Tips & things to do in Wellington, New Zealand: 20 reasons to visit the world's coolest little capital

1. VISIT: TE PAPA TONGAREWA

Shell out for a guide, the only way to experience the national museum and art gallery of New Zealand, a surprising highlight of any visit to Wellington. A delightful and learned guide will direct you to corners of the museum you might have otherwise missed, bringing history to life through vivid storytelling. Look out for the world's largest specimen of the rare colossal squid, caught by New Zealand fishermen off the coast of Antarctica. tepapa.govt.nz

2. RIDE: CABLE CAR

The iconic cable car has been running since 1902 and takes you on a short journey to hilltop Kelburn via tunnels glowing with fun disco lights. Disembark at the Botanic Gardens, which has stunning views of the city, and swing by the cable car museum which as well as running through its history, plays a fascinating video on the well-heeled of Wellington's exclusive form of transport – private cable cars. wellingtoncablecar.co.nz

3. TOUR: WETA STUDIO TOURS

Go behind the scenes of Peter Jackson's cutting-edge film empire, view the artisans as they work and admire some of the ghoulish creatures brought to life in film. Short tours illustrate the incredible detail that goes into every single production, which extends far beyond the Lord of the Rings trilogy to exhibits such as Gallipoli, now showing at Te Papa. You can also tour WETA's modern reboot of Thunderbirds and its incredible miniature sets. wetaworkshop.com

4. TOUR: ZEALANDIA

This is a conservation area at the city's edge which acts as a refuge for New Zealand's fragile native plants and birdlife, with the aim of restoring the land to its original state.This is also where you'll see the Tuatara, a tiny, two-and-a-half pound reptile touted as the only dinosaur to survive extinction. Tours are escorted by volunteers who are best equipped at spotting wildlife around the lush green valley. visitzealandia.com

5. EXPLORE: HANNAH'S LANE

They don't call this "Little Portland" for nothing. This terrific little laneway lined with street art is home to some of Welly's best producers. Stroll up and down to sample anything from fancy Six Barrel Soda to baked goods at famed cafe Leeds, before settling in at Shepherd restaurant, one of the city's best. End the night at Hanging Ditch, an quirky, specialist cocktail bar where liquor hangs from the ceiling. wellingtonnz.com

6. EAT: FIX & FOGG

A lawyer couple's peanut butter side-project grew so popular, it became their full-time business. Sample their unique flavours from a window attached to their factory, on its own or on top of toast. Their secret is in the extra dark roasted hi-oleic peanuts, sourced from Argentina, known for their great flavour and health benefits. Don't miss the subtly-sweet peanut butter and honey flavour. fixandfogg.co.nz

7. EAT: WELLINGTON CHOCOLATE FACTORY

Proudly launching their first bean-to-bar milk chocolate with a tasting note, this local chocolatier is ahead of its game with the country's first organic milk chocolate, uniquely wrapped in paper designed by New Zealand artists. Other popular flavours outside the square include ANZAC and Craft Beer, but our money's on the brand new plain old milk variety, which will blow your socks off. wcf.co.nz

8. EAT: GELISSIMA GELATI

Don't miss the incredible natural flavours behind this home-grown gelato shop. Passionate foodie Graham Joe uses only local organic milk and infuses unique ideas into tantalising gelato flavours, such as the magical transformation of waste product fennel into a delicious, green-flecked scoop. Some of the other tastebud-teasing creations include his ginger beer collaboration with Hardie Boys, and lime and chilli. gelissimo.co.nz

9. STAY: SOFITEL WELLINGTON

Back on their feet after a fire in their kitchen held back opening for a year, this new player to the market offers sophisticated, French-influenced accommodation in the centre of town. The first five-star luxury hotel to New Zealand in a whopping 15 years, its well-appointed, immaculate rooms with mod cons do not disappoint. Top-level service and a restaurant that could give some of the local eateries a run for their money seals the deal. Sofitel-wellington.com

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10. DRINK: COFFEE

Wellington's coffee scene can be overwhelming, with 25 roasters producing 43 million cups per year. While some of Wellington's "brew bars" like Mojo have more in common with caffeine-addicted Portland than Melbourne's food-forward cafes, you'd be hard-pressed to find a bad cup. Try The Hangar, Mojo or Custom's Brew Bar for specialist brews. mojo.coffee; flightcoffee.co.nz

