Go-To Guides

Wellington & Wairarapa

It’s dubbed the coolest little capital for a reason. Wellington (Te Whanganui-a-Tara) packs a lot into its compact downtown area, from the Beehive to Te Papa, to the people-watching hotspot that is Cuba Street.

You certainly won't have trouble finding somewhere to eat and drink here. The city is positively overflowing with world-class dining destinations, from eclectic fine-dining establishments to cosy cocktail bars and foodie laneways where you can fill up on bean-to-bar chocolate and peanut butter.

Go over the big hill and you’ll end up in the Wairarapa region, a perfect weekend playground with its European-style wine village and spectacular coastal road. Or head up the Kāpiti Coast for picturesque walking tracks, thrilling rocket rides and island wildlife reserves.

See & Do

Spot native wildlife in an eco-sanctuary, pay a visit to the North Island's tallest lighthouse and hit the capital's main shopping strip.

The best way to commute

The iconic Wellington Cable Car mustn't be missed. Beginning in 1902 – and originally steam-powered – the red cable cars have trundled up and down the hill nearly every day since. But it's more than just a mode of transport: there's art, too. There are murals at the terminal and en route to enjoy and the two 100m tunnels have active light installations within them that are dazzling. There's the eatery at the top, with wonderful views. You can take a free shuttle to Zealandia, leaving from the Kelburn terminus roughly every half-hour. Read more

Wellington's red cable cars have been running since 1902. WELLINGTONNZ

Wellington's red cable cars have been running since 1902. WELLINGTONNZ

The wonders of movie magic

In the pleasant but ordinary suburb of Miramar, you can see movie magic come to life. Book one of Wētā Workshop's guided workshop tours and you'll learn about the making of movie effects and props, from armour to weapons, creatures to costumes, make-up to miniatures. Everywhere you look there are props: elaborate costumes, looking convincingly well-worn, swords and ray-guns, skulls and nightmarish face masks, painstakingly-constructed hair pieces, and a complete alien, never used. Read more

Tuatara can be found sunning outside. BROOK SABIN

Tuatara can be found sunning outside. BROOK SABIN

The world's first fully-fenced eco-sanctuary

Zealandia was named one of the World's 100 Greatest Places of 2019 by Time Magazine, and for a good reason – it gives a glimpse into what New Zealand looked like before humans arrived. Tuatara are wild in the 225-hectare eco-sanctuary, but signs will guide you to their nests – and they can typically be found sunning outside their hole. As well as tuatara, it’s also home to kākā, takahē and Cook Strait giant wētā, to name just a few species.

Aotearoa's stairway to heaven

At first glance, the Escarpment Track only looks suitable for mountain goats. This walking track transforms the steep terrain between Paekākāriki to Pukerua Bay into one of the North Island's best short walks. It involves cliffs, steep tracks, swing bridges, and most of it doesn’t have safety barriers. There are almost 500 steps, so you need to be fit. But if you're willing to proceed along the 9.1km trail, you'll be richly rewarded with stunning views over the Kāpiti Coast. Read more

The Escarpment Track climbs to 220 metres above sea level. BROOK SABIN

The Escarpment Track climbs to 220 metres above sea level. BROOK SABIN

The full Mount Vic loop takes around 1.5 hours. BROOK SABIN

The full Mount Vic loop takes around 1.5 hours. BROOK SABIN

More brilliant Wellington wanders

Beyond the compact and wonderfully walkable inner city, Wellington throws down a diverse selection of walking tracks for both weekend warriors and hardcore trekkers. There are hundreds of walks to choose from in the area, between the city, harbour and coast. Some of our favourites include the flat and easy Red Rocks Coastal Track taking in the rugged south coast, the challenging but beautiful Skyline Walkway along Wellington’s exposed ridge tops and the must-do Mount Victoria Lookout Walk to soak in spectacular views of the city. Read more

Insider tip: The Welly Walks app is a handy guide to showcase the great outdoors in Wellington, from well-known spots to hidden gems.
Alan Granville, travel reporter

Thrift features a curated collection of secondhand clothing. ROSA WOODS/STUFF

Thrift features a curated collection of secondhand clothing. ROSA WOODS/STUFF

How to dress like a Wellingtonian

Arguably more so than anywhere else in the country, Wellington celebrates individuality in style. It’s the city where not being cool makes you even cooler, and when it comes to shopping, Wellingtonians can’t get enough of it. The shopping here is worth the trip alone. From the vintage stores that line Cuba Street to the intimate boutiques that you’ll find nestled in between, the capital really is the only place you need to go for complete retail therapy or indulgence. Read more

CULTURE IN THE CAPITAL

Te Papa Tongarewa: Museum of New Zealand

Our national museum is truly a national treasure and it’s something every visitor to the capital should explore. You’ll find children around the country who have fond memories of the earthquake house on school trips and it still stands today. But alongside permanent fixtures that display everything from a colossal squid to the incredible Gallipoli exhibition, you’ll find some of the country’s most impressive works and tales of history.

Te Papa Tongarewa: Museum of New Zealand. WELLINGTONNZ

Te Papa Tongarewa: Museum of New Zealand. WELLINGTONNZ

Space Place - Carter Observatory

For science nuts and space fanatics, this is a little out of the scope of a usual museum, but no less deserving of a visit. Space Place is found at Carter Observatory, at the top of the famous Cable Car and the entrance to the Wellington Botanic Garden. What makes this space so beautiful, aside from the observatory itself, is the immersive experience where no matter the time of day, you can discover more of the sheer magnificence of the surrounding universe. This should be a must on any list, especially for a visit with kids in tow.

