How to spend a perfect day in Wellington

10 December 2018

Make this summer the summer you explore Wellington – you'll discover more than you ever expected.

Wellington is the perfect place to pack a day of adventuring into. Whether you’re stopping by on your way south or spending a few weeks getting to know the place, there’s so much to do. If you’re limited to a day, you can still hit some of the city’s best spots.

Boatsheds on the Wellington waterfront. Photo: WellingtonNZ.com

Start the day early at Red Rocks. A walk along the rugged South Coast while the sun rises is the perfect way to begin your Wellington adventures. Red Rocks and the surrounding bays, Owhiro Bay and Island Bay, are marine reserves. If you have the kids with you, rock pooling is a heap of fun.

If you’re even more adventurous there are dive spots throughout where you’ll likely see an octopus or two. You can join surfers in Houghton Bay, just one bay over from Island Bay, or swim in the calm waters of Princess Bay.

If you want to stay in Red Rocks, there’s a defined and fairly easy coastal walk that will take you to a fur seal colony and on a clear day you can see the South Island in the distance. You’ll see too the red coloured rocks that were formed 200 years ago and are sacred to Maori.

Spruce Goose, Lyall Bay. Photo: supplied

When you’re hungry head over to Lyall Bay where you’ll find The Botanist, a cute little restaurant/café serving organic vegetarian and vegan fare. There’s also Maranui which has great views of the beach, and Spruce Goose where you can watch planes fly in and out of Wellington Airport. If you really want to treat yourself, Elements is a beautiful, award-winning restaurant.

Head from Lyall Bay into Newtown for some real neighbourhood shopping. Death Ray Records has all your music needs, Choc Fizz is a great lolly shop, they have the best eyebrow threading in Wellington and there’s a halal butcher. If it’s time for another coffee, you can’t beat People's Coffee.

Don't miss Wellington’s best kept shopping secret: The Neighbourhood Studio, the arts, crafts, and jewellery pop-up shops at 369 Adelaide Road. This block of studios and shops is home to local fashion designers like Summers and Coop. You can do classes and workshops there too!

If you want something to entertain the kids, head to Wellington Zoo where seven baby capybaras were born in October. Don’t miss the Meet the Neighbours section with its water spray next to the penguins. The kids will love it – just bring a towel!

Te Papa, Wellington. Photo: WellingtonNZ.com

Catch a bus into town to catch Te Papa. You could spend a whole day there but if time is tight just pick a floor and see how you go – there’s so much to see you can always come back. And it’s free!

On the waterfront you can jump on a crocodile bike or a paddle boat and enjoy the sunshine (hopefully). If it’s a windy day check out the sculptures along the water. If the weather isn’t walking weather, the National Art Gallery is right next door at Civic Square. Children will love Capital E with its free indoor play and arts and crafts. Parents will love the bottomless coffee!

St James Theatre, Wellington. Photo: WellingtonNZ.com

Into the evening you could catch a play at Circa Theatre beside Te Papa or head to San Fran where there’s bound to be a gig of some kind. You could also visit the St James Theatre, a stunning historic building which is the ideal performance space for dance performances, opera and musicals.  

If you’re feeling tired after your big day, the newly renovated Embassy Theatre might be a better stop. Afterwards, you’ll have all of Courtenay Place to pick somewhere to eat. Sweet Mother’s Kitchen offers chilled out American New Orleans style food. The curly fries are great. Other great eating options include The Catch, a sushi bar with a sushi train – great if you have kids to entertain – and Chow,  a favourite for Asian-style fare. Great India is well, great Indian.

Shepherd restaurant, Wellington. Photo: Jeff McEwen/WellingtonNZ.com

If you’re looking for a nightcap Vinyl Bar is good fun (they have Fairy Bread if you skipped dinner!). Basque is a real treat with its roof-top bar and sangria, as is The Library (which is themed as you’d imagine) You’ll feel hidden and cosy there and the drinks are incredible. Hugo's Whisky Lounge is a new addition and is getting some good reviews too. You’ll have your pick of the bunch wherever you are on Courtenay Place or its little off-shoot laneways.

Finally, you’ll be able to wander home and potentially pass the Night Noodle Market on Manners Street or any number of buskers. If the night is clear, a drive or walk up Mt Vic will show you the whole city, beautifully lit up.

If you are looking for more of a substantial meal with a modern twist, then check out Shepherd Restaurant.  Tucked away down famed Hannah's Laneway, Shepherd has a focus on locally sourced ingredients, resulting in enticing seasonal menus that let the ethically sourced meat, seafood and vegetables speak for themselves.

Emily Writes

Emily Writes is a mother of two who lives in Wellington. She is the editor of The Spinoff parents and the author of her book Rants in the Dark.