Wellington: Best Things to Do in the Capital of New Zealand
Wellington, the capital of New Zealand is one of the windiest cities in the world, and although it is often skipped by travelers seeking the beauty of nature, the city has quite many attractions to offer, and it is worth it to spend here a pleasant day or two. Read our travel guide on the best things to do in Wellington, places to visit, and must-see highlights with tips on where to stay, and what to pack.
We know, that most of the travelers arrive in New Zealand to admire the spectacular scenery and to enjoy as much time possible in the wilderness hiking some of the world's most famous treks. We certainly did not arrive in New Zealand to walk in the cities among architecture, which is barely older than houses we are used living in back home in Europe.
The first time we visited Wellington we only wanted to catch the ferry to the South Island, but when we were returning to North Island, we decided to give the capital city of New Zealand a chance. It is true we were not expecting much, but Wellington turned out to be a pleasant surprise of our road trip.
The city is set in beautiful scenery with many hills around from where we could watch the Wellington Harbor, and the mixture of many things to see and do with the unhurried atmosphere was something we could really appreciate, and apparently, we were not the only ones as Wellington was voted the coolest little capital in the world by Lonely Planet. We know that many people think the capital of New Zealand is Auckland, but it is this rather small city on the southern tip of the North Island.
Locals think of Wellington to be the most underrated capital in the world, and although we cannot say if it is true or not, it is definitely the windiest capital we set foot on (therefore the nickname Windy Welly), thanks to its exposed location - it is also the reason why most of the flights are scheduled to Auckland.
Discover with us the best things to see and do in Wellington, and make sure you will put this capital city firmly on your New Zealand travel itinerary - it is worth visiting.
BEST THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN WELLINGTON
If you are arriving from Europe and looking for historical buildings and several centuries-old architecture, it is true you won't find it in New Zealand, not even in the capital city, Wellington.
On the other hand, Wellington offers one of the best museums in the world, splendid views of the harbor and pretty cool government buildings. Let's have a look at the best things to see and do in Wellington.
Hope our list will persuade you to stay here at least a night and take a break from your outdoor adventures.
Wellington Harbor | Wellington is not an ordinary city thanks to the Wellington Harbor which certainly adds to its exceptionality. No matter if you plan on enjoying the views of the harbor from one of many hills surrounding the city, or if you will take a leisure stroll around the shore, the proximity to the sea is very picturesque, and during your visit, you will meet many people around the shore jogging, walking, cycling and simply enjoying the laidback vibe.
Wellington Cable Car | One of the highlights in Wellington is taking a cable car up to the Kelburn district from where you get amazing views of the harbor, plus it will take you to the top of the hill, where you can wander around botanical garden, and then take either the funicular back to the sea level, or take a pleasant walk to the center via the city's different districts. One way ticket costs NZD 5 and roundtrip NZD 9, but if you are traveling on a budget, it is for sure possible to walk both ways. Hadn't we been in Wellington with Martin's cousin who showed us around and we could use his pass we would have probably walked as well, but on the other hand, we must admit it was a great experience we were grateful for doing. The iconic ride from Wellington's business district Lambton Quay takes only about five minutes, so have your camera ready.
Botanical Garden | If you are taking a funicular to Kelburn district, you should not miss a walk in the exceptionally-pruned botanical garden with many greenhouses, interesting trees, flowers, and plants. There are many walkways and trails where you can spend quite a lot of time, but in case you want to get back to the city center, follow Te Araroa National Walkway which will eventually lead you downhill. Again, if you decide to walk to the gardens and not to take the cable car, it is a budget-friendly activity as the entrance to the botanical garden in Wellington is free.
Cuba Street | Every city has a street with hipster coffee shops, cute small vintage shops, restaurants, atmospheric bars, and quirky houses, and in New Zealand's capital it is Cuba Street, and you won't make a mistake if you wander off this street and explore this district a bit further. The vibe of Cuba Street is hard to explain you must go and see it by yourself. The best time to visit Cuba Street is in the evening when some of the best restaurants in the city are open,you can listen to guitar players playing their songs and watch how Kiwis can enjoy their life.