Space Place. WELLINGTONNZ

Space Place. WELLINGTONNZ

New Zealand Portrait Gallery

For those seeking solace in traditional portraiture, New Zealand’s Portrait Gallery is an essential visit. Here you can encounter stories of New Zealanders through the art of portraiture, in a unique medley of art and artefact. In Shed 11, a historic building on the Wellington waterfront, this incredible collection has been curated entirely with the support of donations, volunteers and government grants to secure a long-term lease on the building it now calls home.

Katherine Mansfield House. MONIQUE FORD/DOMINION POST

Katherine Mansfield House. MONIQUE FORD/DOMINION POST

Katherine Mansfield House & Garden

Katherine Mansfield is a Pōneke literary icon and no museum tour would be complete without a visit to the home and garden that birthed some of the country’s greatest works. The house, tucked away in Thorndon behind the parliamentary buildings and the traditionally less arts-focused end of town, offers something for everyone - from historians to garden and literature lovers.

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Cinema has helped to put our capital on the international map. We all know the great success stories like Lord of the Rings, or the more localised hits like Boy, but a complete collection of New Zealand’s works? That’s rare to come by. Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision is home to the New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound. It’s our country’s audiovisual treasure trove, spanning the history of movies, radio and TV. But it’s not just for the industry to pore over; the incredible curators have made this collection open to anyone who wants to uncover our past.

Read more

Wellington's coolest street

Unlike other cities, which have an obvious “main street”, in Wellington, there have always been several stretches of asphalt vying for the title. There’s Cuba Street, the beloved bohemian quarter. There’s Courtenay Place, the nightlife district. There’s Lambton Quay, the beating business heart. But in recent years, another thoroughfare has emerged as the capital’s most exciting street. Ghuznee Street has everything you could want in one handy strip – great food, drinks, street art, shopping, and even a New York-style boutique hotel. Read more

Ghuznee Street has everything you could want in one handy strip. ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

Ghuznee Street has everything you could want in one handy strip. ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

Learn about the tangata whenua on a Te Hīkoi o Pūkaha tour. SARAH WATKINS/SUPPLIED

Learn about the tangata whenua on a Te Hīkoi o Pūkaha tour. SARAH WATKINS/SUPPLIED

A taonga for all New Zealanders

Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre is perhaps best known as the birthplace of the first white kiwi to be hatched in captivity. But Manukura's family members aren’t the only taonga to be found at the sanctuary located 30 kilometres north of Masterton – the whole place is one. The 942-hectare reserve is the last significant remnant of what was once a great forest known to local Māori as Te Tapere nui o Whatonga. On a guided tour you can learn about the tangata whenua, meet a pair of tuatara thought to be up to 80 years old and feed giant longfin eels. Read more

Insider tip: When in Petone, fill up your water bottle at Te Puna Wai Ora, an outdoor sculpture which doubles as a water fountain. The pure water comes from the Hutt Valley aquifer.
Stephen Heard, travel publishing coordinator

Castlepoint Lighthouse is an hour's drive from Masterton. WELLINGTONNZ

Castlepoint Lighthouse is an hour's drive from Masterton. WELLINGTONNZ

For spectacular coastal views

At 23 metres high, Castlepoint is the tallest lighthouse in the North Island, theatrically positioned 52 metres above the sea on a rugged and weathered rocky headland on the Wairarapa coast. Just an hour's drive from Masterton, it's easily reached by a short stroll along a boardwalk, and is a gift to the photographer — plus anyone else who enjoys a stunning view. You might also see fur seals, as well as many sorts of seabird. There's a sheltered lagoon suitable for swimming at the base of the headland, and a long sandy beach in front of the little Castlepoint settlement. Read more

​Insider tip: As well as World War II fortifications, Wrights Hill Reserve dishes up impressive city views. You can also park close to the summit.
Alan Granville, travel reporter

WoW annually attracts around 60,000 people. WORLD OF WEARABLEART

WoW annually attracts around 60,000 people. WORLD OF WEARABLEART

The best times to be in Wellington and Wairarapa

From the southern hemisphere’s biggest indigenous film festival to a midwinter yuletide carnival, Wellington and Wairarapa have no shortage of world-class events. The only dilemma is choosing which spectacle to plan your trip around. This year, The World of WearableArt is heading back to combine the mediums of fashion, art, design and costume; Toast Martinborough will celebrate its 30th year spotlighting local food and wine; plus inventive burgers and immersive dining pop-ups will be flowing at our biggest culinary festival, Wellington On a Plate. Read more

Hidden Gems

Taste your way through a craft chocolate factory, ferry across to an island nature reserve and sit down in a stylish Art Deco cinema.

A Willy Wonka experience

Wellington Chocolate Factory is a gem of a craft chocolate factory, hidden down a laneway in the central city. It's New Zealand’s first certified organic bean-to-bar chocolate factory, which means all of their products are made from scratch. Come hungry – there is plenty of chocolate to be sampled on the tasting tour. Guests are welcomed with super-rich hot chocolate, and it's not long before you'll be helping yourself to cookies and trying different types of chocolate. Read more

Come hungry – there is plenty of chocolate to be sampled. BROOK SABIN

Come hungry – there is plenty of chocolate to be sampled. BROOK SABIN

The mansion where the royals stay

You don’t have to be a royal to visit Government House in Wellington. We’re all welcome at the official residence of the Governor-General. Possibly one of the capital’s best-kept secrets is that there are public tours of the stately mansion you can take, for free. These two-hour guided tours offer a fascinating glimpse into the history of the house, which was built in 1910, and its occupants over the years. But even if you’re not much of a history buff, it’s also just a great opportunity to have a nosey around a grand old building that is filled with treasures. Read more

The Pinnacles are the remnants of an ancient river fan that formed millions of years ago. BROOK SABIN

The Pinnacles are the remnants of an ancient river fan that formed millions of years ago. BROOK SABIN

