Coffee, craft beer and a diverse dining scene combine amid the easily walkable laneways and waterfront location of New Zealand's arty and cosmopolitan capital.
Nowhere in New Zealand packs as many essential eating and drinking experiences into such a compact area as the nation’s harbourfront capital. Cool cafes dispense coffee made from locally roasted sustainable and fair trade beans, while the country’s best craft beer scene is easily explored on a DIY walking tour bar hopping between laneway taprooms. NZ’s diverse population is reflected in food trucks and weekly night markets, while flavours and ingredients inspired by the country’s indigenous Māori people are harnessed to stunning effect in one of NZ’s most innovative and interesting restaurants.
It wasn’t always this way. The capital’s old reputation as a grey government town was only shaken up in the 1990s by a few pioneering chefs and brewers, and then enhanced by the arrival of startup business culture and the gaming and film industries early in the 21st century. Movie-making and web design apparently demand damn fine coffee and decent post-work libations, and the city’s coffee and craft beer scenes grew along with excellent cafes, bistros and restaurants. Factor in a growing awareness of local and sustainable ingredients, and it’s now reckoned Wellington has more cafes and restaurants per capita than New York City. Pretty good for a city of about 200,000 at the bottom of the world.
Wellington’s small size encourages local businesses to collaborate. Craft brewers might experiment with a stout made with cacao beans from artisan chocolate makers, while the same two companies could commission local artists to create packaging for their products. Visit in August for the city’s two most important eating and drinking festivals, and there’s the opportunity to combine specially brewed beers with limited edition burgers at venues around town.
01 THE HANGAR
Wellingtonians take their coffee seriously and Flight Coffee’s inner city base is one the best places to find out what the java-fuelled fuss is all about. Ethically traded beans are sourced from Flight’s fair trade farmers in Colombia, Rwanda and Myanmar, roasted in Wellington, and then served as single origin filter and espresso coffee at The Hangar here and around NZ and Australia. There’s a strong local focus with the food menu, too. The kumara (sweet potato) pancake with coconut yoghurt, seasonal fruit and toasted walnuts is a great way to start the day.
119 Dixon St, Te Aro; 027 535 0084; www.hangarcafe.co.nz; 7am-4pm Mon-Fri, 8am-5pm Sat-Sun
02 WELLINGTON CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Who doesn’t like a chocolate factory, especially when there’s a focus on using organic and fair trade cocoa beans sourced from around the world? Proud to be NZ’s first craft bean-to-bar factory when they launched in 2013, WCF is still the only company making organic-certified chocolate in the country. Learn about the process on a tour – book ahead for most Saturdays at 11am – and sample bars blending milk chocolate with star anise or dark chocolate with salted caramel. Many of the ingredients come from NZ’s South Pacific backyard, and the brand’s colourful packaging showcases the work of NZ artists.
5 Eva St, Te Aro; 04-385 7555; www.wcf.co.nz; 11am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat, noon-4pm Sun
03 WELLINGTON NIGHT MARKET
As the nation’s capital, Wellington is one of the country’s most cosmopolitan cities. Experience this cultural diversity at the weekly Wellington Night Market on Friday and Saturday nights. Buskers and street performers are regular attendees, working hard to entertain locals feasting on flavours from around the world. Standout stalls infused with the aromas of South America, Asia and the Indian subcontinent include empanadas from Ar-Chi, mie goreng noodles from Garuda Truck, and Indian and Sri Lankan treats from Roti Bay.
116 Cuba St; 021 0281 8785; www.wellingtonnightmarket.co.nz; 5-10pm Fri-Sat
04 MOORE WILSON'S
Established in 1918, Moore Wilson’s is the city’s pre-eminent provedore and grocery and a big supporter of independently produced and gourmet artisanal produce. Here’s where to come to discover new trends in the local food industry and to also pick up a few edible souvenirs for the team back home. Only-availablein-Wellington treats include sweet and salty peanut brittle from Miramar bakers Piece of Cake, and tomato chilli jam from local caterers, Ruth Pretty. Check the Moore Wilson’s website under ‘What’s On’ for their regular Pop Up Food Pods featuring a variety of local food trucks.
cnr Tory & College Sts; 04-384 9906; www.moorewilsons.co.nz; 7.30am-7pm Mon-Fri, 7.30am-6pm Sat, 8.30am-6pm Sun
05 HASHIGO ZAKE
Founded in 2009 when NZ’s craft beer scene was in its hop-fuelled infancy, Hashigo Zake has been a key driver in making Wellington one of the planet’s best cities for craft beer. Now tart sour beers or barrel-aged surprises are available at bars and brewpubs around town, but the subterranean bar named after the Japanese phrase for ‘bar hopping’ is still an essential Wellington destination for travelling beer fans. Beers and ciders from around NZ are served from ten rotating taps, and superior bar snacks include world-famous-inWellington savoury pies. Try the chorizo, onion and porter one.
25 Taranaki St, Te Aro; 04-390 7300; www.hashigozake.co.nz; noon-9.30pm Sun-Mon, to 11pm Tue-Thu, to 1am Fri-Sat
06 DENIZEN URBAN DISTILLERY
Located in one of Wellington’s repurposed laneways, Denizen Urban Distillery opened in 2018 to complete the inner city’s artisan trifecta of craft beer, coffee and spirits. Rainwater and native NZ botanicals are used in the distillation process, and Denizen’s flagship gin brand Te Aro Dry is also stocked at the best of the city’s restaurants, brewpubs and cocktail bars. Drop by the distillery for craft cocktails on Friday nights from 4pm to 8pm.
10 Lombard St, Te Aro; 0210 464 764; www.facebook.com/pg/denzienurbandistillery; noon-6pm Wed & Thu, to 8pm Fri, to 4pm Sat & Sun
07 GARAGE PROJECT TAPROOM
Brews at the Garage Taproom (c) Sanele Chadwick/Garage Project Taproom
Founded in a disused automotive garage in a heritage Wellington suburb in 2011, Garage Project have grown to become one of NZ’s most innovative craft breweries. They’re regular collaborators with some of the planet’s most interesting breweries and their Wild Workshop project is dedicated to crafting bold beers by harnessing wild yeasts occurring naturally in the local environment. Visit their Aro Valley taproom for 18 taps of GP deliciousness and plenty more canned and bottled surprises. A good place to start is Hapi Daze – Hāpi is the Māori word for hops – a Pacific ale crammed with zesty NZ hops.
91 Aro St, Aro Valley; 04-802 5324; www.garageproject.co.nz; noon-7pm Sun-Mon, noon-8.30am Tue-Thu, 10am-9.30pm Fri-Sat
High concept dishes at Hiakai (c) Hiakai
After a stellar career in New York, Wellington chef Monique Fiso returned home to open Hiakai in 2019. With just 30 seats and a focus on harnessing indigenous NZ forest herbs such as kakakawa and horopito, the restaurant’s ethos of ‘inspired by the land, sea, and people of Aotearoa’ is a unique reflection of NZ cuisine. Fiso’s family background is Māori-Samoan, and her six-, eight- and 10-course degustation menus showcase Māori and Polynesian ingredients in modern and innovative dishes. Proteins could include kina (sea urchin) or titi (muttonbird), and optional beverage menus are equally surprising. Booking well ahead is essential for a restaurant that travellers to NZ should not miss.
40 Wallace St, Mt Cook; 04-938 7360; www.hiakai.co.nz; 5.30pm-late Wed-Sat
Extracted from Lonely Planet Gourmet Trails - Australia & New Zealand.