Go wild in Wellington

By: Jacqui Gibson, Photography by: Wellington Zoo / WellingtonNZ


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New Zealand’s wind-swept capital is walkable and chock-full of things to do, see, eat and drink for the wild-at-heart. Writer Jacqui Gibson lays out an itinerary for a weekend escape.

Friday

4pm: park up on Cuba Street

Check into the self-service Cuba Street Motorhome Park at 25 Garrett Street. You won’t get a more central location, and it’s possibly one of the city’s best-kept parking secrets. The park, which caters to self-contained campervans, offers powered parking for up to nine vehicles for $35 a night (from 4pm until 8am).

All the sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis — you can’t book or make reservations, but the owners say they’re rarely full and can generally accommodate anyone who turns up. Find the park at the very end of Garrett Street, accessible via Wellington’s iconic Cuba Street.

7pm: dinner at Shepherd

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Shepherd Restaurant in Hannah’s Laneway

A three-minute walk from Cuba Street, within the famed urban Hannah’s Laneway, Shepherd Restaurant specialises in modern kai with a creative bent. Named after its co-owner Shepherd Elliot (of Wellington’s Ti Kouka Café and Leeds St Bakery), the restaurant is big on sustainability, ethically sourced fare and top-quality, locally foraged veg.

You will find it encircled by the Hannah’s apartment building, Pizza Pomodoro, Golding’s Free Dive, Hanging Ditch and the Wellington Chocolate Factory. I visited for a one-off wild-feast collaboration between Scott and Maaike McNeil, of Awatoru Wild Food Provedores on the Kāpiti Coast, and Wairarapa wine-maker and hunter, Jannine Rickards, of Huntress wines. Both producers supply some of New Zealand’s best restaurants. 

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Shepherd specialises in modern kai

I sampled a special four-course menu that started with a raw fish, grapefruit, endive and coconut dish, paired with a Huntress Elderflower Wine cocktail, and finished with a cheese and honey platter. But the tastiest morsel of the night went to the roasted tahr, shot and dragged straight out of the bush for my plate.

Saturday

8am: breakfast at Loretta

Roll out of bed straight into this Wellington culinary institution before the morning rush. Loretta breakfasts are all kinds of perfect — beautiful and stylish to look at and yummy and healthy to boot. Grab a date, banana, cashew and chocolate coconut-milk smoothie for $9 or start the day with fruit toast smeared in golden sultana, orange and fennel with mascarpone and Damson plum jam for $14.50.

If you’ve come for toast and eggs, you can’t go past Loretta’s Croque Madame for $21. The ham and gruyere toastie, topped with a fried egg and washed down with tea made from hot water and a sprig of mint, certainly didn’t disappoint.

9.30am: hike to the Mount Victoria Lookout

For the best city views and to get the heart pumping, walk up Majoribanks Street to enter the town belt and take the steep 40-minute trail through pine forest to the Mount Victoria Lookout. From the top of Mount Victoria, you’ll see pretty much all of Wellington City - from Te Ahumairangi (formerly Tinakori Hill) and the Hutt Valley to Matiu/Somes Island and Miramar to Mount Mathews, Wellington’s highest point to the east. It’s perfect for photos; just remember those hiking shoes.

11am: coffee at Moore Wilson’s

College Street, located a couple of blocks uptown from Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand’s national museum, is a good bet for coffee and mid-morning snacks. There’s L’Affare Café, one of Wellington’s iconic coffee houses, and Bao Boy for steamed Asian buns. But there’s also Moore Wilson’s, the city’s 100-year-old fresh-food market, a favourite with Wellington chefs and foodies.

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Moore Wilson’s

Grab a barista-made coffee (choose from local brands such as Acme, L’affare, People’s or Havana) and a tasty something from the deli counter, which offers a huge range of locally made cheeses, meats, cakes and pastries. For $7.10, I grabbed a flat white and a croissant.