Journey to Middle-earth

It's not often that a film location looks better in real life than on screen, but the Putangirua Pinnacles is one such location. Over 120,000 years, an ancient stream has eroded the valley. While the softer rock washed away, the harder parts remained, creating a series of stunning "hoodoos", also known as fairy chimneys or earth pyramids. Each of the towering pillars has its own unique form, making it an open-air art gallery thousands of years in the making. Read more

Wairarapa’s spectacular coastal road

Further along the coast is Ngāwī, a fishing village claimed to be home to more bulldozers per head of population than anywhere in the world. What's remarkable about the landscape is there are almost no trees in the arid hills looming over the coastline. After a walk among the bulldozers, continue your drive around the coast (seal spotting on the way) until you reach the Cape Palliser Lighthouse; the windswept southernmost point of the North Island. You'll have a steep but rewarding 258-step climb up to the lighthouse where you can even spot the South Island on a clear day. Read more

The steep climb to the lighthouse is worth the view. BROOK SABIN

The steep climb to the lighthouse is worth the view. BROOK SABIN

Aston Norwood Gardens has more than 300 cherry trees. WELLINGTONNZ

Aston Norwood Gardens has more than 300 cherry trees. WELLINGTONNZ

Wellington's secret cherry blossom garden

Many people don’t know there’s a place in New Zealand that would easily rival some of Japan’s famed cherry blossom spots. Aston Norwood Gardens is thought to boast the largest collection of the awanui cherry tree in Aotearoa. In spring, the gardens are transformed into a frothy, candyfloss-hued wonderland as more than 300 show-stopping trees bloom. It is a beautiful place to visit at any time of year, but the Blossom Valley festival lets you wander through the gardens, admiring the trees in bloom. There are also after-dark sessions where you can walk beneath the glowing canopy of blossoms. Read more

Matiu/Somes Island can be accessed via a 25-minute ferry ride. JOHNNY HENDRIKUS/SUPPLIED

Matiu/Somes Island can be accessed via a 25-minute ferry ride. JOHNNY HENDRIKUS/SUPPLIED

NZ's version of Alcatraz, with wildlife

Located at the centre of Wellington Harbour, Matiu/Somes Island has a 1000-year history. It got especially busy after the colonists arrived: first as a lighthouse site, and subsequently as quarantine stations for both people and animals, a defence post and an internment camp. Now it's run by the Department of Conservation as a pest-free scientific and historic reserve, home to kākāriki, tuatara, giant wētā and little blue penguins/kororā, which you might see if you make the 25-minute ferry trip. Read more

The island is home to several at-risk native species. BROOK SABIN

The island is home to several at-risk native species. BROOK SABIN

New Zealand's own Garden of Eden

One of the best places to encounter rare native species in the wild is Kāpiti Island. This wonderland of wildlife is a protected predator-free nature reserve sitting off Paraparaumu Beach. There are two main options for exploring the island. A day trip, or you can overnight with Kāpiti Island Nature Tours, which has a lodge and glamping tents. Nobody can land on the island without a permit and there are limits on the number of people who can visit each day. There are a couple of tracks to choose from; an hour circuit around the shelter or a return journey to the island's peak. In the jungle-like paradise you'll soon spot kākā, takahē and birds swooping from every direction. Read more

The Wairarapa’s spectacular coastal road. BROOK SABIN

The Wairarapa’s spectacular coastal road. BROOK SABIN

Scorching Bay is popular inner-harbour beach. BROOK SABIN

Scorching Bay is popular inner-harbour beach. BROOK SABIN

The Cable Car departs every 10-15 minutes. ROSA WOODS/STUFF

The Cable Car departs every 10-15 minutes. ROSA WOODS/STUFF

Leeds Street is a vibrant precinct in Wellington's central city. BROOK SABIN

Leeds Street is a vibrant precinct in Wellington's central city. BROOK SABIN

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The Wairarapa’s spectacular coastal road. BROOK SABIN

The Wairarapa’s spectacular coastal road. BROOK SABIN

Scorching Bay is popular inner-harbour beach. BROOK SABIN

Scorching Bay is popular inner-harbour beach. BROOK SABIN

The Cable Car departs every 10-15 minutes. ROSA WOODS/STUFF

The Cable Car departs every 10-15 minutes. ROSA WOODS/STUFF

Leeds Street is a vibrant precinct in Wellington's central city. BROOK SABIN

Leeds Street is a vibrant precinct in Wellington's central city. BROOK SABIN

The magnificent hidden rail trail

Once one of the country's steepest railroads, climbing 265 metres over 4 kilometres, the Remutaka Rail Trail is now a walking and cycle trail that's now used by about 30,000 people each year. Adventure company Wildfinder has a base at the start of the trail in Kaitoke. This is the best place to start, as most of the ride ends up being downhill. Along the route, there are many places to stop with boards telling the tales of the railway. The trail also takes you through several tunnels and crosses the valley using a magnificent 90-metre swing bridge. Read more

The trail passes a number of tunnels. BROOK SABIN

The trail passes a number of tunnels. BROOK SABIN

Walk with the birds

The biggest remnant of lowland swamp forest left on the Kāpiti Coast, Ngā Manu Nature Reserve’s 14 hectares have been lovingly preserved since 1974. It appeals to all ages, especially those who like to get close to some of our most personable birds. Kākāriki, kāka, kea, kiwi: they are all right there, especially if you do the guided Feed-Out Tour. You’ll enter the enclosures and watch the birds come eagerly to claim their treats, unperturbed by your presence. Be sure to climb the tower beside the lake for its splendid views. Read more

You can add a beach landing to the South Coast Discovery Tour. BROOK SABIN

You can add a beach landing to the South Coast Discovery Tour. BROOK SABIN

A secret side of Wellington

There is a side of Wellington you probably haven’t seen — and the best way to experience it is via helicopter with GCH Aviation. The trip starts on Wellington’s waterfront before lifting over the CBD, passing Parliament and getting an aerial view of The Beehive. Heading towards the remote southern coast you'll pass Makara Wind Farm for a look at the 62 giant turbines. A few minutes later, you’re above the Cook Strait, gazing at Wellington’s secret southern coast, home to many seals. The chopper then makes its way towards Wellington Airport, before crossing back to the city past Mount Victoria.