11. TOUR: ZEST FOOD TOURS

Who better to guide you through Welly's best food haunts than a local foodie? These four hour long walking tours will escort you through the heart of the city, filling your head with local knowledge, history and art along the way. Sunday's tours take you to the waterfront markets, a local institution. Come hungry, as plenty of samples are provided along the way. zestfoodtours.co.nz

12. EAT: NIKAU CAFE

Tucked away in Wellington City Art Gallery is an iconic eatery that's been a local favourite for two decades. Their most popular dish – a kedgeree hailing from British Colonial India – is a simple rice dish with smoked fish that has a light texture but a rich, now legendary flavour. You can try re-creating the dish at home as they sell the recipe on a tea towel. Nikaucafe.co.nz

13. DRINK: GOLDING'S FREE DIVE

Born from "dive bars" in the US, the coolest bar in Wellington stocks the best craft beer they can find from around New Zealand and the US. You could spend hours gazing at the recycled materials decorating the walls and dangling from the ceiling – or just soaking up the friendly, casual atmosphere while enjoying some of fine craft brews over good tunes. Goldingsfreedive.co.nz

14. SEE: STREET ART

From the Kumutoto Stream "soundscape" in the Woodward Street pedestrian tunnel to the David Bowie tribute off Hannah's Lane to the infamous shark wall, Welly street art is flourishing and could seriously give Melbourne a run for its money. Its prominence is due to a smart initiative by the Wellington City Council, who saw its promotion could increase the quality of the art while reducing graffiti and tagging.

15. WALK: CUBA STREET

Wellington's main street is lined with cafes, restaurants, and unique boutiques where you'll find retro high-end vintage shops and bric-a-brac, famed coffee houses and illustrious NZ designers. The newly established Night Market adds more choice to an already exhaustive list of great places to eat. Watch out for the1969 Bucket Fountain – a kinetic sculpture made of colourful plastic buckets. You're well advised to stand well back on a notorious windy Welly day or you're likely to get splashed.

16. EAT: BRUNCH AT PREFAB

To give you an indication of how serious locals are about food, the city has more eateries per head than New York. And Prefab is an expansive cafe where Saturday morning brunchers queue with kids and dogs in tow for stellar breakfasts and coffee and great service. For lunch, try Loretta on Cuba Street for contemporary flatbreads and salads. pre-fab.co.nz; loretta.net.nz

17. EAT: MR GOS

This extremely busy but casual eatery serves contemporary Asian hawker food using fresh, seasonal ingredients from New Zealand. Bright lights, upbeat music and a cheery atmosphere with fast, chipper service is a great spot to start a night out. They just won "burger of the year", but the oversized, flavoursome baos washed down with a fruity cocktail are a perfect light meal. mrgos.co.nz

18. DRINK: HIDDEN COCKTAIL BARS

Who can resist the lure of a hidden bar on a grungy alley? Not many, which is why Wellington has (at least) three. Cubafiles will flock to Havana Bar, a hip nightspot inside two historic workman's cottages; Hawthorn Lounge serves peculiar cocktails from an old-school lounge bar; and neon-lit Motel is token tiki, currently enjoying a worldwide revival. Your cue is a queue. Motelbar.co.nz; havanabar.co.nz; hawthornlounge.co.nz

19. VISIT: ORIENTAL BAY

Back in 2003 this picturesque waterfront was topped up with sand and it's now Welly's most popular beach, where locals come to swim in the summer. It's also the city's most expensive postcode, with Kiwi luminaries such as Jane Campion, Sam Neill and Emily Watson owning properties here. For visitors, it's is also home to some great eateries and a famous spot for gelato – Kaffee Eis.

20. DRINK: CRAFT BEER

The "craft beer capital" has five craft breweries, but Garage Project is the one it heralds as the "darlings of the craft beer scene". Operating their brewery out of an old garage with a popular taproom just up the street in Aro Valley, they're not afraid to experiment with avant garde flavours such as "salted white peach sour" or "habanero and rosewater corn" lager. garageproject.co.nz

The writer was a guest of the Sofitel and Absolutely Positively Wellington. Sofitel-wellington.com; wellingtonnz.com

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