A student’s guide to living in Wellington
Wellington City (or Welly as it’s fondly called by the locals) is the capital of New Zealand. The city is well known as ‘the windy city’, in addition to being a cultural hub of art, food and music and the home of New Zealand’s government.
Wellington is home to a diverse range of people which contributes to its unique culture. University students from two of New Zealand’s main universities (Massey University and Victoria University) are living alongside politicians and government officials and everything in between.
Wellingtonians are very friendly (and usually at least a little quirky) which makes the city a pretty interesting and vibrant place to live.
There’s so much to do and see in Wellington, so make sure you always keep an eye out for something new. There are hundreds of great little places to discover, hidden away in small nooks and crannies, and whenever you’re wandering around the city be on the lookout for some street art.
Fun activities to do in Wellington
Got a few hours up your sleeve or a much needed study break planned? There’s never a dull moment in Wellington with loads of places to visit and things to do.
Te Papa, Located at 55 Cable Street
If there’s only one thing you do while you’re living in Wellington, it should definitely be a visit to New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa. The museum holds a number of collections unique to the country and is a really great place to immerse yourself in its history and culture.
The museum has 36,000 square metres of public space and is spread out across six floors. There’s a lovely café inside, so give yourself a full day to make the most of your time here. One of the most impressive permanent exhibitions is the only colossal squid on display in the world.
On top of that, Te Papa is a great option if you’re on a budget as entry and most of the permanent exhibitions are free (charges apply to some short-term exhibitions and activities). Guided tours are available from as little as NZD20.
There’s a popular saying among Wellingtonians: ‘you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.’ And there’s no better place to view the city than from Mount Victoria (known to locals as Mount Vic).
There are several tracks that will lead you up, around and over Mount Vic. If you follow the track marked ‘lookout’ it will take you to the very top where you will be treated to a stunning panoramic view of the entire city.
If you’re into a bit of mountain biking, bring a bike and follow one of the bike tracks down to the bottom. You can also drive to the top if you just want to get straight to the view.
Located at 1 Weka Street, Weta Workshop is a world leading special effects and prop studio. They have worked on many box office hits over the past couple of decades but are best known for their work on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
To get a sneak peek at the amazing work they do including everything from making weapons and other props to 3D modelling to animatronics and any number of other projects they are working on, take a trip to the Weta Cave (which is adjacent to Weta Workshop) and book a guided tour.
While you’re there you can pick up some memorabilia from their store which sells everything from costume, weapon replicas and art to models and kids’ toys.
There are three great markets on each weekend if you’re looking for a reason to get out and about:
The Wellington Night Market pops up in Left Bank every Friday and on lower Cuba Street every Saturday, and runs from 5pm-11pm. It’s filled with food trucks and stalls as well as a few other stores and is a great opportunity to try food from many of the local restaurants all in one place. There’s also live music and usually a few bold Wellingtonians dancing on the street.
The Harbourside Market runs every Sunday from 7.30am between Te Papa and Chaffers Marina. In addition to food trucks, stalls and entertainment, the Harbourside Market offers fresh fruit and vegetables and a few other delicacies. It is a great place to do some of your weekend food shopping.
The Underground Market is open every Saturday and features a variety of stalls selling goods from local designers, artists and small local businesses. Like everywhere else you’ll also find great coffee and more food alongside it.
Go to a festival or show
Wellington is a city of culture, with something always on from food and music festivals, to concerts and shows. A quick online search will provide you with a long list of options on every day and night of the week, many of which will be free.
Some of the major highlights every year are:
A weekend long free festival that features music and entertainment and celebrates all the best Wellington has to offer from food and drink to arts and crafts. It takes place every year over the last weekend of March and is the perfect embodiment of the Wellington spirit.
WOAP is New Zealand’s largest culinary festival and takes over the city every year for the month of August. Local restaurants design unique festival dishes, cocktails and burgers. And awards are given to the best in each category with 20% of the score coming from the customers’ opinions.
WOW is an internationally renowned design competition and award show. It’s an opportunity for designers from all over the world to create with virtually no restrictions. For the audience it is an incredible and unforgettable experience combining fashion, dance, art and theatrical performance.
