Located on the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, Wellington is a great place to spend some time while in this beautiful country. Known as the windiest city in the world, there’s plenty to do in this cool little capital. Whether you want to immerse yourself in its rich and diverse culture or explore the incredible nature, you’re sure to find something great to do. Here I will be sharing with you the best places to visit in Wellington, that I have discovered from living in the city for the last 3 years.
Must Visit Places in Wellington
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1. Zealandia Ecosanctuary
If you love wildlife, especially New Zealand wildlife, then Zealandia is a must place to visit. This ecosanctuary is home to over 40 rare and vulnerable species of New Zealand wildlife. The 225 hectare conservation project is the most bio diverse stretch of land on mainland New Zealand.
Zealandia gives an insight into what New Zealand was like before human beings set foot on the land. Before the M?ori arrived to New Zealand in the 1300’s and the Europeans settled here in the 1800’s, the country was a very different place. The country had been isolated for so long without any pests or predators. This meant it was unlike anywhere else in the world with an abundance of flora and fauna found only in New Zealand.
When the Europeans settled they introduced pests such as rats and stoats to the land. These pests have almost decimated the native wildlife in New Zealand. Lots of species are now extinct with many others only surviving due to having populations on the islands off the coast of the mainland.
Zealandia has the goal to restore Wellington’s wildlife back to its pre human state. The ecosanctuary is fully fenced and this means it is 100% predator free, making it a safe place for the native wildlife to flourish. Inside the sanctuary there are over 40 different species of bird including the kiwi, which is a national symbol of New Zealand. There are also lots of reptile species including the ancient tuatara, hundreds of plant species and many different kinds of invertebrates.
2. Movie Tour at Weta Workshop
Wellington is a great place for movie lovers, not only will you find some amazingly unique cinemas but it is also the home of Weta Workshop.
Weta Workshop is an Oscar winning special effects and props company. The company are best known for their contribution to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, helping Peter Jackson bring his vision to life. They have worked on other notable films such as Avatar, King Kong, Indiana Jones, The Chronicles of Narnia, plus many more.
What makes Weta Workshop really special is the fact that you can go behind the scenes and see for yourself exactly what they do. They offer a number of tours of the workshop so you can learn exactly how they are able to bring imaginary worlds to life. They also run some hands on workshops where you can learn about sculpting, special effects make up and many other interesting techniques. Visiting Weta Workshop is an experience you will remember for a long time.
3. Mount Victoria Lookout
The best way to see this great city in all its glory is from the top of the Mount Victoria Lookout. There are a few walking tracks that you can use to access the lookout point, straight from the city centre. Try the Southern Walkway if you are down by the water’s edge at Oriental Bay. If you are closer to the city you can use the Lookout Walkway which starts on Majoribanks Street.
At the top of the lookout all your hard work will be rewarded with panoramic views of Wellington Harbour, the city and the South Pacific Ocean. On a nice clear day the views are incredible so it’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular tourist hotspots in the city.
If the walk to the top of the lookout point sounds a little daunting you need not worry, it is also possible to reach the top of the lookout by car.
The Hiking Trails
Every time I hit the hiking trails in Wellington I am always amazed by how easy it is to access amazing nature so close to the city center. There are countless trails in the Wellington area and some of the best ones can be accessed right from the city itself.
The Skyline Walkway and Northern Walkway are arguably the two best trails in the area. This is because both these tracks will have you climbing to the top of Mount Kaukau. The views from Mount Kaukau are truly special, look to the south and you will see the city and harbour. To the north you will be able to see the Tararua Ranges and if it’s a clear day, to the west you may be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the South Island.
The Escarpment Track, which is a short drive or train ride from the city, is another great option. Along the track you will be treated to some extraordinary views of the Kapiti coastline. The highlights of the trail are two spectacular swing bridges that hang above a long drop to the ground below.
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Te Papa Tongarewa is the national museum of New Zealand. The museum is open to the public free of charge and has six floors of creative and interactive exhibits depicting the country’s remarkable past. Te Papa is actually the most visited museum in both New Zealand and Australia, which gives you an idea of how popular it is. It’s a fantastic place for visitors of all ages to learn about New Zealand’s history of art, culture, and science.
Although New Zealand’s history is relatively short in comparison to many other places in the world, it certainly is very interesting. The museum places great value on telling the story of New Zealand’s indigenous M?ori people with many permanent exhibitions. The museum is also constantly adding temporary exhibitions so you are sure to find something new every time you go. See more information on the museum at their website.
Visit the Wellington Botanic Gardens
If you’re looking for a relaxed way to spend some time in Wellington then you will want to check out the Botanic gardens. Throughout the gardens you will find many self-guided trails that will help you travel through the 25 hectares of colourful specialized plant collections.
The Wellington cable car connects the Wellington CBD to the top of the Botanic gardens where you will find a lookout point. This is another great place to take in the great views of the harbour and city.
If you’re looking for a slightly unusual activity, the gardens are actually home to some glow worms. Guided glow worm tours run at various times throughout the year. The best time to see them is during spring, right after it has rained. Visit Wellington Botanic Gardens for opening hours and information.
The Craft Breweries
The art of brewing craft beer is something that Wellington has embraced wholeheartedly. There are countless breweries in the city, all doing their part to make the best and most interesting beer possible. The best beer in the country can be found here which is why it’s commonly referred to as the craft beer capital of New Zealand.
Notable breweries in the city include Parrotdog, Fortune Favours, Garage Project, Fork and Brewer, and Heyday as well as countless others. Most of the breweries double up as bars so you can enjoy your beer right from the source itself. Brewtown, which is located just outside of the city in Upper Hutt, is a very popular spot for beer lovers. It’s home to five Wellington breweries and also a distillery.
