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Although Auckland is usually the first stop for many travellers coming into New Zealand, Wellington shouldn’t be missed as it’s still by far one of the most beautiful capitals in the world. It sits right on the water and there’s a young, arty vibe throughout the city. It’s filled with amazing eateries, interesting museums and beautiful views.
I asked some of the top travel creators to name their recommendations on what to do in what’s also known as ‘the windy city’.
Here are 10 unique things to do in Wellington, New Zealand!
1. Check out the street art
Suggested by Jennifer from Backyard Travel Family
If you are looking for something unique to do in Wellington that is a little different than the norm, then why not take yourself on a DIY Street Art tour. Wellington is such a cosmopolitan city, diverse in its people and talents and is particularly strong in art. Adults and kids alike will enjoy scouring the city for the brightest, wackiest and most thought-provoking of murals.
The two best streets to start at are Eva Lane and Opera House Lane right off Courtenay Place in the Wellington CBD. Eva Lane houses the old Hannahs factory (an iconic New Zealand shoe store) and the lane is now filled with boutique businesses such as the Fix and Fogg peanut butter window and the Wellington Chocolate Factory.
The Cuba Street rainbow crossing is also a must-see, celebrating the inclusion of all people in the city. Wellington really does showcase the diversity of its people and cultures. You will find the crossing near the famous bucket fountain on Cuba St.
2. Visit the Botanical Gardens
Suggested by The Invisible Tourist
When I was living in Wellington, one of my favourite things to do was spend time exploring the Botanic Gardens. Unlike other botanic gardens around the world, what makes these grounds so interesting is they’re situated on the side of a hill. I can’t think of another where you need to take a cable car up to the entrance!
With incredible views over Wellington Harbour far below, the Botanic Gardens are forever changing with the seasons, making them a must-see at any time of the year. I love the burst of colour when bulb flowers pop up towards the end of winter, the incredible scent of roses from the award-winning Lady Norwood Rose Gardens in the summer and hues of reds and orange throughout the trees during autumn.
Founded in back in 1844, the 25 hectares of winding paths and themed displays are some of the oldest in the country. A hidden gem within these gardens is the Japanese Peace Garden, where a stone lantern was lit from the fires after the Hiroshima bombing in WWII. Japan gifted the flame to New Zealand for their work in condemning the use of nuclear weapons.
There’s just something so special about getting in touch with nature and the best part is entry into the gardens is free!
3. Take a trip to Zealandia
Suggested by Wales to Wherever
With more than 200 native bird species (some of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world), it’s no surprise that one of the most uniquely interesting things to do in Wellington — and one of the highlights of the entire North Island — is to visit ZEALANDIA, the world-class eco-sanctuary dedicated to the protection and preservation of New Zealand’s native wildlife, flora and fauna.
Due to its isolation, New Zealand has always been an almost predator-free environment. That is, until those pesky English folk came along, bringing with them all sorts of seemingly harmless mammals that in time proved to be fatal for New Zealand’s native species.
The main goal of ZEALANDIA is “to restore a Wellington valley’s forest and freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state”, and to help provide a safe, natural environment for New Zealand’s native animals and plants to thrive and, in some cases, come back from the brink of extinction.
And so far? It’s been a roaring success! Since its inception in 1999, ZEALANDIA has seen the revival of birds such as tūī, kākā and kererū, as well as two of the weird little creatures most synonymous with New Zealand: the little spotted kiwi and the dragon-like tuatara.
This little slice of paradise is perfect for anyone who enjoys bird-watching, anyone travelling with children, or simply anyone who wants to experience a bit of nature in the heart of New Zealand’s delightful capital. At the visitors centre there’s an incredibly interesting museum (included in the ticket price) that teaches you all about the history of ZEALANDIA and its wildlife as well as the history of its namesake Zealandia, ‘the Earth’s lost continent’.
A stone’s throw from Wellington CBD, a free shuttle runs to and from ZEALANDIA throughout the day (pick up points are at the top of the Cable Car or outside i-Site), and general admission tickets are just $21 NZD per adult. The best part? They’re valid for two consecutive days! So if you don’t get to see the entire 225 hectares on your first day, or the weather doesn’t cooperate — just go back!
4. Take a trip to Red Rocks
Suggested by Chur New Zealand
Less than 10km from the Wellington CBD is the southern coastline of the North Island that looks out to the Cook Strait. While you could spend a day exploring the coast, one of the more unique areas is known as Red Rocks (formerly, Sinclair Head). Yes, the rocks are red, and as a bonus it’s the crash pad of choice for a colony of seals year-round.
