48 Hours in Wellington

Wellington is the cool capital of New Zealand, perfect for that special weekend getaway. As Sian Edwards discovers, this compact harbour city has all the goods to keep you both occupied and is only a hop, skip and jump across the Tasman Sea.

Stroll down lovers’ lane

Friday PM: With bragging rights to more bars and restaurants per capita than New York, you won’t have a problem finding a great place to wine and dine in New Zealand’s capital. Start your weekend on the right foot with an evening stroll through the streets of Wellington Central. Wander hand in hand through the Friday night markets stalls and enjoy the free live entertainment in Cuba Street or find a place to cosy up in, like the Hawthorn Lounge or the Library Bar in Courtenay Place, while planning your weekend’s adventures.

Cuba Street shopping in Wellington, New Zealand
Cuba Street shopping, photo: Tourism New Zealand

Get the royal treatment

Saturday AM: After a well-deserved sleep tuck into your hearty brunch at one of the capital’s funky cafes (locals suggest hole-in-the-wall Piccolos or Plum Café on Cuba Street) before making your way to Wellington’s vibrant waterfront to discover and explore the numerous parks, sculptures and heritage trails that dot the water’s edge.

If the sun is shining, jump aboard one of the ferries at Queens Wharf and take a trip out to Days Bay across the harbour where you can relax on one of the best swimming beaches in the country. For the more adventurous, hire a kayak and explore the Bay or cycle through beautiful native forest up to the romantic Pencarrow Lighthouse, the first permanent lighthouse built in New Zealand.

If you’re a movie-buff, take in the famous New Zealand landscape used in the filming of The Lord of the Rings while tackling the incline to reach Mt Victoria Lookout in all its majesty. Perfect for that sunrise or sunset shot, enjoy 360-degree panoramic views from 195 metres above sea level over the harbour and bays before taking in the gentle sea breeze and coastal beauty of the Oriental Bay walk back into the city.

Hungry yet? Stop at Beach Babylon on Oriental Parade and be served by charming waiters in bow ties and braces or share your very own ‘fish and chups’ from the infamous Mt Vic Chippery.

Saturday PM:  After a long day of exploring, take the chance to enjoy a relaxing massage at any of the award-winning day spas in the capital like Bodyhaven boutique spa before gearing up for an evening on the town.

When the sun goes down, nature lovers can rug up warm with a flask of hot chocolate and join a Zealandia By Night tour around Kaori Sanctuary located 10 minutes out of central Wellington.

Foodies can sample the flavours of the culinary capital at some of the country’s finest restaurants like Logan Brown or the Matterhorn in Cuba Street. While stargazers can visit the Carter Observatory which is open daily with telescope viewings on Saturday nights.

If you’re looking for the real royal treatment and a special place to spend the night, follow in William and Kate’s footsteps by heading an hour up the Kāpiti coast to where the royal couple stayed for their own romantic getaway when they visited the island nation. Nestled in sand dunes, Atahuri is a luxury lodge located right on Peka Peka Beach, perfect for a night of indulgent romance.

Sweeping views of the city and harbour at Wellington, New Zealand
Sweeping views of the city and harbour

Immerse yourself in Kiwi culture

Sunday AM: Begin your final day by tasting your way around the city on a gourmet walking tour (Zest Food Tours is a good one) or do it yourself with a visit to Harbourside Market, the oldest and most popular market in Wellington, serving locals since 1920. The markets are held every Sunday from 7.30am.

After breakfast drop into Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, a must-see for any visitor. It has wonderful interactive experiences and exhibitions on the Maori culture, art and people. There’s even a cafe and rainforest found inside.

If shopping is more your thing, then a stop in Cuba Street is a must; this bohemian haven is home to the Bucket Fountain, a water wheel of colour and fun, alongside great boutique and vintage shops, cafes and pubs. For high end fashion, head to Lambton Quay or Willis Street for three levels of retail therapy at your fingertips.

Sunday PM: Let your feet get some rest by hopping aboard the restored heritage red cable car from downtown Wellington up to the Botanic Gardens. Here you can soak in more sweeping views of the city and harbour before exploring almost 25 hectares of protected indigenous flora and fauna. During the summer months, the Botanic Gardens hosts free outdoor bands and night films.

To round off your day head back to the harbour and quell your thirst from the deck of Foxglove Bar & Kitchen while overlooking the water or relax in a beanbag on the lawn of local hot spot, St Johns Bar.

Got more time? If you’re taking a longer break, locals say to hire a car or hop on a train and head out to the Wairarapa wine region, only an hour away from Wellington and truly worth a visit to take in the rugged landscape of New Zealand’s eastern coastline before enjoying winery tours, hiking trails, surfing and swimming plus lots more.

Related article: The Ultimate Long Weekend in Auckland

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