Travel to New Zealand: ten ideas for a summer getaway in Wellington

Wellington is always a great place for a mini-break or a longer stay. Photo / Celeste Fontein

What is compact, cultivated and ever-changing? Wellington, of course. Whether you are an art lover, an adventurer, looking for family entertainment or looking for your new favorite restaurant, it is always a great place for a mini break or a longer stay.

Ahead of Wellington’s next birthday (January 24), here are some of the top picks of things to see and do on your next visit to the capital.

Feast the eyes

It’s hard not to be mesmerized by Hilma af Klint’s dazzling selection of three-meter-tall artworks. The Swedish artist kept her work a secret for decades, even giving strict instructions that nothing should be on public display until 20 years after her death. Now that the self-imposed embargo is over, the art world is in awe of his pioneering abstract paintings. The City Gallery Wellington is the only place in New Zealand to see them for yourself, and the famous Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings is on until March 27.

Art lovers should also check out Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist. This expansive exhibition celebrating one of the country’s most iconic artists is being held at Te Papa until April 25 and admission is free.

It's hard not to be mesmerized by Hilma af Klint's dazzling selection of three-meter-tall artworks.  Photo / Celeste Fontein
It’s hard not to be mesmerized by Hilma af Klint’s dazzling selection of three-meter-tall artworks. Photo / Celeste Fontein

Find your sanctuary

Just 20 minutes by boat from Paraparaumu beach is Kapiti Island, one of the oldest nature reserves in the country. Here you can take a day trip to explore the peaceful surroundings or settle in for the night in a tent or glamping hut. Either way, book a tour to learn more about the island’s richness in Maori history and find out how to spot a range of native birds living their best lives without predators. If you’re staying after dark, be sure to join the night tour, where you might see one of the island’s 1,400 little spotted kiwis sniff around in search of their supper. Reserve your spot through Kapiti Island Nature Tours or Kapiti Island Eco Tours.

Mission to Mars

With futuristic space stations, whimsical play magic and special effects galore, you won’t hear “I’m bored” from the kids at Te Papa Museum’s brand new interactive show. Destination Mars is a fully immersive experience, with your own console helping the crew save the planet from a deadly solar flare. Developed by a team of top players, the show is part of the Aotearoa Arts Festival in New Zealand and runs until March 20.

You won't hear a
You won’t hear “I’m bored” from the kids at Te Papa Museum’s new interactive show. Photo / Wellington NZ

Sleep in style

With rich, plush furnishings, jewel-toned walls, and sleek decor, Naumi Studio Wellington is an Instagrammer’s dream. Beyond the striking ground floor, it also has over 100 super-stylish rooms, including an elaborate executive suite adorned with botanical prints. You’ll feel like a movie star sipping a martini at the hotel’s sultry bar, Lola Rouge, and although the hotel is right in the heart of the action on bustling Cuba Street, it’s an oasis of peace from the moment you enter.

Right in the heart of the action is bustling Cuba Street.  Photo / Celeste Fontein
Right in the heart of the action is bustling Cuba Street. Photo / Celeste Fontein

Stay chic in town

With 18 designer suites, Hotel Intrepid is synonymous with modern chic mixed with heritage charm, and some hipster vibes have been thrown in for good measure. Nicely sitting on Ghuznee St, in what was once a warehouse and offices for Cadbury chocolate, this easy-to-find spot is a great place to take a break from a day of exploring.

The in-house bar downstairs, The Puffin, is well known around Welly for its stellar selection of organic and minimal intervention wines.

Get on your bike

Cyclists come from far and wide to explore the Remutaka Cycle Route, voted one of New Zealand’s finest rides.

The track starts at Petone Foreshore and winds through a riverside park to Maymorn at the base of Remutaka Hill. From here, follow the historic railway line that was once the main link between Wellington and the Wairarapa, passing through restored railway tunnels and native bush to the summit. After descending along the historic Fell Locomotive Incline, the next section continues to Ocean Beach on the south coast of Wairarapa. The final leg includes the rest of the stunning south coast, where the stunning views stretch to the Kaikoura Ranges on a clear day.

