Travel Team Home > Destination Information > Wellington, New Zealand
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, at the southwestern tip of the North Island between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range. The Wellington urban area is the major population center of the southern North Island and is New Zealand's third most populous urban area with 381,900 residents.
Wellington is a city that brims with energy and vitality, it offers an almost overwhelming array of theatre, music, dance, fine arts and galleries and museums. It is also home to one of the nation’s key attractions, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which is recognised as a world leader of interactive and innovative museum experiences.
Some of the most popular things to See and Do include:
Te Papa. The national museum. Particularly good if you have children to entertain on a rainy day. Free (except for the occasional special presentation).
Museum of Wellington City & Sea Open 10AM-5PM every day except 25 December. A well-presented museum of the history of Wellington, including its maritime history. Free.
City Gallery. Lacks a permanent collection but runs a consistently avant-garde set of exhibits. It also has the excellent cafe Nikau attached to it.
The Wellington Cable Car, from Lambton Quay (next to the McDonald's). Open 7 days until 10PM. The easiest way to get a nice view of the city and harbor, the Cable Car runs on rails from Lambton Quay to the Botanic Garden in Kelburn every ten minutes. $2.50 one way, $4.50 return
Frank Kitts Park. A great place to wander around, with walls to climb, inline skates, and jet ski rental.
Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, Open 10AM-5PM (last entry 4PM) every day except 25 December. A predator-proof fence encloses an old water catchment area, forming a mainland island that provides a natural haven for endangered native birds, tuatara, weta, and other indigenous flora and fauna, safe from introduced predators. By far the most convenient place in the country to see rare New Zealand wildlife. Adult $12, child $5, more for guided tours.
Matiu/Somes Island Out in the middle of the harbor, this island has its share of history. It was once a quarantine station for immigrants, and later for animals. It was also an internment camp for "dangerous" individuals during both World Wars. The ferry leaves from Queen's Wharf and Day's Bay. Only at certain times will the ferry stop at the island and only upon request. The best choice is to leave Queen's Wharf at noon and return at 2:30 or 3:25. Cost is $18.50 adults
The Botanic Garden is a nice place to go for a picnic, or just an afternoon walk. You can take the Cable Car from Lambton Quay for a quick 5-minute trip to the top; but it is not designed to be exciting, despite being photogenic. If you're keen on walking up, take the lifts in the The James Cook Arcade (or one of several others along Lambton Quay) up to The Terrace, head south uphill until you reach Salamanca Rd. Head uphill up Salamanca Rd until you reach Victoria University. A set of stairs on the opposite side of the road to the Hunter Lawn goes uphill right to the top of the Gardens. At the top of the Gardens, there are several attractions:
Bolton Street Memorial Park. Watch out for the friendly black cat who haunts this hillside cemetery. If you're returning from the Botanic Gardens by foot, this is great place to meander through and check out the epitaphs of early pioneers and historical figures.
Red Rocks/ Seal Colony. This is an interesting walk named for its distinctive red rocks. Take the number 1 bus to the end (Island Bay). Walk across the park towards the ocean and hang a right. Here you will find a disused quarry and a visitors center. The walk along this beach is pleasant but rocky and often very windy, so dress accordingly. If one walks for about 1 hour you will come across a distinctive pass though the rock face. Just on the other side of this is a seal colony that is worth the walk. Please bear in mind that these are wild animals and so require a certain level of respect, so keep your distance and do not get between them and the sea, especially if you value your health! Continuing on from here, you will eventually arrive at Makara (but this is a long distance, and the seal colony is a recommended turn-around point).
Dive the frigate Wellington. Probably the world's most accessible dive wreck. Just a few miles around the coast from Wellington International Airport. Sunk on 13 November 2005 in 23 to 26 meters of water off Island Bay on Wellington's south coast. The wreck lies about 600 metres southeast of Taputeranga Island (the island of Island Bay) at 41° 21'.270 S., 174° 46'.770 E.
Lookout points - Wellington City is surrounded by hills, so there are a number of good vantage points:
- The Cable Car Museum has two of the old cars in semi-restored and fully-restored condition and some of the original Cable Car machinery from the system that was replaced in 1978.
- The Lookout has a great view day or night, and the large map next to the round tree usually has a few pamphlets with maps of the Gardens.
- The Carter Observatory is a stones throw from here. This is the perfect place to explore the Garden from, or wander back to the city.
- Mount Victoria. The best lookout in Wellington. The full 360-degree view is a great place to see the the airport, the harbor, the CBD and the Town Belt with just a turn of the head. It takes about an hour to walk up from Courtenay Place. Many tourist buses go there but also a lot of the locals.
- Mount Kaukau. Another great lookout point, not as close to the city as Mt Victoria.
- Wrights Hill. More views, and WWII underground tunnels which are open to the public on public holidays for a small fee.
- Brooklyn Windmill. Another great place to go to get an excellent view of the city, the harbour, and Cook Strait.
- Massey Memorial An interesting place to go if you want to see a large memorial in the middle of nowhere, with a good view of the surrounding harbour.
Wellington has a lot of restaurants and cafes, in fact more cafes, bars and restaurants per head than New York City. Malaysian food is surprisingly popular and available in most areas. You can also get good Lebanese kebabs anywhere in the city. Fish and chips is the best value food and you usually get better quality in the suburbs.
Wellington has a bustling nightlife, concentrated along Courtenay Place, one of the major streets running from the CBD. It runs through Te Aro and ends in Mt Victoria. The nightlife along this strip causes this street to have the highest population density in all of New Zealand on Friday and Saturday nights. In most establishments, drinks are remarkably affordable (~NZ$6), and cover charges are either nonexistent or minimal. In some of the better clubs reasonable dress standards apply, however in the day the mood is usually extremely causal, with flip-flop and even bare feet occasionally accepted (a common Kiwi choice on hotter days). Cuba Mall also features some cool and more alternative bars.
The Greater Wellington region is far bigger than just Wellington City. The old Wellington Province used to cover much of the southern half of the North Island, including the Horowhenua, Manawatu, and Wanganui regions.
There are three other cities that are so close to Wellington that they effectively form a single large urban area; in population order they are:
- The Kapiti Coast
- Lower Hutt (sometimes erroneously called "Hutt City", after its local council's self-chosen name)
- Upper Hutt
The nearby Hutt Valley and Porirua have a number of interesting sights and beaches. Plimmerton, for example, has seen future world windsurfing champions training, and Edmund Hillary practised rock-climbing at Titahi Bay before conquering Everest.
The suburbs of Eastbourne and Days Bay are on the eastern side of Wellington Harbor. They can be reached by car, bus or ferry. There are a number of enjoyable hill walks in both Days Bay and Eastbourne. The East By West ferry service departs from Queens Wharf (Wellington) and travels to Days Bay Wharf, some services will stop on request at Somes Island (in the middle of the harbor). On weekends and public holidays the ferry also operates a harbour tour service which stops at Petone Wharf and Seatoun.
Wellington is known as the Windy City. The prevailing wind is from the northwest but the strongest winds are southerly. The wind speed and direction can be seen by the flag being flown from the Beehive. A large flag is flown only on calm days, a small flag is flown when windy days are expected.
The temperature in Wellington rarely drops below 32°F, even on a cold winter's night, while daytime winter temperatures are rarely lower than 47°F. During summer, the daytime maximum temperature rarely gets above 78°F.
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