The Ultimate Trip to New Zealand
October 9, 2014
Even if you’re heading to New Zealand primarily to taste wine or jump off bridges, make an extended pit stop in the harbor-hugging capital. Your appetite, and your appetite for excitement, will thank you. By Jeninne Lee-St. John. Photographed by Richard McLeish.
Published on Oct 9, 2014Page : 1 2
Welcome to Wellington, where everyone's a foodie, but no one's so pretentious as to say so. Though the Kiwi capital, this south-facing harbor town plays Melbourne to Auckland's Sydney, trading a glam spot on the international stage for more introspective cultures of cool. Sure, hipsters are everywhere, but there are also ranchers and the landed gentry to meet—often in the same bar. Eating out, expect big cuts of meat and lengthy local wine lists, of course, as well as fresh seafood and shared plates everywhere, not to mention microbrews out the wazoo. Victorian heritage houses, Art Deco office blocks... this compact capital is eminently livable, but if you've only got a few days, our best-of itinerary should give you good grounding in the victuals and the views. Plus, to be fair to Auckland, we list our favorite spots in the northern stunner.
Oriental Parade, the pretty coast road linking inner Wellington with Miramar
Let's get oriented. A chopper ride with Helipro (+64 4 472 1550; helipro.co.nz) circles Wellington harbor, offering an aerial overview of the capital area cascading down into the bay. There's history at every vantage point, from the manmade beaches to the murderous reefs of Cook Strait to Matiu/Somes Island, which has been a POW camp and a quarantine station for countless immigrants including one unlucky presumed-leper. Touch down over rowers, paddleboarders and, on many days, controversial pontoon-paddlecycler Rick Matenga out for their morning constitutionals. Then it's 15 minutes over the hill from downtown and you'll find yourself bouncing along the jagged and rocky south shoreline in an SUV, with the personable guides of Seal Coast Safari (+64 4 801 6040; sealcoast.co.nz) making stops for you to spot spur-winged plovers and hand-feed friendly deer. Keep an eye out for the fur seals who laze on the beaches and boulders—and who congregate at a point at the trip's climax, reached by summiting a steep, stalagmite-like rock gate. Yes, the big adventure is in the journey: with the area's unpredictable weather and positioning on a major fault line, you never know whether around the next corner you'll be skirting the aftereffects of a landslide, fording a river that just appeared, or driving into the foggy unknown.
Take flight with Helipro
Out of the mist on a Seal Coast Safari
Your helicopter pilot probably pointed out Miramar, the suburb a smidge southeast of downtown that, thanks to Peter Jackson's outsize presence for an understated guy, has helped redefine the capital as "Wellywood." Take the pretty coastal road here for lunch at the Roxy (5 Park Rd., Miramar; roxycinema.co.nz), a renovated 1920's Art Deco movie theater that has become a community touchstone since its sparkling renovation three years ago. Savoring your roast pumpkin and amaretto ravioli in lobby cafe, Coco, you might spot local luminaries like co-owner and Oscar-winning film editor Jamie Selkirk popping in for a coffee on a break from his nearby office at design, special effects and props studio Weta Workshop. Trail him back up the road—not as a stalker but a gawker, on a tour of the Weta Cave (wetanz.com; +64 4 909 4100) and its life-size Lord of the Rings trolls and behind-the-scenes peeks at movies in the making.
For your first supper, walk yourself into the warm embrace of Duke Carvell's (6 Swan Ln.; dukecarvell.co.nz), a ragtimesoundtracked, gothic candlelit, typewriters-on-the-wall place that's of-the-moment Wellington—which is to say a slightly cooler Portland. The small plates (raclette croquettes with pickles… perfectly sauced courgettes… gnocchi with gorgonzola cream and sage) nudge out the mains, but it's all solid. Whether you sit in the sexy noir banquette-lined bistro/bar, the open-air alcove, or the paintingpacked room that's pure Lower East Side gastro-pub, you'll be surrounded by a clientele that spans the age and apparent-hipness gamut. No one's too cool for school here, not even handlebar-moustachioed Lorenzo Bresolin, who often can be found amiably presiding over his favorite outpost of his and his brother's mini-empire that also includes New York-style pizza counter Tommy Millions. Duke's list of local microbrews is extensive, and the cheeky cocktail menu is hilarious: start the meal with Afternoon Tea with Betty Ford, and end it with Robert Duvall the Consigliere. You'll be all juiced up for a nightcap at Havana Bar (32a-34 Wigan St.; havanabar.co.nz), which basically everyone agrees is the best watering hole in town. These colorful, connected cottages teem with lively groups, but the live jazz, dim lights and mixologist menu practically demand a cuddle in the corner.
