Windy Wellington has made many best-of lists recently from places like Lonely Planet, who tout New Zealand’s capital as one of the world’s most livable cities. But Wellington is also a great destination for travelers passing through on a cruise for its abundant nature, informative and quirky museums, and a burgeoning film industry that makes for exciting tours of faraway, fictional lands.
Start your day in nature at the Wellington Botanical Garden or at protected wildlife sanctuary Zealandia, just two special attractions that highlight New Zealand’s commitment to the natural environment and animal conservation. Learn the history of the Maori at Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. Hike the walking trails to the top of Mount Victoria in the afternoon, where the overlook offers a seaside and cityscape view that’s hard to beat but easy to photograph. Wellington is a delightful, walkable city, and the way that locals care about their city will certainly stand out while you’re traveling on your New Zealand cruise.
Conservationists and animal lovers will rejoice when they go to Zealandia, a massive ecosanctuary dedicated to protecting endangered species that are native to New Zealand. It’s the only fenced-in urban eco-sanctuary in the world. Take a guided tour to spot rare birds like the spotted kiwi and the kaka, or the curious tuatara - an ancient reptile. If you have time, a night tour is a must to experience the nocturnal creatures there.
This former 19th century store is now a charming, small museum dedicated to the maritime history of Wellington and the history of the Maori who first lived in the area. It’s a good way to experience Wellington’s quirky personality in just one stop.
Experience a full day in Wellington’s nature when you head to the Wellington Botanical Garden, a paradise in the middle of a compact metropolitan area. This is one of the most treasured green spaces in the city. Wander through the Lady Norwood Rose Garden or sip tea at the garden’s café.
Mt. Victoria is one of Wellington’s most memorable sights, and it’s a tradition for travelers to climb the nearly 650-foot mountain paths on the way to a panoramic view of Wellington’s skyline and the sea. For accessibility, look for the No. 20 bus, which takes passengers up to the lookout point and back to the foot of the mountain.
Wellywood, as the locals call their version of Hollywood, is well within reach during your Wellington cruise, especially at the glamorous Embassy Theatre. This art deco style theater was built in the 1920s, and it’s still delighting movie goers today. Stay for a cocktail at the Black Sparrow bar in the back.
Weta Workshop is the birthplace of some pretty incredible movie magic, providing the special effects for many Hollywood blockbuster films. You can learn about their processes in a 45-minute tour of the props and costumes, check out the curiosities for sale in the Weta Cave, and take photos with the trolls at the front door. It’s a must-do experience for movie buffs and Hollywood fans.
Hippopotamus Restaurant & Cocktail Bar
Address: 90 Cable St, Te Aro, Wellington 6011, New Zealand
Right across the road from Te Papa Museum, QT Hotel is the trendy, high-end destination for cocktails, shared plates and fine dining. Ground level Hot Sauce is the place for cocktails and shared plates with an Asian influence, or for a top dining experience check out Hippopotamus Restaurant & Cocktail Bar. Upstairs in QT Wellington Hotel, Hippopotamus offers breakfast, lunch, high tea, and dinner with views of Wellington Harbor from the windows. French-inspired menu items, from seared salmon to le filet de bœuf, a 55-day aged beef dish, are must-tries.
Address: 181 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington 6011, New Zealand
Head to Loretta’s on Cuba Street for a casual lunch featuring local flavors and delicacies you wouldn’t expect, like rabbit risotto or a wild boar ragu. They also serve breakfast items and standard oven-fired pizzas. Top off your meal with ice cream or gelato for dessert.
Address: 192 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington 6141, New Zealand
Logan Brown is the spot where you’ll want to go for a special occasion or when you’re all dressed up. The menu is creative and cleverly executed, and you can choose from the chef’s choice menu of five courses or go a la carte, where you can enjoy shucked-to-order oysters, onion tartlets, or gin-cured salmon with charred beets.
Address: 6 Swan Ln, Te Aro, Wellington 6011, New Zealand
This wine bar specializes in handpicked wines and the art of finding the perfect pairing. For wine lovers, this is a must in Wellington for its nearly 500 wines to choose from. The seasonally changing menu features charcuterie and cheese boards, oysters, or main dishes from wild venison to the comforting house lasagna.
The Maori were the first residents in the Wellington area, dating back as far as the 11th century. Europeans colonized New Zealand in the early 19th century. Wellington became New Zealand’s capital in 1865 but the city was a bustling trade hub several decades before becoming the capital. Nearly half a million people live in Wellington today, and it’s grown in status and renown throughout the years. Beyond trade and international commerce, Wellington is also a center for the film industry in New Zealand. Today, Wellington consistently makes “top places to live” lists, and it continues to charm visitors despite its often windy weather.
Your Wellington cruise ship docks in Centre Port, sometimes at Queen’s Wharf cruise terminal or Aotea Quay. Bigger ships dock at Aotea Quay, and then travelers can take a free shuttle to Lambton Quay, or walk into downtown Wellington on foot, which is about a half hour’s walk away. The ports are typically equipped with standard amenities like Wi-Fi, an information desk, and an ATM.
There’s no shortage of ways to get around on your Wellington cruise. If you’re sticking to the city center, the major downtown destinations are walkable. Nothing is more than a 15 to 20-minute walk from one side of the city’s downtown to the other. The train system mostly caters to getting to the suburbs of Wellington, not for inner city navigation. Taxis are available and Uber operates in Wellington as well. There are also bike and car rentals for visitors. Bike tours are increasingly popular with tourists on a Wellington cruise.
Because the downtown area of Wellington only spans about a mile, shopping options in Wellington are easily walkable from one boutique to the next. From local wine stores to locally-made fashions, Wellington has a cosmopolitan shopping reputation. The best shopping in the area is called the “Golden Mile,” which includes the streets of Lambton Quay, Willis Street, Courtenay Place, and Manners Street. High-end fashions and international names rule the streets along the Golden Mile. For vintage digs, check out the independent shops and tiny cafes dotting Cuba Street.
In New Zealand, the official currency is the New Zealand dollar. Credit cards are generally accepted in most places. Carrying extra cash isn’t necessary, but it can be helpful to have a little cash on hand for small purchases. The practice of tipping isn’t customary in New Zealand, but you can feel free to round up to the nearest New Zealand dollar (NZ$) if you had great service. There isn’t typically a service charge on any of the bills you’ll get when docked on your Wellington, New Zealand cruise.