For a slow traveler, it's the little things that make a city capital! Why we loved Wellington, NZ
Updated: Jul 1
When we tell people where we plan to travel next, we often get a reaction something like this: "Well, I don't know if there's enough to do there." Or, "I can think of a couple of museums, but that's it." But, slow travel isn't really like sight-seeing. Sure, there are some elements of sight-seeing involved, but in the main we are looking for a nice place to live for a while. Often, it's little things that make a place great.
We were in Wellington, New Zealand (Te Whanganui a Tara) for five weeks (February-March, 2023), and we found many "little" things that made our stay enjoyable. We highly recommend a stay there. Here are a few of the things we enjoyed:
Great apartment with a welcoming host
When you stay for a while, your home base is everything. We stayed in a studio flat in the Te Aro neighbourhood, close to everything. Across the street is the Moore Wilson's market, which has all the foodie delights anyone would want! Local veggies, cheeses, coffees, pastries and more. Plus, a liquor store section with an amazing array of NZ and world wines, beers, ciders and distilled drinks. (For friends in Michigan, Moore Wilson's is a lot like Horrocks). If you walk less than 10 minutes one way, you're on Cuba Street with an array of restaurants and coffee shops. The other direction, you're at Te Papa Museum, the harbor, and a large supermarket. Walk 20-30 minutes you're by the train station, the Beehive (Parliament), the cable car and department stores. Five minutes away are bus stops that go everywhere.
The flat itself is roomier than a typical studio, with a loft bedroom, a balcony and a full kitchen. Our host, Hamish, was friendly, interesting, and accommodating. He messaged us on our way to Wellington by train - there had been a cyclone earlier that week and he updated us on the train schedule. After we arrived, there were so many little touches - he treated us to coffee at a local cafe. His wife, Jeep, who is originally from Thailand, made us a beautiful Thai cake. He shared with us home-made Umeshu (Japanese plum wine). These treats were delicious, but it was even more rewarding to visit with Hamish and his wife. They live interesting lives and we had a lot in common. We rented the flat through Airbnb here.
Wellington has good food. Not only can you buy great local food to prepare at home (at the aforementioned Moore Wilson's for example), but good restaurants abound. Our favorite restaurant was just around the street: Phu Thai Esarn. We've eaten at quite a few good Thai restaurants around the world, but this one had a complexity of interesting flavors in every dish we tried. We went there several times.
We also had good breakfasts (Floriditas, Pandoro Panetteria), great coffee (The Hangar), fantastic hot chocolate Wellington Chocolate Factory), good street food, delicious modern Japanese (Origami), terrific fish chowder (Shed 5), tasty crab boil (Crab Shack), pretty good American food (Joe's Garage) & a lovely delivered pizza (Hell Pizza). We could have eaten out every meal happily, if our budget allowed for it (which it doesn't!) I also developed an unhealthy addiction to ANZAC cookies and a slightly healthier addiction to Pure Delish garlic seeded crackers!
Wellington is a town that celebrates the arts. Everywhere you turn, there is art on the street - from public sculptures to street art. During our first week, we saw a young guy tap dancing to Michael Jackson songs on Cuba Street. We went to the opera in the newly restored St. James Theatre and walked around the CubaDupa street festival. We heard several outdoor music festivals from the balcony of our flat. Creatives were all around, and we loved it.
Wellington is home to a beautiful harbor. The ferries that cross the Cook Straits depart from that harbor. We enjoyed walking and biking around it. There are shops and restaurants everywhere.
Everywhere we went, we saw beautiful hills with homes, buildings and trees. In the city, old art deco buildings mixed with modern structures. The city is visually appealing, down to the pedstrian "Walk" signs featuring a diverse set of icons representing this diverse city.
Te Papa, Beehive, Cable Car, and Zoo
While sight-seeing is not our major objective, Wellington also offers some great sights. The Te Papa museum tells the history of New Zealand. The Beehive, home to this capitol city government, offers a unique entree into Parliament, and tours there are free. The zoo is in a beautiful park setting, and the cable car takes you to breathtaking views of the city and harbor, with a walk down the mountain through botanical gardens and a historic cemetary.
Wellington isn't perfect - no place is. Like anywhere, there were some things we'd have liked to be different. The Pandemic seems to have affected some central city services. For example, I couldn't find anywhere to print some tax documents, and ended up at a Ramada Inn where the staff took pity on me and printed them for free. Apparently the library does that, but there's no central library any more, and the Warehouse Stationery store does that, but they closed the central location. Likewise, the downtown area had a lot of spots where there were few places to cross busy streets, and not as walker-friendly as some places we have visited. But, the bus fare was cheap and there were lots of buses (and Ubers).
We truly enjoyed our stay there, finding lots of "little" things that increased our enjoyment. We look forward to returning!