Allow a few days to hike the entire trail or choose a section for a shorter ride. The first part of the trail is gentle enough for family groups or beginner peddlers. If you prefer to be guided by experts, Green Jersey Explorer Tours in Martinborough offers a range of excursions on the Remutaka Bike Trail, as well as bike rentals.

Devour some of Welly’s best dishes

With more restaurants and cafes than you can live without, you’ll never go hungry in the capital.

Craving seafood? Ortega Fish Shack on Majoribanks St is a favorite, while the ever-bustling Hannah’s Laneway Shepherd is another magnet for discerning foodies. If you prefer comfort and privacy, Rita is a special little place, and Hiakai’s unique tasting menu offers a modern take on traditional Maori ingredients. For a glass or two of prosecco and delicious Italian treats, skip past Ombra on Cuba St, or head to Highwater Eatery for elegant ambiances and stylish seasonal bites. And when it comes to the best plant-based dishes, divine Hillside Kitchen is in a league of its own.

hang out with the birds

Zealandia may be only minutes away from the hubbub of the city center, but its fern-covered walkways and calming green surroundings make you feel like you’ve traveled the country for hours. As the world’s first fully fenced eco-sanctuary, everything thrives in this pristine plot, from prehistoric tuataras to slightly spooky giant wētās, to lush native plants at every turn.

But the best reason to visit is to see and hear the birds. Zealandia is home to over 40 species, many of which are rare or endangered. The feathered call includes brightly colored kākāriki, exuberant kākā, industrious takahē and tiny titipounamu, also known as rifleman. Explore at your own pace while listening to birdsong, or book a day or evening tour to get insights from one of the conservation experts.

Zealandia is the first fully fenced eco-sanctuary in the world.  Photo / Bridget Sloane
Zealandia is the first fully fenced eco-sanctuary in the world. Photo / Bridget Sloane

Take a Grape Getaway

Venture up Remutaka Hill to Martinborough, the Wellington region’s wine village. Discover the shops and cafes of charming downtown, and if you fancy touring the vineyards by bike or e-bike, rent a set of wheels from Green Jersey Explorer Tours.

As a wine lover’s paradise, little Martinborough punches above its weight with a surprisingly wide range of top-notch vineyards. Most cellar doors are located next to each other, making it easy to sip and taste on foot or by pedal. Favorite choices include Moy Hall, Palliser Estate, Colombo, Poppies and Cambridge Road for organic and biodynamic drops.

Venture up Remutaka Hill to Martinborough, the Wellington region's wine village.  Photo/Mike Heydon;  Jet Productions
Venture up Remutaka Hill to Martinborough, the Wellington region’s wine village. Photo/Mike Heydon; Jet Productions

Relax or go on an adventure

Forget sprawling city blocks and endless highways, Wellington is made for wandering, and getting lost in the CBD is next to impossible. Whether you’re shopping for designer finds on Lambton Quay, enjoying the creative vibe of Cuba St, or strolling along the waterfront, it’s an easy place to relax and explore.

Want to take the plunge? Head to Fergs at Queen’s Wharf and hire a kayak for a harbor adventure. If boating is more your style, gather a group and book a trip aboard the Megisti catamaran. Departing from Queen’s Wharf, you will cross the harbor towards Matiu / Somes Island and enjoy some of the best views in town as you look towards the shore. Megisti’s super relaxed resident Dalmatian dog is familiar to many locals, and he also serves as the boat’s official dolphin, seal, and orca spotter.

Back on dry land, there are also many local trails for walkers. The scenic Southern Walkway begins at Oriental Parade and winds its way around the city belt to Island Bay, with top-notch views along the way. For adventurers who aren’t afraid to sweat, the Te Araroa escarpment track is spectacular. Suitable for more experienced walkers, the 10km trail crosses two swing bridges, navigates narrow ridges and winds 220 meters above sea level, offering stunning views of the Kapiti coastline.

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