by Ruth Nichol - Dominion Post

The precautionary cup of coffee I knock back before leaving home for a Walking Gourmet tour of Wellington turns out to be completely unnecessary.

Within minutes of meeting up with Walking Gourmet guide Tracey Jones and my fellow walkers - a couple from Brisbane - I'm enjoying an excellent latte at Nikau Gallery Cafe in Civic Square. So much for having to wait for my caffeine fix; as you might expect for a behind-the-scenes food tour of a city that claims to have more cafes per head of population than New York, coffee is an integral part of the tours run by Wellington culinary tourism company Zest Food Tours.

However, my other precautionary measure - putting on a pair of comfortable walking shoes - is definitely worthwhile. The four-hour Walking Gourmet tour covers several kilometres of inner-city Wellington and, given the extra baggage we take on in the form of food and drink along the way, it's good to be wearing sensible flatties.

As Tracey talks us through the morning's itinerary, I come clean about my identity: I'm a local doing the tour so that I can write an article about it.

Despite being a Wellingtonian, I've never been to our next destination, Schoc Chocolaterie in Tory St. However, I am familiar with the product it sells, the delicious Schoc chocolate made in Greytown, which may explain why I perform much better than my Australian companions in the chocolate tasting. It involves identifying the flavour of five types of Schoc chocolate.

Apparently only a handful of people have scored five out of five in the taste test since Zest Food Tours was established in 2003. As a lifetime chocolate addict I'm briefly hopeful of scoring top marks, but I'm defeated by the Earl Grey tea- flavoured dark chocolate. However, I correctly identify the other four flavours and I'm so taken with one of them - milk chocolate with sea salt - that I put in a request for a bar of it for my birthday.

Schoc's hot chocolate also lives up to its billing as "the best hot chocolate in town". It's seriously chocolatey and so thick we have to drink it with "stroons" - a combination of straw and spoon.

A quick stop at nearby Kura Gallery, where we sample several chutneys made with traditional Maori ingredients such as pikopiko, then check out the gallery's contemporary Maori art and craftwork, and we're off for our next caffeine fix.

We don't only get to drink coffee at Mojo Coffee Cartel on Kent Tce (including my first-ever affogato, a shot of espresso poured over vanilla icecream), we also get to watch coffee beans being roasted by the charming Lambros Gianoutsos. His son Steve owns the growing Mojo coffee empire. It takes much less time than I expect for the green beans to turn dark brown; Lambros explains that knowing exactly when to stop the roasting process is part of the roasters' art.

As a local I'm already a regular at our next stop, Moore Wilson Fresh Market in Tory St, so while Tracey guides the others around the popular foodie hangout, I stock up on ingredients for dinner. I'm also excused from sampling the tamarillo that Tracey serves as part of a cheese platter but I happily tuck into the selection of New Zealand cheeses and Ruth Pretty relishes.

I'm looking forward to our final destination, Logan Brown in Cuba St. I've only eaten there once, and I've never tried the restaurant's signature dish, paua ravioli. It's easy to see why customers won't let chefs Al Brown and Steve Logan take these light little bundles off their menu.

Each course is accompanied by a different wine, and I'm feeling pleasantly lightheaded as I stroll towards the bus-stop in my comfy shoes; it's been a thoroughly enjoyable and somewhat gluttonous morning, and I'm looking forward to a little lie down.

The comfy shoes stay in the cupboard when I set off for my next walking tour of Wellington a week later. I know that Wild About Wellington's City of Style tour takes in several designer clothing stores, and I don't want to look too downmarket.

The City of Style tour is one of several tour options offered by Jennifer Looman's company Wild About Wellington. I notice that Jennifer's not wearing sensible shoes either when I rendezvous with her and my fellow style tourist (a visitor from New York) at the Museum Hotel. Perhaps that's why we travel by bus for the longest leg of the tour, from Courtenay Place to Lambton Quay.

Or maybe it's because taking the bus frees up more time for shopping on the three-hour tour. Our first port of call is The Vault, now located at the bottom of Plimmer Steps, where Jennifer gives each of us a sample of one of the HEMA skincare products made by Wellington facialist Margaret Hema.

Soon I'm speaking the international language of shopping with my American companion as we try on frocks at Robyn Mathieson in Featherston St. We keep chattering away in retail-ese at nearby Basquesse, while designer Viviana Pannell tells us about her latest collection. As we leave the store we spot the former prime minister Jenny Shipley walking towards us, looking remarkably trim and chic. It's one of those only-in-New Zealand moments: somehow I doubt you would ever run into a former president of the United States on a New York street.

A quick stroll to Willis St and we're at Aquamerino, which sells New Zealand-designed and made merino clothing. I make a mental note of a beautiful fine-wool scarf as another birthday gift possibility.

On the other hand, perhaps my children could pool their money together for several decades and buy me something from the limited-edition range of white-gold and diamond rings we see at The Village Goldsmith in Victoria St. We spend so long trying on and exclaiming over the rings in the new Gold Kina range that we're running late for our final destination, St John's Bar in Cable St.

Normally it wouldn't matter, but our American companion has a plane to catch and we can't linger over our glasses of wine for as long as we'd like. Still, even half a glass is enough to loosen my hold on my wallet, and after I say goodbye to the others I head back to Aquamerino to buy the scarf.

* Zest Food Tours and Wild About Wellington hosted Ruth Nichol. More at and