A Kiwi-made rocket ride

Fly by Wire is perhaps the most insane, adrenaline-fuelled ride that you've never heard of. The ride is hard to describe, because there is nothing like it on the planet. It's perhaps best thought of as a rocket, meets an air force jet — all connected to a wire. The plane, without wings and a large engine on the back, is suspended between a valley by a network of wires. You lie down on the aircraft, get strapped in, then off you go. It steers much like a bike, and you're given instructions on how to get maximum speed. Read more

The miniature railway opened in 1972 and is still running to this day. JET PRODUCTIONS

The miniature railway opened in 1972 and is still running to this day. JET PRODUCTIONS

The train ride that costs just $1

If you head to the town of Masterton you’ll find the perfect place to spend your pocket money. In the centre of town is Queen Elizabeth Park, home to an epic playground and miniature railway which runs around an island in the lake. The majority of rides are done by a shiny red diesel-electric locomotive, also known as “Doug”. But if you’re very lucky, you might visit when the steam engine locomotive “Atlantic” is running. One dollar gets you three whirls around the track, travelling at an unexpectedly thrilling 15kph – making it the fastest miniature train in the country. There’s even a 38-metre-long tunnel where screaming is compulsory. Read more

A whirlwind trip to Porirua

Just 20 minutes north of Wellington, Porirua is probably most famous for being home to the Whittakers chocolate factory since 1969. However, Porirua is also home to plenty of beautiful walking tracks, outdoor activities, neat cafés and the renowned Pātaka Art + Museum. Visit the pocket-sized Local Authority for coffee that packs a punch, grab some delicious Mediterranean-inspired fare at The Little Goat, and hit the Whitireia Park loop walk for stunning coastal views over Porirua Harbour. Read more

THE BEST PLACES TO WATCH A MOVIE

The Embassy

No cinema could be more iconic than this 100-year-old picture palace on Kent Terrace. The cinema is just as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside – a magnificent marble staircase takes you up to the main theatre, which can seat more than 750 moviegoers before its giant screen. All your favourite movie snacks are available from the candy bar, but there’s also Blondini’s Cafe & Bar in the upstairs foyer and 1930s-inspired cocktail lounge The Black Sparrow downstairs.

Embassy Theatre. WELLINGTONNZ

Embassy Theatre. WELLINGTONNZ

The Roxy

You’ll find one of the country’s best cinemas in the suburb of Miramar. The Roxy started life as the Capitol Theatre. After being left to languish for a number of years, the Art Deco building was taken over and restored by a group of film industry heavyweights. Film buffs will find plenty to geek out over, from the statues of Gandalf and Gollum, to the sci-fi ceiling mural and special events like retro screenings, singalongs, and even Q&A sessions with filmmakers and celebrities. Foodies also flock here to visit the in-house restaurant, Coco at The Roxy, for its stylish small plates and cocktails.

Light House Cuba

Light House Cuba is the perfect oasis for film lovers in the city. This neat little cinema has three screens which show both indie films and mainstream releases, so you can enjoy the latest blockbusters in boutique bliss. The seating here really puts other cinemas to shame – each theatre has cosy two-seater sofas with cushions, so you can really make yourself at home. The snack counter doubles as a café and bar. There’s also mezzanine seating, which is a nice place to catch up with friends for a coffee before a film.

Light House Cuba. SUPPLIED

Light House Cuba. SUPPLIED

Penthouse Cinema & Café

A short drive up the hill from the CBD, in the New York-inspired suburb of Brooklyn, is another Art Deco treasure. The cinema was built in 1939, and has been owned by the same family since the mid-1970s. These days the cinema boasts four screens, which show a diverse range of films. There’s a café onsite, serving up brunch and dinner, with counter food available in between. It’s fully licensed, and you can buy drinks to take into the movie with you.

Empire Cinema

Wellington’s most southerly suburb, Island Bay, is home to the lovely Empire Cinema, which takes pride of place on The Parade. The cinema operated from 1925 to 1964, before being reborn as a shoe shop and later a hardware shop. But in 2004, it was turned back into a cinema. It underwent another revamp in 2015, and now boasts three cosy theatres – all with sofa seating – and a licensed eatery. The eatery is open for brunch and dinner. They also do great coffee and cabinet food, as well as all your cinema staples.

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Eat & Drink

Treat yourself at fine-dining restaurant specialising in modern Māori kai, pick up lunch for pocket change, or head across the hill to a European-style wine village.

A taste of Aotearoa

Monique Fiso worked at top restaurants across the globe before returning to the capital to launch modern Māori restaurant Hiakai. The restaurant has since been praised by Time Magazine and National Geographic for helping to shape and define Māori cuisine and bring native ingredients into the spotlight. Some of her current flavour innovations include manono (a native shrub) rum, and harakeke (flax) icecream. She’s also brought te ao Māori concepts of sharing food into the restaurant: the current menu theme incorporates sharing dishes to emulate the big feasts of marae gatherings. Read more

Fine-dining at Hiakai restaurant in Mount Cook. JOHNNY HENDRIKUS/SUPPLIED

Fine-dining at Hiakai restaurant in Mount Cook. JOHNNY HENDRIKUS/SUPPLIED

The famed chilli oil dumplings from Rams Crazy Dumpling Restaurant. WELLINGTONNZ

The famed chilli oil dumplings from Rams Crazy Dumpling Restaurant. WELLINGTONNZ

Dishes worth travelling for

The salted caramel cookie from Leeds Street Bakery is a Wellington icon. The bakery, found in the capital’s foodie street, Hannahs Laneway, bakes up to 200 of the big, chewy, salty-sweet cookies a day. The unassuming Soul Shack serves American soul food out of its shop on Victoria Street. Out of a small but nonetheless tantalising menu, the Nashville-style buttermilk fried wings are the flagship item, with spice levels ranging from zero to four. Rams Crazy Dumplings Restaurant is a tiny eatery that you’d be forgiven for strolling right past on Cuba Street, but any local knows that it’s home to the best dumplings in the capital.

