Wellington might be one of the most spectacular capital cities on Earth. Perched at the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, between lush hills and the crystal blue waters of Wellington Harbour, the city hums with galleries, cafes, bars, theatres and world-class food and drink made from abundant local produce. Much like Melbourne, Wellington’s cultural charms reward investigation.

Lesser known but no less intriguing is the city of Nelson in the South Island. Just a 35-minute Jetstar flight from Wellington across Cook Strait, Nelson has its own thriving food, wine and art scenes, but also easy access to national parks, wildlife, adventure trails, pristine beaches and water activities. Taken together, the two cities make for a unique long weekend destination, and one that’s surprisingly close to Melbourne: Jetstar flies the three-hour route to Wellington four times a week.

Here’s our top picks from the two cities.

EAT

Leeds Street Bakery

The laneway-style reboot of Wellington CBD’s Leeds Street, and the adjoining Eva Street, has attracted a range of inhabitants, including a soda joint, a dive bar, a local handmade-peanut-butter manufacturer and apartments converted from an old shoe factory. Leeds Street Bakery is among them, serving baked goods, including salted caramel cookies, made from local ingredients,– they’re ideal paired with a specialty coffee from friends next door, Red Rabbit Coffee Co.

6g/14 Leeds Street, Wellington
(+64 4) 802 4278
leedsstbakery.co.nz

Wellington Chocolate Factory

Located in the same precinct as Leeds Street Bakery, Wellington Chocolate Factory offers organic chocolate made with a “bean to bar” ethos using ethically sourced beans and traditional methods dating back to the 18th century. The factory’s chocolate bars are packaged in designs by local artists, and sold from a charming retail space right on the factory floor.

5 Eva Street, Wellington
(+64 4) 3857555
wcf.co.nz

The Bresolin

The Bresolin brothers, Leonardo and Lorenzo, have long been a feature of New Zealand’s food scene, following in the footsteps of their father and restaurateur, Remiro Bresolin, who is credited with introducing Italian food to Wellington in the ’70s and ’80s. The Bresolins’ latest venture, is inside a repurposed building that has been, at various times, a live-music venue, a pharmacy and a butcher. Now people flock for the menu, which includes hand-cut steak tartare; buttermilk fried chicken; spinach gnocchi; and treacle-cured salmon.

278 Willis Street, Wellington
(+64 4) 801 5152
thebresolin.co.nz

Egmont Street Eatery

Egmont Street Eatery serves shared seasonal plates in a central, multi-level space clad in dark wood and white tiles – a stark change from the building’s former life as an industrial car park. Egmont Street feels like a secret Wellington hideaway, with a standout wine list and an artful selection of food, including boneless chicken wings with kimchi mayonnaise, and a 400-gram Wakanui sirloin steak with watercress and anchovy butter.

11 Egmont Street, Wellington
(+64 4) 801 6891
egmontstreet.co.nz

Hopgood’s Restaurant

Hopgood’s head chef, Kevin Hopgood, cut his teeth working for 20 years in some of London’s best restaurants, including a stint at the Michelin-starred Le Gavroche. Now he has his own restaurant in a Nelson heritage-listed building, and serves an ever-changing seasonal menu, which regularly includes locally sourced salmon, duck and cheese. This is simple food from an international chef done really well.

284 Trafalgar Street, Nelson
(+64 3) 545 7191
hopgoods.co.nz

DRINK

Customs Brew Bar

Coffee Supreme is a well-known supplier to many Melbourne cafes. But here it celebrates its Wellington origins in a retro-styled hub, with multiple wood surfaces, a tiled counter and enviable record collection. In-house brewing methods like Slayer Espresso, V60, Swiss Gold and Chemex offer a range of caffeine options, along with a small menu by Little Dough Co. featuring the best doughnuts in town.