Despite being so close to the city, you’ll feel like you’re ho
urs away from civilization as you start to make the 4km walk (each way) from Owhiro Bay to the Red Rocks. You’ll be following a 4WD trail along the beach (if you’re super confident you can drive all the way), with the scraggy hillside climbing up next to you.
On a windy day the walk can be brutal with the sand flying, but that only enhances the experience, right?
You’ll know when you reach the Red Rocks, as they’re clearly red, which occurs because of iron compounds. The seals can be hard to spot if the rocks are wet, but they should be within 200 metres either side of the rocks. Once you see one, you start to see many…
For a free activity, this is certainly unique and on a nice sunny day makes for a magical walk. On a windy day, it’s a not so nice walk, but if you’re in up for an adventure you won’t forget it!
5. Visit Makara Beach
Suggested by Travels of a Bookpacker
Wellington is a quirky little city blessed with funky bars and cafes, rugged coastline and amazing bush. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to unique and interesting things to do in Wellington but if you’re looking to get off the beaten path then a trip out to Makara Beach is a great opportunity to experience a lesser-known side of Wellington and get a good dose of fresh air.
You’ll need your own transport to get out there and will need to drive past the end of Karori and off to what seems like a dead-end until you emerge at the wind-swept shores of the West coast. The small beachfront community boasts amazing driftwood collections, a small café and the chance to wander along the beach.
But the highlight is the Makara Walkway, a 6km loop track which takes you up along the ridgeline for stunning views of the coast. It then follows along the side of the wind farm to the gun emplacements which mark Fort Opau used during World War II. You’ll wander your way through farmland and back down to the coast to end up back at the main carpark. Makara Beach and Walkway is an epic day out and unknown even to many locals.
6. Sample the City’s Best Craft Beer
Suggested by Katie from Two Wandering Soles
Wellington arguably has the best craft beer scene in all of New Zealand. If you find yourself traveling around New Zealand’s North Island and you’re a fan of the beverage, you’ll definitely want to make a stop in the self-proclaimed “craft beer capital of New Zealand” and try a local brew (or two!).
With somewhere around 20 breweries (plus bars and restaurants that serve craft brews), beer-lovers will be spoiled for choice. Another great thing about Wellington is that the city is relatively walkable, making it possible to do your own DIY craft beer tour on foot.
Here are some notable breweries to check out in Wellington:
- Heyday Beer Co: Located on a quiet part of Cuba Street, this brewery has a good selection of IPAs, patio seating, and food to boot! Plus, there are gin cocktails for those who don’t like beer.
- Garage Project: The combination of local brews and local art makes this brewery a favorite of Wellington residents and visitors alike.
- Tuatara Brewery: Serving up some tasty burgers, pizzas and curly fries, you won’t have trouble finding grub to go with your beer.
- Black Dog Brewery: Cozy, dog-friendly brewery on Cuba Street with a relaxed vibe.
7. Mount Victoria Lookout
Suggested by Suzy Stories
I always say that one of the best things you can do in a new city is get an aerial view. In Wellington, a great place to do just that is Mount Victoria. The lookout at the summit gives the perfect vantage point to appreciate 360 views over Wellington city and the nearby harbour with ocean views stretching beyond.
Mount Victoria is a beautiful spot for an afternoon of escapism away from the city. The walk itself can take various routes depending on your time and physical restrictions. Generally, the trail requires a moderate level of fitness due to the steep incline, but you can also drive to the top if you prefer.
To get the complete experience, I’d highly recommend embracing the walk to the lookout. Who doesn’t love a sense of achievement to accompany incredible views?! By taking the quickest route (around 30 minutes from the bottom) you’ll enjoy thick forests flanking the track – a beautiful way to be immersed in nature! If you’re after a more scenic route there are longer tracks to take you to the summit with fabulous viewing spots the whole way.
Even better, if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan then you can stop by a genuine filming location from one of the movie’s most iconic scenes – where the hobbits’ hide from black riders beneath tree roots! Who could resist recreating the scene for a fun photo souvenir…
For a free, easy, and highly rewarding activity in Wellington you can’t miss the sweeping landscape views from the Mount Victoria lookout.
8. Fight Trolls and Orcs at the Weta Workshop Tour
Suggested by Alex of Discover Aotearoa
Wellington has many nicknames. Wellywood is just one of them but a very fitting one. Especially the Miramar Peninsula, just a 10 minutes’ drive from the city centre, is the haven in New Zealand for movie buffs.
Peter Jackson, the person behind Lord Of The Rings and many more movies, not only lives on the peninsula but also claimed big parts of the suburb as the headquarters of Weta Workshop and Weta Digital. Walk around the peninsula and explore where a part of King Kong was shot, see the giant outdoor greenscreen and many more things (it’s free and most places accessible unless they’re filming).
