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New Zealand’s capital is arguably the funkier, friendlier alternative to Auckland. Enjoy a weekend in Wellington and you might not want to leave.

‘Windy Welly’ is a harbour city nestled at the foot of the North Island. Its compact and light-hued cityscape is off-set by the blustery blue of the Cook Straits. Go in spring or summer (temperatures reach around 21°C in February) to enjoy its waterside vistas and pavement cafes.

You’ll already be in New Zealand if you’re contemplating just a couple of days’ visit, so visas will be sorted. Wellington is a bus-travel hub, with companies like Naked Bus providing transport from many North Island destinations including Palmerston North, Napier and Auckland. I think the most memorable way is via the Interislander Ferry from Picton in the South Island. If you go in daylight you’ll see the magical site of Wellington’s San Francisco-style houses and hills come into view as you arrive.

The Wellington CitySights tour can furnish you with information but everything’s so walk-able that I’d recommend enjoying the city on foot. You can do a rough loop starting and finishing at Courtenay Place, which has open-front bars and endless foodie options in and around the main drag. There are also some excellent second hand book stores with comfy chairs to sink in to (most places stay open late so there’s no need to rush).

If you walk east from Courtenay Place you’ll come to the foot of pedestrianised Cuba Street. Wellingtonians excel at laid-back style and you’ll see dudes and dudettes of every type looking casually cool in cut-price threads from the ‘Sally’ Army shop, teemed with designer ‘sunnies’. Incense can be caught on the breeze and there are plenty of independent shops to poke about in, as well more excellent cafes and bars.

Head back down onto the main drag and along the main shopping arteries to reach the sparkling high rises of Lambton Quay. This is the business district but there are also some snazzy stores if you want to give the credit card a work out. New Zealand’s seat of power is here in the distinct shape of the ‘Beehive’ Parliament Buildings.

Keep on until you reach the Wellington Cable Car which provides a charming way of reaching the top of the Botanic Gardens. Have a peak in the Carter Observatory and then meander along the pathways winding through exotic trees and indigenous plants, down to the rose garden at the bottom. If you’re lucky you may hear the clear throated warble of the bell bird.

Next it’s time to pump some leave-in conditioner into your hair and head over to breezy Lambton Harbour for a stroll back along the wooden walkways hugging the city’s edge. Keep your eyes peeled for the many sculptures and quotations dotted about. Along the way you’ll encounter the bold shape of the Te Papa museum, a modern, celebratory showcase for New Zealand culture, history and art.

Continue west along the waterfront and you’ll reach the soft yellow sand of Oriental Bay’s man-made beach, and the seaside promenade complete with joggers and rollerbladers. It’s definitely worth being brave and hiking up the roadside into the Mount Victoria area which has a purpose-built lookout at the top for a photo memento.

As you’re there on a weekend you might have time to check out the City and Harbourside Markets or the Frank Kitt’s Underground Market for local food, crafts and live music. Art lovers should pop into the City Gallery in Civic Square or galleries in Featherstone and Victoria Streets.

In the evening
For drinks and dancing, head to the bars on and around Courtenay Place – many stay open right through the night – or sit out with a ‘flat white’ coffee on an outside table. To quote the Kiwis: “No dramas”. Cuba Street also has some trendy hangouts. If you’re a culture vulture there’s live theatre at Downstage Theatre, Circa Theatre and BATS, and ballet, opera and musicals at Opera House or the St James Theatre.

Wellington is of course the home town of Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson. Film buffs will love the chance to experience Hollywood in ‘Wellywood’ by seeing a flick at the Embassy Theatre which hosted the premier of the Return of the King.

Food and drink
You have the world’s cuisine to choose from and competition is fierce so you can expect and enjoy wonderful service, decor and fusion flavours. Even the kebabs are sensationally nourishing and fresh-tasting after a long night. Fresh takeaway cookies can be found in Lambton Quay or save your sweet tooth for a ‘hokey pokey’ ice cream on Oriental Parade. Bar snacks tend to be high quality: A selection of warm breads with hummus and dipping oils go well with a cold glass of tangy Sauvignon Blanc from one of the wine regions.

This article was originally published at http://www.travelbite.co.uk