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum | New Zealand is for sure not a budget-friendly country, so when we were traveling around New Zealand, we had heard multiple times about Te Papa Museum, but first, we only thought it is so popular among backpackers for a simple reason that there is no entrance admission. Then we spent there half a day and discovered ourselves that New Zealand's National Museum is one of the best things we could do not only in Wellington but on the North Island. The exhibitions are truly captivating, and you can learn more about planet Earth, the dinosaur era, Maori culture, and overall Pacific cultures, but you can see here also pieces of contemporary art and much more. Even when you are not a museum type of traveler, you should not miss this one out as it is high on the list of our favorite museums in the world, right next to Inhotim Museum in Brazil. In case you really want to explore the museum thoroughly, one day won't be enough, but several hours will do the job if you want to choose only several exhibitions and then hit the city.
Ride around the Waterfront | If you do not have enough of road tripping, jump in a car, and set off exploring coast near Wellington. We drove out of the city via Shelly Bay Road, Massey Road, and Karaka Bay Road back to the center of Wellington, and it was a really nice drive. We could see the less-visited parts of the city, small original houses, and rough sea.
Old St. Paul's | Beautifully restored church built in the 19th century is one of the best architectural landmarks Wellington posses and a place you should put on your itinerary. The church looks pretty ordinary from the outside, but the inside is constructed entirely from native timbers.
Eat Fish and Chips | We did not find New Zealand's cuisine somehow spectacular, but if there is one meal you must try, it is fish and chips. Although you can taste this dish in England or anywhere else in the world as well, a fresh fried fish with fries served on a newspaper is a must-try, not mentioning it is really photogenic. It is not hard to find a restaurant in Wellington serving this meal, so follow your common sense.
The Beehive | As we've already mentioned, Wellington is New Zealand's capital, so it is not surprising you will be able to see government buildings here. One of the most spectacular ones is Parliament, especially the Executive Wing of the complex nicknamed The Beehive, which is everything but boring. The building is only 40 years old, and from the outside, it really does not look like an average office building. We even went inside and took an hour-long free guided tour during which we visited chambers and halls where the most important decisions are being made. What we found the most interesting was the system which protects the building against earthquake damage as New Zealand suffers from frequent earthquakes - it was the first country where we experienced it, and it was a feeling we never got used to.
Weta Caves | New Zealand, thanks to its beautiful scenery is a popular film destination, so it makes sense that you can find in Wellington a movie museum, where it is possible to learn how the movies are created and see behind the scenes expositions. Wellington is also home to Peter Jackson, a director of Lord of the Rings series, in case you are still wondering why the museum is in this city. If you want to see the workshop and learn more about the film making, it is necessary to take a guided tour.
Oriental Parade Beach | On a sunny day, Wellington is absolutely stunning, and when you luck out the weather, it is not a bad idea, to go to Oriental Parade Beach. Enjoy rather the walk to your destination and do not put your hopes high for the beach, because the sea in New Zealand has rarely pleasant temperatures, and the combination of cold water and Wellington's never-ceasing winds is not very inviting for swimming.
Wrights Hill Fortress | In the 1940s, during World War II was built this fortress to protect Wellington from invaders and invasions from the Pacific. The circular building consists of an underground network of tunnels and several operation rooms, but unfortunately, the fortress is open for public only a few days in a year unless you want to arrange a private tour. The fortress has been carefully restored and you can see it in several TV series, and even some scenes from Fellowship of the Ring were filmed here.
Mount Victoria Lookout | There is probably not a better place from where to enjoy the views of Wellington Harbor than from above, and although you can find quite many hills around the city from where you can admire the splendid, peaceful vistas, Mount Victoria, 196 meters above sea level, is one of the most popular ones, where locals often come to hang out in the evening and watch the sunset. We walked to Mount Victoria Lookout in the afternoon, and although it was a bit windy, we had a great time there. The path at times climbs steeply, but overall it is a pleasant walk which won't take you long. In case you do not fancy walking, it is possible to drive to the lookout by car from the other side of the hill, alternatively, take a bus number 20. From the top, you won't get only the views of the harbor, but 360-degrees fantastic views of the Wellington's cityscape.
