Three days in Wellington, New Zealand
Our journey continues to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city
After our spectacular Interislander ferry ride across Cook Strait, we sailed into Wellington, our first stop on the North Island.
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Wellington is the capital of New Zealand but is much smaller with fewer people than Auckland or Christchurch. It’s a harbor town and known for its miserable weather, but we were lucky to have sun and pleasant temperatures most of the time we were there.
In Wellington we stayed in another Airbnb, a high-rise building in the business district. Wellington is a very hilly town with lots of steep climbs, and a cable car that connects the upper and lower parts of the city. In our few days there we figured out the best ways to get around without too much of a climb.
Our first night we met up with our friend Fleur we met in Christchurch, and her husband Geoff. They met us for drinks which turned into a long, fun dinner. Even though we met on the street we felt like old friends. They gave us some great tips for Wellington and the rest of our time on the North Island.
Culture in the Capital city
As the capital city, Wellington is host to the Te Papa museum, the national museum of New Zealand. While we were there, they had an incredible exhibit about Gallipoli, the famous standoff in World War I, developed with Peter Jackson. The exhibit was punctuated with massive sculptures of soldiers so realistic – if they weren’t so massive you would think they were real. Again, we learned so much about the war and how it impacted this young country. The exhibit had so many personal artifacts and stories from soldiers and their families and was very moving.
Fleur and Geoff also recommended we visit Zeelandia, and we are so glad we did. Zeelandia is the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary, developed on the site of an old reservoir near the center of Wellington.
Zeelandia started as a project within the Royal Forest & Bird Society in 1990, as a way to bring back native birds to Wellington. It took a decade to come to life and is now a predator-free area where native plants and birds can live undisturbed. When we arrived, we had to enter through a secure double gate, and we had to have our bags searched to make sure we weren’t accidentally bringing in anything that would impact the environment. If you’ve seen Jurrasic Park, it was remarkably similar. But we made it out of Zeelandia alive.
We were lucky to get a private tour with one of the rangers, who took us all over the park and who knew where and how to spot all the park’s birds. Zeelandia has done an amazing job keeping the birds and plants safe, and they are flourishing. It was amazing to experience New Zealand wildlife this way.
Wellington was a fun, vibrant city with plenty of unique, ethnic restaurants and bars. We were there on a weekend and the streets were packed with young people enjoying the nightlife. We even saw a few great local bands at a small concert venue called Meow.
Martinborough – the perfect wine weekend
From Wellington, we spent a couple of days in Martinborough, a cute village a couple of hours North, known for its great Pinot Noir. Of all the wine country trips we’ve taken, this was one of the best experiences.
Martinborough is quite compact and flat, with most of the vineyards easily accessible by bike. We borrowed two cruiser bikes with baskets at our Bed & Breakfast and had a blast riding up and down the country roads and sampling the local wines. We nabbed the last table for lunch at the most popular restaurant in the area and took a long break from riding, then packed back up and made our way back to the B&B. We were pleasantly buzzed but the roads were so wide and quiet we were perfectly safe. It was such a lovely way to experience wine country.
It’s amazing what you learn staying at a B&B. While enjoying happy hour on the deck, we struck up a conversation with a local farmer. He grows Golden Kiwis, invented in NZ and exported all over the world. They are so valuable that other countries try to steal the plants for themselves. It took a couple years but we now see these Golden Kiwis at all our grocery stores.
All over New Zealand we met B&B owners with similar stories – they were in their 40s/50s, had successful careers but tired of the rat race and picked a lovely spot to settle down and run a B&B. Martinborough was no exception. In Martinborough we had a meta moment where another couple was visiting our B&B from their own, further up on the North Island. So we got to hear a little bit of grumbling about the real side of running a tourist business, from grumpy last minute customers to people offended that the free breakfast did not include made-to-order omelettes. We admit we also fantasized about this same kind of life, buying a quaint B&B and settling down in New Zealand, so it was educational to hear all the dirt.
We enjoyed our three days in Wellington and could have probably spent even more time there. It is a pleasant, compact city with plenty of restaurants, museums and beautiful outdoor scenery. It felt like the most liveable city of our entire trip.