There are two main airports you can fly into when visiting New Zealand’s North Island – Auckland or Wellington.

While I’ve never been to Auckland, I spent enough time in Wellington to know that there’s a loving, sibling rivalry between the two cities, not dissimilar to that of Sydney and Melbourne.

Wellington is, of course, the Melbourne of the pair, with art, vintage, bars and all-round vibes on speed. Added bonus? A sizeable chunk of residents and visitors are in their 20s thanks to the university there, which, unless you’re on the hunt for New Zealand’s Next Top Sugar Daddy™, is top news.

Keep scrolling for what to do and see in Wellington, whether it’s your pitstop or the main destination.

GET BOOZY AT ALL THE BREWERIES

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Wellington is famed for its breweries, made clear by the variety of local on-tap options at every bar you walk into. For me, I’m not your typical beer drinker, and by that I mean I don’t drink beer at all. Was I still able to enjoy the craft beer scene? You bet.

Firstly, you can do a tasting without committing to an entire schooey. Take the one I did at Garage Project, for example. What is perhaps Aro Valley’s most famous brewery offered up blends for acquired tastes, including but no limited to a flavour called “Cereal Milk Stout”.

Secondly, the character of the bars and breweries alone makes them worth the visit. Garage Project is housed at an old service station and then Rogue & Vagabond literally has beanbags in Glover Park adjacent to it. Not only is it dog friendly (score), but you can also have your drinks and vapes in the park. Try do that in Sydney!

Of course, this is just the tip. There are so many breweries you can check out, but pace yourself. Recommendations include HUSK (across the road from Rogue & Vagabond), Goldings Free Dive and The Black Dog Brew Co..

BLESS YOUR PEEPERS WITH THE LOCAL ART SCENE

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Whether you like your art inside or outside, you’re 100% sorted in “Windy Welly”, which is good given the weather may dictate your choice. You’ve got the iconic David Bowie mural on Ghuznee Street (grab a coffee from Milk Crate prior, they’re beyond), the iconic Hannah’s Laneway and Cable Street’s shark mural – a political statement against shark finning by BMD.

Indoors, you’ve got contemporary art via Enjoy Public Art Gallery and McLeavey Gallery, both on Cuba Street, as well as City Gallery on Wakefield Street. Of course, you can’t leave Welly without visiting free national museum Te Papa, which was recently named one of Lonely Planet’s top 500 places to see on the planet.

Te Papa’s Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War exhibit is truly eye-opening, telling the story of World War I through the eyes and words of eight New Zealanders who experienced the campaign first hand. It’s on until April 2022. (Side note: try and choose a day that isn’t the same one a cruise ship is arriving. It’ll be raining geriatrics.)

SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP MORE CASH THAN YOU CARE TO ADMIT

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Wellington is overflowing with vintage shopping options that are well-curated and decently priced. Cuba Street is definitely the most central spot for it, with Hunters & Collectors, Spacesuit, EMPORIUM (head here for a decent tee from the US) Ziggurat and Thrift. Another goodie is Recycle Boutique on Vivian Street.

But it’s not just all vintage. Ghuznee street is home to ENA, a chic boutique featuring up-and-coming local designers that you’re unlikely to discover Down Under, next door to Deadly Peonies, an iconic and trusted leather brand of NZ.

Truth of the matter is, you’ll probably feel very uncool in Wellington given how inherently rad all of its residents are. Thanks to these stores, you can fix that immediately.

IMMERSE YOUR NERDY SELF IN THE FILMMAKING MAGIC

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If you’re a big fan of Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, Narnia and all things on-screen fantasy then you’ve got to visit Weta Studios. Do a Weta Cave Workshop tour for a BTS look at the blood, sweat and tears that went into making your fave films, where you’ll be able to touch props with your own greasy paws, and even watch the artists working on current projects.

When I was there, I caught Warren Beaton, Special Effects Technician and Artist for projects such as The Matrix and The Lord Of The Rings, doing his thing and it was a truly wild thing to witness.

While you’re in Miramar, you can also do the Sculpting Scars and Scrapes Workshop, which is essentially what the name suggests. You’ll partake in a class with a small group, whereby a little silicone gel and red fluid will allow you to whip up a gnarly wound. I’m the least artistic person ever and even my dismal attempt looked decent.

TUCK INTO SOME EXCELLENT GRUB

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Given you’ve got to eat to, you know, stay alive, you may as well make some calculated choices when it comes to dining.

Havana Bar is a must. Walk through a narrow, panelled alley between two lil’ Cuban-themed houses and enter into what may very well be the best tapas restaurant in all of the land. I went there twice to get the cauliflower with truffle during a three-night stay. IT WAS THAT GOOD. Venue is a stunner also – chandeliers, antique mirrors, salmon-pink walls, ceiling greenery.

Mr Go’s is also a huge yes. Asian street food vibes at its finest, served up yum cha style. Additionally, Hillside Kitchen deserves a strong mention. It has a pastel-pink exterior, white-tiled interior, and offers up an entirely meatless menu. It’s a degustation of epic proportions, with organic wines to suit. Be sure to check the garden out back, which is where your dinner will have come from.

In between meals, check out Fix and Fogg in Hannah’s Laneway. It offers a peanut butter assortment (including dark chocolate peanut butter which I never knew I needed) and yep, you can try ’em all with paddle pop sticks. It’s tucked away in a cute little window, but you won’t miss it.

Afterwards? Wellington Chocolate Factory, for sure. They make organic, ethically traded, bean-to-bar choccies wrapped in OG designs by local artists. Love that. Wellington On A Plate is also on in August should your travel dates align.

JUMP ABOARD THE LIT TRAIN

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Sure, Wellington is breweries galore, but there are plenty of regular bars to get boozy at too. Maybe “regular” isn’t the right word, but you know what I mean – non-breweries.

Laundry requires your attention. What looks like a cartoon-version of a dry cleaners outside it a charm-filled bar inside, with a little caravan out back turning out tacos and burgers. Line that stomach before heading to Courtenay Place for The Library, Lulu Bar and Mishmosh.

For the love of god, take your passport with you if you’re drinking. I can’t tell you how many places turned down my drivers license, even though I turned 18 far longer ago than I care to admit.

This writer travelled to Wellington as a guest of Wellington of Wellington NZ.

Image: Instagram @dani_bains, @emporium_nz