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By JoAnne• 29 Oct 2018
Have you heard? The Sussexes are in town! The newly-minted Duke and Duchess of Sussex (more colloquially known as Harry and Meghan) have hit Wellington for the first time as a duo, and the capital is just a little excited about it all.
We take a look at the top 10 things you should check out in the capital based on historic Royal Tours and where members of the royal family have previously gone sight-seeing in Wellington (or really should go, if they haven't been). So if you’re looking to be Queen or King for a day in the capital, look no further!
It’s often a bit of a challenge to get a table at the overwhelmingly popular Maranui Café in Lyall Bay – and now Meghan and Harry have dropped in for a cuppa, we suspect it’s only going to get busier. This café, perched on top of a surf club, situated in the half moon that is Lyall Bay, sports massive windows, giving a sweeping panorama of the beach and a front row seat for those who want to engage in a bit of plane spotting. If Maranui’s too packed, grab a bit of kai for takeaway and stroll down the beach – or if the Welly wind too blustery, hop over to The Botanist, Parrotdog, Spruce Goose or – if you’re sticking with the royal theme – Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli.
The Royals have done their fair share of tree planting over the years, and Prince Charles has led the way as a dedicated conservationist. The younger Royals are yet to visit Zealandia on their travels to the capital, but with Meghan and Harry holding conservation as a high priority, we reckon it’s merely a matter of time. Zealandia is the only 100% contained ecosanctuary in the entire world (and just 10 minutes from the CBD!), built to keep predators out and bring back native forest, plant life and fauna. We think the royal newlyweds will be keen to get up and close to some native birds (maybe a twilight tour to spot a kiwi or two?) and hear how Zealandia’s unique conservation efforts are boosting our native wildlife numbers in the region.
Prince William unveiled a portrait of his gran, a.k.a. The Queen, during his visit in 2015 at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery. The portrait was commissioned especially for the gallery and features Her Majesty in an appropriately royal blue dress adorned with a little silver fern brooch (and pearls, of course). The NZ Portrait Gallery is home to an ever-increasing collection of portraits (including famous Wellington, director and writer, Taika Waititi in vampire form), as well as regularly showcasing exhibitions of paintings, sculptures, caricatures, photography and new media.
We don’t think Queen Victoria ever made it out to the colonies on a royal tour. However, we held her in high enough esteem to name the most prominent hill, smack in the middle of the city with the best views of the capital after her. You really haven’t been to Wellington until you’ve been to the peak of Mt. Vic (as it’s colloquially known by the locals) to enjoy the sweeping 360 views of Wellington’s harbour, hills and – on a good day – beyond the Cook Strait to the South Island. If you’re super keen, you can even take one of the hill’s many trails to the top or re-enact the famous “hobbits hide from ringwraiths” scene from Lord of the Rings, which was filmed on one of the tracks.
Did you know that Prince Harry was the first (and only - to date!) royal to perform a haka? Whilst it didn’t take place in Wellington (that was in Linton Army Base in Christchurch during his first tour of NZ in 2015), we love that he embraced Māori culture alongside the locals. If you’re in Wellington and want a Māori cultural experience of your own, we suggest a waka harbour experience at Te Wharewaka o Pōneke or visit Te Papa, where you can see the permanent Manu Whenua and Ko Rongowhakaata exhibitions or take in regal portraits of Māori royalty at the museum’s Toi Art Gallery.
No matter what your politics are, we have a pretty cool-shaped Parliament building. The Beehive is well worth making your way down to the end of Lambton Quay for a gander. The Queen made her way to Wellington in 1977 for the opening of the Beehive (as she did for the ceremonial opening of New Zealand Parliament in 1953). But in case you want to get your head around the inner workings of the Beehive, a range of free guided Parliamentary tours are available 7 days a week – a standard one-hour tour, one specifically for children as well as one for art lovers. And when you've wrapped up, you can discuss your newfound political knowledge over a meal at the Beehive's own restaurant, Bellamys by Logan Brown.
If you’re a Kiwi of a certain age, you’ll remember the nationwide collective sigh as newlyweds, Prince Charles and Lady Diana visited New Zealand with their baby boy. The flurry of excitement reached a royal high when the future King of England, Prince William, took his first steps on the lawn at Government House, and the Buzzy Bee toy, gifted to him by the then Governor General’s wife, earned its iconic status as a piece of Kiwiana.
You can visit the half-timbered Tudor mansion and its beautiful 12-hectare grounds, which have seen their fair share of royal visits. Several plaques mark trees planted by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, and the late Māori Queen, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu. Free tours explore the current and historic role and history of the Governor-General Government House, and tour the grounds, which have many heritage features, as well as exotic species of plants, and trees and shrubs native to New Zealand.
We're unsure if we’ll get any of the royals to partake in the Welly summer tradition of jumping off the side of Queen’s Wharf into the harbour. (Maybe Prince Harry? He’s been known to be a bit of a daredevil.) And whilst Prince Charles didn’t jump off the wharf during his 2012 visit, he did watch some locals take a plunge to celebrate a sunny day and his birthday! If you’re not too keen to execute some sweet bombs into our crisp waters, stroll along the waterfront and enjoy local shops, cafes, restaurants, Wellington Museum of City & Sea and NZ Portrait Gallery, catch the East By West Ferry – or catch a lift with Wellington Helicopters.
Pukeahu National War Memorial Park houses the NZ National War Memorial as well as several war memorials for the 300,000 fallen Kiwis who served their country. It is the site of the resting spot of the Unknown Warrior, the Carillon and Hall of Memories. Having served in the British Army for 10 years, Prince Harry laid a wreath at the newly opened park in 2015, and he and the Duchess of Sussex paid respects to the fallen during their Wellington visit. Visitors can also attend the Great War Exhibition created by Sir Peter Jackson, as well as the daily Last Post ceremony, which have been held at the park, since Anzac Day 2015, and will be conducted every evening until 11 November 2018 (the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day).
If you’re looking for a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of your busy schedule, do as the Cambridges did during their 2014 trip to the capital, and take a jaunt to Wharekauhau Luxury Lodge in the Wairarapa, just over an hour’s drive away from Wellington. This country estate is one New Zealand’s top luxury lodges, offering the ultimate luxury farm stay experience with cottage suites, culinary dining, spas, golf, nature encounters and crackling fires to settling in front of with a glass wine from one of the region’s vineyards.