Zealandia | Only a couple of minutes from Wellington's city center, on the top of the hill lies Zealandia, a wildlife sanctuary where you can spot native species of birds and other endangered animals. The area is huge, and you can walk a large number of trails to see the best this piece of land has to offer. You can either pay the regular admission and look for animals on own or take a guided tour. One of the most popular tours is the night tour when the birds are the most active, including the iconic kiwi bird.
The Skyline Walkway | For active travelers, there is an option to spend the day outside Wellington and walk the 12 kilometers long trail which will reward you with, for example, views of the Kaikoura ranges, the Marlborough Sounds, Wellington city, and the harbor. You'll be walking on an exposed ridgeline, so be prepared for strong winds. It should not take more than five hours to finish the hike.
Ferry | Wellington is the main jumping-off point for visitors traveling between New Zealand's North and South Island. There are several ferries a day, but the most popular times in the summer can be booked out few days in advance, so take this information into account when planning your New Zealand itinerary. The journey across Cook Strait is an experience on own, so consider traveling by sea before you book your flight tickets.
HOW MANY DAYS YOU NEED FOR EXPLORING WELLINGTON
Although Wellington is New Zealand's political center and country's capital, it has only 200 000 inhabitants, and more international visitors are rather heading to Auckland or Christchurch.
But it does not mean you should skip the city entirely we definitely recommend you to put Wellington at least for one day on your itinerary because it is exactly how much time you need to explore the city.
Wellington as a city is absolutely fine to see in one day, but it is worth to mention that New Zealand's capital has absolutely beautiful surroundings, so in case you have several days to spare, you can travel to many wineries nearby, and as we worked on a vineyard in Martinborough, we can only recommend you to stop by there and taste one of New Zealand's best wines.
You can travel there by rental car or take a winery tour, but it is worth to visit Cape Palliser or one of many forest parks nearby as well.
WHERE TO STAY IN WELLINGTON
Wellington is not only a place from where you should take a ferry to the South Island, but the city also deserves at least one day of your precious time.
There are quite many accommodation options in the capital of New Zealand, but the best well-priced hotels are often gone first, so plan your stay well ahead.
We've handpicked three best hotels for every type of traveler.
Budget | Hotel Waterloo & Backpackers - Backpackers friendly accommodation in the center of Wellington has everything you might be looking for - clean rooms both dormitories and private, kitchen, laundry, and common room.
Mid-range | C Hotel Wellington - Great value for money. This hotel, except for well-equipped and clean rooms offers an indoor pool, spa, and fitness center.
Luxury | InterContinental Wellington - Absolutely outstanding hotel is located by the harbor waterfront and offers top service, elegant rooms, and perfect dining options.
WHAT TO PACK FOR VISITING WELLINGTON
Although New Zealand's North Island is a bit warmer than the South Island, it is still cold here in winter between May and September.
It can be pretty warm during summer when the sun shines, but occasional rains and never-ceasing winds can make your visit a bit more challenging, that's why you should arrive well-prepared, especially if you plan on continuing to the south.
Here are five essential things you should pack for visiting Wellington.
Rain Poncho | Weather in New Zealand is unpredictable, and it can rain any time of the year, so you won't make a mistake when you pack a rain poncho.
Sunscreen | We can't stress that enough. Never go out without applying sunscreen first.
Canon M50 | Even in the city you will be surprised how many photogenic spots you will find in Wellington.
HOW TO GET TO WELLINGTON
Despite the fact Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, most of the travelers find the best connection to or from Auckland or Christchurch, and some of them even do not plan on spending their precious in Wellington at all.
But even when Wellington did not enchant you, when traveling from North Island to South Island or in the opposite direction by car or public transport, you will have to visit the area to catch a ferry.
Many buses and shuttles will take you to Wellington, although we can only recommend you renting a car as road tripping New Zealand is once in a lifetime opportunity.
To get from Wellington to Picton (your first destination on South Island if you travel north to south), you must book your ferry ticket well in advance. Check first with your rental company if it is possible to travel between islands.
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