There’s a lot of buzz around New Zealand’s capital of cool these days. With the likes of BBC naming Wellington one of the “hottest cities of 2015” and Lonely Planet labelling it the “coolest little capital in the world,” I was more than intrigued. What really had me wanting to visit was the “capital” part of this equation. My home country capital of Ottawa can be labeled as “cool”, but more so for its frigid weather and less because of its excitement, unless of course you find cheating on your spouse exhilarating. Then there’s Canberra, Australia’s capital that is affectionately known as “Canboring.” To have a political town labeled as hip made me curious.
So what makes Wellington the Capital of Cool? Let’s find out.
Arts & Entertainment
A quick stroll around Wellington’s walkable downtown core and I could already tell this place was unique. With over 100 outdoor public art pieces on display, Wellington’s moniker of “Capital of Cool” starts on the streets.
The recently completed Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is packed full of history and natural wonder. Although the museum has been criticized as being a little too “Disney” for some residents, my tour guide Phil proved it’s anything but. Walking through the halls I was taken on a journey through New Zealand’s beginning as a volcanic rock to the first Maori settlements and beyond. From locally produced guitar pedals to the world’s largest Colossal squid, the Te Papa Museum has it… and it’s pretty cool.
Moving next door I took in a play at the very cool and very intimate Circa Theatre. “The Ugly Ones” was entertaining, captivating, and fun. Plus there was wine. Lots of wine.
I’m starting to really dig this Capital of Cool, and I’ve only covered a few square blocks.
For a town to carry the title of Capital of Cool it has to have some seriously great food. Thankfully Wellington has no shortage of trendy restaurants and cool cafés. I quickly discovered you would have a hard time finding a bad meal in Wellington. There seems to a be standard for great eats or perhaps the locals are just allergic to bad food. Either way it’s a win. On my first night I sampled local seafood in a relaxed and friendly setting at Ortega Fish Shack and Bar. Off to a good start but, for me, street food and craft eateries are key for a great food scene. That’s where Zest Food Tours comes in. This foodie walking tour of Wellington covers everything from coffee roasters to ethically conscious chocolatiers. Along the way our guide Judy, an Aussie expat who knows more about Wellington than her home-grown husband, gave us her thoughts on the city’s Capital of Cool title related to food. It boiled down to restaurants not being able to survive pushing out mediocre food. Tough point to argue after sampling peanut butter and jelly gelato at Gelissimo.
Our Zest Food Tour came to a peak in the seemingly unique side-street of Leeds. Once an unwanted collection of old warehouses and office space, the Capital of Cool has revitalized the area into something truly unique. With coffee shops serving up salted caramel everything amongst colourfully tagged buildings, Leeds Street really is one of the coolest parts of this Capital of Cool. Plus there is a craft peanut butter maker in a seemingly impossible space. Only in Wellington.
What About the Beer?
It wouldn’t be a Capital of Cool without a great beer scene. Of course, Wellington has you covered. Turns out this city has been serving up locally produced craft beer long before it became the trend it is today. The Craft Beer Capital Trail is a good indication of this – 16 craft beer serving bars and 8 breweries, all on one easy to navigate (stumble) route.
At your Doorstep
Probably the greatest thing about this Capital of Cool is the ability to easily escape it. Wellington is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise. With endless hiking trails, beaches, and access to the South Island, Wellington has much to offer outdoors. A quick ride up the Wellington cable car is an easy example of this.
Leaving from the heart of downtown Wellington you can be above it all in minutes. From there you can explore a collection of trails or head to Zealandia, a massive (556 acres!) wildlife sanctuary. This park was a great place to see some of the islands most interesting inhabitants while enjoying a cup of some of the best coffee in the world. Seriously, Wellington. Now you are just showing off.
What was once probably known as a Mecca for nerds, the popularity of the locally produced and filmed Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies has made Wellington super cool. Also known as “Wellywood” for its booming film scene, Wellington has set the standard for special effects. Thanks to “There and Back Again” I took a journey out to Miramar – the place that special-effects giant Weta Workshop calls home. Although the grounds are 99% closed to the public due to in progress filming and editing, the Weta Cave is there for fans. Outside the trolls from the first Hobbit movie greet you. Inside you’ll find a small collectibles shop as well as a short film explaining the company’s unique history. I had no idea the reach Weta has. They pretty much had a hand in every blockbuster sci-fi flick of the past decade or so. This includes District 9, Mad Max (2015), and Avatar.
We got a deeper look inside with the guided tour through the workshop. There you can get a close look behind movie magic and actually hold props created for these iconic movies. No photos though.
Since Peter Jackson and New Zealand has done so much for Weta Workshop, they have given back. The Te Papa Museum had an incredible display done by Weta on Gallipoli. To commemorate the 100 year anniversary larger-than-life replicas of certain Anzac members are on display. The Mind blowing detail shows the pain, hardships, and struggles these men and women went through in a way unlike any other.
Goose bumps. Seriously.
After a day experiencing the Capital of Cool I retired to my Museum Art Hotel suite – a hotel as cool as the city it resides in. How cool? The collection of art on display ranges from locally commissioned pieces to motorcycles, all open for the public to enjoy. If that’s not enough, the entire building was moved (as is) in 1993 to make way for the new Te Papa Museum. This made it the largest building to move in the southern hemisphere. It’s also kinda bad ass, or at least as bad ass as a hotel can be.
More than a Capital
For years visitors to New Zealand have passed through Wellington. It was merely a stopping point between the North and South Islands and for years these visitors have said “I wish I had more time.” This cycle stops now. If you’re heading to New Zealand add their Capital of Cool to your itinerary. There’s so much going on in Wellington that it warrants more than just a pass through. It warrants a dedicated trip.
“Or don’t. Whatever.” says Wellington. Super cool Wellington.
Capital of Cool Good to Know
Get Around: Wellington core is very walkable. Transit elsewhere is ~$4.75 per ticket.
Meal Costs: Flat white ~$4.50, Beer ~$8.00 Restaurant ~$18.00
Don’t Miss: Gallipoli display at Te Papa, cable car, and coffee!
What say you?
Thoughts on What makes Wellington the Capital of Cool?
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Although I was provided assistance with what makes Wellington the Capital of Cool from Wellington Tourism,
the experience, opinions, and super cool revelations are my own.
I lived in Wellington for a year and a half but have since moved back to Christchurch. You’ve definitely highlighted many of the things I love and miss about Wellington!
Lucky you! At least you are close to the Capital of Cool!