Insider tip: Visiting the Harbourside Market on a Sunday morning is a must - don't miss the Orange Chinese Food Truck's delicious dumplings.
Siobhan Downes, senior travel reporter

Pizza Pomodoro cooks their pizza for around a minute. BROOK SABIN

Pizza Pomodoro cooks their pizza for around a minute. BROOK SABIN

A world-class foodie laneway

With authentic Naples-style pizza, a chocolate factory, a fine-dining restaurant, a peanut butter café, and one of the best bars in the city, Hannahs Laneway (also known as Leeds Street) is a shrine to delicious treats, and those who choose to worship will be richly rewarded. You'd be hard-pressed to find such a vibrant collection of eateries in such a small space anywhere else in the country. Read more

FOODIE EXPERIENCES IN THE WAIRARAPA

C’est Cheese

C’est Cheese owner Paul Broughton and his team aren’t just cheesemongers – they consider themselves matchmakers, ready to pair you with the perfect cheese. The Featherston shop stocks one of the largest ranges of New Zealand cheese in the country, including their own cheese produced onsite under the label Remutaka Pass Creamy. The shop also boasts a “cheese bar” where you can order from a menu of fromage-focused fare, such as mac and cheese, poutine and grilled cheese sandwiches.

C'est Cheese. BROOK SABIN

C'est Cheese. BROOK SABIN

Olivo

You’ll never look at a bottle of olive oil the same after a visit to Olivo in Martinborough. That’s the promise from Helen Meehan, who with her husband John owns the Wairarapa’s oldest commercial olive grove. You can take a tour of the grove, wandering through the 1200 trees and learning all about the conditions needed to grow them. The tour concludes in the tasting room, where you’ll discover what the different grades of olive oil really mean, get tips on making the most of them, and get to sample Olivo’s special infused oils – delicious flavours include porcini, smoked paprika, and vanilla.

Schoc Chocolates

Housed in a tiny turn-of-the-century cottage in Greytown is Schoc Chocolates, which sells handmade tablets of chocolate in creative flavour combinations that would put Willy Wonka to shame. As bizarre as some of them sound – we’re talking curry and pappadums, carrot and coriander, and lime chili – they’re all surprisingly delicious. The more than 80 flavour combinations can be sampled, for free. The shop also has a delectable selection of individual chocolates and truffles, as well as rich hot chocolates perfect for chilly winter days.

Schoc Chocolates. BROOK SABIN

Schoc Chocolates. BROOK SABIN

Cuckoo Pizza

For the best pizzas in the Wairarapa region, locals flock to Cuckoo on the main street of Greytown. This gem of a restaurant is beloved for their stone-baked pizzas, all named after birds, and interesting toppings – the “long-tailed cuckoo” with roast pumpkin and bacon is particularly heavenly. They also offer a selection of non-pizza mains and puddings, with a drinks list featuring local wines.

Pinocchio

Pinocchio is one of the top restaurants in the Wairarapa – and in fact the country, having featured twice on Cuisine magazine’s top 100 restaurants list. Owners Paul and Elly Ansell both come from fine-dining backgrounds and that’s reflected in the food, with beautifully presented mains like confit duck leg or the melt-in-your-mouth six-hour braised beef cheek. There’s also a “trust the chef” tasting menu, where you have the option of five or seven courses, which can be paired with wines.

Pinocchio. SUPPLIED

Pinocchio. SUPPLIED

The Screening Room

Masterton’s The Screening Room is a stylish venue that combines a cinema and eatery, with two screens showing the latest flicks and the restaurant, café and bar offering coffee, drinks, snacks, lunch and dinner. The menu takes inspiration from all over the globe, featuring small bites like bao buns or arancini as well as larger plates and a special cinema food menu featuring elevated movie snacks like a tapas platter and ice cream sandwich.

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Where to find the freshest craft beers

Wellington has the power to turn beer sceptics into believers. The capital's craft revolution has spawned such a diverse range of breweries and beer styles that there’s something to suit every taste – even if you have no idea how to tell your lager from your ale. It helps that you can actually see where the magic happens, with several breweries doubling as drinking establishments. Some brew pubs are housed in unexpected spots, like old petrol stations and former factories, which only adds to the experience. Read more

Hawthorn Lounge is known for its creative cocktails. CELESTE FONTEIN

Hawthorn Lounge is known for its creative cocktails. CELESTE FONTEIN

The best bars in Wellington

You won’t go thirsty in Wellington, that’s for sure. The compact nature of the capital means you don’t have far to go to find some of the best eclectic bars and laid-back speakeasies in the country. Top places for a tipple include Crumpet, a standout for its friendliest staff. Hawthorn Lounge is a 1920s-inspired speakeasy known for its creative libations. The Library is a cosy book-lined bar with great cocktails and booths oozing old-world charm. R Bar is a little gem of a pirate-themed speakeasy bar where rum-based cocktails are order of the day. Read more

Insider tip: ​Many restaurants and bars in Wellington have deals where you can get half-price or two-for-one meals and drinks on certain days. Click here to explore the deals.
Siobhan Downes, senior travel reporter

More than just a supermarket

With its plethora of places to eat, most visitors to Wellington wouldn’t dream of stepping foot inside a supermarket. But Moore Wilson’s couldn’t be further from your average aisle-trawling experience. Here you'll find just about everything food-related under one roof. It might be famous for hangover-curing orange juice, but venture further inside and you'll discover a showroom for decadent baked goods and supersized wheels of cheese. You’ll also find local coffee, a huge range of wines and craft beers, plus a homeware section with its own toy shop. If you’re feeling peckish there's sushi and hot meals to go. Read more

DOES WELLINGTON HAVE MORE CAFES PER CAPITA THAN NEW YORK CITY?