If you want to take your love of craft beer to the next level, I suggest you take a tour of the Parrotdog brewery. On the tour you will get to see how Parrotdog brew their beer, learn all about the brewing process, and enjoy five little tasters throughout. It’s a great experience, even for the most knowledgeable beer connoisseurs.
Beer is not the only beverage that this city has gone mad for! Wellingtonians are also obsessed with great coffee, which goes someway to explaining why there are over 300 cafés throughout the city. The coffee and café culture in Wellington is a big part of its identity; without coffee this city truly wouldn’t be the same.
Many of the country’s top coffee roasters started and are based in Wellington. The most well known roasters include Coffee Supreme, Havana, Peoples and L’affare. Each of the roasteries has its own café located in the city and these are among some of the best places to get your caffeine fix.
With the competition so high in Wellington, it means the quality of the coffee and the cafés is very high too. At most cafés you will find a combination of great coffee, good food and a quirky but very warm atmosphere. Some of Wellington’s most popular cafés include Customs by Coffee Supreme, Milk Crate, Swimsuit, Prefab, Fidels, The Hangar and loads more.
Visit Maitu/Somes Island
Maitu/Somes Island is the largest of the three islands within Wellington Harbour, it’s just a short boat ride away from the city. Nowadays the island is a predator free scientific reserve that welcomes visitors but this wasn’t always the case.
The island has a rich and multicultural history that spans back to when the first Maori people arrived in Wellington. The island acquired its Maori name from Kupe who named the island after his niece, Maitu. Kupe is believed to be the first Polynesian to have discovered the islands of New Zealand.
In more recent times the island was used as a human quarantine station to stop the spread of diseases when the settlers were arriving in Wellington in the 1800’s. It was also used as an internment camp during both world wars, a military defence position, and as an animal quarantine station.
Pests have been eliminated from the island, making it a safe place for the native wildlife to thrive. You will find many birds, reptiles and invertebrates including tuatara, weta and the little blue penguin on the island. There are a number of walking tracks to explore that will take you around the whole island where you will be able to enjoy the views of the harbour and city.
Otari Wilton’s Bush
As you may have already figured out, Wellington has a lot of beautiful places to explore and Otari Wilton’s Bush is no exception. On the 100 hectare piece of land you will find over 1,200 native plant species. All the plants have been grown almost entirely from cuttings or seeds from the mainland of New Zealand and offshore islands.
The area is very beautiful and is a great place to escape the urban life of Wellington. Although it is a very stunning place, one of the main aims of the project is to help conserve threatened species of native plant life. Threatened species are either kept in the gardens or replanted in the wild once matured.
tari Wilton’s Bush has a total of 11km of walking tracks throughout the area, enough to have you exploring for the majority of the day. Once you are done exploring, you can head to one of the picnic areas for some well-deserved lunch. If you fancy a barbecue, make your way to the Troup picnic area where there are two electric barbecues which are free to use.
Obviously there is no shortage of outdoor activities to keep you occupied around Wellington. However, if you want to experience some of the city life you should check out Cuba Street.
This street runs right through the middle of the city and is packed full of culture. The street is almost 1km in length, along it you will find restaurants, cafés, bars, record shops, bookshops, music venues, vintage clothing stores and a unique fountain made of buckets! The street is well known for it’s quirky and bohemian vibe, which is apparent in many of the businesses along the street.
If you’re looking for a café to relax at, try out Fidels or Olive, both are great brunch spots. Laundry, which is a former laundrette, is a great place to grab a drink and a bite during the evening. However, if you’re feeling extra fancy, Logan Brown provides a fine dining experience you will love.
Visit the Beaches and Bays
Thanks to Wellington’s location, it is home to many stunning beaches and bays. The nearest bay to the city center is Oriental Bay, which is just a short stroll from the CBD. This is a lovely place for a walk along the water’s edge where you can take in the views of the city across the harbour. During the summer months the man made beach here is usually packed full.
A little further from the central city you will find Lyall Bay, Island Bay, Scorching Bay and even further afield, Days Bay in Eastbourne. Lyall Bay is Wellington’s inner city surf beach, it’s located on the opposite side of the land to the harbour so the waves here are perfect for surfers. Scorching Bay has arguably the nicest beach in Wellington, the sand is golden and the water is crystal clear.
If you don’t fancy a swim or a trip to the beach, a drive around the bays is another great way to see the coastal side of Wellington.
Day Trips from Wellington
Although there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained in the city, there are actually a lot of really cool places just a short drive from Wellington city. The Wairarapa region located to the east of Wellington has lots of interesting places to visit.
In the Wairarapa you will find a few really nice quaint towns to visit such as Masterton, Carterton, Greytown, Featherston and Martinborough. Castlepoint is another great place to visit deep in the heart of the Wairarapa. Here you will find vast beaches, a beautiful coastline and one of two remaining beam lighthouses in New Zealand.
Martinborough is a particularly nice place to visit if you enjoy a fine wine. There are over 20 wineries in the area and it is actually part of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. A popular activity during the summer months is cycling between the wineries, sampling the delicious wine on offer. Some of the country’s best pinot noir can be found here so it is a must visit for wine lovers.
If you want to experience even more amazing nature, there are plenty of superior walking and hiking tracks to be found. The Remutaka Forest Park has lots of family friendly trails such as the Orongorongo Track. You will also find the Remutaka Rail Trail which is a gently graded mountain bike route. If you are looking for something a bit more advanced the Tararua Forest Park has a plethora of superior walking tracks through the wild and untamed landscape.