New Zealand’s capital offers stunning views of forested peninsulas, dramatic cliff-side homes and fine Victorian buildings. Settled in 1840 by the London-based New Zealand Company, “wonderful, windy Wellington” is frequently buffeted by bracing winds funnelling through Cook Strait. The sophisticated metropolis boasts museums, winding streets and even a cable car. No wonder many travelers compare it to San Francisco.
Despite its steep hills, the city can be easily explored on foot. Kelburn Cable Car, stairways and footpaths climb the slopes from the city center.
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
The country’s national museum is brimming with fascinating exhibits that detail New Zealand’s history. The Te Papa Tongarewa, which means “the place of treasures of this land,” is situated on the waterfront. Once inside this impressive, contemporary building, peruse six levels highlighting art and artifacts from the Maori people, plus enter the colorful marae (meeting house), showcasing magnificent contemporary Maori art and design. There are displays focused on natural history and the environment, as well as the remains of the world’s largest colossal squid-over 14 feet long. History buffs won’t want to miss the Gallipoli exhibition, with life-sized model soldiers, documenting New Zealand’s role in WWI’s infamous Gallipoli campaign against the Ottoman Empire.
Wellington Botanic Garden
One of the oldest botanic gardens in New Zealand, this central city garden was established in 1869 and covers 26 hectares. It offers beautiful formal gardens with lavish floral displays, native bush, and remnants of an exotic forest. Stroll along manicured walkways, visit the serene duck pond set within lush vegetation, Begonia House, award-winning Lady Norwood Rose Garden with over 3,000 roses in 110 beds, and the captivating sculpture garden where some of New Zealand’s foremost artists have sculptures interspersed among the trees.
The Wellington Cable Car runs between Lambton Quay and the top of the Botanic Garden, and it is the most direct way to get from the top part of the garden to Wellington’s Central Business District. The winding hill paths of the Garden are a popular spot for Wellington residents. It is used for walking, jogging and taking children to the playground, and tourists enjoy meandering through the Garden’s many collections via the downhill path to the city.
Wellington Film Locations
In and around Wellington, and at the top of Mt. Victoria, stroll through the landscapes immortalized in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and other films. Experience the Outer Shire, where Frodo and the hobbits began their journey and such scenes as the Race to the Ferry and the famous Get off the Road were filmed. While exploring throughout Wellington, you’ll learn more about areas used in a variety of movies.
The Weta Workshop
Located in Miramar, the Weta Workshop offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the wonderful world of movie-making. From Lord of the Rings to Avatar, King Kong and more, the Weta Workshop tour showcases the many props, costumes, creatures and models from these blockbuster films. Snap a selfie with life-sized sculptures at the Weta Cave (photography is not allowed during the tour), peruse the mini-museum with artifacts from films, and watch an exclusive documentary movie. One of the talented Weta Workshop crew members leads your tour and offers lively, insightful commentary plus a few secrets behind the movie magic.
Seal Colony at Tongue Point
Over 600 native fur seals (fewer during the summer months) call Tongue Point home. Your guide will share his knowledge of these heart-warming mammals as you are escorted to the best spots for photographs. The sea lions are relatively tame, and you will be able to walk through their natural habitat as they are now familiar with human interaction. But remember, don’t approach too close, a fully grown male fur seal can weigh up to 700 pounds and reach 10 feet tall.
Quad Biking Tour
Just 45-minutes outside of Wellington in the lush hills is the trailhead’s starting point. Your quad biking route will traverse the iconic natural landscapes of New Zealand, from native bush and alpine forest to rugged hillsides and craggy shores. Following your guide, along 62 miles of trails, slowly climbing up 2,900 feet to the summit of a mountain peak, often shrouded in a cooling mist. Take in the snow-capped Kaikoura Mountains to the north, the cityscape of Wellington, and the white-sand beaches of Oriental Bay.