Practically every article ever written about Wellington’s dining scene has included the boast that the city has more cafés, restaurants and bars per capita than New York.

A peek through The Dominion Post archives shows it was already in popular use in 1998. The claim was put before a global audience in Lonely Planet’s 2011 Best in Travel guidebook, when Wellington was named among the top 10 hottest cities in the world. It has even been endorsed by the New York Times, which repeated the line in a travel article about Wellington in 2011.

Clearly the comparison has been marketing gold for the capital. So who came up with it?

“It was just always something that people said – and then it was repeated, and repeated,” says Cas Carter, who was the marketing manager for the first Wellington tourism organisation, which was set up in the mid-1990s.

“I tried to find out where it actually came from and I couldn’t. Whenever anyone used it, it was, ‘it is said that Wellington has …’ because I just couldn’t substantiate it. In those days we didn’t have Google, either.”

Someone from the tourism board did, at some stage, sit down and run the numbers – and they stack up, says Anna Calver, the marketing and communications general manager for WellingtonNZ.

“The figures were rechecked in 2017. It was based on figures from Wellington City Council which said the city had close to 850 restaurants, bars and cafes for its approximately 200,000 residents – which equates to an eatery for every 240 Wellingtonians.

“By comparison, New York City Department of Health counted around 25,000 registered eateries in a city of 8.5 million – one per 340 New Yorkers.”

That said, the per capita comparison is not always the most reliable measure. Technically the Central Otago town of Naseby, for example, could claim a more vibrant dining scene than either Wellington or New York, with its one pub and population of 125.

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Cafés of the Kāpiti Coast

Tour the coast of the lower North Island and you’ll find elevated cafe cuisine and plenty of beachy vibes. Point the car in the direction of Ōtaki Beach and you’ll reach the small but mighty Ōtaki Kitchen where classical French-trained chef Kamal Rahtore does interesting and tasty things with local produce. Head to Hola Bar & Grill in Paraparaumu where you can sip cocktails and sample Mexican-inspired street food with views across Kāpiti Island. Across the road from Waikanae Beach is the casual but cool Longbeach Cafe & Tavern where pizzas are the star of the show. Read more

Where to brunch

If you find yourself in capital in need of brunch, you might just experience the greatest meal of your week. There's no better spot to enjoy eggs and coffee, and Wellington’s coastal location, than at Maranui Café. Cuba Street's Floriditas has been a local favourite for 17 years, and no matter what time of the day you visit, you can’t go past the fish pie. Egmont Street Eatery is another failsafe dining destination, while August is a newish eatery on Taranaki Street where the only problem you'll face is choosing what to order. Read more

Visit Maranui Café for brunch with a view. CELESTE FONTEIN/SUPPLIED

Visit Maranui Café for brunch with a view. CELESTE FONTEIN/SUPPLIED

Shepherd is part of Hannahs Laneway. JEFF MCEWEN

Shepherd is part of Hannahs Laneway. JEFF MCEWEN

Restaurants for a special occasion

Wellington is serious about its food. But it’s certainly not all white tablecloths and haughty sommeliers – you’ll find the capital’s top dining spots are as vibrant and eclectic as the city itself. Some of the best spots to book for a special occasion include Shepherd, a restaurant known for its playful take on fine-dining, where you can sample savoury custard by night and truffled mushrooms on toast the next morning. On lower Cuba Street, Highwater is a stylish all-day eatery that looks like something straight out of Melbourne. Logan Brown lives up to its reputation as an undisputed icon of the food scene. The pāua ravioli is one to tick off your culinary bucket list. Read more

The platter is the perfect lunch for two. SUPPLIED

The platter is the perfect lunch for two. SUPPLIED

The best platter in New Zealand

Poppies is one of more than 20 wineries within walking or cycling distance of the Martinborough village. Every cellar door has something special to offer, but if it’s a winery lunch you’re after, Poppies is hard to beat – they’re almost as famous for their platters as they are for their exquisite wines. The platters are so much more than your standard boards of meat, cheese and crackers. Showstoppers include the crispy pork belly, while delicious dips like beetroot hummus and Indian relish will have you coming back for seconds. Read more

WELLINGTON'S BEST CHEAP EATS

Taste of Home

On any given lunchtime or dinnertime, this tiny restaurant on Vivian Street is crammed with hungry customers, either waiting for takeaways or hunched over big bowls of noodles on one of the coveted bar stools. Their signature dish is Yo Po Mian ($12.50), or hot oil noodles, which originates from the Xi’an province of China. What makes it really special is that the noodles are freshly hand-pulled – a labour-intensive technique that involves stretching and slapping hunks of dough into long, chewy ribbons.

Little Penang. SUPPLIED

Little Penang. SUPPLIED

Little Penang

Malaysian has long been the capital’s cuisine of choice, and while there are several authentic restaurants to choose from, most locals will point you in the direction of Little Penang. What sets Little Penang apart is that it specialises in Peranakan (or Nyonya) food, using ingredients imported from Malaysia that give each dish its distinctive taste. Nothing on the menu will cost you more than $20, and there really is no wrong choice, but you might experience more than a touch of food envy should a huge plate of mee goreng happen to pass by your table.

