There’s a fair bit on offer in New Zealand’s capital city, from exciting nightlife to one of the country’s best museums and Lord of the Rings experiences. I spent two full days in the city and here are my top 10 things to do in Wellington.
Mt Victoria offers fantastic views over the harbour and central business district of Wellington. You can climb the 192 m or take the #20 bus on week days. The woods around this area are also home to a number of the locations for memorable scenes from the Lord of the Rings movies. Film buffs will enjoy trying to find them. If you’re not up for the challenge, you should book yourself onto a Movie Tours experience with Adventure Safari, where you will be shown film clips on location before being given the opportunity to pose as Frodo and friends with various props! It’s more fun if you’re not afraid to get a bit dirty or make a fool of yourself.
Wellington is the home of New Zealand’s film industry, and counts Peter Jackson and James Cameron among its residents. Weta Cave showcases some of the characters and props from hit movies such as Lord of the Rings, King Kong and District 9. You will be shown behind-the-scenes interviews with Weta’s cofounders and can now take part in a ‘Window into Workship’ session, during which the artists and engineers responsible for some of film’s most incredible models show you the tricks of the trade. Weta Caves can be visited independently or as part of the Movie Tour mentioned above.
TE PAPA MUSEUM
Te Papa has got to be New Zealand’s best museum. If you want to see everything it has to offer, you’ll need to set aside at least a day. You can experience a simulated earthquake inside a makeshift house, leave your mark on a giant interactive wall in the multimedia centre ‘OurSpace’ or marvel over a colossal squid that was caught accidentally by a fishing boat in Antarctica in 2007. On other levels, you can learn about Maori history and the Treaty of Waitangi or take in some national art.
Wellington’s cable car takes you to the Botanic Gardens and its final stop gives you fantastic views over the city and the harbour. Open till late and just $4 each way, you might choose to ride it to the top and stroll back down at your leisure. Its shiny red cable cars depart from Cable Car Lane every 10 minutes.
As well as being one of the best places in Wellington to get a great panoramic view of the city, the Botanic Gardens offer a maze of walking tracks with information on the local flora and fauna. For me, the highlight was all the sculptures that are dotted around. You could climb inside the one pictured below and listen to the amplified sounds of the city.
A trip to the Carter Observatory is well rewarded. They have an interactive exhibition where you can touch moon rock or feel what it might be like to be part of a rocket launch. I enjoyed discovering that this telescope with pride of place in the observatory was actually made in my hometown of York, England and shipped over in 1905! If you have time, you can enter the planetarium for an interesting video about the possibility of life on other planets (narrated by Rupert Grint) and an explanation of the Southern Hemisphere constellations.
Cuba Street is crowded with bars and restaurants and is one of Wellington’s top spots for a bite to eat or a few drinks in the evening, along with Courtenay Place. Although there are a fair number of Cuban-influenced establishments on the street, it was actually named after an emigrant ship. Along with the nightlife are second-hand book shops, record stores and retro fashion outlets. You also can’t miss the colourful bucket fountain, especially if it splashes you unexpectedly as you pass by.
A stroll along Lambton Harbour is a must in Wellington. From here, you can appreciate the magnitude of the city’s skyscrapers, while taking in sights such as the Hikitia – believed to be the world’s oldest steam-powered crane ship. The Hikitia saved the city’s waterfront from destruction during World War II when it removed cargo from a US supply ship loaded with munitions that had caught fire.
FRANK KITTS PARK
This little park was one of Wellington’s first waterfront areas to be developed. As well as a fantastic sculpture by Len Lye called the Water Whirler, which throws water droplets in dramatic arcs from a pier, there’s this interesting piece of art, which lights up different colours at night time and plays relaxing music as it blows in the wind.
Ok, so I cheated a little bit here. Sadly, I didn’t have time to visit Wellington Zoo myself, so this is a photo from a safari I went on in Tanzania. The zoo in Wellington has plenty to offer though. In addition to simply wandering around and viewing the cuddly animals, you can sign up for a close encounter with cheetahs, lions, giraffes, red pandas or meercats. They even offer a sleepover option, including animal feeding and behind the scenes tours.
GETTING TO WELLINGTON
Intercity Buses provide services to Wellington from the following popular destinations (rough times in brackets): Taupo (6 hours); Hamilton (9 hours); Auckland (11 hours). Further transfers are available from these locations. For travel to the south island, you can book the InterIslander Ferry (3.5 hours). Use the tool below to search for specific bus journeys or click through to their home page for flexible passes and information on tours and activities.
WHERE TO STAY
There are plenty of backpacker hostels in Wellington, mainly centred around the same area near Courtenay Place. I spent a few nights in X Base. The dorm room was warm and comfortable and the hostel provided pay-as-you-go internet, washing powder for the laundry room and plenty of recommendations and local travel advice. They also booked me a transfer bus to the InterIslander Ferry the day I left.
I was a guest of Adventure Safari and received a tour of the Carter Observatory as part of my partnership with 100% Pure New Zealand. They did not request that I write a favourable review and any opinions expressed here are my own.