Best places to eat out in Wellington
While Wellington is a relatively small city, it’s home to more than 750 eateries and has earned a reputation as New Zealand’s culinary capital. It’s so overflowing with cafes, bars and restaurants that it can sometimes be difficult to choose where to eat.
Here are the top, hidden places that are essential to try.
Eva Street (four treasures in one place), off Dixon Street near Te Aro Park
Eva Street is easily overlooked. You would be forgiven for thinking that its only purpose was to provide a delivery entrance to the surrounding businesses, but it’s in fact home to three of Wellington’s food treasures and cool little bars.
If you head through a small doorway at the beginning of the street and follow the stairs to the second floor you’ll find yourself at Lashings. If you have a sweet tooth, Lashings is the place to go. Their entire menu is based around brownies and they regularly release special limited brownies for you to try so there’s always a great excuse to go back! They also serve coffee and other drinks and an iconic New Zealand item, Southland cheese rolls (but a fancy version).
Walk past the entrance to Lashings and a little further down the street you’ll find Wellington’s very own chocolate factory. They’re an ethical company who use organic and ethically sourced and traded ingredients to create some of the most bizarre and delicious flavours of chocolate you’re likely to find in New Zealand. They offer tours so you can see exactly how everything is made and they’ll provide you with plenty of opportunities to taste their products.
Past the chocolate factory and around the corner to the right you’ll find a cute little window in the wall at ground height. There’s no signage, just a flag hanging next to the window that says ‘peanut butter’. This is the home of Fix and Fogg, a local Wellington company that make award winning nut butters. They sell a variety of peanut butter on toast options, porridge and filtered coffee. Their menu is simple, but when the butter is this good, you don’t need anything more.
If you continue straight from the chocolate factory rather than turning the corner to Fix and Fogg, you will find a neat little bar called Golding’s Free Dive. They have board games available for use, a great rotation of craft beers available on tap from all over and you can order fresh pizza to your table from Pizza Pomodoro (another great Wellington food place) which is located just across the laneway.
Husk, located at 62 Ghuznee Street
If you’re a lover of coffee or craft beer, you’ll fall in love with this hot spot. It’s tucked away down a small alleyway off Ghuznee Street with fairy lights along the ceiling and a mural stretching across the wall all the way to the entrance. The café is animal friendly and you will often meet a furry friend in the outdoor area on your way down the alleyway.
Husk offers a breakfast and dinner menu that uses fresh, local, free range ingredients to deliver some of the best dishes in the city. They’re well known for their home-made chocolate ganache mochas and they also brew a variety of beverages on site which you can see brewing at the back of the cafe. They have plenty of vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and dairy free options and whatever you order you’re sure to be impressed.
Willi’s Kitchen, located at 108 Manners Street
Willi’s Kitchen is the definition of hidden in plain sight. This unassuming little café is located in the middle of the city, tucked away behind a bus stop and is easily missed if you’re walking past.
They have some of the best breakfast dishes available in the city and one of the most incredible cabinets of delicious cakes, slices and treats you’ll ever see. They also have lots of vegan options - their vegan doughnuts are an incredible treat, whether you’re vegan or not. All their food is amazing but if you have trouble deciding what to get, their weekly hotcakes special is always impressive and delicious.
Unique and quirky places to shop
Wellington is well known to many for being a bit quirky. If you’re looking for a good place to shop for things you probably won’t find anywhere else, these are the best places to look first.
Hidden down a small walkway in the middle of the city is the most unique bookstore you’ll find in Wellington.
There are books stacked from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling in every room. You’ll find everything from decade old classics to modern bestsellers, from every genre all well organised by subject. The vast majority of their books are second-hand, but they also stock some new books as well.
The staff have an incredible knowledge of all things literature and are always happy to help you find what you’re looking for or suggest something good to read. They also hold regular musical performances and readings so it’s always a good idea to check out their Facebook page and find out what’s going on.
