Top tips to explore the capital of New Zealand to the max
When it comes to tourism, Wellington is a city with multiple tricks up its sleeves. New Zealand’s capital offers visitors the opportunity to tour vineyards, lounge on beaches, mooch around museums and to bunny hop from cafe to street food stand to craft beer bar.
And you can’t mention Wellington without talking about Lord of the Rings. The city is a springboard to the filming locations in the blockbuster movie series.
A great way to introduce yourself to the city is by taking the Hop On, Hop Off bus which calls in at Wellington's best attractions including Mount Victoria Lookout, Wellington Zoo, the Wellington Cable Car and more.
Top things to do in Wellington
Get grandstand views from Wellington’s Cable Car
Get up into the gods of Wellington with a ride on the town’s Cable Car. Its cars have been shunting their way up the hillside between Lambton Quay and the suburb of Kelton for more than a century.
The journey only takes five minutes, but once you’re at the top there are a good few hours’ worth of activities to try. Soak up the cityscapes from the lookout points, mooch around the Cable Car Museum, duck into the observatory and meander around the Botanical Gardens before heading back down to sea level.
Image: Wellington Zoo
Have a close encounter at Wellington Zoo
Said to be New Zealand’s first zoo, Wellington Zoo is home to an alphabet of animals. The list includes everything from cheetahs to wallabies and highlights include lions, chimpanzees and rare red pandas.
If you’re a real animal person, you can book onto one of the zoo’s close encounter experiences. These include the opportunity to touch and feed lemurs, and go behind the scenes in the giraffe enclosures with a zoo keeper.
Cruise across the landscape on the Picton ferry
Take a cruise on the ferry between Wellington and Picton on New Zealand's south island. The journey takes passengers through the Cook Strait and into the Marlborough Sounds, a series of sunken river valleys that are flooded with the inky waters of the Pacific Ocean.
This area’s a dead ringer for the Norwegian Fjords, and wooded hills rise up out of its waters like dorsal fins. The ferry also passes the Queen Charlotte Sound, with its biscuit-coloured beaches and resident dolphins and orcas, on its way to Picton.
You can book tickets for the ferry online, in advance here.
Relax in Wellington’s parks
The land around Wellington is a collage of green. There are botanical gardens, parks, nature reserves and bushland where visitors can do everything from hiking to horseback riding.
Just a 40-minute drive from Wellington town centre is Queen Elizabeth Park with its picnic spots, walking trails and dunescapes. Twenty minutes further north still is Nga Manu Nature Reserve, which is home to rare birds, native animals and more than 700 species of local plants.
If you want to squeeze in as many natural places as possible, you can book onto a guided tour that will take you to a range of sites.
Be cultured in Wellington's multitude of museums
Wellington is dotted with museums and art galleries with Te Papa Tongarewa as one of the most famous. Also known as the Museum of New Zealand, its exhibitions doff their caps to the country’s unique cultural makeup and allows visitors to explore and learn about New Zealand’s national identity. Tickets can be booked online here.
It hosts regular temporary exhibitions which put a local spin on international themes – an event like Gallipoli, for example. Other town museums include showcasing contemporary art at the City Gallery, and the New Zealand Cricket Museum gives a nod to the country’s national sport.
Discover the foodie scene
You can eat your way around the clock in Wellington. The town is teeming with cafes and coffee shops that serve locally-roasted coffee alongside light bites, cakes and pastries. In fact, in April 2017 CNN ranked Wellington as one of the top eight worldwide destinations for a cup of java.
Brunch spots are easy to come by in town, too. Imagine dishes like crumpets with bourbon butter and breakfast pizza. Then, in the evenings, the town’s restaurants serve everything from crab to New York-style sloppy joes. Real foodies can book onto foodie walking tours and tasting experiences.
Browse the markets
You can lose hours in Wellington’s markets and there are a few to choose from. Harbourside is the oldest one, popping up on the waterfront every Sunday. Its food-themed stalls are open for business from 7.30am-1pm in winter and 7.30am-2pm in summer.
Wellington’s Underground Market is also held on the waterfront on Saturdays, from 10am-4pm. Exhibiting the talents of local designers, craftspeople and artisans, this market’s stall holders sell everything from beer soap to speciality fudge as buskers play the day away on the periphery.
Wellington Night Market it also worth your time. Street food vendors dish out everything from fresh pizza to Bavarian weiners. Taking place on Cuba Street on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s the place to go for street eats, and live music.
Explore the beaches
There are more than 46 kilometres of beaches in Wellington and Oriental Beach is one of the top coastal stretches. Just a few minutes’ walk from the city, it’s a leash of caramel sand, and its calm waters make it a great place to swim.
Scorching Bay also comes comes highly recommended. This smile of sand is a 20-minute drive from the city centre and there’s a cafe by the beach that serves brunch until 3pm. Other popular beaches include surfer’s favourite Lyall Bay to the south of the city, and Days Bay with their art galleries, delis and cafes flanking the sand.
Short on time? Drink up all the sights and more with a coastline tour.
Drink up the wineries
Wellington stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best wine regions in New Zealand. Just an hour’s drive from the city centre you’ll find Martinborough, which is home to a strip of vineyards called The Golden Mile.
You can take a guided tour of the wineries here, to learn the grape-to-glass process and to put the produce to the taste test.
The region is best known for its plummy pinot noirs, but spicy pinot gris, fruity sauvignon blancs and oaky chardonnays are also produced here. Half- and full-day tours are available with or without lunch.
Get your fanboy/fangirl on with a Lord of the Rings tour
It’s no secret that New Zealand was used to film huge chunks of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings movie series.
Fans of the blockbuster films can take guided tours from Wellington to explore some of the most famous shooting locations. Destinations include the Outer Green Belt where scenes like “Get Off The Road!”, “Race to the Ferry” and “Shortcut to Mushrooms” were filmed.
Most tours also include a visit to the Embassy Movie Theatre where the premiere took place, and a trip to see Peter Jackson’s production facilities at Weta Studios.