Rasa

This colourful Cuba Street eatery is always packed with a diverse crowd, from students to families. The restaurant offers both Malaysian and South Indian cuisine, with almost every kind of curry you can think of on the menu. Their aromatic beef rendang ($20) is one of the best in the city, but the dosai ($15) is the true star of the show. It's a kind of savoury crepe filled with spiced potatoes or meat and rolled up and served with a selection of tasty chutneys.

Lucky. SUPPLIED

Lucky. SUPPLIED

Lucky

In a converted toilet complex is a beloved fried chicken spot, Lucky. There’s no clucking around with their simple menu, which features a fried chicken burger ($14 for a single), a fried haloumi burger ($14), fried chicken “poppers” ($11 for a single) and gravy fries ($5 when added to a burger). Down the business end of town? Lucky also has a kiosk in the Press Hall food court on Willis Street.

Fred’s Sandwiches

Since opening in late 2021, Fred’s has elevated the humble lunch staple to an art form, with hungry Wellingtonians flocking to their little shop on Cuba Street for the tastiest possible combos between two slices. A classic egg sandwich ($10) will easily get you through the morning. Come back for lunch to try the chicken sandwich ($16), which is already considered iconic – it consists of an enormous piece of schnitzel flavoured with Japanese spices, served in fresh white loaf with shredded iceberg and pickle mayo. Keep an eye out for weekly specials.

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Stay

Sleep in a luxury cabin on the side of a cliff, watch planes land from the comfort of bed, or book into a New York-style city escape.

A classic for a wine weekend

Martinborough is the closest thing New Zealand has to a European-style wine village. Opened in 1882, the historic Martinborough Hotel has had some updates over the years, but it’s still big on old-school charm. You can stay in the original building, but there are also suites in the garden, as well as a handful of rooms and suites in a neighbouring building. Union Square, on the ground floor of the hotel, has become an institution in its own right. The all-day bistro and bar serves up hearty, country fare with a French influence, with a wine list so extensive you could technically forgo the wineries and just park up here for the weekend. Read more

The Martinborough Hotel is located just off the town square. BROOK SABIN

The Martinborough Hotel is located just off the town square. BROOK SABIN

A feast for the eyes and the stomach

QT Wellington is something of a legend in the capital’s hotel scene. It used to sit on the same spot where you’ll now find Te Papa. Previously known as the Museum Art Hotel, it was sold in 2015 and given a $12 million makeover, before reopening as New Zealand’s first QT hotel. The lobby lounge is filled with eye-popping artworks, while other facilities include a gym, sauna, and an indoor swimming pool. Hippopotamus isn’t your standard hotel restaurant. It has become synonymous with fine dining in the capital and should be on your list, whether you’re staying at the hotel or not. Read more

Bohemian style in the bush

One of the country's coolest baches is tucked away in dense bush overlooking Wellington Harbour. Just 10 minutes from the airport on the Miramar Peninsula, it's a steep five-minute walk to the bright blue Boho Bach. The house is full of bohemian brilliance but the highlight is a large outdoor bath overlooking the harbour. Big enough for two, it's possibly the most relaxing little spot in all of Wellington. While soaking, you're bound to be visited by a few of the friendly locals: tui, fantails and even woodpigeons. Read more

Boho Bach is strictly adults-only. BROOK SABIN

Boho Bach is strictly adults-only. BROOK SABIN

The hotel is fully connected to the terminal. BROOK SABIN

The hotel is fully connected to the terminal. BROOK SABIN

Watch wild landings from bed

At Rydges Wellington Airport, you can watch pilots attempt to get their aircraft to land on the city’s relatively short runway — from the comfort of bed. The hotel is the first in New Zealand that is fully connected to a terminal. If you're interested in plane spotting, request a room with a runway view. There are two excellent restaurants on-site. Whiskey Lima Golf is a large all-day eatery with views of the area where international jets typically park, and Peloton is a great place to relax away from the crowds. Read more

Luxury on a hilltop

Sitting on a hilltop high above the Wairarapa is Moonlight Peak, a luxury off-grid solar-powered suite. This adults-only escape is for those who love seclusion, and the adventure starts before you even get there. You'll be met by a host, where you'll jump in a 4WD to make the steep ascent up a winding farm track to the top of a hill. After being dropped off, you won't see anybody, and you won't be able to leave. But you'll have everything you need, including a full kitchen, a hot tub, and dressing gowns, and a view to enjoy. Read more

Wellington's New York-style escape

The capital's newest hotel has an edgy New York industrial vibe – it feels like you could be in the Big Apple. The Intrepid Hotel is co-owned by Alex Cassels and Sean Golding, who is behind the city's craft beer bar Golding's Free Dive and neighbouring restaurant Shepherd. The hotel has 18 luxury industrial-style rooms, stripped back to their raw brick beauty while sizeable swing lamps hover over the bed. It is ideally located for those who want to eat out and shop while visiting the capital, and the building is also home to The Puffin, a chic bar which specialises in organic wine. Read more

Four more inner city stays

Visitors to Wellington are spoiled for choice with accommodation options in the inner city. The DoubleTree by Hilton is a seven-storey, 106-room property straddling Lambton Quay and Grey Street. The nine-storey InterContinental is a luxury hotel that’s played host to Hillary Clinton and One Direction. Oaks Wellington is a 226-room, nine-storey hotel offering views of the city, Mount Victoria and Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. Plus, Naumi Studio Hotel is a bold property exploding with colour and larger-than-life floral sculptures. Read more