12pm: wander the shops

December’s a great time to bolster the summer wardrobe, and College Street has its fair share of fashion boutiques. Start with Miss Wong and Goodness and finish up at Kowtow’s flagship store and Magnolia, located at the Tory Street end of College Street. For gifts and homewares, there’s plenty to look at in Citta Design, Nood, Shut the Front Door and Moore Wilson’s kitchen and homeware department.

1pm: Capybara close encounter

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Wellington Zoo capybaras

No trip to the so-called wild side of Wellington would be complete without a visit to Wellington Zoo to see the capybaras - the world’s largest rodent. Native to South America, the capybaras are social herbivores that apparently love a good back scratch.

For $99, you can have a half-hour close encounter with one of the zoo’s six capybaras (the latest addition to the clan was born in October this year), with 10 per cent of your entry fee going directly to the Wellington Zoo Conservation Fund.

Book online to see a capybara close up, learn about the animal from a zookeeper, and have your photo taken with a ‘floofing’ capybara. (Zoo staff told me the coarse fur of the capybara stands on end when you scratch their back — a physical reaction a bit like getting goosebumps called ‘floofing’.)

4pm: craft beer and nibbles at Whistling Sisters

Wellington’s craft-beer scene is humming. An excellent spot to sample a local brew is Whistling Sisters on the corner of Ghuznee Street. Its beer range is extensive. All beers are brewed and bottled in their light, airy warehouse and restaurant. On Saturdays at 4pm, beer tasting (with nibbles) is on offer for $39 per person.

5.45pm: twilight tour of Zealandia

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Zealandia kaka

Twilight is an excellent time to visit Zealandia, Wellington’s urban eco-sanctuary. It’s when the birds quieten down and the kiwi come out to forage. A two-and-a-half-hour guided twilight tour will set you back $85 (for adults) and $40 (for children up to 17). For that price, you’ll be kitted out with an infrared torch, taken to all the best spots for seeing wildlife and come away fully briefed on Zealandia, the world’s first fully-fenced eco-sanctuary.

On my visit, I learned the sanctuary was home to more than 20 species of wildlife. No kiwi spotting for me, but seeing rare takahē up close was definitely a highlight of the tour. (In summer, the twilight tours are between 5.45pm and 7.15pm, based on sunset time. See visitzealandia.com for more.)

7.30pm: burger from Burger Liquor

One of the city’s best burger joints — Burger Liquor – is on upper Willis Street. Favoured by students and regularly featured in the city’s annual Wellington on a Plate food festival, its burgers are an ideal finish to a busy day.

‘The Smokey’ burger is the juicy, sweet and salty choice of many (think: smoked beef patty, double-smoked streaky bacon, buttermilk onion strings, smokey barbecue sauce and lashings of cheese and mayo for $14.50). Instead, I opted for ‘The Schnitz’ — crispy fried buttermilk chicken, iceberg lettuce, pickles and aioli wedged into a delicious brioche bun for $16.

9pm: park up at Evans Bay

Freedom camping in Wellington for self-contained campervans is available at the southern end of the marina car park at Evans Bay. It’s extremely popular and for good reason. It’s only a 15-to-20-minute drive from the city centre (and ferry terminals), and you can stay for up to four nights. There is access to a public dump station, toilets and stunning harbour views.

Sunday

8am: breakfast at the waterfront market

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Wellington’s waterfront

Reluctantly ready to hit the road, but need to stock up on fresh goodies before you go? Stop at Te Papa for Sunday’s Harbourside market. You’ll find everything from fresh veggies to fish sold straight off the back of Nino’s fishing boat. Grab breakfast from one of the 40-or-so food trucks parked up next to Waitangi Park. My pick? A butter chicken roti from the Roti Bay stall (eftpos is available). 

Find you wild

Wellington is on a mission to open up the city’s hiking trails, recognising that 25 per cent of visitors to New Zealand want to walk in the wilderness. Take part in the last few days of the council’s ‘Find Your Wild’ competition by snapping an image of the view at the top of Mount Victoria (or whichever trail you walk) and posting it to Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #FindYourWildNZ, stating which trail you’re on.

Find out more about the deadline and the prizes on offer at wellingtonregionaltrails.com

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