When you think of national capitals around the world, many things come to mind… big government buildings, people in dark suits and German automobiles whisking people around the city. But Wellington has a completely different vibe. It’s a city with an eclectic mix of locals – those who govern the nation sharing sidewalks with university students and buskers.
Throw in the 75-plus cruise ships that visit annually and Wellington becomes a true melting pot. Whether visiting from the far corners of New Zealand (or far corners of the world), I’ve put together my ideal 48 hours in Wellington. To show the incredible diversity of this vibrant city, I’ve selected some modestly priced attractions as well as luxury inclusions for the “all in” crowd (who are very tall when standing on their wallets).
Once your feet are on the ground – let’s say 2.00pm on a beautiful Friday afternoon in late Spring/Summer – head straight out to Royal Wellington Golf Club, less than 30 minutes from the CBD. As New Zealand’s first club granted Royal status, CEO Kurt Greve and his staff will treat you like kings and queens for a golf experience on its championship course, fully redesigned by the team of Greg Turner and Scott Macpherson in 2014.
For those who haven’t yet seen the new Royal Wellington, you’ll have that chance by tuning into the worldwide broadcast of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship from 26-29 October. Considered one of the world’s three premier amateur tournaments, the winner receives a starting spot in both The Masters and Open Championship.
After a delightful round on this parkland gem – renowned for an impressive number of mature trees and an even larger selection of native birdlife – head into the Wellington CBD to check into your accommodation. For the budget conscious, I prefer the location and service at the Amora Hotel or one of Wellington’s many Airbnbs.
For the “all in” crowd, look no further than the Museum Art Hotel, part of the QT collection of hotels. Having moved across the street to its current location (the old site is now occupied by the Te Papa national museum), this luxury boutique hotel is difficult to categorise. It has a funky collection of edgy art, textured walls and a young service-driven staff that ensure the hotel maintains a reputation as the capital’s most sought-after accommodation.
Regardless of budget, schedule an evening at Logan Brown, one of Wellington’s most popular restaurants and a short 10-minute walk from either hotel. With excellent food, great atmosphere and one of the city’s best wine, cocktail and craft beer lists, Logan Brown will never disappoint.
To start Saturday in the right frame of mind, choose from one of Wellington’s hundred or so cafes for a quick dose of caffeine and a bite to eat. (Incidentally, nine local establishments roast their own coffee.) Some of my favourites are Prefab, Leeds Street Bakery and Milk Crate.
Afterwards, take the scenic 45-minute drive up SH1 to Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club. You’ll be greeted by Leo Barber, one of the most talented superintendents in this part of the world who traded in his gumboots for a cosy office chair in the general manager’s office. Designed in 1949 by Alec Russell, who was inspired by Harry Colt and Alistair Mackenzie, Paraparaumu is considered by many to be the finest links course in the southern hemisphere.
The bumpy, firm and fast terrain will prove that a course’s difficulty is not solely based on length. ‘Paraparam’s’ furthest set of tees is a mere 6,038 metres with a par of 71. Anyone who gets around this golf course – which requires patience and a strong understanding of when to play defence and when to play offence – in under 80 will be very satisfied.
While carts are available, do yourself a favour and play the course the way it was intended … on foot. And if you’re subscribing to the “all in” mentality, I highly recommend the services of one of the club’s genial caddies.
The drive back into Wellington will leave you time to ponder how one city has provided two world-class golf courses that are absolute polar opposites of one another. The lush, parkland, tree-lined setting of Royal Wellington couldn’t be more of a contrast to the minimalist links at Paraparaumu. Most cities of the world would be jealous of the golf that Wellington puts on with these two courses.
If time is on your side, pull into the Tuatara Brewery tasting room and sample one of New Zealand’s most celebrated ales. The feel of Tuatara’s spiny, scaled bottles will tell you this place loves its beer and everything that goes along with it. With more than 25 styles of beer, this is the ultimate spot to have a late lunch.
Once back in Wellington, take a stroll down the “must see” Cuba Street en route to the iconic Wellington Cable Car. For a mere $4 you can purchase a one-way ticket to the top and savour the scenic suburb of Kelburn. Here you’re treated to free panoramic views of the CBD, the harbour and possibly the South Island (on a good day). No matter how many times you’ve visited Wellington, this never gets tired.
The journey down takes you through the beautiful Wellington Botanic Garden, past Bolton Street ‘Cemetery’ and the Beehive, New Zealand’s capital buildings and a veritable buffet of architecture.
