Located at the southern end of the North Island of New Zealand, Wellington was named as the coolest little capital in the world by Lonely Planet, and they were bang on. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, and with just over 300,000 residents in the surrounding area, it is the third largest city in New Zealand.
1. Visit Te Papa – the Museum of New Zealand
On February 14, 1998, Te Papa opened and now sees over 25 million visitors a year. It is branded and commonly known as Te Papa and Our Place; as the Maori name “Te Papa Tongarewa” is translated as “the place of treasures of this land.”
The best part about this museum is that it is free for general admission with the exhibitions focusing on the history of New Zealand and Maori culture. There are often touring exhibitions as well, and I have seen Dreamworks animation exhibit with concept drawings and actual artwork from some of the Dreamworks movies such as Kung Fu Panda and Shrek.
One of my favorite exhibits is the colossal squid on display. Caught in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica and donated to Te Papa in 2007, the squid weighs in at 495 kgs (over 1,000 pounds) and is in a lighted display measuring over 6 meters (6.5 yards) long.
2. Walk along the waterfront to Oriental Parade Beach
A short stroll from Te Papa you can walk along the waterfront through Waitangi Park on to Oriental Parade Beach – You really can’t beat Wellington on a good day. This is the motto Wellingtonians live by and on those wonderful no wind days you will find people walking, running, biking along the Parade and even kayaking and swimming around the fountain in the ocean. It’s a great place to enjoy a coffee, people watch or have fish and chips or an ice cream.
There are many walks from Oriental Bay that visitors can do to explore the area. You can walk ‘round the bays’ on your way to Kilbirnie Park, or you can take the Southern Walkway up to the Mt Victoria lookout. The path starts at Oriental Bay Beach, and it’s a moderate climb but worth the views. Its 30-45 minutes to Mt Vic depending on your fitness or you can walk the entire Southern Walkway which is 11 km and takes around 4-5 hours to walk ending in Island Bay with great views of the ocean and the South Island. This walk joins up with the City to Sea walk for the last half on the way to Island Bay.
3. Go up to the Mt Victoria Lookout
Go up to Mt Victoria Lookout – the hills around Wellington are distinctive to the area. Mount Victoria or Mt Vic as its known here offers a great view of the city and is located in the Town Belt. In 1839 the Company Secretary instructed the surveyor to encircle the new town of Wellington with a Town Belt. Traditionally, parks in English cities were owned by wealthy individuals, not the public.
Colonists were coming from industrial cities, and they were hoping that the wellbeing of residents would be improved by having access to parks. The town belt is known as the “lungs of the city.” You will be able to see the airport to the South, the Stadium to the north and the hills of Wellington around you.
4. Take the Cable Car up to the Botanic Gardens
You can take the historic cable car from Lambton Quay up to the Botanic Gardens. You can join the locals on this 5-minute cable car ride which provides dramatic views of the city. There is no better way to experience the charm of Wellington and the easy access to the Botanic Gardens.
At the top of the Cable Car, you will arrive at the Botanic Gardens. The Garden was established in 1868. There are several types of guided walks you can take – Native New Zealand plants, medicinal plants, or birdlife found in Wellington – or you can just take a leisurely stroll down through the rose gardens, the sound shelter, the tulip garden or feed the ducks at the duck pond on your way back down to Lambton Quay.
5. Check out the street art
Wellington has a diverse range of art in public places by local, national and international artists and designers. Public art is all around the city and gardens, including sculptures, memorials, and street art.
6. Try out the world class restaurants
In Wellington, if we’re not talking about politics or the weather we’re talking about food and that makes it a hot spot for unpretentious restaurants. There is even have a festival every August called Wellington on a Plate where restaurants showcase their best set menus for a set price. It’s two glorious weeks of eating out and trying different restaurants.
Wellington is a multicultural city, and every type of cuisine can be found there. Here are a few of my favorite places to go.
Rasa Malaysian – on Cuba Street this is one of my favorite cheap and cheerful eats. Serving both Malaysian and South Indian cuisine, you must try the masala dosa – a wrap with tender pieces of lamb, vegetables, and South Indian spices. It’s the Indian version of a crepe. If you are looking for cheap eat, Cuba Street is the way to go.