Lorenzo Bresolin (left) oversees Duke Carvell's
Live jazz at Havana Bar
Roust yourself for an hour's drive up the Kapiti Coast, via car, to the Bus Stop (50 Dixie St., Te Horo; +64 21 650 636)—really, a 1960's blue bus parked in proprietor Kirsty Green's front lawn—for your flat white with a side of flaky steak-and-cheese pie, a homemade grapefruit soda chaser, and a dash of random, witty banter. Sure, you can sit at her picnic table feeling the beach breezes from a block away, but we'd stay squeezed in the chassis, maybe commandeering the driver's seat, and joining the group chat. "I'm a suburban cook," Green says. "I used to run a restaurant to bring the community together: call it social work slash brunch." And speaking of community, the fact that Kiwis comprise quite the tight-knit one smacks you in the face when you run into a bemused Jamie Selkirk ("Didn't we see you with your suitcases at the Roxy?") and his wife Ann here again… or yet again five minutes away in the gardens of the equally engaging though more polished homestead of New Zealand's go-to State Dinner celebrity chef. Book a slot well in advance at Ruth Pretty Cooking School (41 School Rd., Te Horo; ruthpretty.co.nz), where Pretty alternates teaching with a rotating roster of guest chefs. If she's not at the stove, you'll find this favorite aunttype flitting about her lovely brookaccented, picket fence-lined property. Get her talking and she just might share some choice tidbits on her afternoon grilling with Prince William and Prime Minister John Key, but when a woman's scones are this light, who needs dignitaries to dignify your respect?
Chatting at the Bus Stop
The delightful greenhouse lunch that comes with your cooking class will power you back to Wellington, where it's time to hit up the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (55 Cable St.; tepapa.govt.nz). This crazy-comprehensive, vaultedceilinged, interactive national exhibition will guide you through the intersecting geological, historical, artistic, maritime and sociological stories of the Land of the Long White Cloud. Key takeaways: 1) The hooktentacled, beak-mouthed colossal squid—even encased in glass—is terrifying; and 2) When warriors (read: Maori) consistently beat back colonial invaders in wars for territory, whether or not they actually maintain sovereignty in a blended country, their valor lives on in their new nation's origin story.
With class time over, take a load off at the Malthouse (48 Courtenay Pl.; themalthouse.co.nz), a happening hops showcase of 29 beers on tap and more than 80 brands from all over the world. Yes, New Zealand is wine country, but it's also a microbrew microcosm, with loads of baby-batch brands competing for your taste buds. If beer commentator Neil Miller is at the bar, ask for his advice. For many labels, the backstory will sell you, the unique brews a happy bonus. Take, for example, ParrotDog, run by three 20-something guys named Matt—"the boy band of brewers," Miller quips—out of an old mechanics shop 200 meters from the Malthouse. If you promise it won't spoil your dinner, try a Spider: their dark Dogg session ale with a dollop of ice cream. Then trot a few blocks over to the Wellington institution that is Matterhorn (106 Cuba St.; matterhorn.co.nz). Opened as a Swiss cafe 50 years ago, this is now one of the sleekest, best-executed resto-bars in town. We insist you get the crispy pork belly with homemade kimchi, and the roast wagyu fat potatoes with toasted hay, buttermilk, crisp sage and almond beurre noisette. Did reading that sentence just stop your heart? We won't even bring up the oysters. (But, really, if they're from Bluff, sorry, gotta do it.) Then stick around for digestifs, and tunes that run the gamut from remix-master, radio DJ Redbird to live sets by Rwanda-born, jazz-influenced rapper Raiza Biza.
Food is practically a religion in this town, and on Sundays markets are the temples. The historic Harbourside Market (corner of Cable and Barnett Sts.; winter hours 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.), the line-caught fish and boutiquewine highlighted City Market (Chaffers Dock Building, Herd St.; 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.), and the Whole Foods-meets-Trader Joe's cult favorite grocer Moore Wilson's (93 Tory St.)—you're spoiled for choice, and if the options overwhelm and the path seems unclear, you might consider a little spiritual guidance. We're talking about the victual-obsessed vicars at Zest Food Tours, whose Capital Tastes Sunday (zestfoodtours.co.nz) will introduce you to their favorite local producers, ply you with samples to snack on the spot, and set you on the path to culinary enlightenment, amen.
We hope you ate heartily, because now you're getting down and dirty up in the hills outside the city. After a seemingly interminable climb up to his gorgeous, hand-built timber home—Are you really launching your daredevil career at this altitude? Oh, yes indeed—Nigel Thomas will ask offhandedly if you can ride a bike and drive a car. Add equal doses of control and confidence and that's all you need to man an ATV with Quad Bike Expeditions (wellingtonadventures.co.nz). A spot of training (outdoorsman-extraordinaire Thomas was a river guide in the U.S. Pacific Northwest for 12 years), and you're off to the races up peaks and down valleys, across an old airstrip sending the sheep scattering, along mountain ridges from which you're peering down at clouds. Drive all the way down to sea level and back up through a riverbed. It's raining? All the better! You're in all-weather gear in order to take those mud-puddles at high speed, and higher splashes.
