A Perfect Vegan Weekend in Wellington, New Zealand
Vibrant, walkable, and incredibly vegan-friendly — how to spend three beautiful days in Wellington
The city of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, as Wellington was named before colonization set in, is located on a harbor at the bottom of the North Island, banked in by hills which allow the often vicious wind to circulate unfettered. Once accustomed to the fact that no one comes to Wellington for the weather, it becomes a city that is truly easy to love: compact and walkable, vibrant and welcoming, with enough side-streets and back alleys to feel that you’ve discovered something special, but not so many that you become overwhelmed by decisions and have to lie down. It’s also a wonderful place to visit if you’re vegan.
The city has a renowned and diverse food scene, with stalwart establishments that have served vegan food for decades along with newer places catering lavishly to your needs. Indeed, you could say the best thing to do in Wellington, a place with more bars and restaurants per capita than New York City, is to simply eat and drink. This is a noble ambition, but if that’s not enough, there are a number of ways to expand this out to having not just a good time, but a sustainable time.
Friday: Eat Your Way Around the City
There is little chance of bad coffee in Wellington. Try Customs on Ghuznee Street, a charming coffee shop serving single origin brews, the provenance and intricate flavour notes of which you can read about as you sip. You can also buy coffee accoutrements and bags of beans to take home. Black Coffee in Newtown, a five minute bus away from the city centre, enthusiastically serves up coffee six days a week and displays rotating local and international art on their walls. If caffeine isn’t your thing, their turmeric lattes are fantastic. Or get a beetroot latte at Seize, who also have a counter full of raw vegan cakes and a hearty breakfast menu. The busses run regularly but they are quite expensive, so have plenty of coins ready if you’re going to jump on one, and ride share apps like Uber, Zoomy and Ola are available and easy to use if you want to get somewhere directly.
But it’s very easy to get around the city on foot. Lambton Quay, Willis Street, Cuba Street and Courtenay Place — the four main streets of central Wellington — are all linked, and right in the middle is Civic Square, where you can have a rest and plan your next move, or visit the City Gallery, a huge, beautiful building that hosts multiple impressive exhibitions.
For lunch, Willi’s Kitchen is ideal. While the cafe caters for omnivores as well, the sheer range of vegan food is amazing, and all of it delicious — from the Vietnamese Baguette with 7-spice tofu and tempeh bacon, to the generous big breakfast with house-made sausages, avocado, hash brown and tofu scramble. Their cabinet is always stocked with vegan cakes and they have weekly specials. Or, head to the Press Hall on Willis Street. Here you’ll find Aroha, where you can build your own bowl or order from the plant-based menu — Press Hall also regularly hosts vegan nights featuring food from a range of their eateries.
For a light dinner, try Boquita on Kent Terrace; diminutive but mighty, serving plant-based Mexican — their tacos are stunning and so are the tequilas you can pair with them. Just up the road is the Embassy Cinema — it might seem strange to suggest going to the movies as a tourist activity, but the original 1920s architecture is immense and grand, and for any Lord of the Rings enthusiasts, it was the home of the world premiere for The Return of The King.
Goldings Free Dive is an offbeat dive bar and one of the early proponents of Wellington’s now massively thriving craft beer scene. The friendly staff can advise on their selection of daily changing taps, and you can have vegan pizza from Pizza Pomodoro next door delivered right to your table. Goldings frequently collaborates with the SPCA for events and it’s a reliably dog-friendly venue, so the odds are very good for cuteness. Or try Little Beer Quarter, another craft beer joint with an inviting interior and a great range of vegan food available. Friday night drinks are a big deal for the local office workers, of which there are many, given that the government is situated in Wellington — so it’s worth getting in before 5pm if you want to be sure of a seat.
If you’re in the mood for something more upmarket, try Olive, a stylish restaurant with a dreamy courtyard. While largely omnivorous, they always have a thoughtful and interesting vegan option on the menu. Or make your way to Lyall Bay to The Botanist, an entirely vegetarian and vegan restaurant. Their banana blossom “fish” and chips is astonishingly similar to the real thing, and their cauliflower steak — well, it will restore your faith in cauliflower steaks.
Saturday: Sustainable Shopping and Cocktails
Wellington is brilliant for shopaholics trying to avoid fast fashion. Head to Thrift on Cuba Street, where you can find incredible vintage dresses, 90s nostalgia oversized print tees, and everything in between. Just up the road is Recycle Boutique, a bustling zone for discerning pre-loved fashion, and Paper Bag Princess, a sweet thrift shop with affordable treasures abounding. Still on Cuba Street you’ll find Ziggurat and Hunters and Collectors — two long-standing vintage boutiques with an emphasis on designer and rare pieces, fun to explore even if your budget doesn’t extend to a 1920s beaded flapper dress or a 1960s wedding gown. For further shopping, Newtown has a ton of second hand shops. Make sure to visit Opportunity For Animals, which raises money for animal charities, and Aunty Dana’s, which raises money for transgender support and advocacy.
