101 GuidescityTravel

wellington, new zealand guide

by Stephanie

illustration by julia rothman

our wellington, new zealand guide comes to us from sarah hopkins, the co-director of the big shwop. the big shwop is clothes shopping for the ethically minded – people bring in their barely worn quality clothes and swap them for other fantastic threads while enjoying wine, music and lots of other eco-goodies.

sarah has been lucky enough to journey throughout the world, but now calls new zealand home. she currently lives in wellington with her hubby in a house on the side of the hill looking out to ocean, and today she shares with us all of the fashion, design and dining gems this harbor city has to offer! thanks sarah for this visual tour through wellington!–stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

The location of Wellington is dynamite and totally, absolutely, beautiful. I remember when I returned six years ago after living in London for a few years, I was absolutely dumbstruck.

Situated on the shores of a sheltered city harbour at the bottom end of the North Island, the city is encircled with high hills in all directions. It makes for some striking scenery: wooden villas peppered on the hills, beaches, cliffs and blue skies in the South Pacific. On a mean winter day the southerly antarctic winds howl right through to your bones – but on a fine day – well, it is hard to beat.

That’s Wellington’s location – and it helps to make it fabulous. The central city, squashed between high flanking hills, is ultra compact and surprisingly cosmopolitan for its modest population. Wellington is the official capital city of New Zealand and the unofficial capital of live music, theatre and the arts as well. There are stacks of young people here as a result which makes it a vibrant, dynamic place to visit.

There is so much that I could trot on about but you would find a lot of the more usual things to do and see anywhere else on a google search of the city. So, I thought it would be great to highlight some of the lesser-known-to-the-tourist-eye type places – the independent, the local, the ethical and the gosh-darn-cool.


95 Victoria Street

Swonderful is a sweet, sweet boutique. They showcase unique, handmade and local art and fashion. Nearly everything in it is made right here in New Zealand, and if it isn’t it is at least ethically made. I like that a lot.

Starfish Clothing
128 Willis Street
Starfish are one of my absolute favourites. Their clothes are beautifully made, all here in New Zealand. They choose NZ made textiles where they can and organic cotton, hemp and denim too but they don’t forfeit any style for their green status. They stock other choice ethically minded fashion brands too like kowtow clothing. Oh, and both their store and their staff are Lovely!

98 Victoria Street
World are one of the leading fashion houses in New Zealand. They rock out colour like no-one else and their slogans often incite a giggle in me – a season or two ago their season range was based on the statement that “Housework makes you ugly.” He he he.

Hunters and Collectors 134 Cuba Street
Good golly gosh I wish this shop had a website so I could show you how truly cool it is! It has been around for ages and has the greatest selections of vintage clothing, accessories and footwear ever. The shop buys, sells and trades too and it is a goldmine of undiscovered treasures and cowboy boots.

Karen Walker
126 Wakefield Street
It would be remiss of me to leave out the Karen Walker store. She is the current doyenne of our fashion scene, and does mighty well overseas too. For good reason as well – her clothes are beautifully tailored textile adventures, her jewellery’s gorgeous, her sunglasses desperately cool, her Resene paint range must also be too …. you get the picture – Karen Walker is smashing it something fierce right now.

Good as Gold
140 Victoria Street
Good as Gold is a street boutique that has a well edited selection of brands that are a little off the radar. Select denims, gorgeous threads and wicked shoes and accessories. Lots of little nuggets for shelf decorating too. Oh – and two beautiful bulldogs Buster and Millie though, they are not for sale.

Ruby Boutique
Old Bank Arcade, Lambton Quay

The Old Bank Arcade is worth a visit in its own right. It is a historic building that is now a wonderful shopping precinct filled with lovely designer shops to nosy at. Ruby Boutique is one such store. Another NZ label, their clothes are often in beautifully feminine colours with really gorgeous prints but their designs have a great edge to them to stop them feeling twee. I heart.

4 Blair Street Wellington
I can’t say that my salary stretches as far as it needs to, to really enjoy Scotties right now, but perhaps one day it will. Scotties stocks a number of international labels such as Ann Demeulemeester, Comme des Garçons, Marni and Alexander McQueen as well as local gems too.

Other worthy mentions are:

Kate Sylvester
32 Cuba Street

176 Cuba Street

Unity Collection
101 Customhouse Quay

107 Customhouse Quay


126 Wakefield Street
Artikel is an awesome port of call if you are seeking that unique something. Artikel presents a very on point selection of design items – from contemporary & vintage inspired furniture, to what I reckon is just about the best selection of jewellery in town. I highly recommend.