The highlight is to visit the Weta Cave. It’s really ‘only’ the souvenir shop of the Weta Workshop but it’s so much more. You get to play around with trolls and take selfies with Gollum.
Don’t miss out on booking the Weta Workshop tour! It’s really more a museum rather than their actual workshop. You get to see props Weta used for previous movies, learn how they make real-looking but lightweight chainmail armour and some other Weta secrets. Get up close and touch the silicone material they’re using to make face masks look so incredibly real.
I’m not a huge fan of the LOTR movie series but I really enjoyed the tour. The fact that you could touch a lot of the props and re-enact a fight with the White Orc made it so much fun! A day dedicated to the arts of movie-making is definitely a must-do in Wellington.
9. Meander around the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Explored by Lee from The Travel Scribes
When you’re sauntering the streets of windy Wellington, one of the last things you’d expect in this slightly sleepy city is one of the world’s best museums. But you’ll find it perched on the water’s edge in the form of the Te Papa National Museum, an absolutely iconic place to visit in New Zealand.
Now we’ve been to too many museums to count but Te Papa is easily in our top 3. The museum not only documents the most fascinating bits of New Zealand’s history but does so in a way that is so interactive and contemporary, offering visitors of all ages the chance to engage with the exhibits. You’ll learn more about everything from the country’s natural heritage in the Te Taiao Nature area, to the volcanic activity still bubbling today in the Realm of Rūaumoko and a fascinating insight into the darker war and battle history.
This last one was the most powerful for us. Simply named: Gallipolli – The Scale of War, this immersive exhibition is easily the best we’ve ever seen. Chronicling the battle of Gallipolli where nearly 3, 000 Kiwis lost their lives, the exhibition is told through the eyes of eight ordinary New Zealanders and, after you’ve wandered the halls, you really feel like each of their stories have personally touched your heart. You’ll find gigantic sculptures, atmospheric music, 3D maps and projections, interactive displays and heart-wrenching film footage, all perfectly curated.
Location: 55 Cable Street, Wellington
Cost: The museum is absolutely free!
Open: 10.00am – 6.00 pm daily
AND another vote for Te Papa Museum!
Suggested by Leah from Officer Travels
If you’re looking to submerge yourself into New Zealand’s history, nature and culture the Te Papa Museum in Wellington is a must! Like most of the museum’s in New Zealand, Te Papa (which translates to ‘our place’) is free to enter and is located in the heart of the CBD.
There are 5 levels to Te Papa that cover a wide range of topics, our favourite being the ‘Blood, Earth + Fire’ section on level 3 that shows you how New Zealand has changed due to natural events such as volcanoes and earthquakes, as well as the changes since the arrival of European settlers.
For the foreign tourists (like us) who are lucky enough to have never experienced a tragic earthquake, the Te Papa museum now has an earthquake simulation. This specially built house allows visitors to learn about the household dangers – such as chimney stacks and unsecured cabinets – while safely experiencing a mid-category earthquake for themselves.
Some of the other levels include Traditional Maoi artwork, remains of the extinct Moa bird, stories from the New Zealand War and even Phar Lap – the most famous racehorse in the world!
This museum really does have something for everyone, whether you’re short on time or have a whole day to kill we highly recommend the Te Papa Museum as one of the best things to do in Wellington!
10. Wellington Museum
Suggested by Rhiannon from Wales to Wherever
Unassumingly housed in an 1892 heritage building along the harbour, if you didn’t know it as there you’d be forgiven for walking straight past what is undoubtedly one of the very best things to do in Wellington for all ages: Wellington Museum.
Often overlooked in favour of the much larger and more well-known Te Papa Museum, Wellington Museum gives you an incredibly intimate view into The Coolest Little Capital and all of its history. Through a combination of interactive displays, audio and visual presentations and the occasional holograph, the museum will take you on a journey through time, all the way from early Māori and European settlements up to the tragic 1968 Wahine maritime disaster, and even as recent as the making of Lord of the Rings.
The museum also gives you a nice insight into all of the city’s little quirks, as well as its local celebrities such as Paddy the Wanderer, a dog who was so loved by absolutely everyone that when he passed he had a drinking fountain erected in his memory.
Wellington Museum does exactly what it says on the tin: it tells the story of Wellington. But it does so in such entertaining and innovative ways that you’ll easily lose hours of your day here. The best part? Entry is completely free!
Tell us below which things to do in Wellington you will pick on your trip to New Zealand!
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