The Ultimate Guide to Wellington, New Zealand
Kia ora! New Zealand is one of those stunning bucket list destinations with so many things to do and see that it can be overwhelming. I like to think of Wellington as the friendly, multicultural, foodie paradise heart of the nation. With a vibrant food scene, plentiful museums and tons of activities to discover, there is so much to love in New Zealand's capital city and it’s worth spending a few days to soak it all in. Its location at the southwestern tip of the North Island means that you also have a great jumping off point for the rest of your journey when you are ready to explore the rest of Aotearoa more fully.
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Where to stay in New Zealand
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Things to do in New Zealand
GET SOME CULTURE
Te Papa Museum is considered by many locals to be the one museum you should visit in Wellington. I highly recommend visiting the fourth floor to learn about Maori history and checking out the wharenui (Maori meeting house). There is a ton of art and it’s easy to get lost for hours inside!
City Gallery Wellington is a contemporary art lover’s dream. This museum hosts frequent rotating exhibitions featuring New Zealand artists, inspiring lively conversation and debate among locals.
Wētā Workshop is the creative force behind some of the the physical effects and creatures featured in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar, King Kong and more. Admission to the Wētā Cave and mini museum is complimentary; however, there are more in depth tours of the workshop itself available for true film buffs.
SEE SOME SIGHTS
The Wellington Cable Car takes you from the city center through several terraced stops to the top of Kelburn lookout. Be sure to stop at Talavera station on the way up for a great photo opp on the bridge! For the exceptionally curious, tours of the cable car’s winding room are available daily from 1:00-3:00pm at the final stop at Kelburn. Once you have finished marveling at the vista, there are a lot of fun, if somewhat touristy options nearby to explore.
Frank Kitts Park is a great place to take a stroll and breathe in some sea air! Be sure to check out the sculpture garden for some incredible art including the famous Fruits of the Garden sculpture.
If you’re up for a bit of a workout, hike to the top of the Mt. Victoria lookout. You’ll be treated to panoramic views of the city and wharf below, and if the weather is clear, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the South Island in the distance.
Be sure to stop by Cuba Street and check out the Bucket Fountain. This colorful kinetic sculpture is made of buckets filled with water that spill into more buckets below. It’s known for splashing people, too, so keep your distance if you want to stay dry, especially if it’s windy! Cuba Street also has a multitude of artsy, funky, independent shops, bars and restaurants worth visiting and you can usually find several street performers doing their thing there.
While you’re out and about, take lots of pictures of the incredible street art! It can be found pretty much everywhere, but is especially concentrated near the Cuba St. district.
ENJOY SOME NATURE
The Wellington Botanic Garden is a stone’s throw from the Kelburn cable car stop and is a plant-lovers’ paradise. I recommend setting aside some time to view (and sniff!) the fragrant garden and herb gardens. From November - March, the Lady Norwood Rose Garden is a beautiful sight to behold as over 300 varieties of roses are in blooming season.
Otari-Wilton’s Bush features around 1200 varieties of plants native to New Zealand. Be sure to check out the Threatened Species Garden for a glimpse of some plants you just won’t find elsewhere, and stop by the Fernery for a stunningly peaceful experience.
Maitu/Somes Island is a wildlife sanctuary smack dab in the middle of the Wellington harbor. After visiting the visitors’ center and educational buildings, you can walk the perimeter of the nature preserve, take a swim on the beach and even view gun emplacements that were built on the top of the island during World War II.
If you love animals, check out Zealandia, a 500-acre, fully fenced-in sanctuary home to some of the rarest species of New Zealand wildlife. This forest within the city offers multiple tours during the day and evening!
GET OUT THERE
Wellington also offers a lot of tours and activities to expand your horizons beyond the city. If you are interested in mountain biking, whitewater rafting, rope swinging or guided hikes, these can easily be arranged.
If you’re willing to drive a little further north, check out Staglands Wildlife Preserve. It’s about an hour north of Wellington and in the middle of a twisty mountain road, but so worth it for the free-roaming chickens and peacocks and trout pond. Time your visit so that you can join the free lunch-time feed tour and you’ll be able to feed some of the wildlife yourself while learning about their conservation efforts!
For those who love food and wine, take a day tour to the Wairapa and Martinborough region. There are plenty of wineries, chocolatiers and cheese factories to discover, and you will be treated to some absolutely lovely views of the North Island mountain ranges along the way.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fanatic, don’t just stop at Wētā Workshop; take a half-day or full day tour to some of the iconic filming locations, including Hobbitton.
Places to eat & drink in New Zealand
WHERE TO EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY
Fidel’s Cafe is a Cuba St. haven for a delicious breakfast and Cuban coffee. Their cheese scone is honestly one of my favorite things I have had in New Zealand!
Scorch O’Rama is a deliciously hipster seaside spot. This place offers up creative breakfast and lunch fare with several gluten-free and vegan options. The menu names are fantastic: If you’re somehow still hungry after downing a Scorch-O-Rama Lama Ding Dong (really), order one of their famous milk shakes with chocolate bars floating inside to top you off.
Egmont St. Eatery used to be a parking garage hidden in a laneway. Now it has a rotating menu focused on local ingredients and they gladly accommodate dietary restrictions.
The Botanist is your vegetarian-friendly haven! They make their own bread and seitan on-site, and offer plant-based brunch, lunch and afternoon snacks.
Field & Green serves up European dishes with a fusion of Jewish comfort cuisine. Save room for their legendary ice cream and sorbet!
Havana is an intimate gem of a tapas/dinner/cocktail spot housed inside of two historic cottages.
The Chippery isn't your typical fish and chips stop. This place sources their fish from local fisheries and uses local craft beer to make their signature beer batter. On any given day, you can select from 4-5 different types of fish, three different breading options (including gluten free!) and local soft drinks. Try the Pheonix apple/feijoa drink!
Hiakai features Māori and Pasifika cuisine and beverage pairings with a sustainable, zero waste philosophy. With a seasonal menu highlighting indigenous ingredients paired with drinks crafted almost exclusively with spirits, wines and beers from New Zealand, this is a dining experience that you just won’t be able to get on any other continent. Reservations can be tricky to get, so reach out well in advance if you want me to book this for you!
Hippopotamus serves French Fusion with incredible views of the harbor and city. Open for breakfast, dinner and weekend high tea, the decor is a maximalist’s dream come true: expect lots of chandeliers, a whole bevy of pink/paisley upholstery, and some of the most beautifully surreal printed plates I’ve ever seen. Be sure to stop by the mirrored bar for a pre-dinner cocktail to check out their menu of Negroni experiences.
Tommy Millions is a pizza with a cult following. Located in Courtenay Place, it is a frequent stop for club-goers on their night out.
Midnight Espresso is a Cuba St. institution that offers cheap yet delicious food, pastries and coffee until 1:00am. It’s a great place for music and people watching, too.
Wellington is well-known for their craft beer scene and is considered the craft beer capital of New Zealand.
If you’re feeling especially adventurous, there are multiple tour options to bring you to the best of the best within the city.
For the ambitious enthusiast, the Craft Beer Capital challenge is an 18-stop scavenger hunt of some of the city's most loved breweries and brewpubs. Folks who complete the challenge are eligible to receive a certificate and commemorative T-shirt to celebrate their love of craft beer.
Need to Know
Looking to explore more of New Zealand? Check out Caitlyn's guide, What to do Outdoors in Christchurch, New Zealand: 4-Day Itinerary.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to New Zealand.