Madame Fancypants
217 Cuba Street
I may be part magpie, as I am very attracted to shiny things, so walking into this place is dangerous! Claire Terry aka Madame Fancypants, designs and makes all her own jewellery and stocks lots of other cool lines too. There is a lovely selection of baby stuff, art, clothing and general trinketry. Yes, trinketry is a word ;)

The Vault Design Store
2 Plimmer Steps
If you are visiting New Zealand it won’t take you long to notice the naf selection of souvenirs that are available at each and every visitor centre and ticket office. What do you mean you don’t want a stuffed giant kiwifruit and a sheep that bleats? Thankfully, you have some much better choices for gifts in Wellington, and Vault is one of those places. FILLED to the brim with beautiful ceramics, glass, jewellery and design items from around the country, you will be spoilt for choice as to what to take away with you.

Kura: Aotearoa art and design

19 Allen Street
Kura is also a great space to frequent for something distinctively and authentically from here in Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand). It specialises in contemporary Maori art and design and it stands out from all the other gift stores for the calibre of what it sells there. A gorgeous place.

87 Victoria St
Vessel is the loveliest place, filled with selections from the finest NZ ceramic artists. Might not be good in your luggage on the way home but I swoon over this place.

Small Acorns
177 Featherston Street
Oh my! Filled with colour, stripes and yummy smells, Small Acorns is a design store for the home that is high on the joys of life.

Pop up
Limited edition art prints, posters, collectable urban toys and general cool stuff, Pop Up is well worth the drop in.

Other worthy mentions:

Wanda Harland
24 Elizabeth Street

Iko Iko
118 Cuba Street

Juniper Gifts and Gallery
14 Rintoul Street

23 Allen Street

Wellington, takes caffeine really seriously, and has more cafes per head than New York city. Perhaps its the compact size, but cafe culture here is alive and very, very well. There are stacks of great cafes and it is impossible to whittle it down. The best roast and grind their beans fresh and local. Oh heaven.

Peoples Coffee
13 Garrett St, City; 12A Constable Street, Newtown.

I could almost be a groupie of Matt and the people at Peoples Coffee. All of their beans are certified fair trade and I swear you can taste the happiness. They roast their beans, just around the corner from their pocket sized cafe in Newtown and there is another diamond spot to refuel on Garrett St, just off Cuba. They distribute their beans to other cafes about town too, so keep your eyes peeled for their logo for a guaranteed cracker and conscious cup.

Aro Cafe
90 Aro Street, Wellington, New Zealand
Aro Cafe is tucked away in the bohemian neighbourhood of Aro Valley, and totally deserves a mention. They make most everything from scratch, using organic, local and free range goodness and you can taste it.

Maranui Cafe
Clubhouse, Lyall Parade, Lyall Bay
Maranui got ravaged by a fire last year, and it felt like the whole city grieved for this place. Slap bang on the seashore, Maranui Cafe sits on the top floor of Maranui surf lifesaving club. It has awesome food and coffee and a great view of the surf hitting the shore. It just reopened its doors after an extensive rebuild -thank goodness! It is ultra close to the airport, so a great place to start or end any visit to this fair city.

234 Cuba Street
An institution in the city, Fidels Cafe is one of the king-pins of the cafe scene and is found at the top end of Cuba Street. Fidels staff serve fantastic coffee, they have a great menu and a vast selection of tasty-as counter food. Plenty of black vinyl booths and outdoor tables to slink away to, it is a winner.

Other worthy mentions are:

Mojo Coffee
33 Customhouse Quay, Waterfront
Havana Coffee
163 Tory Street

Baobab Cafe
152 Riddiford Street, Newtown
Caffe L’affare
27 College Street

107 Customhouse Quay

Wellington also takes its food and nightlife very seriously too, and we enjoy a ridiculous selection of mighty fine restaurants and bars. There are other sites that will do reviews better than I can here, and there are countless to mention anyway, so instead I thought I would simply dish up some of my favourites at the current moment.


Mighty Mighty
Level 1, 104 Cuba Street, Wellington

Gah! I am totally stymied by a lack of a website. Okay – well, this is one bar that truly stands out from the rest. Hugely eclectic, it is kind of hard to make generalisations about the great Mighty Mighty. They showcase stacks of live stuff from folk, to heavy rock, to electro and the whole gamut in between. Painted bright green, with plush red velvet curtains, pinball, toasted sandwiches, potted palms and mismatched wooden tables, it is nothing but good times.

The Library
1/53 Courtenay Place, Wellington
Walls covered in books, live music, dimmed lighting and a sweet desert menu. Great lounge bar all in all.

