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Local knowledge: Wellington

Art collector, curator and hotelier Chris Parkin takes us through the best bars and galleries of the small but lively city of Wellington.

Lobby at the QT Museum

QT Museum

Wellington is a big little city. It’s small in size, bounded by hills and harbour, but within it beats a mighty heart. The city is best appreciated from the Mount Victoria Lookout, a must for any visitor. Stop for a paua fritter sandwich at the Chocolate Fish Café and keep an eye out for seals and penguins, even the occasional orca.

When dining out, I stick to the classics. Ortega Fish Shack is a restaurant rooted in Wellington’s history; paradoxically, I always order the steak frites. If you like food – and I mean quantities – you can’t go past The Green Parrot Café; its mixed grill is gargantuan. Founded in 1926, its flounder is sublime and the side of onions dusted with seasoning and deep fried has to be the best anywhere.

The Hippopotamus Bar at the QT Museum.

My favourite public gallery is the QT Museum Wellington, which houses my art collection. Enjoy with a glass of wine. (And make sure you see the billiards room.) One of the most striking artworks is by Daniel Campion: a skull covered in hundreds and thousands, encased in a block of transparent resin with a pistol and a bullet. The city has a surprising number of private galleries. They’re often tucked away, such as the Robert Heald Gallery – even locals struggle to find it.

Daniel Campion’s artwork on display in the QT Museum lobby.

When out-of-town friends visit, a day would usually go like this. We’d start by cruising down funky Cuba Street looking at the shops and visiting galleries. Some, like the Hamish McKay Gallery, are more than happy for you to delve into their storerooms to search for treasures. Then we’d head to Noble Rot for tapas and a glass of wine. After that, a ride around Oriental Bay on my electric bike and ice-cream at Kaffee Eis. We’d end at my favourite late-night haunt, Hummingbird. I like to sit at the bar nursing a Negroni and watching the world go by.

Chris Parkin is the former owner of the QT Museum Wellington and its current art ambassador. The hotel houses his personal art collection, New Zealand’s largest privately owned collection. 

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