The strong winds that come blasting through the Cook Strait have earned it the nickname Windy Wellington, but that hasn’t affected this chic little city at the south-western tip of New Zealand’s North Island. With under half-a-million residents, it has all the sophistication of a cosmopolitan capital, but with the charm of a village. Set around a waterfront and harbour, it boasts sparkling beaches, hills dotted with colourful timber houses and nature beckoning on all sides.
See the sites
Immerse yourself in Wellington’s vibrant art scene by booking yourself a room at QT Museum Wellington, a design-centric hotel filled with exuberant artworks. Across the road, Te Papa Tongarewa (The Place of Pleasures of This Land) is New Zealand’s national museum and art gallery, with everything from Maori artefacts to the world’s largest colossal squid specimen. At Carter Observatory, discover Maori cosmology; while some of the best stargazing on Earth happens at its world-class planetarium, thanks to pollution-free skies. Established in 1902, the iconic red Wellington Cable Car runs from Lambton Quay to the Wellington Botanic Garden, stopping at the Cable Car Museum and the city’s shopping district. The Garden consists of 25 ha of native forests, a vintage rose garden and – at night – glow-worms.
Discover wild Wellington
Ensconced around a picturesque reservoir, Zealandia – 225 ha of bush protected by a predator-proof fence – is home to some of New Zealand’s rarest wildlife. Besides the birds – kiwi, takahe (of which only 250 exist), weka, hihi, tui, and a forest parrot called the kaka – there are tuatara (an endemic reptile that predates the dinosaurs). Along the beautiful south coast, you can explore Red Rocks, formed 200 million years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions and, further along, see a colony of New Zealand fur seals, which make their home here from May to October. The bush-clad hills around the city feature 360 km of mountain-biking and hiking trails – and epic views.
Hit the Bays
Just a short walk from the city centre and you are on the pristine and lovely sandy beach of Oriental Bay, home to Wellington’s swankiest real estate; and a haven for sunbathing, swimming and people-watching – its restaurants are excellent too. Even more stunning as beaches go is Scorching Bay, a patch of paradise with views of the inter-island ferries, plus the fabulously popular Scorch O Rama cafe nearby. On the south coast, Island Bay is a traditional fishing hub with some great scuba-diving spots in the Taputeranga Marine Reserve just offshore. In 2005, the naval frigate HMNZS Wellington was deliberately sunk here to create the F69 artificial reef, now a biodiverse underwater garden and one of the world’s easiest-to-access wreck dives. Ten minutes from the city, Lyall Bay is Wellington’s top surf beach; settle in to watch the wind- and kite-surfers taking advantage of those Cook Strait breezes.
Tour the winelands
At Noble Rot, you can sample more than 400 wines from New Zealand’s best regions, served with fresh oysters from Wellington’s sparkling waters. An hour away (by train if you like) is Wairarapa, a wine-growing region that’s known for its Pinot Noir. At its heart is the Martinborough Wine Village, within cycling distance (on flat country roads) of around 20 boutique vineyards and olive groves. Favourite stops include Palliser Estate, Te Kairanga, and Ata Rangi; while Poppies Martinborough offers incredible lunches and tastings conducted by the husband-and-wife team who grow and make the wines. Wairarapa’s annual harvest festival happens in March, while Toast Martinborough, New Zealand’s top wine, food and music festival, happens over one day in November.
Bedecked in maritime artworks and nets, Ortega Fish Shack is celebrated for its super-fresh just-caught fare. For a classier take on seafood, head to Martin Bosley’s, a gastronomic temple on the waterfront. Housed in a 1920s heritage building, Logan Brown proudly serves diners New Zealand’s most innovative cuisine – all organic, seasonal and local – ranging from wood-roasted Ora King salmon to Fiordland venison. End off the evening at The Library, which not only sports a packed book- shelf running the length of the bar, but also an encyclopedic drinks menu.
Quantas flies directly between Joburg and Sydney, with onward connections to domestic Australia and New Zealand. To book a flight or stay informed of the latest specials visit qantas.com and sign up for our Red email. For travel arrangements to Wellington, contact Diners Club Concierge Service on 0861 DINERS (346377), complimentary for those who BELONG.
text: Keith bain; PHOTOGRAPHY: Alamy/Andrew Walmsley, GALLO/GETTYIMAGES