wellington nz waterfront oriental bay park bench


A hipster guide to Wellington

Published October 22nd, 2014

Canberra may be the OECD’s pick for the best place in the world to live, ranking tops for income, jobs, environment and access to services, but for a capital that truly reps a cool cachet, head over the ditch to Wellington. New Zealand’s capital city has weekend markets, fashion-forward designers, buzzing bars, eclectic eateries and arts and culture plus viticulture, just an hour north in the vino region of Martinborough. And if you feel the earth move while you’re here, it may be one of the 1,500-odd tremors this earthquake-prone city experiences annually, but more likely it’s the hipster hordes descending. Here’s my tips on where to get amongst it in Wellington, plus you can bag a bargain with our stay and play deals!



Wellington Waterfront

More SoCal than high-cal, the compact capital sees plenty of Fitbit-wearing locals lapping the waterfront and walking to work. Skate or bike the harbour paths, or take to the water with a kayak or dragon boat in summer. You can also get your culture fix at the many museums (including the awesome Te Papa) or check out the ‘lobster loos’ – voted the third best public toilets in the world. The two distinctively shaped unisex bathrooms can be found near the Steamship Wharf Building.


Oriental Bay, Wellington Waterfront.


Oriental Bay and Mount Victoria

Taking a cue from that another progressive and quake-prone city, San Francisco, Wellington has its own ‘painted ladies’ that populate the cliff-face of Oriental Bay against the northern slope of Mount Victoria. Fashionable and functional, these coastal abodes were adapted from their San Fran counterparts to withstand the earthly tremors and are accessed by private cable cars. Oriental Bay also has the closest beaches in proximity to the CBD for sun and asana worshippers.



Cuba Street and Courtenay Place

Wellington is said to have more cafes, bars and restaurants per capita than NYC. It’s also the craft beer capital of NZ and nothing piques the interest of the bearded fixie crew like a specialist brew. Cuba Street is Wellington’s boho enclave with buskers, art galleries, hidden bars and creative eats. With Fidel’s Cafe at one end and Havana around the corner, not to mention Floriditas at number 161, the Cuban influence is all around, but make sure you get your sustainable fill of artisanal plated produce at Matterhorn (106 Cuba Street), tucked down a long corridor.


Matterhorn, Wellington.
Photo: Jess Silk


Celeb-spotting ops – Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are said to be regulars at Deluxe Cafe near Courtenay Place – Wellington’s other arts and entertainment hub. Ascend the staircase to The Library (53 Courtenay Place) and look for cocktail vouchers amid the dusty tomes or just order the Lower Hutt Lemon Meringue cocktail and soak up the literary ambience.


Moore Wilson's Fresh, Wellington



After hitting the bars on Saturday night, make your way into Sunday at the markets, open from a very manageable 7:30am or 8:30am. The Harbourside and City markets can be found along the Wellington Waterfront with gourmet grub and fresh produce (including flowers, honey drinks and backed goodies) plus wine, craft beer and cider tastings. Coffee is a major institution here, so choose your brew wisely. Try the dog-friendly Espresso Rescue caravan for fair-trade beans and locally bottled organic milk served in compostable cups for a double dose of the warm and fuzzies. Get your weekday market fix at Moore Wilson's Fresh on Tory Street.


Cuba Street sign in the Wellington CBD.


CBD shopping

The compact Wellington CBD (just two kilometres across) is the perfect stomping ground for any discerning shopper worth their Karen Walker prints. The NZ queen of quirk has her flagship store on Wakefield Street where you can peruse the internationally renowned designer’s full range of labels and accessories. Another ladylike yet left-of-centre NZ designer, Kate Sylvester, has her eponymous flagship on Cuba Street, and Trelise Cooper Wellington has set up shop in a beautiful heritage building on Lambton Quay.


Hunters & Collectors on Cuba Street.
Photo: Nicola Edmonds


Makeup mavens won’t be able to walk past the World Beauty Store (86 Victoria Street), and for vintage, seek out Cuba Street for Emporium, Paper Bag Princess, Hunters & Collectors and Ziggurat, to name a few second-hand roses. Don’t miss the dapper doormen and carefully curated shoppables at Kirkcaldie & Stains department store at Lambton Quay too!


Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.