Compact, quaint, and often called quirky, Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is an easily accessible city. You’ll quickly see why it’s often dubbed “’the coolest little capital in the world”.
Wellington is nestled among low-slung mountains and verdant forests at the far south of the North Island. You’ll be treated to spectacular views and breathtaking scenery at every turn, from the cerulean hues of Oriental Bay—perfect for a summer sunbathe—to the 360-degree city panoramas at Mount Cook Lookout.
As the nation’s capital since 1865, it’s unsurprising that the city is awash with culture alongside the countless natural wonders. Whether you spend your time admiring the indigenous art of the Māori people or unearthing the secrets behind the silver screen, you’ll find plenty to capture your imagination.
Here are 14 of the best things to do in Wellington, New Zealand.
Visit the Zealandia Sanctuary
New Zealand is ubiquitous with wildlife, so, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most memorable things to do in Wellington is to “meet the natives” at Zealandia.
Arriving at the world’s first fully-fenced ecosanctuary, you’ll be welcomed by birdsong, as rare and indigenous species such as takahē and kākāriki dance in the dense forest canopy above you. On the ground, over 150 kiwis, the curious flightless bird which has given New Zealanders their affectionate nickname, roam free.
This sublime setting, just moments from the city, and yet a world away from the urban lifestyle, is home to important conservation research. For a more in-depth understanding of the biodiversity of New Zealand, you can opt to discover Zealandia with a guide.
Alternatively, simply stroll at your own pace, taking in the native flora, much of which can not be witnessed anywhere else in the world, while admiring amphibians, ranging from green geckos to the prehistoric Tuatara, unusual due to their “third eye” which acts as a sensor.
Ride the Cable Car to the Wellington Botanic Gardens
If the steep streets of Wellington seem daunting, the iconic and historic red cable car, which glides up the hillside of Kelburn to the Botanic Gardens, will offer you a welcome respite. A short five-minute ride on this 120-year-old track brings you high above the city, where exceptional views across the bay await.
On arrival, you’ll be greeted by the fascinating Cable Car museum, worth a quick stop to spot the historic tram and learn the history of the railway. From here, you are just a short stroll from the impressive and assorted plants of the Wellington Botanic Garden, one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand.
This historic area has been cultivated for hundreds of years, initially by the indigenous Te Ātiawa people for food. Nowadays, you can tour an extensive display of well-manicured gardens.
Admire shades of saffron and yellow at the spring tulip display, be in awe of the Lady Norwood Rose Garden, and discover countless botanicals native to New Zealand, alongside collections from across the world.
Admire the Views From Mount Victoria
For further impressive views across Wellington and the bay, take to the walking tracks that climb to the top of Mount Victoria Lookout, perched 643 feet above the city.
Allow yourself two hours for a leisurely return trip to the lookout point, where the reward of 360-degree panoramic vistas across the ocean, harbor, and city is motivation enough to visit.
A popular destination for locals to mountain bike or jog, this is an ideal place to sample daily life among the natural beauty of New Zealand’s capital.
Dive into Māori Culture at Te Papa Tongarewa
Combining the National Museum and National Art Gallery into one facility, Te Papa Tongarewa is far from your typical museum. High-tech interactive exhibits sit alongside halls of exquisite contemporary art, promising both an enlightening and exciting experience.
However, the highlight for many visitors is the chance to become more familiar with Mãori culture, the indigenous people of Aotearoa (the country’s current Mãori name).
As you tour the Mana Whenua exhibition, you’ll learn about the nation’s pre-colonial history through full-size recreations of Teremoe (canoes) and homes. Further exhibits include modern Mãori art and interactive audio-visual displays.
You’ll quickly understand how ancient practices and cultures are still woven into contemporary society in a short space of time.
Experience the Silver Screen at Wētā Cave
Whether you are a movie megafan or simply curious about what goes on behind the scenes of a blockbuster, the Wētā Cave workshop is one of the top things to do in Wellington for families.
While New Zealand’s wild landscapes have appeared in many famous movies, the artisans of Wētā have also crafted costumes, make-up, and inspiring special effects for films shot in locations other than New Zealand.
During the visit, you’ll discover how the magic of the movies comes to life, stand among life-size sculptures and mini-props, and leave with a perfect silver screen selfie.
Tour “The Beehive”
Perhaps one of the most distinctive parliament buildings globally, the locally nicknamed “Beehive” is home to the executive wing of the country’s government.
Unsurprisingly, given the adopted moniker, the twisting building reflects the form of a beehive. While the architectural gem by Basil Spence might divide opinions, it has become a staple on a visit to the nation’s capital city.
As a tour guest, you can step inside some of the parliament building’s legislative chambers and grand rooms while learning a little more from expert guides about how the country’s government operates.
Sample Local Boutique Brews
Since the doors opened in 2011 at Fork & Brewer, Wellington’s first brewery bar, the city has seen an explosion in boutique brews, micro-breweries, and quirky yet cozy tap-rooms.
While the original craft beer bar, complete with some 40 beers on tap poured from the centerpiece barrel-shaped bar, retains a loyal following, you can find many other small and independent breweries across the city.
