A locals guide to the hidden gems of Wellington

Wellington has a heap of ‘Must-Do's’ and ‘Must-See’s’ – Te Papa, anyone? But if you’re looking for hidden gems, we've asked the locals for their best-kept secrets. Thanks Wellington!

writers walk Wellington Feature

Often we don’t know what beauty lies on our front doorstep, and if we do, we want to keep it close to our hearts for fears it may become spoilt or overrun. We asked Wellingtonians to share their hidden gems of the city with us and they here are! So, next time you are travelling through our cool little capital, be sure to check out these off-the-beaten-path destinations. 

Spend the day outside

We all know you can’t beat Wellington on a good day, so why not spend the day taking in the views and the ocean breeze with some of these free activities to do in Wellington.

Wellington Waterfront 

The waterfront has it all, from delicious food and drink to watersports. A bustling hive of activity, you will see people walking, running, skating and biking at all hours of the day. 

The Wellington Writers Walk adds to the charm of the waterfront: there are 23 sculptural quotations from some of New Zealand's most well-known writers along the way. The sculptures are cleverly placed between land and seascape often in surprising and unexpected places. So, pick a form of transport to get around and see if you can spot them all.

Makara Peak Summit Mountain Bike Park

Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park 

If you are into getting around on two wheels this world class purpose-built mountain bike park has trails for every ability, all set in native bush and within a short distance from the CBD. Want to stick to using your own two feet? You can walk or run to the summit, and it sure is worth it just for the view. If you want to take it easy, Koru and Lazy Fern are the tracks for you.  Check out the spectacular summit views and berm action on the Grand Loop or get your adrenaline pumping on the downhills of Vertigo and Trickle Falls - experience is needed to take on these two.

The South Coast

The South Coast is a wild and spectacular way to get out of the city and spend the day.  Just be sure to take a jacket with you, as this is the place to experience Wellington's signature windy weather!

Seals at Red Rocks reserve wellington
Red Rocks Walk © Fraser Clements

Red Rocks 

Head from Owhiro Bay out to the Red Rocks reserve, this is what it says on the tin - red coloured rocks that were formed 200 years ago by undersea volcanic eruptions. Keep along the coastal walk to Sinclair Head, here you will see a thriving fur seal colony (May to October).  A capital city with its own fur seal colony in its backyard, not many places in the world can make this claim! 

Taputeranga Marine Reserve

Island Bay Snorkel Trail will make you feel like you've stepped out of the city and into a tropical paradise. This trail is marked out for easy access, follow the buoys and investigate the underwater world of the sheltered bay.  With no current, this spot is suitable for the whole family. Take your own snorkel gear or head to a local dive shop to get kitted out; the best snorkelling is at half to full tide.  Island bay is also one of the best dive sites in New Zealand. Divers can also explore the wreck of the navy frigate HMNZS WellingtonIf you are heading out in the summer months, a swim raft is moored in the bay and is the perfect spot to spend the day. This place is a little gem as well as one of the best things to do in Wellington. Enjoy!

Viewing the Interislander ferry from Pencarrow Lighthouses

Pencarrow Heads 

One of the best free things to do in Wellington is the flat 7.5 km walk or bike ride to Pencarrow lighthouses. Pencarrow heads stand on the entrance to Wellington Harbour, a place of iconic New Zealand history being New Zealand's first permanent lighthouse and home of New Zealand's first official woman lighthouse keeper, Mary Bennett. The first lighthouse was built in 1858, with a second erected on the beach in 1906, due to the low lying fog that often covered the top lighthouse. 

A little way past the lighthouses and along the coastline is the rusting hulk of a ship on the edge of the road. On this wild coast, there have been more than 40 recorded shipwrecks over the last couple of centuries. Most of these have long since disappeared, but this one was the remains of the small steamer Paiaka which was wrecked in July 1906, with no loss of life. It lay buried in deep sand until 1987 when it was excavated and placed by the side of the road.

If you know your New Zealand history, you will know about the Wahine ferry sinking inside the Wellington Heads in 1968. A lot of the bodies were washed up on the Pencarrow coastline, so take a moment to view the memorial plaque at the Pencarrow Carpark.

While out at Pencarrow you will more than likely see the Interislander sailing by, this is a photo spot worthy of Instagram. Just don’t forget to share and use the hashtag #greatjourneysofnz for a chance to be featured!

Innovative food joints and hidden laneways

Once home to Hannahs shoe factory and a sawmill, we are referring to what is now one of the tastiest and unique places in the city. The Hannah's laneway, between Eva St and Leeds St in the central city, boasts some best artisan products and places to eat and drink.

