Destinations Cities

5 reasons to love Wellington

There's a new energy in Wellington and it's not all to do with PM Jacinda Ardern. Denise Bowden headed to the capital to check it out.

By Denise Bowden

1 Where to stay

Cuba Street is the place to soak up Wellington's cool culture. Suits, students, hipsters and families – the big Kiwi welcome mat is out for all. I booked into the 4½-star Quality Hotel, which is under the same roof as the three star Comfort Hotel. Back in 1894, the site was donated to the Salvation Army who turned it into the People's Palace, an affordable haven for travellers with profits going to Kiwis in need. Keeping this lovely gesture alive, the current hotels share the same reception, dining areas, pool and spa facilities. I felt like a princess in my modern, spacious suite overlooking the city and harbour.

Whatever your budget, a stay at Quality Hotel will allow you to soak in all the local flavour
Whatever your budget, a stay at Quality Hotel will allow you to soak in all the local flavour

2 Hannahs Laneway

Wandering off Cuba Street, I was rewarded with Hannahs Laneway. Dominating the site is the former Hannahs shoe factory, which, thanks to a $500,000 upgrade, features a trail of boutique factories and eateries. Peanut-butter king Fix and Fogg sells its wares out of a hole in the wall. Breakfast for me was a thick slab of grain bread with a slathering of their finest crunchy and a squirt of raspberry syrup on top. To wash it down, I wandered across to Six Barrel Soda Co for a $5 tasting board. I can recommend cherry and pomegranate. The highlight of the lane was the Wellington Chocolate Factory and the hour-long tour with Rachael Brown, which runs every Saturday. Her enthusiasm for the product can only be matched by my keenness to sample. Making up to 2000 fair-trade bars a week, the factory creates unique flavours such as chilli lime and packages them in wrappers created by local artists. Having finished the tour with a cup of Peruvian hot chocolate, I left sated, hoping with all the new foot traffic here that someone's rocking a pair of Hannahs kicks.

She's got a monster crush! Denise gets trolled at Weta Workshop.
She's got a monster crush! Denise gets trolled at Weta Workshop.

3 Weta Workshop

Imagine a hoarder's garage contained in a big warehouse and you've got Weta. We first perused shelves laden with items used to create films The Lord of the Rings, District 9 and Elysium, to name a few, before our guide took us through the inner sanctum of the famous Miramar movie workshop.

In this holy grail of models, memorabilia and magic, you can't touch exhibits or take photos because of copyright laws, but there are still swords, helmets and a mechanical eyeball to play with – creepy but still cool!

Sci-fi TV nerds must catch the Thunderbirds are Go Behind-the-scenes Experience complete with the actual Tracy Island shooting stage. Lady Penelope's pad is a dollhouse lovers' dream too.

4 Te Papa Museum

In the same way that every new artefact that comes through its doors is traditionally welcomed, our tour guide gave our little party of German and French friends a hearty haere mai. For the $20 highlights tour, we tore round the three levels (it's worth popping on your trainers!), getting a great overview of the collections and learning about Kiwi culture along the way. Once you've got the lay of the land, you can peruse at your own leisure, which for me was reflecting on the beauty of the Te Hau-ki-Turanga carved whare, then a tour of duty at the Gallipoli exhibition.

Half of my heart is in Havana ... Take a trip to tapas heaven at this glorious bar and restaurant.
Half of my heart is in Havana ... Take a trip to tapas heaven at this glorious bar and restaurant.

5 Where to eat

Havana in Wigan Street had me at curb appeal. The two connecting pink and green villas house a lively tapas bar on one side and an elegant restaurant on the other. As well as being my prettiest dining experience, the menu was tastebud-tingling – seared tuna with puffed black rice and pickled seaweed, pan-roasted fish in a pea broth, and white chocolate mousse with lemon honeycomb and raspberry meringue. Nirvana in Havana! My craving for Wellington has well and truly been whetted.

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