Head to Garage Project for dark wood walls and eclectic street art, Heyday Brewing Co. for a laid-back Kiwi-style vibe, or sample a beer flight at ever-trendy Fortune Favors Beer.
Discover the Region at the Wellington Museum
Dive into the Wellington region’s stories, history, and myths at the Wellington Museum, formally known as Te Waka Huia o Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho.
Upon entering the heritage building, you’ll immediately step back in time to the 1880s. Dark wood decorates the walls, ceilings, and floors, reflecting the structure’s original purposes as a goods warehouse.
As you wander through diverse rooms of maritime artifacts, opulent carpeted boardrooms, and even an attic housing interactive installations, you’ll not just discover the history of the region – but feel like you are living it.
From the audio-visual projections on the wall to the scent of mahogany lingering in the air, the Wellington Museum will take you on a journey through history with your senses.
Stroll the Wellington Waterfront
Undoubtedly one of the most popular things to do in Wellington, New Zealand, is to walk, or cycle, the harbor’s waterfront—the perfect introduction to the atmosphere of this coastal city.
The wide coastal pathway, a favorite with both locals and visitors, stretches from beyond Oriental Bay, home to an artificial beach, and loops around to the Railway Station.
En route, you can browse boutique stores packed with artisanal crafts, in particular Māori art. Admire public art installations and sculptures, or simply soak up the sun next to the glimmering waters of the harbor, home-made ice cream in hand.
Be sure to start or end your jaunt at Old Saint Paul’s Church, just behind the terminus. This city landmark’s impressive exterior gives way to an enchanting stained-glass-lit interior constructed from six different types of timber.
Taste Your Way Through Hannah’s Laneway
Laneway culture is an essential part of modern Kiwi life, where boutique stores, inventive chefs, and the nation’s love of a good Flat White collide on some of the narrow urban streets. Head straight to Leeds Street, now commonly known as Hannah’s Laneway, for a taste of Wellington’s most recognized laneway.
Take your taste buds on a tour of the city’s finest eats, from Leeds Street Bakery’s gooey salted caramel cookies to the tantalizing cocoa creations at Wellington Chocolate Factory, where delicious New Zealand-inspired flavors reign supreme.
For those without a sweet tooth, Pizza Pomodoro has been serving up high-quality, hand-rolled dough for over 20 years, while fresh brew lovers will find a refreshing draft at Golding’s Free Dive—perfect for a pause on the sheltered deck.
Spot Seals on the Red Rock Coastal Walk
If you are lucky enough to be in Wellington from May to October, then a walk along the coastal path to visit this famous fur seal colony is a must-do.
Located at Sinclair Head, at the end of a relatively effortless coastal trail, you can admire this exclusively bachelor colony from a safe distance, respecting the wildlife as the locals do.
Allow yourself at least half a day to complete the walk; a return trip takes around three hours from the starting point at Owhiro Bay, which is accessible by bus or taxi. The rugged coast and red-colored rocks dating back some 200 million years are reward enough—although the seals are undoubtedly the star of the show.
Venture to the Wairarapa Vineyards
If sipping on Sauvignon Blanc or polishing off a perfect glass of Pinot Noir sounds like the dream day trip, then a visit to the Wairarapa Vineyards is one of the best things to do in the Wellington region.
Martinborough, the hub town of the Wellington wine region, is set among verdant pastures and row upon row of perfectly manicured vines. The journey by car takes a little over an hour; however, to enjoy the tasting tours of the vineyards to the full, opting for a tour is highly recommended so you don’t have to drive.
Once you have arrived in Martinborough, cellar doors are generally a short distance apart.
There are some 30 wineries here, many of which are still privately owned, so you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to wine degustations, or tasting menus complete with pairings. Buy from the source, too, and bring your favorite flavor of Wellington home with you.
Marvel at the Putangirua Pinnacles
Perhaps the best day trip from Wellington on which to appreciate the country’s imposing and diverse landscape, the Putangirua Pinnacles are less than two hours’ drive from the capital.
One of the best hikes in New Zealand, the jagged, fragile, and flabbergasting Putangirua Pinnacles are rock formations that climb high above the terrain, some reaching 50 feet in height.
The Pinnacles have been shaped over more than 100,000 years by heavy rains, which have crafted this collection of gravel hoodoos, a tall, skinny rock spire, leaving an almost otherworldly landscape among the forest.
Hike the Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay Escarpment Track
For an exhilarating walking experience, the Escarpment Track, hugging the rugged and awe-inspiring Kāpiti Coastline, is one of the finest to undertake in the region.
Under an hour by car or rail from Wellington City, this four-hour one-way trip is certainly not for those who suffer vertigo. The trail is often narrow and steep, yet promises sweeping views of Kapiti Island nature reserve for those who tackle it.
Some 400 steps, boardwalks, and picturesque swing bridges complete the trail, and it’s a glorious experience to breathe in the salty ocean air, almost forgetting how close you are to the capital.
Along the track, informative signs will educate you on the local flora, fauna, and the historic sites that New Zealand is known for. Don’t miss the fascinating lizard garden set in a disused quarry—lovingly restored and crafted by volunteers.
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