The very elaborate reception at the Naumi Studio Hotel. NAUMI STUDIO WELLINGTON

The very elaborate reception at the Naumi Studio Hotel. NAUMI STUDIO WELLINGTON

A five-star oasis in the CBD

The Bolton Hotel is essentially what happens when you throw tonnes of imagination at a nondescript car park. Built in 2005 on the site of The Treasury’s old car park, the 19-storey property is a five-star family-run luxurious oasis. It’s bordered by the Botanic Gardens and the Bolton Street Memorial Park. Inside, there are 137 rooms, from elegant studios to one and two-bedroom apartment-style suites. All err on the side of chic, contemporary luxury, with lots of navy and gold. Read more

The luxury cabin on the side of a cliff

A half-hour drive from Wellington city, Pipinui Point is a cliffside luxury cabin that sits on the outer edge of an enormous 1600-hectare coastal farm, with breathtaking views over to the South Island. The property features a designer kitchen next to a cosy lounge with a fire and the bedroom is home to an ultra-plush bed with a large window overlooking the coast. On a rough windy day, you can watch a storm unfold next to the fire. And then head behind the TV to push a magic button which automatically fills the cliffside bathtub. It is ready at the perfect temperature. Read more

Wairarapa's most iconic hotel

Driving along the main street of Greytown, it’s hard to miss the striking White Swan. The hotel has only been on its main street perch since 2002, but the building itself started life as an administration block at the Woburn railyard in Lower Hutt. There are seven deluxe suites located upstairs on the first floor, plus three studio rooms and two garden suites located in a separate complex at the back of the hotel overlooking a neighbourhood park. Downstairs is divided into two areas – the gastro pub, and restaurant. Both are popular among locals, so it pays to book in advance (or get in early to nab a coveted seat on the veranda). Read more

The White Swan’s veranda is the place to be on a sunny day. THE PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTIVE

The White Swan’s veranda is the place to be on a sunny day. THE PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTIVE

Five family-friendly hotels

Families have the best of both worlds in Wellington and Wairarapa. The capital's tightly packaged inner city makes hopping between attractions and grabbing a bite to eat incredibly easy. Along the Kāpiti Coast visitors can make the most of the outdoors, while over the hill in Wairarapa there’s ample green space for young humans to run around. There’s a surprising number of family-friendly accommodation options between the regions, making it easy to hop around with the entire clan. Read more

The glass pod for astrophiles

The secluded Kokomea PurePod is tucked away on a farm roughly an hour's drive north of Wellington. The romantic glass hideaway is PurePod's first in the North Island and you don't find out where it is until you book. With wrap-around glass walls, it is one of the best places in Aotearoa to watch stars from bed. The bed is the centrepiece of the main room and a walk into the bathroom reveals a huge glass shower with views of the sea. Push a button and the windows magically open. Read more

The outdoor bath has views over the harbour. BROOK SABIN

The outdoor bath has views over the harbour. BROOK SABIN

The Intrepid has three room categories. BROOK SABIN

The Intrepid has three room categories. BROOK SABIN

Pipinui Point is perfect for a special occasion. BROOK SABIN

Pipinui Point is perfect for a special occasion. BROOK SABIN

The PurePod is tucked away in a remote part of a farm. BROOK SABIN

The PurePod is tucked away in a remote part of a farm. BROOK SABIN

The White Swan is a landmark on the main street of Greytown. THE PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTIVE

The White Swan is a landmark on the main street of Greytown. THE PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTIVE

Sofitel Wellington is a short walk from Te Papa and Wellington Botanic Garden. BROOK SABIN

Sofitel Wellington is a short walk from Te Papa and Wellington Botanic Garden. BROOK SABIN

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The outdoor bath has views over the harbour. BROOK SABIN

The outdoor bath has views over the harbour. BROOK SABIN

The Intrepid has three room categories. BROOK SABIN

The Intrepid has three room categories. BROOK SABIN

Pipinui Point is perfect for a special occasion. BROOK SABIN

Pipinui Point is perfect for a special occasion. BROOK SABIN

The PurePod is tucked away in a remote part of a farm. BROOK SABIN

The PurePod is tucked away in a remote part of a farm. BROOK SABIN

The White Swan is a landmark on the main street of Greytown. THE PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTIVE

The White Swan is a landmark on the main street of Greytown. THE PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTIVE

Sofitel Wellington is a short walk from Te Papa and Wellington Botanic Garden. BROOK SABIN

Sofitel Wellington is a short walk from Te Papa and Wellington Botanic Garden. BROOK SABIN

Sponsored Picks 

Our guide to a wild weekend in Wellington

Lyall Bay. SUPPLIED

Wellington is New Zealand’s vibrant cultural heart and foodie capital, brimming with quirky cafés, tucked-away bars and award-winning restaurants. To help you plan a wild weekend in Wellington we’ve curated a wide range of experiences for every type of traveller.

Siberia Gully Bridge, Remutaka Cycle Trail. SUPPLIED

Lyall Bay. SUPPLIED

Lyall Bay. SUPPLIED

Siberia Gully Bridge, Remutaka Cycle Trail. SUPPLIED

Siberia Gully Bridge, Remutaka Cycle Trail. SUPPLIED

Sponsored Picks 

Fit for all seasons

Cape Palliser Lighthouse. SUPPLIED

From quaint towns and villages to gourmet experiences, rugged coastline to forest sanctuaries, Wairarapa is diverse and full of experiences that will make you never want to leave.

Greytown Village. SUPPLIED

Cape Palliser Lighthouse. SUPPLIED

Cape Palliser Lighthouse. SUPPLIED

Greytown Village. SUPPLIED

Greytown Village. SUPPLIED

Visuals: Brook Sabin

Words: Brook Sabin, Stephen Heard, Siobhan Downes, Lorna Thornber, Alan Granville, Pamela Wade, Sharon Stephenson, Tessa Patrick, Neat Places

Editors: Trupti Biradar, Stephen Heard

All information in this guide was correct at the time of writing.

Stuff Travel's Go To Guides are created in partnership with Tourism New Zealand