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Welly-being: An eco-friendly weekend in the capital

Sophie Trigger
By
Sophie Trigger

Multimedia Journalist, Wellington.

Not for sale

There's no shortage of reasons to visit New Zealand's vibrant capital of food, arts and entertainment. But if you need another, the highly-walkable city boasts an array of sustainable eats and activities for the eco-conscious traveller, writes Sophie Trigger.

Where to stay

Tucked into Wellington's beachside suburb Oriental Bay, Ohtel is proof you don't have to sacrifice style and luxury for sustainability. With a commitment to the environment and social partnerships, the hotel uses eco-friendly products in their rooms, local and seasonal produce in their menu, and is paperless as well as water and energy efficient. The ten individual rooms offer a mid-century boutique experience – and we were lucky enough to nab one with a record player and balcony views of Oriental Bay, making for the ideal happy hour. Add in a sustainable room service menu, and the room's stunning free-standing bath and you've got the perfect night-in.

Ohtel's rooms are a unique mid-century boutique experience. Photo / Stephen Court
Ohtel's rooms are a unique mid-century boutique experience. Photo / Stephen Court

For those seeking to venture into Wellington's nightlife – and to minimise their carbon footprint even further - Ohtel is ideally located to walk everywhere. A stone's throw from Oriental Bay, it's also just minutes from the bars and restaurants of Courtenay Place, and a 15-minute walk to the cafes and shops of Cuba St.

Eat and Drink

Wellington has a lot to offer the environmentally friendly foodie, and a drink at the newly opened Graze wine bar in Kelburn village would be an ideal place to begin. With an aim of becoming zero-waste, Graze uses New Zealand-only ingredients to minimise food mileage in a setting entirely furnished with repurposed wood and second-hand decor. Head chef Max Gordy forages for locally-sourced ingredients and tries to use each part of every ingredient he cooks with.

Graze Bar in Kelburn Village makes use of locally foraged ingredients. Photo / Supplied
Graze Bar in Kelburn Village makes use of locally foraged ingredients. Photo / Supplied

"You're fermenting stuff, you're turning leaves into pesto … old wine gets turned into vinegar that you can add to sauces, the opportunities are endless," Gordy said.

Shepherd Restaurant in Te Aro has a similar ethos – the kitchen cooks with local ingredients to their maximum use, planning menus months in advance to take advantage of what's in season. Last month's menu featured a savoury custard dish that re-used leftover brunch potatoes by roasting the skins and making a jelly from the stock. Brunch's bread ends also became a miso sauce to accompany the brussels sprout side. The kitchen ferments meat scraps for sauces and fruit scraps for vinegars, creating low-waste condiments unique to Shepherd.

Shepherd is a popular hidden gem tucked away in Wellington's Te Aro. Photo / Supplied
Shepherd is a popular hidden gem tucked away in Wellington's Te Aro. Photo / Supplied

Head chef Kyle Camara said this way of cooking was becoming more common, but were actually lessons learned from generations past.

"Growing up, my generation didn't really think that way, but my grandparents – what we do now is what they do."

"Whatever they had, they preserved it, they used everything. Whatever vegetables they couldn't use, they composted it and put it in the garden. It's kind of come full circle I guess."

A brussel sprout side dish makes use of miso made from brunch's leftover bread. Photo / Sophie Trigger
A brussel sprout side dish makes use of miso made from brunch's leftover bread. Photo / Sophie Trigger

For sustainable fine dining, Hillside Kitchen in Thorndon is another must-visit on the menu of an eco-conscious tourist. Entirely meatless since 2018, the menu showcases local ingredients foraged within the region or from ethical suppliers. Many of Hillside's non-alcoholic drinks are made from the byproducts of their dishes, and all kitchen waste, including menus and napkins is composted at the kitchen garden, creating a low waste loop system.

Hillside Kitchen in Thorndon offers a creative meatless menu. Photo / Supplied
Hillside Kitchen in Thorndon offers a creative meatless menu. Photo / Supplied

Hillside offers a set menu with dish titles that give little away, and we opted for a five-course dinner designed for the early sitting. Some standouts include the sourdough on the first course "snack" plate – made from a 15-year sourdough starter – and a cucumber, shiso second course to cleanse the palette featuring home-grown lebanese cucumbers, some soaked in Southward Gin. The delightfully fresh zucchini and mint dish utilized fried sourdough from unserved bread or crusts, followed by the highlight – red kuri, sunflower seed - and a peach, basil dessert.

Hillside Kitchen in Thorndon, Wellington. Photo / Supplied
Hillside Kitchen in Thorndon, Wellington. Photo / Supplied

Exploring the city

There's no quicker or more fuel-efficient way to explore the capital than with an electric bike. Located at Queen's Wharf, Switched on Bikes offers electric bikes for full-day or half-day hire. With kilometres of coastline to ride alongside and ample opportunities to stop for a coffee, Wellington is a bike-friendly city with terrain suitable for all experience levels. Take a relaxed cruise past Oriental Bay to Miramar, or test the e-bike's power up Mount Victoria.

Switched on Bikes offer half or full-day electric bike hire. Photo / Wellington NZ
Switched on Bikes offer half or full-day electric bike hire. Photo / Wellington NZ

Beer-lovers and beer-sceptics alike will delight at Craft Beer Tours – a fully guided walking tour around Wellington's best breweries, with a focus on sustainability. Carbon-friendly accredited since September 2021, the business takes all waste from the brewery tours to the owner's family farm in Upper Hutt, and makes its stationery from wheat straw paper – the same wheat that produces grain for their beer. With water and Co2 key components in beer, most brewers are trying to find ways to preserve it, with popular Wellington brewery Garage Project involved in a "Million Metres Stream Project" - a waterway restoration programme replanting trees at Wainuiomata.

