When I first decided to move to New Zealand, I really REALLY wasn’t anticipating on not only living in Wellington, but loving it. Six months later and I never want to leave.
After all, I was coming to New Zealand for mountains, for nature, for Middle Earth, not some city, let alone the capital. In my head I always saw myself living on some mountain lake in the South Island, not in an urban backdrop on the North Island. Also I have this thing where when people hype up a destination, it tends to NOT live up to it and I end up being disappointed.
When I polled in you guys on Facebook about where I should live for my first month in New Zealand, everyone and their mother pointed to Wellington.
Cue eye roll. Seriously? I’m sure Wellington couldn’t be THAT awesome.
WELL talk about eating my words. It took less than 24 hours for me to fall head over heels in love with Wellington. Nickname the coolest little capital in the world by Lonely Planet, Wellington certainly lives up to expectations and then some.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to put into words exactly why I love Wellington so much, but I figured it was high time I tried to capture my feelings and put them on here. After all, I’m now one of those people who can’t shut up about Wellington.
So what is it that makes Wellington so freaking awesome? Here are my 15 reasons why I love Wellington so much and why I never want to leave.
1. All the bays and all the beaches
One thing I love the most about Wellington is getting to live on the water. On the bottom tip of the North Island, Wellington sprawls out over several bays, beaches curving around on the coast, which means you’re never too far from the sea.
Many of the bays and beaches are part of their own little neighborhoods, like Scorching Bay in Miramar, Lyall Bay on the other side where the surfers head, Island Bay further on, Oriental Bay right in town with a proper beach.
Pretty much no matter where you are in town you are only 15 minutes or less from the turquoise water and the smell of the sea, something that I can’t get enough of.
2. Hilly city
Besides the bays, I think the other main reason why I love Wellington to pieces is how the city is built. There are huge hills that drop down to the waterfront which means the houses are built up into them, giving great views and leaving the city feeling very “green.”
There are tons of places in and around town where you can climb up to the top of the hilly mountains for fabulous views. Probably my favorite spot is Mt. Kaukau which is a little ways outside of the city center near Johnsonville and Khanallah, and the highest peak around town. It’s a beautiful park and walk up through the woods to the top with spectacular views out of Wellington.
3. Awesome brunch and coffee culture
Yeah I know I’ve raved on before about brunch in New Zealand, but it warrants repeating because it is SO good! Oh, and the coffee? Phenomenal!
Coming from Spain where brunch doesn’t exist, and the concept of eating eggs for breakfast is alien, I revel in every opportunity here to go get my breakfast fix. A fabulous cafe culture combined with a growing foodie scene means there are tons of variety in choosing a brunch location.
In fact, there are more bars, cafes, and restaurants per capita than New York City!
For my heavy southern American fix, I head to Sweet Mother’s Kitchen. When I want to have a fabulous brunch with views of the water, I go to Maranui Cafe in Lyall Bay. For a classier meal, I hop on over to Duke Carvell’s or Floriditas on Cuba Street. If I want to stuff myself and then sleep on the beach, I run over to Beach Babylon on Oriental Bay.
Really I could go on and on, these just happen to be my personal favorites. And of course, Olive Cafe on Cuba Streets, has the best wifi around.
4. Mt. Victoria
Pretty much everyone who visits Wellington climbs or drives up to the top of Mount Victoria at some point or another for incredible views over the city. Standing at the top it’s hard to believe you are right in New Zealand’s capital.
Back in the 1840’s when Wellington was founded, a big U-shaped chunk of land around town was set aside and left undeveloped. Though parts of it over the years have been built on, there are still plenty of large green spaces around Wellington that have been preserved, including Mt. Vic.
Heading town from the top, there are deep woods and forest perfect for walking, running and even mountain biking. Here are there are plenty of look outs and fields to hang out and look out on the town, there even used to be a great swing about halfway up, though someone took it down recently.
Then of course, plenty of scenes from the Shire in the Lord of the Rings were shot up in the woods on Mt. Vic, which are always good fun to find.
5. Friendly and awesome Wellingtonians
Perhaps what makes Wellington so special is just how awesome and friendly its people are! I mean, how many capital cities boast having some really nice people? In general the more urban you get the more jaded you get, but that sure isn’t the case for Wellington.
No matter where I go in town, I’m always greeted with a friendly smile and chat, whether ordering a coffee or buying groceries, it seems everyone is willing to say hello and offer advice.
Everyone here seems to be well-educated, cultured, friendly, fit and outdoorsy and really care about the city. It’s as if Wellingtonians know their city is something special and do their part to keep it that way.
6. Cool marine life
Because Wellington is right on the water, there are all sorts of awesome marine animals that frequent it.
I noticed it for the first time a while back when I was sitting on the docks with my feet dangling over the side eating an ice cream when a massive stingray swam by.
Many of the bays get dolphin pods that swim through, and if you’re really lucky, a few times a year orcas swim right into the harbor and you can see them. How cool is that?
7. Hip bar scene
Wellington has a pretty young and fun population which means that there’s a great bar and going out scene in town. And while there are plenty of university party bars and your average pub, we are in the Queen’s land after all, there are also tons of classy, thematic or nice bars around town to meet up with friends after work.
Places with a great craft beer list and quirky delicious cocktails.
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, but I really like the Library, a book themed bar on Courtenay Place and the Motel Bar, a speak-easy retro bar cleverly hidden as a motel. It’s one of those spots you would never know is there unless someones tells you, and even then you have to buzz to get let upstairs.