Hanns Laneway Wellington City
Get your peanut butter fix © Daniel Rose

Fix and Fogg

A laneway peanut butter shop! Yes, you heard us right a whole shop dedicated to the nutty stuff. Pop in to pick up a jar of Extra Crunchy or Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter. 

Wellington Chocolate Factory

Also found down this quirky lane, this popular chocolate factory is committed to ethical trade. These delectable treats are artfully packaged by local artists and will provide a cocoa delight for chocolate lovers coming from near and far.

Leeds St Bakery 

While walking through Hannah’s laneway you might catch the irresistible smell of freshly made bread and home baking. If you follow your nose, you will get to Leeds St Bakery – home of the infamous salted caramel cookie. They come highly recommended, so go on give them a try!

Golding's Free Dive 

Labelled as one of Wellington's real gems, Golding's Free Dive is a dog-friendly bar dedicated to craft beer. As well as having a flavour to suit every punter, the atmosphere suits the hipsters of the capital. The majority of the bar is made from recycled materials so when you visit, check out the decor. Oh, and bring the dog!

Husk Beer WellingtonHusk Bar & Eatery

Away from the laneway but still tucked in a Wellington side lane is Husk. Located on Ghuznee Street, this one is a little harder to find so if you really love hidden places; this one is for you! They tick off craft beer, coffee and brunch. Sorted!

Moores Wilsons 

You’ve probably heard about the fact Wellington has more restaurants per capita than New York. But you may not have heard of Moores Wilsons, the food wholesaler, the shop where the chefs of the city get their ingredients. Need powdered pineapple? They’ve got you sorted. While you stroll through the food isles be sure to visit the Food Pods, a chance for local artisans to 'pop-up' for a limited time and share their take on street food direct to the public. Yum!

Outside Roxy Cinema Wellington

CoCo at Roxy's

If you haven't had your foodie fill let us take you on a journey to Wellywood! This hidden gem is located in Mirimar; CoCo at Roxy's is a unique suburban café cinema. Perhaps, one of the coolest cinemas in the world and one of Wellingtons best kept foodie secrets. Think classic kiwi relaxed atmosphere set in a 1930s movie theatre with a seasonal menu and award winning cocktails. Perfect place for date night? We think so! Just around the corner is Weta Workshops, one of New Zealand’s top tourist attractions so before you get stuck into the movie why not take a film set tour? You are in Middle-earth after all!

Secret bars of Wellington

Wellington bars don't always have the most conventional of locations; one can even be found hidden inside another bar's closet!

Foxglove Bar Queens Wharf Wellington

Foxglove bar & kitchen

Foxglove takes pride of place on Wellingtons Queens Wharf. On a good day, you can bask on the sun drenched deck or take a journey through the closet like the scene in Narnia. The hidden closet otherwise known as Foxtail - is a meta-bar (bar within a bar) and the place to have a sophisticated tipple or two while staying hidden away from the world outside.

Cocktails at Library Bar Wellington

The Library 

From closets to Libraries; The Library lounge bar is located up a set of plain white stairs on Courtney Place behind a brown door. We know this doesn’t sound inviting! But trust the locals and take a risk, this cosy cocktail bar is a dream to those with a sweet tooth. Check out the dessert cocktails on the menu – marshmallow topped espresso martini anyone? If you like to sit amongst the literary giants, hidden in crooks and crannies, in big armchairs with a side of scrabble, this is a place you need to find!

Havana Bar Wellington

Havana bar & restaurant 

Now, we have saved the hardest one until last. Havana Bar and Restaurant is the hardest hidden gem to get to find in Wellington, but once in you will be transported to Cuba and served award-winning cocktails, all while dancing to the rhythms of local and international musicians and DJs. These colourful cottages are best found in the daylight first and retrace your steps at night. Or keep an eye out for the queue - as once you’ve found it you will keep coming back.

No matter how well you think you know Wellington, there's always somewhere new to discover! So what do you think, have you found these hidden gems yet? If you haven’t experienced all the capital has to offer why not make Wellington one your regular New Zealand getaways.

Getting here is simple, sail over in style on the Interislander, taking in the sights from the Cook Strait along the way. Not just a ferry ride but one of the most beautiful adventures you will have before you even arrive. Sound good? Making a booking online is easy; we’ll see you on the other side!

If you are travelling from the North Island why not make your journey just as much of an adventure. The Northern Explorer train departs from Auckland Strand Station and will take you through the heart of the North Island's stunning scenery. Prepare to sit back and be amazed as you travel through farmland, native bush, volanic terrain and rocky coastline before arriving at Wellington Station. Hopping onboard is easy, just check the timetable and book your fare online. We promise you the journey will be just as good as the destination! 

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