine. Gear up and be ready for any climate.
Temperatures range between 19 to 24 deg C (summer); and 6 to 9 deg C (winter).
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