Oh, and I have to mention Alice, an Alice in Wonderland themed bar that serves cocktails in teapots and Havana Bar, a Cuban-style bar with great music built into two old workman cottages in Te Aro.
Many places offer deals and discounts, happy hours and two-for-one deals, like at Chow, which also happens to have the best pho in town.
In Karori, about 15 minutes up the road from my house, there is a massive eco-sanctuary called Zealandia. As soon as you cross the fence that keeps out mammal predators, you step back in time and get to experience New Zealand as it once was, i.e. Jurassic Park.
Here many of the endangered birds and animals roam free, and exploring the many trails and paths it doesn’t feel like you are 10 minutes from downtown Wellington.
And the best part? Zealandia offers night tours which will give you the opportunity to go look for the kiwi, New Zealand’s famous bird, which are nocturnal. I saw two on my night tour, not something I’m soon to forget.
How many capitals have a place like this?
9. Honking in the Mt. Vic tunnel
A totally random but awesome fact – when driving through the tunnel between Mt. Victoria and Hataitai, you honk your horn. Someone told me it’s because it’s the only tunnel in Wellington where it isn’t illegal to honk, but who knows.
I just love that every time I drive through there I can honk my horn as much as I want. I’m pretty much a child, but who cares. And you know what? Everyone honks back!
I think I’ve only driven through it once when no one honked, and it was a Monday morning, which is totally understandable.
10. Wellington cable car
It’s no secret I call the Kelburn area of Wellington home. Up behind the university, CBD and harbor high on a hill, walking up here is in fact a NIGHTMARE.
Luckily, there is an old-fashioned cable car that runs up to the top of Kelburn next to my house from downtown, cutting the hike way down and only taking a few minutes. It passes through the beautiful and free botanical gardens which are worth a wander when in town too.
Just avoid it when cruise ships are in town because everyone wants to ride up and the lines are insane! Usually it’s empty. Oh, and the views at the top are to die for.
11. Middle Earth in Wellington
For nerds like me, Wellington is home to Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop. It was here that the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit and many other movies have been filmed and produced over the years.
Before PJ took charge, as I understand it Wellington used to be the gateway to the South Island, a place tourists stopped over on their New Zealand trips. Did you know after the movies came out that tourism increased by over 700% in Wellington?
Holy shit! That’a lot of Tolkien fans over here.
The best place to visit Weta Studios and take in the Lord of the Rings vibe is over in Miramar, where pretty much everything took place. It can be hard to find the individual filming on your own, even with a guidebook, so most fans hop on a day tour that will take you around to all the spots.
I joined in on a full-day LOTR tour with Viator a few weeks ago, and it was magical.
Also being home to Weta Workshop, there are usually some events going on in town, like the one time I got to listen to Peter Jackson speak about filming or getting to see an early screening of the Hobbit 2 with the Weta staff.
12. Crazy roads
In general Wellington is a really, really walkable city. You don’t need a car here at all; I only have one for my road trips around the North Island.
That being said, there are some gnarly, winding roads around town. Thanks to all the steep hills that the houses were built into, Wellington has to be the only city I’ve been to that actually has switch-back roads getting up to the different regions.
Most of them are only 2 lanes, one in each direction but residents can park on either side, meaning it’s really only one lane. Oh, and the giant yellow buses head up most of these streets too. It’s either a nightmare or an exciting challenge, depending on how you see it.
13. Windy Welly
If you haven’t heard it before, here you go.
Wellington is nicknamed “Windy Welly” and for a good reason, it’s windy as all hell here. To give you an idea, Wellington has what’s considered “gale force winds” for around half the year. Imagine that.
Back home Chicago is nicknamed the “windy city” with average winds around 17 km/h where in Wellington it’s 30 km/h. I was unprepared, to say the least.
Basically this means leave the umbrellas at home and don’t plan on wearing any dresses without leggings or tights underneath.
I don’t really know why I put this on a list of things I love about Wellington – I really hate that the wind makes the city cold all the freaking time, but it does lend it some character and a moody vibe that I love.
14. Somes Island
Somes Island was one of my favorite surprises about Wellington. Smack in the middle of the harbor, sits a little island that used to be a quarantine area for ships coming into town. Nowadays it’s a nature reserve and park you can visit.
I almost didn’t go when I was invited, thinking it was going to be boring and not interesting, and my goodness I was wrong.
A quick 20 minute boat ride from town will drop you off and you can explore the island for the day. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can camp up there too, which is really exciting.
I went with friends a few months ago, witnessed the most beautiful sunset and explored the island after dark, seeing giant weta bugs, tuataras, little blue penguins and of course, sheep.
15. Sunday market and Te Papa
My favorite Wellington ritual is heading down to the waterfront on Sundays and picking up all my fruits and veggies for the week. This farmer’s market is so much cheaper than the grocery stores by the way, so you save loads. There are also stalls and food trucks with all sorts of munchies to get, live music and a general fun atmosphere going on.
Next door is Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum which is FREE and filled with loads of cool things. And they have free wifi. Winning.
I won’t give too much away but they do have a giant squid and tons of fascinating Maori facts.
Wellington is the city for everyone. I couldn’t have been more surprised when I visited, and I know that if I decide to stay in New Zealand longer, it will be here.
Have you ever been to New Zealand? Would you like to visit Wellington? What would you add to the list?
** I have created a map in Google marking all of these places I’ve mentioned. You can find it here.