View of Wellington City from up high with the Wellington Cable Car in the foreground [Photo: Shutterstock]

My Secret City: Wellington

Often dubbed the "coolest little capital" in the world, Wellington is renowned for being a very windy city. However, as the saying goes around town, “you can’t beat Wellington on a good day”. That’s certainly the opinion of alumna Gabrielle Smith (MLitt 2013) who shares her favourite haunts in her adopted home city.

"Hello, and welcome to Wellington! And in te reo Māori: Kia ora! Nau mai ki Pōneke − Nau mai ki te Whanganui a Tara."

Wellington is a beautiful harbour city situated in the southwest of New Zealand’s North Island on the Cook Strait. So, if you enjoy city life that is surrounded by incredible vistas, 'maunga' (mountains) and of course the 'moana' (sea) you will love the feel of this city.

One of my favourite things to do is grab a 'kawhe' (coffee) and 'hikoi' (walk) around the waterfront and city beach area, Oriental Bay. The city is perfect for pedestrians but if you don’t feel like walking, there’s plenty of electric scooters to jump on.

I like to do the short trek up the Southern Walkway to the Mount Victoria Lookout to get the best views without even leaving the city and I especially love going there to check out the stars on a clear night. If you’re a big 'Lord of the Rings' fan, you’ll definitely recognise some of the filming locations along the path too.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (shortened to Te Papa) is Wellington’s main museum, gallery and archive and a must-do when you visit. For me, coming to New Zealand from the UK, it was really important to understand and learn more about the bi-cultural identity and heritage of 'te ao Māori' (the Māori world) as well as be exposed to some of the incredible 'taonga' (cultural treasures) that the museum holds.

On a fine day, I love to sit outside on the grass on beanbags at the bar Rogue & Vagabond. I’ll have a drink and some chips while I soak up the relaxed atmosphere, and maybe stay late for a gig too. Another good spot for drinks on the deck is Fortune Favours, a brewery in town ubiquitously known for its IPA ‘The Wellingtonian’.

Without a doubt, CubaDupa is one of the most unique festivals that the city offers every year. Every March this free arts and culture fringe festival takes over the city for the weekend, with all of Cuba Street and beyond cordoned off to make room for music stages and street theatre and entertainment. I felt so fortunate to be able to attend this year, not only did I manage to catch some incredible performances from homegrown talent like Troy Kingi, but the day was packed with non-stop food and drink from some of my favourite Cuba Street vendors like The Greek Food Truck and Duck Island ice cream.

My favourite day trip away from the city is escaping to the vineyards of Martinborough. A day trip to the Wairarapa wine region is such a delight, and only takes 1 hour 20 mins by car or under 2 hours by train. There are so many different cellar door and tasting options, but a fun thing that I’ve done in the past is hire bicycles with friends and ride between vineyards.

My food and drink hit list

According to 'The New York Times', Welly has more bars, cafes and eateries per capita than New York City. That being said, I’m making my way slowly but surely around most of them.

Māori food culture
Something very special that I am really looking forward to is my long-awaited reservation this month at Hiakai. The translation is “hungry” or “desiring food” in te reo Māori, and I’m waiting eagerly to sample the seven-course pairing menu which is centred on Māori food culture and techniques, whilst interweaving stories and tradition into the dining experience.

"The great thing about being in a city this size is that you can really go where the mood (and your tummy) takes you."

Just a stone’s throw from Te Papa museum, Karaka Cafe is a lovely place to go for some 'kai' (food) and is 100% Māori and Pasifika owned. I really like the fact that the menu is bilingual, and the style reflects a modern take on traditional Māori cuisine. I personally enjoy going here for brunch with friends as the staff are lovely, and you can take your time and have a blether.

World foods
When I fancy authentic Mediterranean-style food, it is definitely worth making a short pilgrimage around the bay to Miramar’s family-run Greek restaurant Oikos, where even the beer and sparkling water comes from the Balkans. I also highly rate the Korean Japanese fusion restaurant Seoul Salon when I want to eat great Asian food and try new things with friends.

Beer and burgers
Wellington has an amazing craft and microbrewery scene, which is lucky because I love beer. Currently, I’m enjoying lazy Sunday afternoon jaunts to Parrotdog at Lyall Bay, as the burgers are great, and the general décor and aesthetic is peak 1970s social club. It helps that this bar encourages people to bring their dogs too! If you have time on a wet afternoon, I recommend checking out their brewery tour, as the process is fascinating and their guides are so knowledgeable too.

This article was first published June 2021. All opinions expressed are the views of the author and are not endorsed by the University of Glasgow.

Aerial view of Oriental Bay from the hillside [Photo: Shutterstock]

Nicknamed "the Riviera of the South", Oriental Bay is Wellington's most expensive suburb and home to the city's most popular beach. 

The exterior of Te Papa Museum [Photo: Shutterstock]

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand's national museum. Te Papa means "our place" and Tongarewa means "container of treasures". 

Houses built onto the hill overlooking Wellington marina which is packed with boats [Photo: Shutterstock]

Many wooden painted houses are built on the steep hillside in Wellington, offering spectacular views of the marina below and the surrounding area.

A Maori totum on top of a hill overlooking Wellington [Photo: Shutterstock]

This Māori pouwhenua (carved pole) sits on top of Mount Victoria, one of the best lookout spots to enjoy views of the city of Wellington below.

Cuba Street signpost with a mural of a man's face in the background [Photo: Shutterstock]

One of Wellington's best-loved streets, Cuba Street boasts many cafes, restaurants, record shops, bookshops, street art and heritage architecture and is said to be home to the quirky, the alternative and the fun.

Aerial view of Wellington Harbour with the hills and blue sky in the background [Photo: Shutterstock]

Wellington Harbour is a large natural harbour previously named Port Nicholson. The Māori name for Wellington is Pōneke which is said to be a transliteration of Port Nick.

Exterior of New Zealand's Parliaments building that is called The Hive as it resembles a bee hive [Photo: Shutterstock]

The distinctive Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings is commonly called "The Beehive" due to its shape. It houses the offices of the prime minister and other ministers.

Palliser lighthouse with a steep, long staircase leading up the hill to it [Photo: Shutterstock]

Cape Palliser Lighthouse was built in 1897 and is reached via a staircase with 258 steps, up a 58-metre-high cliff. The trek up is considered worth the effort to experience the spectacular views from the clifftop.

Traditional Maori food hangi portioned out into containers [Photo: Shutterstock]

Hāngi is a traditional Māori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven. Many restaurants in Wellington, such as Karaka Cafe, offer a modern take on the traditional smoky taste and steamed texture of hāngi.