If you’re looking for a reason to make the trip to New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington, it won’t take you long to find an excuse. Regularly voted one of the world’s top cities, this coastal city at the tip of New Zealand’s North Island is in many ways a traveller’s dream. The country’s indigenous Maori culture, the vibrant university life and of course the stunning scenery of Wellington Harbour and Fitzroy Bay all combine to give the city its distinctive, cool feel.
What is perhaps most surprising about Wellington, though, is how local it all feels. As capital cities go, Wellington is small. What that means for travellers is that it's both easy to get around and it lets you feel at home pretty quickly. In spite of its size however, there is no shortage of things to do: from chic cafes to windswept hill walks we’ve had a look at some of the best things to see and do in Wellington, as recommended by locals. Here's our top five.
Left image courtesy of Aidan.
Te Aro is an area of Wellington that is teaming with things to do and see. Most famously, it is home to The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa on Cable Street, right next to the bay. The museum and gallery are an interactive, immersive experience that is ideal for anyone looking for more insight into the Maori culture of New Zealand. Te Aro is not just a museum district however, it’s also full of great bars and cafes.
Cuba Street at the heart of the district is a mecca for music lovers with buskers on the streets as well as plenty of live music in bars. On Friday nights you can also find a night time market selling locally produced food which is the perfect way to prepare for some bar hopping in the district. A local tip for anyone visiting Cuba Street is to beware of the Bucket Fountain, which pours water onto many an unsuspecting tourist as they pass by!
Nearby Willis Street then is great for anyone with a sweet tooth, with the cookies in Ti Kouka a particular favourite. No one I asked could agree on where provides the best coffee in Wellington, but that is more down to the burden of choice in Te Aro rather than a lack of options.
If you arrive into Wellington by plane (and are lucky enough to have a coveted window seat) you’ll be immediately struck by the way the city is perched around the bay. The best way to appreciate this is to go down to the Waterfront and take in the view, or better yet, take a boat out into the bay to look back on the city. Fergs Kayaks on Queen’s Wharf sells kayaking gear as well as organising tours of the bay. Land lovers can rest easy as there are plenty of street performers, sculptures and markets to keep you busy. If you head in the opposite direction, you’ll make your way to Oriental Bay, which is a great place for a jog.
Whatever you decide to do at the Waterfront, make sure you wrap up warm! Wellington is known by locals as “Windy Welly” because of the frequent high winds they experience.
Wellington is a town that can most definitely be explored by foot but it is extremely hilly. This is something to factor in if you’re travelling with a lot of luggage or small children so it’s best to look into public transport in case your legs (or theirs) get tired. The Wellington Cable car, which has been in operation since 1902, will take you from Lambton Quay uphill to the Kelburn district. The city’s impressive botanic gardens are at the end of the ride as well as the Victoria University campus.
Wellington is a great city for cycling: downtown there are plenty of cycle lanes while in the suburbs there are plenty of parks and nature reserves for you to spend a day exploring that really show the New Zealand scenery at its best. Head up to the Polhill reserve in the Brooklyn district of the city for some mountain biking where you'll get some spectacular views of the city and the bay.
Alternatively try Tawatawa Reserve at Owhiro Bay in the very south of the island. This area is also home to the Red Rocks walkway along the coast. The distinctive red rocks along the coastline have several Maori folktales attached to them but are also known as the annual home of a somewhat forlorn group of seals: the males who are unsuccessful in finding a mate for the season all retreat to Red Rocks!
twImage courtesy of Long Zheng.
While this next spot is not so much a neighbourhood as a destination, it is still definitely worth a visit. Visit the Zealandia conservation park and take a tour of New Zealand’s natural history. There are walking trails, events and a popular night opening in which you can see the country’s national emblem, the nocturnal kiwi bird in action.
Zealandia may seem like something of a touristy item to include, but the park is a favourite with locals as much as with travellers to the city: locals take great pride in their country’s history and culture and what Te Papa Tongarewa museums is for culture, Zealandia is for nature.
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