Adorable and/or affordable places I keep going back to in the big little capital that is Wellington, New Zealand.
Up until May 2016, Wellington was my home base for more than 7 years. More recently, I’ve been reacquainting myself with this big little city through the lens of a visitor.
Earlier this month I was in Wellington for a day on my way back from Luminate Festival in Takaka (blog post to come on this). Loads of new eateries and shops have popped up in my 10 month absence, and as I walk the streets with my best friend and Wellington local I ask, “Have you been there? What’s it like?” This is a vibrant city of growth and change. It’s also a city recovering from earthquake damage from the recent November 2016 quake. In short, there’s lots of new things to see from the demolition of a carpark on Courtney Place, to the David Bowie street art on the JAM Hair Building visible from Ghuznee Street.
But rather than dive into all that newness, for me, a short stop in Welly is just enough time to visit my old haunts – a set of places I always return to, brimming with memories, yummy food and high quality goods; feasting for the eyes and the soul. This is my little Wellington.
Madame Fancy Pants
Madame Fancy Pants is a beautifully curated fashion and gift store on Cuba Street with on-trend clothing, eloquent jewellery, cutesy stationary, quirky gift cards and more. When I enter a feeling of calm intrigue washes over me. The staff are always friendly and beautifully dressed, happy to welcome browsers (like me) or the purposeful shopper needing gift suggestions. This store is more in the “adorable” than the affordable category, but there are still little trinkets for every budget. madamefancypants.com
Satay Palace is more than just a Malaysian restaurant. It’s an institution. For over seven years now I’ve been frequenting this place, and the food is still as good. Meals range from $8 – $15. And there’s heaps of affordable sides like roti, peanut sauce, chicken satay sticks etc. The cheap prices, fresh food and prompt service is why you come – not the dated table and chairs, or the lime green walls. The table in the window is great for watching the diverse range of people pounding up and down Cuba street. Satay Palace is also NOT BYO which I love because it’s never crowded with drunk students, or people that sit around sipping wine all night. There’s almost always a table, or will be in 10 minutes cause the meals come out so fast. A full range of vegan/vegetarian options here – a whole page of the menu in fact! Dine in or takeway. Satay Palace on Zomato
Customs Brew Bar
Even though I’ve spent most of my adult life living in the hipster capital of New Zealand, I’ve never been quite on-trend enough to consider myself “hip”. My one exception to this is my obsession and love of Customs Brew Bar, a super cool but un-intimidating coffee bar for the connoisseur and coffee addict. Brewing Supreme Coffee to perfection, the Customs team are always full of smiles and suggestions on what bean to sample, what method of brewing to try, and what to take away to brew at home. And the decor is beautiful; a minimalist 70s feel reinvented for the modern palette. From Thursday – Sunday Customs also stock Little Dough Co donuts, gourmet Wellington-made donuts with fancy flavours like orange cream and fennel sugar, or Fix and Fogg Peanut Butter and Jelly like the one I sampled below. The coffee/donut combination is so on point. Supreme Coffee at Customs, Little Dough Co
Ok, for some it may just be a crane on a boat but the Hikitia on Wellington’s waterfront has a special place in my heart. Taking photos of this crane and it’s interesting lines and angles is where my strange obsession with photographing cranes started (the construction machinery, not the bird!). No crane I’ve photographed to date is situated in such picturesque surroundings, or has such well-balanced proportions as the Hikitia. The Hikitia is also Australasia’s only working floating crane. Built in Paisley, Scotland in 1926, the steam powered vessel arrived in Wellington the same year after a 83 day voyage. Learn more at Hikitia.com
To quote a little girl overheard by a previous staff member, “this is a nice supermarket!” Commonsense is a Wellington owned and operated organic food and health store, packed to the brim with local produce, and alternative, ethical food products for the conscious eater. A naturopath is usually available to answer your health questions, and offer advice on the wide range of supplements in store. It’s also a great place to pick up a healthy snack and drink on the go as the lunch bar caters to all dietary requirements with vegan pizza, gluten free sandwiches, and salted caramel cookies from Leed St Bakery; conscious eaters need treats too! They even have wicker baskets for you to load your wares into as you shop. It’s the little things. The company have five stores in the greater Wellington region, the largest and most central on Wakefield Street, just a short hop from the Waterfront. commonsenseorganics.co.nz
NZ Academy of Fine Arts Galleries
Located in the historic Wharf Offices building at 1 Queens Wharf just off the Waterfront, this beautiful gallery space houses exhibitions featuring New Zealand artists for the perusal and purchase of the public. This is a great place for artists to gain inspiration, and art collectors of all budgets. While Wellington’s many museums offer stimulating educational experiences not to be missed, sometimes I’m just not in the mood for reading and absorbing textual information; instead my eyes want to lazily gaze upon beautiful works of art. Visiting this gallery is a rewarding visual experience, one that leaves me uplifted, inspired and ready to set out along the waterfront again. Admission is free, donations welcome. nzafa.com
I don’t know how it took me five years to discover this gem of a Vietnamese fast-food restaurant. Not to be confused with Fisherman’s Table on Oriental Bay, Fisherman’s Plate is tucked away down Bond Street and is your affordable answer to fresh, fast, tasty Vietnamese. With a complete range of rice, noodle and soup dishes including vegetarian and vegan options, Fisherman’s Plate has something for everyone. My personal recommendation would have to be the Blue Warehou fish noodle soup – served with a big bowl of sprouted mung beans and salad greens to pile on top of your soup. They also serve your standard NZ fish and chip shop fare. Takeaway or eat in. Fisherman’s Plate on Zomato
For me the true taste of Wellington can be found in a Garage Project Beer. For 3 years I lived a dangerously-close 5 minute walk from the Garage Project Cellar door and Tap Room (both on Aro Street). With weekly (if not daily…) trips to the Cellar Door, I’ve sampled a good chunk of their extensive, always-growing range. They’re regularly releasing new beers based on local points of interests (like the Red Rocks Reserve), special events, holidays or new concepts. I was at the Tap Room earlier this month when they released their latest beer “Resonance”, a viennese lager made with music. Garage Project explain that “the yeast in Resonance has been… sonically stimulated, energised and then soothed with a specially curated selection of classical music played directly into the beer using a submersible speaker”. In other words, a Wellington hipster’s dream. For me, this beer is very reminisce of Cologne’s Kölsch beer, a good session beer for when you want to really sink a few. I myself prefer their beers with bolder flavours; this summer I’m loving Brightside, a high percentage Belgian blonde beer, and Buenos Tiempos, a malt based beer brewed with pineapple and sour cherry. The Cellar Door also has a super cool range of Garage Project art printed on posters and tee’s etc. Garageproject.co.nz
All these places are within walking distance of each other, and you can easily make it to all of them in a day. Now get out there and enjoy our little Wellington.