From the bustling promenade along the waterfront to colourful street performers in Cuba mall; the tempting wine lists in a multitude of intimate bars to the pockets of gastronomic pleasure all dotted within walking distance of each other, Wellington is the perfect place to spend a weekend.
My first stop on the drive in from the airport is for refuelling at the Maranui Cafe. The building juts into the waterfront of Lyall Bay in what used to be the surf-lifesaving club. It is crowded on this sunny morning – serving huge tasty meals, punchy coffee and freshly squeezed juices. Picture windows overlook a clear blue sky, rolling waves littered with bobbing surfers, and Cook Strait stretching into the distance.
The lure of the sea is strong, and I spend an afternoon on the inner harbour with the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club Sailing Academy. It is a rare still day in Wellington, and we skim through the glossy sea past Oriental Bay. Our yacht noses over to Queens Wharf to watch a helicopter take off, and we survey students, office workers, families and joggers enjoying the sunshine on the waterfront.
Like Londoners, Wellingtonians seize any opportunity to bask in the sunshine on less blustery days.
All of the Wellingtonians I talk to extol the virtues of living in a compact city. Just about everything is within walking distance, and the central city is ideal for exploring on foot – particularly to discover the tiny boutiques, and multitudes of cafes, bars and restaurants.
Zest Food Tours provide an intimate insider’s guide to some of these delectable highlights. My guide, Lisa, is a former lawyer and committed foodie. She takes me on a walking tour of the city for some genuinely thrilling epicurean experiences. We begin with a Wellington-strength espresso to engage my foggy, morning brain. Lisa tells me that Wellington is home to more than 17 coffee roasters. London only has three. From the glorious bounty of local artisan produce at Moore Wilson’s food market to a blind tasting of inspired flavour combinations at Ciocco – a boutique chocolatier creating such delights as sea salt, toasted sesame, sweet basil and smoked paprika chocolates. It is an enlightening experience. We finish with another jolt of caffeine – an affogato at the bar at Floriditas, another of Wellington’s iconic hot spots.
As the day rolls on, the famous Wellington wind begins to gather strength. From my hotel window, I watch the chiaroscuro effect of the clouds racing over the city. The Interislander lumbers out through whitecaps in the frothy harbour, and sea sprays over the marina’s breakwater.
Later, we battle the wind along the waterfront, weak with laughter – eyes streaming and hair whirling in mad, tangled clouds. We arrive, wide-eyed and breathless, at the bar precinct on Queen’s Wharf. Winding our way through the sprawling, multi-level Foxglove, we find another of Wellington’s, literally, hidden charms – we step through a mirrored oak wardrobe and discover another secret bar behind – Foxtail.
It is quintessentially Wellington – quirky, unassuming and effortlessly cool.