4 Rintoul Street, Newtown.

Newtown is a diverse neighbourhood that sits between the city and the south coast. It has got some great cafes, shops and vintage haunts, but until recently it has been just about devoid of a cool bar that didn’t scare the socks off you. So hooray for Monterey! Its a laid-back kind of place that feels real comfy. There is stacked books and simple homemade style shelving, and I have whiled away hours in here with good company and great wine. They paper up the table tops, and provide pencils so you can doodle away to your heart’s content – being a doodler, this pleases me immensely.

The Hawthorn Lounge
82 Tory Street
It feels as though you’ve been invited back to the 1920s in here – fantastic cocktails, leather armchairs, felted card table tops, green-shaded lamps and an open fire. Old school hospitality.

Other worthy mentions:
Good Luck

The Southern Cross Bar

The San Francisco Bathhouse

Havana Bar


Duke Carvalls
3 Swan Lane
I would recommend Duke Carvalls above anything right now -its a great place. Each small plate that they serve is its own stand alone scrumptious dish. The waiters know stacks about wine and are genuinely interested in making sure you have a fantastic meal. Love.

106 Cuba St
Down an inconspicuous, dark corridor off Cuba Street Mall you’ll find one of the finest bars and restaurants in the country. The Matterhorn is a converted coffee lounge from the 1950s – now it is a sleek beast of service and style, presenting award-winning food and drinks to very, very happy patrons. Great live music, open fire and a fine garden courtyard area for balmy evenings.

Sweet Mothers Kitchen
5 Courtenay Place
Food inspired by New Orleans and down South flavours, Sweet Mothers Kitchen is one heck of a fuel stop. The decor is retro/kitsch diner, the sauce Cholula and the menu all about the goodness of Hush Puppies, Key Lime Pie and Gumbo. Enough said.

Logan Brown
192 Cuba Street
If you are after a fine dining experience in the city, Logan Brown is but one of a number of worthy places. The menu here is full of absolute taste tantalising brilliance and it is housed in a beautiful old bank chamber with full vaulted ceiling. You might not believe me, but last time we were there my husband got tears in his eyes because his desert was so good. Literally got tearful – that is a true story. And he’s not even a cry baby.

Other worthy mentions:

Le Metropolitain


Elements cafe



City Gallery

Te Papa

Carter Observatory


Wellington Zoo

Oriental Bay

City Market



Ohtel is seriously cool. Modern building kitted out with gorgeous mid century Scandinavian furniture, each of the ten boutique rooms is different and totally styley. Its also seriously environmentally-conscious: solar hot water; full recycling and totally natural and biodegradable cleaning products. And slap bang on the waterfront. Yah!

Museum Hotel

The Lighthouse

Suggested For You


  • My husband and I are planning our first trip to New Zealand for our 5 year anniversary in April 2012. I’m so excited to have this guide to stick in my pocket. Thanks for the wonderful tips on where to eat, shop, and stay. I can’t wait!!

  • Husband and I are planning honeymoon (married in March) to New Zealand for this November, perfect timing :)

  • As a Wellingtonian who has been “exiled” to the UK by her husband’s job, this guide uncovered my homesickness gene! Wellywood, as we like to call it, really is an amazing city – just make sure you visit in summer cos those winds, coming as they do off the Antarctic shelf, can be brutal!

  • Great guide… the links are all broken though. Looks like you have a spare “ floating around inside the urls!

    • Thanks Tama! I went through all the links and everything should be updated. Let me know, if anything doesn’t work for you! Thanks again! – Amy A.

  • Excellent guide, although I’d suggest adding the restaurant Francois on Murphy St for top dining (expensive, French, but the highest quality – possibly the best restaurant in NZ).

    Also, the Wanda Harland store on Elizabeth St is fab.

  • Stop it! Stop it! You’re making me homesick. *grins* I’m looking forward to burying myself in everything that makes my homeland awesome in about a years’ time.

  • Having spent almost 4 years in Wellington and having had our 3 year old twins there, we Melbournites consider it our second home. This great guide recalls so many wonderful memories of a fantastic time. Great to hear Maranui is up and running again. Also worthy of mention: Boulcott Street Bistro and Arbitrageur Wine Room. Can’t wait to visit next March. Thanks.

  • WOWeeeee! we made the list! Super! Thanks for giving us a shout out. What I think is so cool is all of the posts about people coming to visit Welly in the future. We LOVE visitors & I will be sure to pop the kettle on :)

  • How funny, I am off to Wellington tonight for a quick trip to visit family! It really is a wonderful city. Small enough to feel intimate but with enough interesting and quirky bits (not to mention the natural beauty) to make it special.

    I think this is a great guide – I’ve been to Wellington many times and it excites me that I’ve still got so much to discover!

