Wellington, the little capital with a big heart is packed with reasons to visit. Oliver Hall explores the bustling scenes and ‘must-dos’ in Aotearoa’s cultural centre.

Recent research suggested Wellington only had 150 beautiful sunny days in the last ten years, so why is it always gorgeous when I visit? The overused phrase ‘nothing beats Wellington on a good day’ remains as clichéd as it is true, and while a view of the harbour in the glistening sunshine has always prompted me to stay on the waterfront – this trip I want to be in the middle of the action.

Wellington’s vibrant Cuba Street.

No less than three festivals are happening simultaneously when I arrive. NZ Fringe Festival ( – a showcase of new emerging theatre and comedy talent making low-budget, often deeply personal work, gives a lot of fresh perspectives and clever concepts. Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of Arts (, which offers fully-formed new works from established names, both international and local, and Pride (


By attending shows at all three festivals, I visit three of the capital’s beloved theatres: Circa (, Gryphon (@thegryphonnz) and BATS ( Each is packed with loyal supporters – highlighting that this is truly an art lover’s city.

At the Festival of Arts, I get chatting to a well-known Auckland theatremaker who assures me that Wellington is truly NZ’s ‘Arts Capital’, brutally telling me that over the past year, “no Aucklanders have created theatre that is even watchable, let alone good!”

Wellington Pride welcomed back a Pride Parade this year, giving the festival a much-needed centrepiece event that concluded with a street party outside queer venue Ivy ( Much like the festival, Ivy, a basement-level club, caters for a young gender-diverse, politically-minded audience, while up the road, S&M’s Cocktail Bar (, run by Wellington gay scene stalwarts Scotty & Mal, is a celebration of cocktails and musical theatre, where politics can be left at the door.

Wellington stalwarts Scotty & Mal – owners of S&M’s Cocktail Bar.

At the heart of all of this is the home of both bars: Cuba Street – a hub of Wellington’s alternative fashion, arts and coffee scenes, and if you want to be in the centre of that action, there’s no better place to stay than the Naumi Wellington (

The Naumi brand’s signature is colourful, maximalist room designs that provide a feast for the eyes, combined with a plethora of practical modern features.

There are sockets for no less than eight devices in my room’s bedhead alone, and from that bed, the wall-mounted and beautifully framed TV looks like a cinema screen – (I know many of you have heard me say this, but) I have never seen bigger!

Naumi Wellington.

With a buzzing nightlife scene surrounding the hotel, it’s lovely that the Naumi’s rooms feel like textural and sensory havens. The bathrooms are filled with blackberry-scented Antipodes toiletries, including shower steamers and bath salts, and there’s tonnes of storage space to ensure your luggage doesn’t take away from the room’s artistic aesthetic. I have a very comfortable night’s sleep, and in the morning, coffee is calling!

The wealth of fantastic coffee choices in Wellington is ridiculous and even overwhelming, so I focus on local roasters in close proximity to the hotel. Just around the corner is the fantastic Supreme coffee roaster’s Customs (39 Ghuznee St), which offers a light, clean space with indoor and outdoor seating, perching many a caffeine addict immersed in conversation. A little further on, you can see just how delicious Acme’s (14 Jessie St) espresso roast is at their popular café, which has capacity for 180 people! If you have a little more time on your hands, it is fun to do a ‘coffee tasting flight’ (three separate roasts, prepared in three different styles) at The Hangar (119 Dixon St). Finally, for those who prefer an evening coffee with some wild people-watching while you sip – Wellington institution Midnight Espresso (178 Cuba St) is the place for you!

Coffee at The Hangar.

With all that caffeinated energy spurring me on to explore the city, here are some of my favourite finds:

A Sunset Dinner at Karaka Cafe

Karaka (karakacafe.comis really special. Perched on the waterfront on the side of Odlins Square, you can sit on a bean bag or blanket overlooking the lagoon for dinner with a difference. Māori culture is infused right through Karaka’s menu – even the cocktails. I ordered a Taha Blush that mixes gin with hibiscus, lime, kawakawa and ginger soda! This perfectly whets my appetite for my Ike Mata (raw fish) starter and hearty main, (my first time trying) Oven Steamed HĀNGĪ. It’s cooked in Karaka’s specially designed oven, which packs smoky aromas into this moreish feast. This is appointment eating for any trip to Wellington.

