When http://www.lonelyplanet.com called Wellington the “coolest little capital” they absolutely nailed it. The place, the people, the vibe, the views, all of it makes for a city that has quietly and confidently cemented itself firmly at the top of our current list of conquered cities. We were lucky to spend 4 days and 3 nights exploring the very southern end of our so creatively named North Island, and we could have easily spent another few weeks nestling into the chic and artsy bustle of our nations capital.
We squeezed everything we could out of every daylight hour and many after dark hours too, and in ticking off our very full To-Do list we discovered another thousand-odd places we need to go back to, but for now here’s the Top 10 from our time in the windy city.
- Ice Skating at www.facebook.com/Frostyspoticerink/ in Petone. When we arrived no-one was there so the lovely owner lit up the entire rink just for us. Spotlights, music, fairy lights, and a skating seal assistant on the house. We had bought super cheap passes on http://www.grabone.co.nz so the free seal just topped off an awesome welcome to Wellington on our first night.
- Te Papa Museum. It’s been years since I’ve visited our national treasure so we made sure to check out http://www.tepapa.govt.nz before we arrived so we’d have some kind of idea what we were in for. That step was unnecessary, this place sells itself. There are so many interactive zones to entertain kids of all ages, myself included, and such a wealth of knowledge under one incredibly grand ceiling. The current Gallipoli exhibit is almost beyond words, and the respect paid by the museum is a tribute to their staff and curators. I was reduced to a crying mess through parts of the exhibit, along with many of the others we were walking with, and Em was very quiet and sombre while we listened to the painful accounts of war. The Cafe service was wonderful, and super efficient and well priced. A good range of decent kids food impressed my Little Miss, and hot chips done right always impress me.
- The waterfront. Exploring Wellington harbour along the waterfront was one of my favourite parts of our entire year so far. Every single nook and corner promotes interest! There’s platforms for nowhere, an iron staircase to nowhere (people were jumping off it into the harbour while we stood there shivering in coats and boots), there’s statues, bridges, telescopes, people rollerblading to work, an awesome playground, concrete quotes, restaurants, kayaks…I could spend all days listing the coolness of it all. A perfect example of waterfront property done right! (Auckland take note).
- Parliament. They run tours through parliament on the hour every hour, every day of the week. We managed to arrive exactly half way through tours so we missed out, but we did get a heaps of selfies in front of the Beehive (which is all that really matters) and we did get checked in through airport-esque security to check out the foyer and the gift shop. We also signed the guestbook (as Emmy & Me) and I had my phone confiscated for taking a Snapchat of Emmy’s cute picture that she added while I was signing in. The building is grand, the grounds are beautiful, but do NOT take photos inside. Lesson learned!
- Mt. Victoria Lookout at sunset. The drive to the top is grueling enough but if you’re up for an amazing bush walk, there’s a number of beautiful bush walks on both sides of the moutain. The viewing platform will give you uninhibited 360degree views of Wellington City right out across the harbour in all directions. The day we were there we were lucky to have clear blue skies and a golden sun sinking too quickly to the west, casting bold shadows across the city. Wellington weather certainly put on a show for us and despite being the dead of winter, we spent most of our days there bathed in sunlight. Savage wind, yes! But beautiful sun too.
- Wellington Zoo! If you didn’t know, we are almost permanent residents at the Auckland Zoo. We are living Auckland Zoo maps. We know it inside out and back to front and we love it. So, we were very skeptical of a zoo that looked much smaller than our local. Oh, how we ate our skepticism within minutes. Wellington Zoo is just like everything else in the city: so damn cool! The enclosures are wonderful, and you feel very close to the animals. The Zoo staff are super helpful, and had lots of cool little learning stations set up along the way. There’s a ton of rest/play areas for kids, the cafe was well staffed, stocked, and prompt, and it is one of the few places that we paid full admission cost and felt like we truly got our monies worth. Also, they have bears. Real bears. Two of them.
- The Cake Tin! A.K.A. Westpac Stadium. We actually planned our entire trip around a Super Rugby game between Em’s team (The Hurricanes) and mine (The Blues) and we were not disappointed. The stadium made us feel like teeny tiny bobble heads, it is so huge! Clearly well equipped to handle much larger events, everything ran very smoothly and simply. Parking was a breeze, albeit expensive ($30!), food service was plentiful, delicious and efficient, and there was lots of cool stuff to do like photo booths, face painting, a photoshoot with Captain Hurricane, free flags etc. Leaving the stadium afterwards was painless too! There was no congestion of traffic or pedestrians, and I was very impressed.
- Wellington Botanical Gardens. Simple stunning. Acres and acres of blooms, shrubbery, greenery, brick work, water features and decades old trees, and we spent a few enjoyable hours meandering around like hopeless wanderers just enjoying the sights, smells and sounds. The onsite cafe Picnic served up a pretty tasty breakkie, and was very child friendly and well thought out. The gardens sit in the shadow of Te Ahumairangi Hill which is also well worth adventuring up, so make it a round trip while you’re in the area.
- Commuting. Seriously, you Wellingtonians are just the bees knees. Despite not seeing a single “Merge like a zip” sign, all of you just seem to get it and everyone just merged like a zip! Everyone used indicators and gave way to their right, and in peak hour traffic cars let us into tiny gaps, and no one honked their horns or drove like maniacs. Even on the tiny, narrow, incredible steep hills with cars parked all along the sides, everyone just gives way! You guys must just be so chill because you know your city is where it’s at and it shows in your driving. The bus/train network is impressive too, and looked like it was well used. Such happy commuters. It’s nice.
- Our beautiful little seaside cottage! We booked our accommodation through http://www.airbnb.com and it was the first time we had used the site so were not sure what to expect. We were so pleasantly surprised. Our delightful little cottage located on Mirimar peninsula in the quaint little suburb of Seatoun was almost Dawson’s Creek perfect. Ocean front, views across to Petone and of the Cook Straight ferries passing from time to time, a sweet little jetty from which the local fish (and I imagine in summer it would be teeming with kids jumping into the ocean), and within walking distance of the best fish burger I have ever eaten. Our host was so kind and accommodating, and she made us feel so at home, even picking up a Wellington tourism brochure for us, giving up her room so Emmy and I would be more comfortable, and sharing travelling talks in the evenings. If you haven’t explored Air bnb and are an avid traveler I urge you to check it out. Such a cool experience, and a much better way to get a feel for a new town than staying at a hotel.
There is so much more I could share, so many more amazing places we got to check out, and so many more we need to see, but my advice is just get down there (or up there depending on where you are). We had the best time and have never felt so relaxed in a big city.
Whatever you Wellington crew are having, we want in!