Wellington isn't just NZ’s political and cultural capital – it's gourmet top-dog too, with more restaurants per capita than the Big Apple, a caffeine scene to make Seattle blanch, world-class wineries and artisan producers galore. It looks good, too, draped across lush hills fronted by distinctive Cook Strait bays.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Basil is so Old World! Get with the Kiwi programme and tingle your taste buds with pikopiko-fern pesto on the Kapu Ti tour at the harbourside national museum, Te Papa (55 Cable St, tepapa.govt.nz, £24pp, book ahead). Then pile your plate with kutai (green-lipped mussel) salad and karengo sea weed, before learning to identify the edible greenery on a guided stroll through Bush City, the museum’s garden of NZ’s native plants.
Sunday morning is the time to give thanks and worship – among the food vans at the quayside Farmers’ Markets (Harbourside Market by Te Papa, harboursidemarket.co.nz; City Market at Chaffers Dock Building, citymarket.co.nz). Slurp lustrous duck and truffled onion soup from Le Canard (lecanard.co.nz; £3) or go BBQ crazy at Three Little Pigs (threelittlepigs.co.nz; platters £10) – the manuka wood-smoked pulled pork is heaven-sent.
‘Fush n chups’ on the beach is a Kiwi institution. Forget cod or haddock – hereabouts you're eyeing Southern Hemisphere temptations like tarakihi or warehou. Early evening, ride the no1 bus from the city centre to Island Bay where Fu Xian (347 The Parade; £4) offers succulent sunset scoff. Or stay central by grabbing take out at the sleek Mt Vic Chippery (5 Majoribanks St; £5), then eat on the white sands of nearby Oriental Bay.
Put the TFI into Friday at Cuba Street Night Market (116 Cuba St, wellington-nightmarket.co.nz, Friday 5pm-11pm), founded by Taiwanese Lily Kao in the city’s most boho district. Global food stalls – from Malaysian and Filipino to Hungarian and Moroccan – send smoking aromas wafting by up-for-it young
Hail the ale on the Wellington Craft Beer Trail (craftbeercapital.com) around NZ's best boutique beer joints, serving wonders like Yeastie Boys’ beetroot-infused Golden Age Of Bloodshed. Time for just one bar? Hit the basement brewtopia of Hashigo Zake (25 Taranaki Street, hashigozake.co.nz) where the ales come with legendary pies – the Pilj features a filling of barrel-aged beer, oysters, mushrooms and truffles.
Seaview hills + gourmet supermarkets = perfect picnics. Fill the wicker at Moore Wilson’s (cnr Tory & College St, moorewilson.co.nz) with NZ Black Doris plums, local manchego and rotisserie chicken from the retro 1940s Chook Wagon, add a bottle from the city's best-stocked wine racks, then ride the vintage Cable Car (£3.60 return) up from Lambton Quay to the 19th-century hilltop Botanic Gardens. Save the harbour vista for the cable ride down - instead, find seclusion on the Pukatea Stream bush trail, chow by Henry Moore's 'Bronze Form' sculpture or bronze your own form by the Duck Pond!
Get an instant lowdown on Wellington's gourmet scene with expert guides Zest (zestfoodtours.co.nz; from £90pp). Nibble rosemary- or wasabi-flavoured chocs, discover Matakana double brie or Pohangina Blue, and meet a top coffee roaster before lunch at star diner Logan Brown (see Where To Eat). Or make a day of it on the idyllic Martinborough Tour through olive and lemon groves before tasting some pinot amid the world-class Wairarapa vineyards.
WHERE TO EAT
Floriditas (161 Cuba St, 00 64 4381 2212, floriditas.co.nz). Come for the Art Deco; stay for Wellington’s legendary brunch – bacony wonders or smoked mackerel hash with poached egg, for under a tenner. Dinner brings in a fresh set of cool kids, for dishes such as groper with sorrel risotto. Mains around £13.
Ortega Fish Shack (16 Majoribanks St, 00 64 4382 9559, ortega.co.nz). This colourful, Med-style bistro matches bold fishy dishes – smoked warehou with black pudding, coddled egg and pear chutney, say – with delicious wines, and one of the best Kiwi beer lists in town. Mains around £18.
Matterhorn (106 Cuba St, 00 64 4384 3359, matterhorn.co.nz). Laidback Wellington sophisticates come here for the sleek decor and brilliant small plates, such as kingfish cured in gin botanicals, or crisp beef cheek with parsnip remoulade. Mains around £20.
Logan Brown (192 Cuba St, 00 64 4801 5114, loganbrown.co.nz). In this grand, chandeliered space with aquarium-inlaid bar, the vibe is both laidback and sophisticated. Classic Kiwi produce meets European style in the signature dish, paua (abalone) ravioli with coriander, basil and lime beurre blanc. Mains around £25.
Martin Bosley (103 Oriental Parade, 00 64 4920 8302, martin-bosley.com). Local boy-turned-star chef puts upscale spins on seasonal local produce in this elegant diner overlooking the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club. Try the plancha-cooked fish with squid-ink gnocchi, baby squid, corn parfait and olive vinaigrette. Mains around £27.
Good Luck Bar (126 Cuba St, 00 64 4801 9950, goodluckbar.com). This former opium den pushes mystic mixology with cocktails inspired by the I Ching, deploying spirits like plum sake. Try the takoyaki (deep-fried octopus) and other A-star Asian snacks.
Foxtail (33 Queens Wharf, 00 64 4460 9410, foxglovebar.co.nz). Climb Narnia-style, through a 1930s wardrobe in the quayside Foxglove bar, to enjoy champagne, exotic cocktails and rare whiskies in secretive splendour.
Black Sparrow Bar (Kent Terrace, 00 64 4384 7657). Retro murals adorn the bar at the sumptuous 1920s Embassy filmhouse, where savvy drinkers order a classic – a Martini or Manhattan perhaps - and heed the advice from the 1930s movie She Done Him Wrong: ‘Loosen up. Unbend. You'll feel better.’
ASK THE LOCAL
‘Wellington is awash with good coffee, but one of the great originals is Midnight Espresso (178 Cuba St, 00 64 4384 7014). The kind of place where politicians sit with homeless people, it opens at 7am and closes at 3 in the morning, and does great coffee and veggie food. Oriental Parade is a beautiful part of the city, with a gorgeous beach and views, a glamorous vibe and top restaurants. Maranui Surf Cafe (7 Lyall Parade, 00 64 4 387 2829, maranuicafe.co.nz) is where I feel most like a local – nowhere in the world can be beat the first-floor view across Lyall Bay. Fish Fins (170 Riddiford St, 00 64 4389 5770) in Newtown, in Wellington’s south, does brilliant fish and chips, and they’re so friendly – they ask your name first time you go, and remember it the second time. Wellington is such a tight-knit community. You can’t be mean to anyone, because you’ll always bump into them again!’
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