There's a beer for everyone somewhere on the Wellington Craft Beer Tour. Photo / Sophie Trigger
There's a beer for everyone somewhere on the Wellington Craft Beer Tour. Photo / Sophie Trigger

Our craft beer tour visited three of Wellington's best – Fork and Brewer, Whistling Sisters and Garage Project. Each brewery offered an insight into their art form and how the industry is adapting to sustainability challenges, as well as tastings of a handful of their proudest creations. The tour proves there is truly a beer for everyone – from Garage Project's new Mango Iced Tea Sour, to Whistling Sister's Ginger Rush – and would make for the perfect rainy-day afternoon in the capital.

Sustainable shopping and beauty

A self-care weekend in Wellington need not come with guilt – the capital is blessed with low-waste brands supporting local industry and the environment.

Nisa is a carbon-neutral undergarments brand that employs women from refugee backgrounds. Photo / Supplied
Nisa is a carbon-neutral undergarments brand that employs women from refugee backgrounds. Photo / Supplied

For undergarments that make you feel good in all senses of the word, head to Nisa on Willis St for handmade, carbon-neutral and comfortable garments for every body type. Former lawyer Elisha Watson founded Nisa five years ago as a way to employ women in the refugee community, and although it began with the one garment she would never buy second-hand - underwear – it has since expanded into bras, socks and pyjamas.

Artfully balancing quality and aesthetic design with comfort, the garments are hand-made from certified organic cotton and Oeko-Tex certified elastics. Nisa minimises environmental impact by sitting on minimal stock levels and making garments to order, reducing waste and conserving space. The small team welcome customers into their shopfront, and Watson hopes its open-faced workshop shows people first-hand the labour of love going into each garment.

Nisa gives customers the opportunity to see first-hand how their garments are made. Photo / Supplied
Nisa gives customers the opportunity to see first-hand how their garments are made. Photo / Supplied

"It creates a different relationship to clothes, that when you purchase it, it doesn't just arrive – you can understand that people made it and it's really talented, skilled work.

"We can be part of that conversation here and show people what it's really like, and change people's relationships to their entire wardrobe."

The Wellington Apothecary, on Cuba Street. Photo / Sophie Trigger
The Wellington Apothecary, on Cuba Street. Photo / Sophie Trigger

For the ultimate sustainable relaxation and self-care experience, Wellington Apothecary on Cuba Street ticks all the boxes. The locally-owned herbal dispensary specialises in natural remedies, homemade skincare, botanical teas and gifts – all hand-made fresh in small batches on-site. The organic, high-quality ingredients are locally sourced - including cacao butter from Wellington Chocolate Factory down the road – with the business teaming up with eco-conscious suppliers that don't test on animals. Packaging products in glass and cardboard vessels, Wellington Apothecary is plastic-free and encourages customers to return their bottles to be sterilised and reused.

Indulge in a holistic massage at Wellington Apothecary. Photo / Sophie Trigger
Indulge in a holistic massage at Wellington Apothecary. Photo / Sophie Trigger

Established in 2014, the company offers massage and facial services as well as workshops for skincare, perfume blending and fermentation. I indulged in a one-hour holistic massage – an experience made better only by the satisfaction it had come at low cost to the environment and supported local business.

Escape the city

For the eco-conscious traveller, it's hard to go past the world's first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary with a 500-year vision. Just a few kilometres from central Wellington, Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne protects 40 native wildlife species and aims to restore the reserve back to how it looked pre-human arrival. Toitū carbon zero certified, the sanctuary works hard to reduce its carbon footprint through electric shuttle vehicles, LED lights, recycling facilities and waste management. With more than 30km of native bush to explore, Zealandia is the ideal way for nature lovers to spend a day – or embark on a night tour to see the species that come alive after dark.

Zealandia is home to 40 native wildlife species and is the world's first fully fenced urban eco-sanctuary. Photo / Wellington NZ
Zealandia is home to 40 native wildlife species and is the world's first fully fenced urban eco-sanctuary. Photo / Wellington NZ

More than 150 little spotted Kiwi call the valley home, and on the night I visited, the group spotted five – as well as a giant wētā the guide had not seen in four years of night tours. There's also a good chance of spotting the tuatara, pāteke (rare nocturnal duck), kākā (native forest parrot) and the sanctuary's resident takahē couple, as you wander along paths magically lit by glow worms.

The Zealandia by Night Tour is an unforgettable way to experience the eco-sanctuary. Photo / Wellington NZ
The Zealandia by Night Tour is an unforgettable way to experience the eco-sanctuary. Photo / Wellington NZ

To leave the city further behind, take an electric ferry from Queens Wharf to Days Bay. The locally-built Ika Rere is a fully electric, high-speed passenger ferry with zero emissions – the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. The absence of a diesel engine allows you to fully experience the sounds of the harbour – particularly on a typical windy day in Wellington.

Pause Yoga studio in Days Bay, Eastbourne. Photo / Supplied
Pause Yoga studio in Days Bay, Eastbourne. Photo / Supplied

A 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal, you will find Pause Yoga studio tucked into the hills of Eastbourne with stunning views of Wellington city. Overlooking a mystical expanse of bush, the wooden studio is designed to make you feel as though you are inside a tree and part of the forest. Staring out at the scenery makes one feel they could be anywhere in the world – be it Thailand, the Amazon or tropical Queensland. While stunning on a sunny day, a yoga practice beneath the tin roof while it rains also makes for an unforgettable experience. Pause Yoga offers a timetable with almost daily classes, as well as a day spa experience once a month for a truly immersive escape.

CHECKLIST: WELLINGTON

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