It’s about time we gave one of our little cities the credit it deserves. We’ve written about the idyllic Lake Tekapo, the electrifying Queenstown, but somehow we’ve overlooked the heart, the gem, the capital of NZ!
We aren’t the only ones to make this error. Auckland is often mistaken for the capital, thanks to its immense population and the fact it’s a bustling metropolis.
Our actual capital Wellington is dwarfed in comparison, in both geographical and population size – but that’s part of its charm. As far as capitals go, Wellington is the cutest. And as it so happens, was also recently deemed one of the cleanest.
Welly (as it’s affectionately known) has a lot more going for it than being cute and clean though, so without further ado – here are 7 reasons why Wellington is the best capital in the world.
1. The Waterfront
When we say the “heart” of NZ, we mean it. Wellington is situated roughly half way down the country, and is nestled ocean-side among the hilly base of the North Island. Because of the cosy setting, the size of the CBD is limited to the space between the water and the surrounding hills – AKA, not a lot.
This is actually a great thing. If you’ve got two healthy legs, you officially have the means to get from one side of the city to the other in about 30-40 minutes. You could do this by way of the city center, via the shopping and business districts, but we’ve got a better suggestion: head to the waterfront.
Not only is this potentially the quickest route, but it’s also the most scenic. It’s often said you can’t beat Wellington on a good day – and we can vouch for this. A stroll along Queen’s Wharf is the best way to get some welcome reprieve from the city hubbub, and take in the wonderful sight of a compact cityscape with the rolling green hills all around.
On a a pearler of a day, hit up Oriental Bay which lies at the southern end of the harbour. Reclining on the sand and soaking up the rays so close to the heart of a city is pretty awesome.
If anywhere were to have free-to-play instruments for anyone, it’d be Wellington.
2. The Coffee
While Wellington is the actual capital of NZ, it’s also often blessed with the title ‘coffee capital.’ In fact, Welly is a coffee capital of the world, thanks to an honourable mention by CNN as being 1 of the 8 top coffee spots in the world.
If you’re a caffeine fiend, this is the obvious destination for you. Head to any of the amazing cafes dotted throughout the city; CNN suggests Flight Coffee Hangar and Memphis Belle, both offering spectacular coffees. Our suggestions? Prefab, Customs Brew Bar, and Leeds St Bakery.
You may have noticed the rise in popularity of the “flat white” around the world.
Similar to a latte, but with a more even milk consistency, the flat white has become the unofficial coffee of NZ. It was supposedly invented in Sydney, but it goes without saying that a Wellington flat white dominates any other.
3. Te Papa
Te Papa (or “Te Papa Tongarewa”, or “the place of treasures of this land”), is the national museum and art gallery of NZ. The building itself is a work of art, with the remarkable structure perched looking out over the harbour; a conglomerate of sharp juxtaposed angles and wavy curves. On paper, it’s a mess. In person, it’s spectacular.
The real intrigue is to be found inside, and the contents spanning just about every subject of the world. Those curious in history, geology, biology, cinema, society, art architecture and so much more, are catered to here. Prepare to spend a good portion of the day in Te Papa; getting lost is not so much a problem, but an opportunity for discovery. Squirm with delight in the creepy crawlies room, gawk at the colossal squid, get the heart racing in the earthquake house, and unearth “dinosaur bones” buried in the sand.
There’s always an exhibition of some sort on, so check out what’s showing while you’re in town. Right now, a brilliant bug exhibit is wowing visitors – the brainchild of Te Papa and Weta Workshop (more on them later).
4. The Cable Car
A cliche reason, but worth the mention.
If you’ve seen a postcard of Wellington, or ever searched it in the Google Image bar, we can guarantee you’ll recognise the iconic red cable car. Opened to the public in 1902, the trams were first horse-drawn. The following year, all carriages were shifted to cable-based steam power and this remained so until 1933 where the much more efficient electric motor was introduced.
While the historical significance is enough to interest visitors, it’s also just a great way to find the views. On the ascent to the top of the hill, take in the city and harbour sprawled out below. Each cable car has completed over 1 million trips since 1979, and it’s probably fair to say if 1 million people had the same idea – it’s probably a good one.
Perhaps the most photographed spot of Wellington.
5. Cuba St
If you love irony, music no one’s ever heard of, art that no one understands, and clothes from four decades ago – you need to stop in at Cuba St.
Wellington has earned the reputation of being the hipster city of NZ, and Cuba St is perhaps the stretch of shops and cafes most responsible.
The hipster vibes are concentrated in this part of town, so you’ll feel right at home if this is your thing.
Everyone is welcome in the hub of the different, the weird, and the outrageous!
Here’s an itinerary you can use (or not) if you’re keen to explore the fascinating
- Grab a coffee from Midnight Espresso. The fit-out is funky so it’s a cool place to hang out. But we suggest getting your coffee to-go, so you can get on with the rest of the list. As the name suggests, it’s open most hours of the day.
- Pick up an old book from The Ferret Book Shop to entertain yourself on your travels, and purchase an old record or CD from Slow Boat Records as a souvenir to take home.
- Try on an item of clothing at Emporium Vintage, who are great at striking the balance between the old and stylish.
- Finish off at Fidel’s Cafe, who make killer confectionery-themed milkshakes – try the Snickers shake and thank us later.
6. Weta Workshop
Ask anyone what they know about New Zealand, and their answer will likely have something to do with Lord of the Rings, Lorde the person, or The Hobbit.
The former and latter association is all thanks to Wellington, or more specifically, Weta Workshop. It was launched in 1987 under the name RT Effects, and has since been responsible for the prop, creature, and digital effects of some of the biggest blockbuster films in history.
LOTR certainly put the production studio on the map, but the mastermind creators at Weta are responsible for designing the mind-blowing world of Pandora (Avatar), the lifelike beasts from The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the 2011 re-imagining of Tin-Tin, and a whole lot more. Scheduled for this year is the release of the hugely anticipated Ghost in the Shell and Thor sequel.
Weta Workshop offer tours to come in and gain some insight on how the world-renowned company has garnered its success. When you’re up close to the models and set pieces, you may find some familiar faces!
Head to their website and book your spot for a truly unforgettable experience.
Gollum doesn’t quite know what to think.
7. The Beehive
We’ve given 6 reasons so far why Wellington should be a more memorable capital, but it actually doesn’t matter what we think.
Wellington is the capital because this is where NZ’s government is centered, and our historic parliament buildings are a big attraction for visitors. Part of this is because of the fascinating political history waiting to be discovered here, but frankly, it’s also owed to the appearance of the building.
The executive wing of parliament is almost exclusively referred to by its metonym “The Beehive,” which requires little thought to understand why. As you can see by the below picture, the design of the building resembles that of a beehive, which makes it immediately recognisable.
If you’re particularly interested in politics, there also happen to be guided tours of the building (and the underground passages below) available. Head on over to secure a spot (no pre-booking or spending required – the tours are free).
Have our words convinced you to consider visiting our cool little capital? Here are the Haka Tours that include Wellington in the itinerary:
North Island Adventure Tour (7 Days)
Amplified NZ Tour (16 Days)
Epic NZ Tour (24 Days)