    Logan Brown is great – I went there for their lunch special a couple of months ago. I think it’s $25NZD for three courses and a glass of wine – excellent value.

  • Haven’t been to Wellington for a couple years since I left my job that required travel there. Miss it a lot actually. Matterhorn = yum but if you are vegetarian be warned as we found the vegetarian options lacking a little… I live in Auckland but Wellington is my favourite NZ city…

  • This is fantastic! Thank you. I just love visiting Wellington, I have a huge soft spot for the place. Now this makes me want to go back there asap!!

  • How great! I live in Wellington but have yet to visit half of these places. Great to see Swonderful right at the top, with some of my prints in the photo, no less!

  • Wow – how exciting to find my store on this beautifully written guide. Makes me so proud to live in this lovely little city – which is really a village at heart. I think that’s why it is such a nice place to live, and as the saying goes, can’t be beaten on a good day!

  • For vegans: Deluxe Cafe, next to Embassy.Yum.
    COME AND VISIT US, EVERYONE! It really is this lovely.

  • fabulous write-up – tugged my heart strings! Seems like all these homesick Kiwis should start a group.. or a cafe maybe? Speaking of cafe.. another great one to visit, expecially if you’re down in the Lambton Quay area, is Vivace. Very small, not too much food, but a brilliant bold creamy esspresso you really simply must try. I’m salivating just thinking about it!
    Cant wait to see you in a couple of months, wellywood

  • this is an awesome website! we lived near Wellington and headed there on a regular basis! we loved all of these spots! great recommendations on the hot spots! have to agree w/ Ingrid above… must to Vivace for a good coffee! any Streetwise location is great too. reading this made me “homesick” too :)

  • I also call Wellington home : ) and just have to add another all-time-fave-have-to-go-there eatery – Nikau, behind the City Art Gallery… their kedgeree is to die for!

  • how true, we spent our honeymoon in wellington and it was the best two weeks ever. it is an alternative cultural hub and full of wonderful surprises like cuba st and te papa museum (the best museum in the world, and we have travelled alot!). we are actually thinking of moving there if we can find a reasonably priced rental.

  • Wellington IS the best city in the world. Love your website – well done. Once you’ve seen Welly come out to Petone – only 10 minutes on the motorway and Welly’s most historic village, plus you get the best views over to Welly!

  • Thank you so much for this really extensive list of great places in Welly. I was there a little while ago on a long weekend with hubbie, but I was sick right from the start to the end, and couldn’t drink coffee or wine and barely ate!! Cannot wait to go back and do the town properly!!!

  • Yay! My city got featured!!!
    I’d add in Martin Bosley’s Yacht Club for the most amazing seafood restaurant. There’s also some great places in Petone now, it’s well worth a visit: Petone treasures, Goodness, Minx, there’s a Wanda Harland out there too. Go to Go Bang for coffee or brunch while you’re out there.
    Richard, Francois closed a few years ago and is now called Le Canard. Equally good in my book.

  • melissa

    your comment was neither accurate nor in line with our comment policy. i’ll never allow one reader to imply another reader is a rude phrase/word because of their shopping tastes. that’s totally out of line with what we do here. you’re welcome to disagree with a guide, but when you leave comments filled with that much rudeness you’re not welcome to comment.


  • Thanks for all the lovely comments guys – and the fabulous suggestions for more wonderful treasures to be considered when visiting Wellington, they are spot-on. I love Nikau and its kedgeree. Yum!

  • If you’re ever in wellington don’t forget to check out thornden, the historic suburb has a cute little village full of antique shops, galleries, cafes and other little gems, Marthas Pantry is a great cafe also. Its so nice to see my hometown mentioned!

  • Lovely lovely Wellington – I have three more suggestions to add – Magnolia on the corner of Tory and College Streets for lots of lovely gifts and things for your home; the teensy tiny Italian pizzeria ‘Il Piccolo’ at the top end of Willis Street, and you can’t beat the sushi from Midland Sushi – ow, this is making me I was at home instead of London…

  • I just booked my flights over and am definitely printing this out and taking it with me! It is my Kiwi partner’s favourite NZ city and I’m really excited to explore it!

    Thanks for the fantastic guide!!

  • I was told there were some fab places to see and hang in Wellington and this is the best site to find these cool places. Thanks so much, heading there next week for two days.. I know where to go..

  • Wow you really have covered the lot – as a Newtown resident I thank for you making Wellie-town look as good as it really really is here. Great shot of Monterays!

  • Brilliant guide – as a Wellingtonian now resident in London it made me feel super excited about my trip later this month. We’ll be checking out lots of your suggestions – thanks so much.

Leave a Reply

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, that comment on people's physical appearance, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.