The Coolest Little Capital in the World

Over the Easter weekend, which is four days in New Zealand, M and I took a short flight to Wellington. We had been there before but only overnight on New Year’s Eve, so we wanted to see the city properly this time.

Wellington has the reputation of being “the coolest little capital in the world” and our guidebook claimed it was the only city in New Zealand with a beating heart. It definitely has more of a vibe than Auckland, which feels like a generic Big City. Much of this vibe comes from the city’s focus on arts and culture: there were public works of art everywhere, from graffiti to sculptures, and Te Papa, the biggest museum in the country, is central and free to visit.

Another focus of Wellington is food: it has more restaurants per capita than New York and everywhere we ate at was delicious. There are many independent coffee roasteries and craft breweries in the city, so unique tastes are never hard to find. While we were there, we walked about half an hour out of the city center to one of our favorite breweries, Garage Project. They often experiment with their brews, such as aging them in wine casks or adding unusual flavors like miso, so we tried eight different beers with their sampler trays.

Of course, with so much craft coffee and beer Wellington is full of great cafes and bars. For breakfast every day, we headed out to Cuba Street, which is the nexus of cool cafes in the city. Starting the days out with a good cup of coffee and a tasty meal kept us going until the afternoon, when we had a snack and another coffee at another cafe.

Dinner was a little harder to find since many places closed early (due to being cafes) or were closed altogether because of the Easter holiday. As a result, we missed out on some places recommended by my coworkers, but did manage to hit a few. We went to one place for amazing hot chocolate, which was nearly as thick as syrup and, on a different occasion, found  The Library which was a bar with shelves of books wall-to-wall and cozy areas to sit in. (It was a bit too dark in there for reading, though). The cocktail menu was Easter-themed, featuring many puns:

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I had the “White Rabbit,” M had the “It’s Like a Terry’s but Not Eggs-actly.”

Though I would have been happy spending the entire trip eating and drinking, we did work off the calories by walking along the excellent waterfront area. To the north is all the government buildings (Wellington is the capital, though Auckland likes to pretend), including the famous Beehive parliament building. This area was considerably more upmarket than the hipper central area; we even saw a Starbucks!

Walking south, we passed some cool waterfront bars and the Mojo coffee roastery, which was in an old harbor-side warehouse. Much of the area alongside the wide path was public parks as well, which were full of people hanging out on the shore. While Wellington is notorious for its wind and rain, the days we were there were calm and often sunny. No matter the weather, it puts Auckland’s waterfront area to shame: while Auckland does have some nice bar areas, it is short on parks. And, of course, it doesn’t have Te Papa, Wellington’s huge, beautiful museum.


We spent two half days going through the floors of Te Papa. Even the more typical exhibitions on topics such as natural history were done well: one area detailed how New Zealand evolved over time and since the arrival of humans, and another featured the preserved carcass of a giant squid. One of the most popular areas was on Gallipoli, the failed campaign in World War I that cost the lives of many Australian and New Zealand troops. It was extremely well-done, telling the story through the eyes of people on the ground and conveying the horror and misery that was spending eight month losing the battle in desert trenches.

The Gallipoli area was the most moving, but my favorite was the section with treasured objects from many different Maori tribes in New Zealand. While the Auckland museum has many such things as well, in Te Papa the descriptions of each were written by the people who owned them, giving it a much more personal feel. Most interesting was the section on the Moriori people, who are native to the Chatham Islands. They have a code of non-violence and so were nearly killed by invading Maori tribes, but they are still proud of their culture and way of life. Though photos were not allowed in this area (and the rest of the museum was a bit too dark for my phone), I got a picture of the modern-day marae inside Te Papa:

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The marae’s name is Rongomaraeroa.


On the other days, we spent most of our time in the botanical gardens and Zealandia, which is a predator-free nature reserve not far from the city center. Each of these deserve their own post, especially as we took many more photos!

Even with four days in Wellington, we missed some of the attractions, such as the seal colony at the Red Rocks and “Wellywood,” the home of Weta Studios and Lord of the Rings. Whenever we find ourselves in the south of the North Island again, we’ll be eager to spend more time in this cool little city.


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