The capital of New Zealand, Wellington, was our destination on the south end of the North Island after traveling from Auckland on the Northern Explorer train. Considered one of the world’s finest harbors, Wellington is hugged by the Cook Strait from one side and the green hills of Mount Victoria from the other. We don’t often hear about Wellington being the ‘place to visit’ as stories of epic adventures from other parts of New Zealand overshadow its shine. But you’ll be surprised.
It’s been dubbed one of the ‘hottest cities’ by BBC, the ‘coolest little capital in the world’ by Lonely Planet, fondly nicknamed the ‘windy Wellington’ by locals, and self-proclaimed as the culinary capital of New Zealand. That’s a lot of hype to live up to for such a little city.
As you wander around, your eyes are pulled in all sorts of directions by the unique street art. Wellington begs to be photographed, teasing with the overwhelming amount of picture-perfect scenery drenched in colors. There are over 100 outdoor art pieces sprinkled throughout the city. Stumble on colorful graffiti hidden in laneways and admire sculptures along the beautiful waterfront.
We were skeptical at first, but Wellington does indeed pack an impactful punch of culture, history, nature, and cuisine in its compact space. We couldn’t get enough of its palpable creative energy. It earned our tick of approval as the must-visit destination on your trip through New Zealand. And to show you why the city deserves such an impressive array of titles, here are 5 unique things you can do in Wellington.
Wellington Things to Do | YouTube Short
1. Learn about New Zealand at Museum Te Papa
Wellington is best explored on foot. Its compact size makes it incredibly easy to tick off all the important sights in a few days. It’s the culinary world you really need to make time for, but more on that later.
You will find even more art, history, and unusual displays, like the world’s only giant squid, at the interactive and innovative national Museum Te Papa. And even though it is one of New Zealand’s best museums, the entrance is free for all! It’s a great way to spend an afternoon right in the heart of the city. Museum Te Papa was the highlight of the New Zealand capital city for us.
2. Ride the Wellington Cable Car
Aside from offering a darn pleasing pop of red against the shades of green and blue, the Wellington cable car ride is a whole lot of fun. It starts in the Lambton Quay shopping district and whisks you up to the lookout with panoramic city views. The ride is barely 5 minutes long, but what an enjoyable experience it is! And a chance to take postcard-worthy photos of Wellington.
At the top, you’ll also find lush Botanic Gardens, that are also free to enter. Wander around relaxing trails snaking the hilltop, take in the beautiful scenery, and admire the quirky sculptures along the way that make the walk even more enjoyable. We chose to walk back down the hill through the gardens to town, but you can also ride the Cable Car back down.
3. Watch a Stunning Sunset at Mount Victoria
Hike up through pine forests to Mount Victoria at sunset for 360-degree views over the city. Fans of Lord of the Rings will be pleased to learn about a little detour on the way to a spot called Hobbit’s hideaway, where a movie scene was filmed. And if you don’t feel like hiking up, you can take a car or a bus. Either way, the views are worth the effort in the New Zealand capital city.
4. Go on Amazing Outdoor Adventures
One of Wellington’s major advantages is its proximity to nature, and in New Zealand that can only mean one thing – outdoor thrills. Here are three activities you can do, mentioned in order from relaxing to the most adrenaline-fueled.
The Southern Walkway trail is about 6.6 miles and will take you on a scenic walk from the city center to the rugged south coast through Wellington’s best parks and neighborhoods. It’s the perfect morning activity, the place to enjoy a picnic and snap gorgeous photos along the way.
The Remutaka Cycle Trail is one of the best cycling trails in New Zealand, connecting Wellington to Wairarapa. While the entire trail is 71.5 miles, you can do shorter bits according to how much time you have to spare. You could even turn it into a multi-day trip. The trail takes you through railway tunnels, scenic coastlines, and historic sites, starting in Petone, which is only a 15-minute drive from the city center.