Hangi at Karaka Cafe.

The Doctor Who Exhibition at Tākina

I had the pleasure of visiting Tākina Wellington’s Convention and Exhibition Centre ( check out the Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Exhibition that concluded last month. The impressively shiny new convention centre is dedicated to cultural inclusion, with exhibitions presented in both Te Reo and English. Filling the Hulk-sized hole Marvel has left is Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder: Where Science Meets Fiction (running from 1 June to 28 October). There, fans will be invited to step into The Tardis and come face-to-face with iconic characters like the Daleks. Since it’s reboot in 2005, one of Doctor Who’s key writers, Russell Davies (Queer As Folk, It’s A Sin), has weaved in brilliant characters like Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble and John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness, as well as recently casting the series’ first Doctor-of-colour (played by openly gay actor Ncuti Gatwa), so expect to see plenty of queer representation in this exhibition.

Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder Where Science Meets Fiction.

A Chocolatier Experience at Wellington Chocolate Factory

This is a fun one. Book in at the Eva St branch of Wellington Chocolate Factory ( to learn about ethical cacao buying and the ins and outs of bean-to-bar chocolate-making before creating three of your own unique bars using an array of locally sauced toppings of your choosing that you package up in WCF’s signature bold wrapping. People on this popular experience are a good mix of internationals and Kiwis, and over a hot chocolate, four American sisters tell me that while they are being chocolatiers, their husbands are hunting on the South Island. I know which experience I would prefer!

Becoming Chocolatiers at Wellington Chocolate Factory.

Connect with nature at Zealandia

From the central i-site, a free shuttle bus will whizz you up to the award-winning eco-attraction, Zealandia ( The world’s first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary gives you a renewed appreciation for the aim of a pest-free Aotearoa and our beautiful native birds. As our guide explains, their 500-year plan is to restore the valley’s forest and freshwater ecosystems to a pre-human state. Zealandia offers guided tours during the day, dusk and night, but with the chance of seeing Kiwi, the evening expeditions book out early! On my daytime tour, we still see Kākā, Takahē, Tuatara and Saddlebacks, often hanging out just a few feet away from incredibly accurate signage alerting you to their potential presence. The return journey into town can include a ride on the famed Cable Car ( or by descending on foot through the beautiful 25-hectare botanical gardens (, depending on your energy levels.

Meeting feathered friends at Zealandia.

‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’ – William Shakespeare 

While it’s sad to leave the coolest little capital, that blow is softened by knowing that I have two of the world’s most stunning scenic journeys ahead of me. Sure, domestic flights are convenient but have become more and more costly, so if your schedule allows, why not take a little time to see more of our gorgeous country on your return home?

I am heading to Christchurch, so for the first time in 15 years, I will hop on the Interislander ( It’s a sunny, calm day, and the Cook Strait reflects the rays like a mirror. I question if there is a more beautiful ferry journey in the world as I stand on the highest observation deck and take in the craggy ranges as dolphins splash around the boat. For an extra special treat on my three-and-a-half-hour journey, I have access to the premium lounge, which puts the offerings of many airlines to shame. Attentive staff clear plates the minute you have made your way through seemingly endless food, complimented by impressive local craft beer and wine lists.

Kiwirail’s Coastal Pacific Train.

My journey has been purchased as a package, so when we arrive in picturesque Picton, I have a minute’s walk to check in for my train and an hour to look around the town centre before boarding the premium cabin of Kiwirail’s Coastal Pacific Train ( There I am escorted to a white-linen-covered table, where I spend the duration of the journey taking in spectacular scenery and sampling a tasting menu paired with local wines. We are surrounded by huge windows with the option of stretching legs with a walk up to the open-air carriage between courses. I am the only Kiwi in our carriage, but my Australian and American cohorts are seriously impressed with the experience. Our journey is mostly coastal, stopping in Blenheim, Kaikoura and Rangiora on the way to The Garden City. There is no wifi, and my phone only briefly flirts with 4G, so my emails will have to wait as I sip rosé and enjoy the coastline instead!

This trip was supported by WellingtonNZ. For further info on everything Wellington has to offer, visit and follow @WellingtonNZ on socials. YOUR ex’s cover star, the World of Wearable Art Show, returns in Wellington’s TSB Arena from 26 September to 13 October, giving us another reason to book a trip to the capital (