Avida Restaurant – on Featherston Street this is one of my favorites after work watering holes and tapas restaurants. There’s nothing like sipping an Otago pinot noir and eating goat cheese puffs with friends at this cool bar that lets you escape and take a trip around the Mediterranean with their selection of tapas.
The Larder – found in the eastern suburbs, Miramar is known as the culinary amusement park for adults with fabulous restaurants and the opportunity to spot celebs that are in town for the latest Peter Jackson movie. The Larder is often listed as one of the top 5 restaurants in Wellington by food critics. I’ve had everything here from caribou to smoked hay parfait (yes, that’s in hay for horses).
Louis Sargeant – For a sweet treat I highly recommend Louis Sargeant. You can stop by and buy any of their patisseries on display or book a table for an afternoon tea which includes a selection of savory and sweet items.
I couldn’t mention some of the best restaurants in Wellington without mentioning the coffee and brunch culture. Coffee is life in Wellington, and the flat white that is now making its way to the US originates in New Zealand. To say we take our coffee seriously is an understatement.
My favorite type of coffee is Havana Coffee, and I love visiting their coffee shop on Tory Street. I also enjoy Flight Coffee and Memphis Belle on Dixon Street offers up lots of character with your flat white.
The brunch culture in Wellington is strong, and whenever I’m meeting friends, I suggest we go to Loretta’s on Cuba Street. This is hands down the best atmosphere and food for a casual brunch. Try the homemade crumpets with honey or the green eggs and ham for a bit of childhood nostalgia.
7. Go to the burbs and visit Weta Caves
For a behind the scenes movie experience every Lord of the Rings fan should check out the Weta Workshop Caves. Based in Miramar and home to Peter Jackson, The Hobbit, and Avatar, the Weta Caves gives you a close up look at the workshop and how they craft some of these blockbuster movies. Learn the secrets behind the movie with these guided tours that leave every half hour and cost $25NZD ($18 USD). Each tour last 45 minutes.
Where to Stay in Wellington, New Zealand
Best Budget Hotel in Wellington, New Zealand – Willis Wellington Hotel
Located in the Cuba Quarter of Wellington, Willis Wellington Hotel is 6 minutes’ walk from Renouf Tennis Centre and Aro Valley, for mountain biking and just 5 minutes’ walk from Wellington’s well-known café and boutique precinct. The waterfront is a 20-minute walk away. It is 10 minutes’ drive from Wellington International Airport.
Each room features a flat-screen TV with satellite channels. Free WiFi is available in public areas and all rooms.
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Wellington, New Zealand – Rydges Wellington
Rydges Wellington is centrally located on downtown Featherston Street and features a unique combination of harbor and city outlooks. The accommodation is ideally located to walk to nearby Lambton Quay, Westpac Stadium, Queens Wharf and Wellington Railway Station.
This 4-star hotel offers rooms for business and leisure guests with the benefits of modern facilities including free WiFi throughout, iPads for guests and fantastic leisure facilities. All rooms feature flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations, and kitchenettes.
Rydges Wellington also houses the award-winning restaurant, Portlander Bar & Grill. Portlander is a grill house concept with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients and superb cuts of meat.
Best Luxury Hotel in Wellington, New Zealand – Intercontinental Wellington
The 5-star InterContinental Wellington is located by the harbor waterfront, just 8 km from Wellington International Airport.
The elegant guest rooms are spacious and well-furnished. All rooms feature a TV with cable channels and a large bathroom with modern amenities and bathrobes. It offers an exclusive club lounge, a fitness center, two restaurants and a bar.
InterContinental’s Chameleon Restaurant offers contemporary cuisine, and the Arizona restaurant offers a Tex-Mex menu. Guests can enjoy a snack and a cocktail at The Lobby Lounge.
About the Writer
Nicole LaBarge got her first taste for travel when she was 16 years old. Ever since then she has been hooked and calls herself a travel-holic. She believes you can travel and have a career and she is halfway to her goal of visiting every country in the world. She is a serial expat living in five different countries to date and is currently based in Wellington. She loves traveling and is currently planning a trip to visit all 12 countries in South America.