I’d thoroughly recommend a visit to Weta Workshop where you can partake a variety of studio tours that will showcase Weta’s brilliant work on Lord of the Rings, Avatar, the Thunderbirds and other lesser-known productions. From the first step inside, the level of intricate detail will reveal why Weta is considered the industry benchmark for design and special effects. But if you’re after something a bit more leisurely, try the Private Wellington Craft Beer Tour that will lead you to some of the city’s best small breweries.
If money is no object, book the incredible Boomrock multi-purpose adventure facility. This 3,000-acre adult fun park sits on the coastline of the Cook Straight and is available for exclusive use. It features Extreme Golf with three green complexes set along a 250-metre clifftop – which offers a hole-in-one reward of up to $75,000. There’s also claybird shooting, archery, knife throwing and a cooking school. For the adrenaline junkie, you could put a Land Rover Discovery through its paces on Boomrock’s 4WD All-Terrain Park or take a few hot-laps and try the skidpan time trial in a Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG. Or you could even take the controls of a two-tonne excavator – or fly your own chopper!
With another evening in Wellington, there are plenty of options to choose. For those saving up for their next trip to Wellington, I recommend a walk to Mama Brown’s for chicken and waffles, and one of its trademark milkshakes.
For those inclined to spend the children’s inheritance, my preferences would be (in no particular order) Charley Noble, Whitebait, Hippopotamus at Museum Hotel (possibly the best French restaurant in all New Zealand) and Monsoon Poon for its incredible Southeast Asian cuisine.
After dinner, take in this animated city after dark with a stroll to Foxglove Restaurant where you’ll find Foxtail Bar hidden behind a secret door. The cocktail menu should provide the perfect end to an evening, however you can also sample one of more than 80 whisky offerings. So by the time you fall asleep, you may be re-thinking several unexpected bounces at Paraparaumu that defied the laws of physics.
On Sunday morning, walk over to Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand). But instead of opening the front door, head for the car park. The Harbourside Market opens at 7:30am every Sunday morning and has a selection of food trucks – from greasy to healthy – to kick-start your day. Everything from a Kale smoothie to Southern BBQ is available. But choose wisely (that is, NOT the Kale smoothie).
The national museum opens at 10.00am and it is one of the finest experiences in Wellington. Open 364 days a
year, Te Papa’s exterior architecture while beautiful, pales in comparison to the riveting displays inside the museum itself. “All in” visitors should consider a donation in the lobby, which helps to keep the museum free to all.
The current Gallipoli exhibit, available through April 2019, is one of the most amazing exhibitions I have witnessed anywhere in the world. You’ll need two-and-a-half hours to get through as much of the 36,000 square metres of public floor space before starting the journey home.
And while Wellington doesn’t have a casino, I’d wager you will leave this marvellous city feeling like 48 hours wasn’t nearly enough to take in all that Wellington has to offer… the true sign of a great destination.
Wellington’s Hidden Gem
While Royal Wellington and Paraparaumu Beach attract accolades for their outstanding championship courses, there are some hidden gems around the nation’s capital. One such course is Miramar Golf Club, which is perfectly located for the visitor, literally a one-minute walk from the arrivals terminal at Wellington International Airport.
With its location near the Cook Strait, Miramar can often be at the mercy of the elements. But that’s what makes the course so unique and really fun to play. It’s a different challenge every day and rewards the golfer who can keep the ball low and show some creativity around the greens.
This public-access facility is relatively short at 5,552 metres (par 70), allowing players to get around in three hours. With its free-draining fairways, Miramar is playable even after the heaviest downpour.
The club has been at its present site since August 1908. However, the course was re-designed by Australian architect Graham Marsh in 1994. Given its links style, the defining features are the 102 strategically placed pot bunkers and true putting surfaces.
Accuracy and the ability to control ball flight are paramount. The front nine holes tend to play into a prevailing crosswind, while holes on the back nine are usually with a tail or headwind. However on a calm day, it’s possible to take advantage of Miramar’s openness and attempt to drive some par 4s (especially on the back nine).
The 364m dogleg first is a tough opening par 4. Other picks are the 192m par-3 eighth and the closing holes 16-18. The last, at 396m, often plays into a strong northerly and is a great finishing hole that has decided many matches.
The Miramar clubhouse has three bars and a cafe open seven days a week. Parking is free and secure for all golfers. The club also doubles as a conference venue, while Miramar also has a well-stocked pro shop for touring golfers.
Perfect before a short or long-haul flight.