Brown and Co
Brown and Co is an eclectic little store that is most well-known for selling taxidermised animals. They have a large range of beautiful pieces that includes insects, birds, bats, deer, peacocks, snakes, lizards, rabbits and hares etc.
The store also carries a number of antique science equipment, ornaments and furniture from New Zealand and overseas as well as sculptures, old books, marionette puppets, toys, some pieces of art and an endless number of other unique knick-knacks.
Graphic is a one-stop shop for everything comic related. It’s run by an extremely knowledgeable comic book fan and stocks everything from graphic novels to collectibles for topics such as Tintin and Batman. Whatever you’re into, they probably have something you’ll want and if they don’t, they can specially import certain items for you.
It’s easy to find, just walk up Cuba Street and keep an eye open for the life-size Darth Vader standing in the window. The staff are super helpful and always keen to chat to customers. If you’re into everything ‘geeky’, this is definitely the place to go.
Hunters and Collectors
Hunters and Collectors is like the biggest walk-in wardrobe you’ll ever see. They have an amazing collection of second-hand vintage and designer clothing, furs and jewellery.
If you have any preloved items you no longer want, this can be a good place to go to get some extra cash. Some of their items are imported from overseas, but they buy most of their stock from local Wellingtonians. They will also sell on your behalf and split the profit with you 50/50.
It’s worth heading there just to have a look at the collection and it’s a great place to find luxury vintage clothing at an affordable price.
Eyeball Kicks is a small art shop that sells everything from photographs to paintings and prints from local artists. In keeping with Wellington’s rich culture, many of the pieces reference pop culture, films and music.
The staff are extremely passionate about art and are always happy to answer any questions you may have or share their knowledge.
They also offer a framing service so if you’re purchasing something unframed you can choose from their available options or have a custom frame made up. If you already have something you want framed, they’ll do that for you too.
How to get around Wellington
With so many great things to do and cool places to visit, you’ll need to know the best way to get where you want to go each day.
These are the best transport methods for getting around Wellington.
Use your legs
There’s really no better way to get around Wellington than on your own two feet. The city is very compact and most of the time you will find that you can get to where you need to be in 30 minutes or less.
Walking is a great way to discover the city. Most of the best places to visit are contained in a strip several blocks wide, spanning from Oriental Bay and around the waterfront towards Westpac Stadium. Starting at one end, you can easily lose an entire day wandering to the other end while discovering everything the city has to offer in between.
Alternatively, there is a dock less bike sharing platform that operates in Wellington called Onzo. Simply download the app, follow the instructions and you will be able to use their bicycles which are scattered around the city. Their bright yellow bikes are easy to spot and there’s usually one nearby.
Onzo is perfect if you need to get somewhere quicker or when you’re going further. On top of that it’s very affordable at a cost of 25 cents per 15 minutes of use.
If you’re travelling a little further than your legs can carry you, then using Wellington’s public transport network, called Metlink, is your best bet.
The network has more than 100 bus routes with a bus approximately every 10 minutes on the busiest lines. For a cheaper bus fare on most trips head to a corner store and purchase a pre-paid Snapper card. You can top it up with credit either in store or using the app on supported smartphones and then use it to wirelessly pay for your fare as you board a bus at a discounted rate. Students can apply for a tertiary concession on the Snapper website to receive a further discounted rate.
If you’re looking to explore some of the nearby towns then taking the train is a great option.
There are five local services that depart from Wellington station which can take you as far as Kapiti Coast and Wairarapa. The station has a bar, a small coffee shop and supermarket if you need anything before your journey. You can purchase single fares and day passes onboard with cash. For Eftpos, credit card purchases and monthly or 10-trip passes you will have to go to selected stations and ticket agents.
Hop in a taxi or use a rideshare app
If you’re in a hurry to get somewhere there are taxi stands all around the city centre and three rideshare services operating in Wellington (Uber, Ola and Zoomy).
You’ll find the rideshare services cheaper than a traditional service and all three offer a similar service and price. Depending on the time of day and whether or not there’s higher-than-usual demand, a ride will usually arrive within 15 minutes. If you search around, they usually have deals for new users that give you free or discounted rides.