A glorious stay in the Kiwi capital

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It was hard to believe that we were almost halfway through our time in New Zealand.  We’d made it right up to Cape Reinga at the very top of the North Island and now, four weeks later, were rolling into Wellington at the very bottom.  The capital city is renowned for wet and windy weather – I’d had plenty of it on previous visits – and yet, as with almost all of the previous month, the sun was shining as we drove along the waterfront.

After all of the dire warnings I had given Lauren about what a New Zealand summer could be like, we had enjoyed almost embarrassingly glorious weather. The harbour sparkled in the afternoon light, bars and cafes full to the brim.  It was a weekday, but it seemed like most of the city had better things to do than sit inside an office.  On a day like this, that was hardly a surprise.

We were staying at Downtown Backpackers, a sprawling multi-story building on the waterfront near both train and ferry terminals.  A former historic hotel, the hostel was a professionally-run outfit complete with travel desk, restaurant and bar and hundreds of backpackers passing through each day.  Somehow, despite that, it retained a cozy, rustic feel in our private ensuite room and had some lovely art deco touches throughout, and we really enjoyed our time there.

Wellington Downtown Backpackers

As with many hostels in New Zealand, the only disappointment was the internet.  In a city that provides extensive free public wifi, it seemed incomprehensible that anywhere would continue to offer the gouging Zenbu pay-per-megabyte service ($1 per 10MB).  As a result we used our phones and Xcom devices when in the hostel, and free options when out exploring.  Despite that, though, I’d definitely still recommend Downtown Backpackers if you’re looking for an efficient, well-located budget place to stay in Wellington.

We had four nights in the capital, a welcome change from the frantic pace that we had been setting.  One of the highlights of the city is Cuba Street, and my feet somehow seemed to set a course for it every day without conscious thought.  Whether it was a leisurely brunch with other bloggers, pizza with old friends or a cheap and excellent Mexican dinner, this quirky one-kilometre strip of cafes, restaurants and boutique shops was a regular fixture throughout my stay.

Te Papa - Middle Earth

Wellington’s pièce de résistance, however, is Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand.  Regularly singled out as one of the best in the southern hemisphere, this modern, airy space is one of those very rare museums that I felt I could keep coming back to.  And so, well, I did.

Entry is free to everything except tours and special exhibitions, and there is more than enough to fill a couple of days.  The main focus is obviously on New Zealand’s nature, history and culture, from the earliest Polynesian settlers through to the modern day.  Middle Earth and giant squids, war canoes and politics, race relations and earthquakes and a whole more.  The exhibits are obviously refreshed regularly – I had visited Te Papa twice before over the years, yet little of it seemed familiar.

One of the standout highlights for a bunch of travelling geeks like us was the Game Masters exhibition, a collection of 100-odd playable arcade and video games from PacMan through to modern classics, and an entire section devoted to recent indie releases.  It’s fair to say that we may have spent several hours in there.  It’s equally fair to say that at least one of us didn’t want to leave.

Te Papa - Game Masters

I came back again the following morning, finding a cozy spot in the museum cafe to work for a few hours.  With good coffee, power sockets and free wifi, not to mention a wonderful view down to the atrium several floors below, it could easily become my go-to work spot if I lived in Wellington – which, while the weather remained glorious, was fast becoming a very appealing option…

Just in case the sun decided to disappear, Lauren and I decided to make the most of it that afternoon.  Walking back along the water, watching teenagers leap from various platforms into the harbour, we spotted a busy bar with just one remaining outdoor table.  Hungry and thirsty, that was all the invitation we needed.


It was the perfect place to watch the hours drift by, basking in the sunshine as pints of ice-cold cider and plates of food quietly disappeared from our table.  Conversations ebbed and flowed around us, distant cheers erupting from the crowds gathered around those jumping teenagers.  We’d had all sorts of plans for exploring more of the city that day, and they all quietly floated away in favour of this moment.

Sometimes, it’s perfectly fine to hang up the tourist hat for a day and just sit in a bar like everybody else.  The sights could wait – the cable car would still be there tomorrow, the Botanic Gardens at the top no less beautiful for the passing of another day.  Wellington was working its magic in different ways, the understated vibe grabbing us and not letting go.

I’d said for a long time that if I was ever going to live in a New Zealand city again then the capital would be my choice, a small, connected, bohemian centre most in keeping with my outlook on life.  Mind you, that statement was always swiftly followed with another: “it’s just such a shame about the weather.”

Now I’m under no illusions that Wellington’s weather is anything other than frequently terrible, but after five days of perfect sunshine I was almost prepared to forgive and forget.  A couple of ciders under my belt, warm sun on my back and a contented smile on my face, I once again uttered those fateful words:

“You know what?  I reckon I could live here for a few months.”

Yup, add it to the list.

Wellington, you’re rather wonderful.

Thanks to Tourism New Zealand’s Explore media program for our entry into Te Papa’s special exhibitions.

4 Responses to “A glorious stay in the Kiwi capital

  • When I visited Wellington, I was there for a rare “no wind” day and it was glorious. I stayed with an American friend who was living and working there, and totally fell for the city. It’s like a compact Melbourne–culture, cafes, great people. Glorious.

  • Loooove Wellington. I even lived there through a winter and still love it. Now you’ve got me feeling all nostalgic!

  • Oh my God…I found this article while looking through the ‘New Zealand’ tag on tumblr and just thought I’d read it to see what an outsiders opinion of our lovely city was, and that picture of the kids jumping into the harbour, I WAS STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO YOU WHEN YOU TOOK IT. I can see one of the friends I was with that day opposite. What are the chances? I’ll tell you, they are very low. The universe is freaking me out again.

    • Yeah ok, that’s rather freaking me out too!

      Still, it was a great day to be on the Wellington waterfront hey? 😉

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