Disclaimer: I am a Wellingtonian. I have lived there, moved away and returned. I have sailed in and around it and I made lifelong friends there. I had babies there. I am no stranger to its charms but I'm wise to its flaws (horizontal rain, perpetual wind). I'm prepared to forgive it those flaws because it gives back in so many other ways. Wellington is, and has always been, about the people. So what better way to see the capital city than through their eyes and their recommendations? The only non-negotiable is we stay city-side and we walk, unless it is unavoidable or too time-consuming to do otherwise, or we are too exhausted from walking to take another step. So, apart from three cabs (including the trips from and to the airport) and a cable car, we walk, like Wellingtonians.
Murray, cab driver
"Don't, whatever you do, go there," says Murray, stabbing his finger violently at a flashing neon sign. It's a massage parlour tucked behind our hotel in Cuba St.
We have them in Auckland, I say. We need a drink, Murray. Where do we go? Murray had picked us up from the airport about 8.40pm on a Friday. We are a little bit beyond a restaurant meal so Murray recommends we head to Havana Bar. First we check into our room at the CQ Comfort Hotel. It is vast. It has two king-size beds and windows that open. We set out for Wigan St, our first stop. It is calm and windless, perfect conditions for a two-minute walk around the corner.
Edward, Sophie and China, Havana Bar
"I like the small, hidden-away places," says Edward, as he makes us a mojito. He's talking about where we must go the next day: Beach Babylon on Oriental Bay, to refuel after a good walk around Zealandia, a sanctuary a colleague in Auckland recommended on hearing we were going to Wellington. (I had to shove my thumbs in my ears and sing lalalalala loudly before telling her we couldn't take the recommendation of an Aucklander.) Fortunately, Edward mentions Zealandia, without any prompting at all so we're all right to go there. (More on that later). They know how to make a drink at Havana and they know how to look after people. We park ourselves outside under a heater and order olives and a platter of dips and bread and fries. At a table next to us, a man sits alone enjoying a glass of red wine, anxiously checking his phone. A young woman stops. She is wearing skin-tight, ripped white jeans, a white top and has a white ponytail. (Style spoiler: Wellingtonians do more than librarian chic, as an Auckland friend put it. No one in this bar looks or dresses the same.) "Hi, I'm Sophie," she says to the anxious guy. "Can I sit here or are you waiting for your wife or something?" He is tidy in a suit. "I think I've been stood up," he replies. She's not his date, but she sits down anyway. She tells him she studies music at university, then leans over and asks where we're from. What do we do in the morning after breakfast, I ask her. "Go to the Recycle Boutique just around the corner. You have to buy something in Wellington." We say bye to Sophie and her new friend. But the night is young (ish) and China, from Detroit, tells us there's a Prince Tribute gig at some place called Meow.
Rossi, Meow, Edward St
"After Zealandia," says Rossi, on the dancefloor, "I'd take in the markets between Te Papa and Waitangi Park." We are getting our groove on at Meow, about a five-minute walk down Cuba and along Manners, then down a narrow lane. We order another drink, before wandering back to our hotel about 1am.
Christie (CJ), Recycle Boutique, Vivian St
"I'd go to Customs, for a coffee," says CJ, the store manager. It's Saturday morning, about 10 and, after breakfast in bed, we head out the hotel's back entrance and enter op-shop heaven. You could spend an entire weekend devoted just to vintage shopping in Wellington. The place is crawling with well-curated op shops. We spend about half an hour trying on outfits and shoes, before I settle for a blue denim mini dress in awesome nick for $20 because I like it and because Sophie told me to.
DOC worker, Zealandia
"God, I don't know. Just go anywhere along Courtney Place." It's just as well we'd pre-loaded with recommendations from the night before, because the DOC worker is completely stumped for ideas. Her advice, however, on how to best enjoy Zealandia, is excellent. We take the circular route (about 8km). To get to this spectacular and ambitious project, a sanctuary on the border of Kelburn and Karori, we jumped on the Cable Car, then the free shuttle bus. We see baby tuatara in the nursery, but none in the wild; we see tieke (saddlebacks), kotihe (stitchbirds), kereru and tui. A little north island robin hops about at my feet. It's heaven, here. But it's also thirsty work and at the end of a two-hour walk, my mind drifts from birds to Beach Babylon and cold beer.
Warren, cab driver
"I've lived here for 50 years and I haven't seen anything like it," says Warren. He's talking about the weather. I'm used to Wellingtonians having glamnesia when it comes to their climate - I was the same, once - but the facts speak for themselves and Wellingon is resplendent in sunshine. There is no wind. Perfect for walking, but if we'd walked we never would have met Warren, and Warren tells us we have to go to Gallipoli, by way of Te Papa.
Melanie, Beach Babylon
"If I were you, I'd go to the Little Beer Quarter," says Melanie, as she takes our order. Why on Earth we'd want to go anywhere else for beer than here, I'm not sure. Babylon Beach has an impressive selection of 22 craft beers and a token two "trad" beers (Heineken and Corona). We have also worked up an appetite, so we order a late lunch of toasted tortillas. We sit outside and ask another punter where we should have dinner. Anywhere on Cuba St, he replies..
Lily, Ombre bar and restaurant
"You must dance at Laundry," she says, from behind the bar at Ombre. It sounds like the title of a song. Lily has a thick French accent and makes a mean cocktail while we wait for our table. Rossi had recommended Floriditas, but I'd been there before so we opted for Ombre, which specialises in wine and small plates inspired by the informal bacaros of Venice. Afterwards, instead of dancing, we sit at an outside table at Laundry talking with two sisters, who, when asked for a recommendation, look puzzled, then head off into the night.
Customs Brew Bar, Ghuznee St
The staff were too busy here to give any kind of recommendation beyond a flat white or long black. It's packed. The "look" is 50s modernism and there is Kinfolk magazine on the table, plus a good selection of others. We manage to get a seat outside in the glorious sun. The coffee is kick-arse - this is Supreme's flagship cafe.
"There are no people in active wear," says my partner, before going in for a second flat white. Fuelled up, we head off for the Cable Car to get to Zealandia, Edward's recommendation.
Matterhorn, Cuba St
It's 10am and, frankly, too early to talk to strangers. We are here to pay homage to a Wellington institution. We also have one final walk to take, to the markets and Te Papa, before flying out. So we need sustenance.
The Markets, Wellington waterfront
It's bustling with produce and colour. And people. We wander around, before heading into Te Papa earlyish to beat the crowds. There is already a queue outside the Gallipoli exhibition but we are inside in a matter of minutes, in a group of 12. Nothing said here will do it justice except, just go, if you haven't already. It is moving, visceral and important. And all I can say is, thanks Warren. Best recommendation, ever.