39 Ghuznee Street, Wellington
(+64 4) 385 2129
coffeesupreme.com

The Library

There are book-lined walls at this library, but also velvet and gilt furnishings, a full menu including a selection of sweets and cheeses, and a luxury cocktail and wine list alongside a killer selection of single malts. The Library is a sophisticated Wellington escape. It also features free live music on Tuesday and Friday nights.

Upstairs, 53 Courtenay Place, Wellington
(+64 4) 382 8593
thelibrary.co.nz

The Garage Project Brewery & Taproom

Garage Project brewery is located in a former service station, but don’t let the location colour your expectations. Angry Peaches pale ale, and Cabbages & Kings, a stout brewed with Te Matuku oysters, are just some of the options. An always-changing selection of beers are available for tastings and takeaway from the cellar door. Local artists create labels for all the beers, except for one: the iconic house brew comes in a plain white can marked simply, “Beer”. Across the road the Project’s breakout taproom, GP 91 Aro, offers 20 GP beers on tap with a menu by Shepherd Elliott of Leeds Street Bakery.

68 and 91 Aro Street, Wellington
(+64 4) 384 3076 and (04) 802 5324
garageproject.co.nz

STAY

Museum Art Hotel

Wellington’s Museum Art Hotel is a boutique beauty that houses guests among an extensive art collection. Situated over the road from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and near the Wellington waterfront, the hotel offers uniquely designed hotel and apartment-style quarters bursting with art and literature. The in-hotel restaurant and bar, Hippopotamus, is an award-winning destination itself. 90 Cable Street, Wellington

(+64 4) 802 8900
museumhotel.co.nz

Grand Mercure Nelson Monaco

The Monaco Resort is a sprawling boutique hotel built from 1840s timber and handmade bricks salvaged from the original Nelson Wharf. Close to Nelson airport, sightseeing walks and bike trails, the Monaco Resort’s cottages and luxury rooms overlook the Waimea Inlet and village green.

6 Point Road, Nelson
(+64 3 547 8233)
monacoresort.co.nz

DO

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Like a combination of Melbourne’s NGV and ACMI, Te Papa is a heady mash-up of history, art, touring exhibitions and interactive education. The museum sits on Wellington waterfront, and even has its own mini rainforest with limestone caves.

55 Cable Street, Wellington
(+64 4) 381 7000
tepapa.govt.nz

Cuba Quarter

Cuba Street has long been a bustling strip of record stores, galleries, clothing retailers, jewellery shops, vintage curios, barbers, cafes, bars, night markets, public artwork, comic shops and live music. Wellington might be compact, but it’s all there. Alert: You may see one (or both) of the Flight of the Conchords guys on Cuba Street.

Cuba Quarter, Wellington

Nelson Saturday Market

A draw for locals and tourists, as well as provider to many of Nelson’s finest eateries, the Saturday Market in Montgomery Square has been running in Nelson for more than 30 years. Fresh, regional, organic produce sits alongside locally made art and handcrafts in one colourful, busy spot. On Sundays the same site is taken over by food stalls and vintage vendors.

Montgomery Square, Nelson
(+64 3) 546 6454
nelsonmarket.co.nz

Mahana Estate

Thirty minutes out of the Nelson CBD, the sprawling Mahana Estate winery combines an organic vineyard, cellar door, kitchen, and Modernist villa accommodation in ridiculously beautiful hilltop surrounds. Well known for its cool-climate pinot noir and stunning onsite art gallery and sculpture park.

243 Old Coach Road, Nelson
(+64 3) 543 2817
mahana.nz

Moana NZ SUP

With its stunning vistas and beautiful clear water, Tahuna Beach is the perfect place to try stand-up paddle boarding. Super-friendly locals walk you through the basics in the calm inlet protected by a beach reserve.

Tahuna Beach, Nelson (Eastern end, close to Rocks Road)
+64 508 662 6269
moananzsup.co.nz

This article is presented in partnership with Positively Wellington Tourism and Nelson Tasman Tourism.