And finally, the most exhilarating adventure is located only 40 minutes from Wellington – the Paekakariki Escarpment Track. It’s a chest-gripping trail that involves climbing stairs along ridges and a suspended bridge. The reward? Stunning views of the coast, of course! The 6.2-mile hike can be started either in Paekakariki, heading to Pukerua Bay or reserve and catching the train back to Wellington.
5. Dive Head First into Wellington’s Culinary World
With a title like that, Wellington really sets a traveler’s expectations high. So, what do you think, did the food live up to the hype?
Take. All. Of. Our. Money. Wellington!
You will just have to come and try for yourselves because no amount of mouthwatering descriptions and photos will suffice. There is something to appease every single craving. There is a charming café culture with superb coffee and award-winning restaurants and bars plating up food with beautiful presentations.
Obviously, our short stay was not enough to sample even a decent enough portion of Wellington meals, so please plan accordingly and make up for what we missed. We are afraid you would need quite a bit of time though – apparently, Wellington has more bars and restaurants per capita than New York City!
Here’s an idea!
But if you’ve only got a few days like us, the choice is hard when the standard is set too high. Here is what you do:
- Get stretchy pants
- Join a food tour on day one
- Eat all your meals out
- Go straight to the good stuff and call it a day
And by good stuff, we mean Hannah’s Factory & Laneway – a former shoe factory turned goldmine of artisanal eateries. It claims to be the world’s tastiest laneway, which we wholeheartedly agree with. It is home to some of Wellington’s best eats like Leeds St. Bakery for the best baked goods, Wellington Chocolate Factory for…well, you know, and Golding’s Free Dive for the best brews.
Hike some Trails! (wink, wink)
There is a themed trail for everything! Aside from hiking trails, you can also embark on a wine or craft beer trail. Screenshot a craft beer map and make your way down the list, sampling some of Wellington’s best brew varieties.
Incredible Craft Beer Selection – YouTube Short
As for the wine trail, Wellington is the best starting point to explore. There is over 80% of New Zealand’s wine production right at your door. You get to sip your way through the iconic Martinborough, Marlborough, Wairarapa, and Hawke’s Bay regions. But to do the trail justice, you need around four to six days. Unfortunately, we couldn’t allow that much time for a detour, so we sipped our way through the exquisite collection at Noble Rot Wine Bar instead, arguably the best wine bar in Wellington.
Your only problem will be trying to decide which dining experience was the best and perhaps that you didn’t eat more.
Not only is Wellington an iconic stop you have to make on your New Zealand adventure, but it is also the place to board the inter-island ferry to the South Island, which is where we are heading. The three-and-a-half-hour ferry ride is considered one of the most spectacular ferry crossings in the world! Why? The ferry takes you through the Cook Strait and past mesmerizing scenery of the Marlborough Sounds. It then drops you in the most magical town of Picton and on our way to Christchurch. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. As your final takeaway in preparation for your Wellington experience, give it the time it deserves.
John & Bev,
I love your new travel format…much more informative reading with short video clips mixed in, excellent!
The timing of your Wellington post was perfect. I spent much of yesterday researching the north island in advance of our 2024 trip (north island, then over to SDY for a two week cruise around Australia….our second trip to both countries, but only did the South Island of NZ). We will arrive in AKL and drive south to WLG with stops in Rotorua and Napier along the way. I was only planning one full day in WLG until I read your post. I think I’ll up it to 3-4 now.
Did you write a post about AKL? We arrive there from the US and I’m not sure how many days I want to spend there before starting our drive south.
Finally, Cindy and I just arrived back from our 3 week trip to the Middle East. Excellent journey…interesting history, culture (past and present), friendly people at every turn and good food (although we did come home craving bacon…no pork products for three weeks, ha). Let me know if you’d like to read more about our experience.
All the Best,
Thanks so much. Glad you like the new format. The video shorts are a great way to not only capture our memories, but share more places for our readers. Thanks for following along. John and Bev