Cruise from mountaintop to Cook Strait with Quad Bike Expeditions
After the surprisingly tough workout the quad bike demanded of your arms, thighs and accelerator-button thumb, you'll want a hot shower and a classy meal. Enter Floriditas (161 Cuba St.; floriditas.co.nz), a white-tiled, giant-windowed, homey joint with a sweet staff, a sweet tooth and locavore leanings. Ideal order: a bottle of Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc; the 125-gram ball of Clevedon Valley buffalo mozzarella with Hawke's Bay figs; the Cloudy Bay clam linguine with white wine; and the brown sugar pavlova, feijoas and guava berries with salted caramel sauce. After that palate party, you'll be overjoyed at Floriditas' location at the top of Cuba Street; you can just roll down the hill to Poquito (11 Tory St.) for one of their nutty nightcaps. The El Bootross is made with roast pineapple El Jimador tequila and agave, while the Monkey Business is fig-infused whiskey with chocolate bitters and orange zest. The spirits are all infused in-house—and you should expect no less in Wellington, this undercover epicurean Elysium.
Fly direct into Auckland from Bangkok via Thai Airways, from Hong Kong via Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific, from Kuala Lumpur via Malaysian Airlines, and from Singapore via Singapore Airlines. Air New Zealand and Jetstar run domestic flights to Wellington. Visit newzealand.com for more airline and travel information.
International travelers are probably flying via Auckland anyway, so take a couple of days to roam the victorian-cot taged hills, survey the city from the sky and hit up a few foodie hotspots.
Neighbourhood At this eclectic gastro-pub run by playful brewhouse Mac's, you'll want to start with a pint of Sassy Red and a dish of slow roasted pork and beef meatballs, and see where the night takes you. 498 New North Rd., Kingsland; neighbourhood.co.nz.
Skydive Auckland Don't let the laid-back Point Break operation fool you; these guys are serious about their sport. If you're strapped to 6,500-jumpsand-counting Kitsch Baldwin, for example, get ready for a wild ride—he's a high performance canopy pilot representing New Zealand at skydiving world championship competitions. Definitely opt for the highest jump (16,500 feet) because while 75 seconds of freefall may sound insane from the ground, the adrenaline rush will leave you cursing your tandem instructor as soon as he pulls the parachute. Eyes up and alert, kids: on a clear day you can see from coast to coast, while if you have the surreal experience of sailing through a storm cloud you'll be rewarded with a rainbow or two. Double rainbow! The rest of your week is guaranteed to be the most boring ever. 72 Green Rd., Parakai; skydiveauckland.com.
Federal Have a nosh at a New York City Jewish deli: bagels, Reubens and latkes galore! Soda counter authenticity bonus points for the egg creams and cherry lime rickeys. 86 Federal St.; thefed.co.nz.
The Foodstore Chef Mark Southon stars on three TV shows as well as the in-house live stream of this wide-open kitchen. Oversee the action over an aperitif at the raised bar, and whet your appetite for the feast ahead. The tuatua, sweetcorn and hamhock fritters, and fjordland crayfish linguine with saffron cream sauce are both downright divine. Market Square, Viaduct Harbour; thefoodstore.tv.
Auckland Sky Tower With its crisp air and oceanic orientation, New Zealand evokes the U.S. Pacific Northwest at every turn—including boasting its own version of the Seattle Space Needle. Yes, this is Tourism 101, but it's worth a trip to the top to get your bearings on this spread-out city, and maybe even base-jump back down into its center. Corner of Federal and Victoria Sts.
Ponsonby Social Club We're confused. How does this jam-packed, open-air front hall and dark-andsultry back room in the heart of the high-hat Ponsonby 'hood (above) stay so down-to-earth? The mixed crowd is chill, the speedy staff lenient. Just be cool. Everyone else is. 152 Ponsonby Rd.; ponsonbysocialclub.co.nz.
Depot Eatery It looks like a bustling Boston oyster bar, so why not go all-out pescatarian, with the fresh shucked Marlborough clams, and turbot sliders with pickled lemon mayo and watercress? Pair them with the Ataahua Gewurztraminer from the Waipara Valley and it's a beautiful afternoon. 86 Federal St.; eatatdepot.co.nz.
Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum Maori legend has it that great Polynesian chief Kupe discovered the Land of the Long White Cloud in the 10th century. From the double-canoes those first inhabitants sailed across the Pacific to the 1968 capsizing of the Wahine ferry, this is a culture steeped, for better and worse, in the sea. Corner of Quay and Hobson Sts.