I’m golfing in a sea of arms. Literally.

In dark and light shades, they reach upward, grasping at air. Or are they the arms of zombies bursting from the ground?

Inside Wellington’s just-opened Willis Lane, the whimsical Holey Moley minigolf – with holes themed around zombies, Vincent van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles, skateboarding and the board game Operation – is just one of its many offerings that are brand new to the capital.

The winding tunnels below the intersection of Willis Street and Lambton Quay have been home to underground food courts and shopping since the Aon Centre opened (the big, black monolith known by many Wellingtonians as “Darth Vader’s pencil box”). Willis Lane is the most ambitious incarnation, comprising 14 restaurants and bars along the passageways of the 4000-square-metre labyrinth.

It’s owned by Precinct Properties, which has several commercial developments in Wellington and Auckland (including Commercial Bay) and was designed by Izzard Design, the studio behind many Auckland venues including Movida and Bivacco.

Design director Paul Izzard says the idea was to create a subterranean venue echoing the fast pace of Wellington’s CBD above. Dark steel beams run along the ceiling and there’s plenty of recycled brick – particularly in the many archways. These contrast with a Winckelmans tiled floor, and white and green glazed wall tiles.

The effect’s a bit like something you’d find in the London Underground or New York’s Grand Central Station – or the Old Bank Arcade across the road, which Willis Lane connects to.

The food offering is varied and includes quick bites such as Rick’s Cheese Steaks (gooey cheese and meat-loaded Philly cheese steaks from Rick Unuia of fried chicken spot Soul Shack) and Crack Chicken, the first Wellington venture by Namu Group (Aigo, Gochu, The Candyshop).

There’s also Wilson Barbecue, the first CBD location for the Johnsonville institution, and Churly’s – a bar from Auckland’s craft beer Behemoth Brewing Company that serves wine, cocktails and more as well as pints. On the sweeter side, there’s a Duck Island near the stairs that descend into Willis Lane. There are also lifts and ramps throughout, and gender-neutral and accessible toilets.

The most upscale offering is Italian eatery Corso Pastaria. Created by the team behind the Astoria and Atlas, Corso’s pumpkin gorgonzola and ’nduja arancini are especially sumptuous (and molten inside).

But Willis Lane is more than just a food hall. Next to Holey Moley, the bright red striped decor of Archie Brothers Cirque Electriq recalls a circus tent. It’s a place for all ages, with carnival and arcade games like Space Invaders, Dance Dance Revolution, Mario Kart and mini basketball. There’s an eight-lane bowling alley too, and a craft cocktail bar that does milkshakes. The prizes you can win have been modernised: think Star Wars and Funko Pop! action figures.

Willis Lane is the first place in Wellington where you can save the city from a rampaging King Kong (Holey Moley), then celebrate your victory with a glass of pinot gris (Corso) or doughnut cheeseburger (Crack Chicken). It also embodies what many know about the capital: spaces are often much bigger on the inside.

Willis Lane
1 Willis Street, Wellington Central, Wellington

Mon to Thu 11am–9pm
Fri to Sat 11am–11pm
Sun 11am–8pm