For local designers, visit the Kowtow flagship store on College Street. Kowtow is dedicated to creating ethical, sustainable fashion from the fabric to the production and their pieces are beautiful and timeless. twenty-seven names on Vivian Street also create with sustainability in mind and their enchanting collections are inspired by everything from Jilly Cooper to Elaine Benes of Seinfeld. Ignore the weight of your luggage and lose yourself in one of Wellington’s secondhand book shops — Arty Bees has a huge range, and Pegasus feels like another world with its high stacked shelves. Or browse Slow Boat — this music shop has an exceptional selection of second-hand vinyl as well as new. Still on Cuba Street, you might as well check out the V1 Vegan store for both practical items and treats, and Everyday Wine, which specialises in organic and natural wine from New Zealand and around the world — all vegan.
All this shopping deserves a hearty lunch. Plant Blazed is a food truck just behind Recycle Boutique serving the best vegan junk food you’ll ever taste — their ways with seitan are unmatched. Their menu changes all the time; sometimes burgers named after Laverne Cox and David Bowie, sometimes hot dogs or salads, but it’s always excellent. A classic Wellington vegan experience is going to Aunty Mena’s, a low-key vegetarian and vegan Chinese/Malaysian cafe that has been a fixture of vegan dining for years. Their vegan nuggets and BBQ steamed buns taste better than any memory of the real thing and their curry noodles will bring you to rapturous tears.
Saturday night calls for a cocktail. Hanging Ditch suspends their bottles from the ceiling rather than stacking them on a shelf — the effect is gorgeous, and so is their cocktail list. You’re in safe hands with their knowledgeable staff, and Hanging Ditch is leading the charge on minimal waste in bartending — from repurposing beer cans, turning used tea-light candle holders into coasters, and turning fruit from infusions into chutney — plus a Christmas tree made of Fernet Branca bottles. Head up the road to Laundry Bar for more enticing cocktails and an awesomely vegan-friendly menu served from the tiny caravan out the back. Formerly an actual laundry, this place is full of character, loaded with knick-knacks, miscellanea, and twinkling lights. The broccoli bombs are a sublime highlight: light tempura-battered broccoli with maple lime dipping sauce and spiced peanut soil. If you’re after a big night you might as well stay put, since after dinner service the lights go down, the tables go outside, and the place becomes a dance floor, with local and international DJs and performances every weekend.
If you need a quick bite to soak up your excesses, try Midnight Espresso, a reliable, decades-old local institution — their kitchen is open till around 2am with counter food till 3am.
Sunday: Brunch and Learning
Wellingtonians love brunch, aided by the sheer quantity of places to get it in such a small area. Take a hearty walk along the waterfront, where the bracing fresh sea air can clear your head as you marvel at how this space links the entire city — you can get from one end of central Wellington to the other with water by your side the whole time. Keep walking and you’ll find Beach Babylon, which looks like a seventies lounge and has a killer vegan brunch menu. The waterfront is a perfect place to sit and people watch, and better yet, there’s always a good chance of seeing dogs being happily walked past you.
If you wish to learn more about Aotearoa and indigenous Māori culture, Te Papa museum is just one resource that can immerse you in the history of this country with its many exhibitions, such as Tūrangwaewae: Te Toi o Aotearoa, a collection of art that questions ideas of belonging and power. They also hold art and artefacts from all over the world. Another way to learn about what makes this place unique and beautiful is by visiting Zealandia — a groundbreaking, enormous ecosanctuary that homes and protects some of New Zealand’s rarest native wildlife.
For a chill dinner, try Kera-la-Carte on Courtenay Place, serving Kerala cuisine with a great vegan menu — their crunchy and fiery chilli vegetable starter is essential eating. Seoul Salon on Willis Street is another cosy joint, serving Asian fusion with a focus on South Korean and Japanese cuisine. If it’s a fine evening, a waterfront walk is just as lovely at night, with the lights of the city guiding your way.
This is by no means a definitive list for a vegan in New Zealand’s capital. There are so many places to go and things to do in Wellington, and the best way to find out is just ask someone for a recommendation — you’re likely to receive an enthusiastic list, that could be completely different to this one. That’s the beauty of Wellington — it’s a tiny city, but it contains multitudes.