Quite possibly the most underrated city in New Zealand, Wellington is a must see place if you happen to be in this beautiful country. Known as ‘the coolest little capital in the world’, Wellington is fuelled by its creative culture. It’s a place where the city meets nature in the most perfect way; whatever you like you’re sure to find it here. It has great food, a unique craft beer culture, the best coffee, plus loads to keep you busy. Here is a list of my 15 awesome things to do in Wellington that I have discovered from living in this cool capital over the last three years…
Visit Zealandia Wildlife Ecosanctuary – one of the best things to do in Wellington for nature lovers
Zealandia is a place you won’t want to miss while you’re in Wellington. It’s an amazing urban ecosanctuary conservation project focused on reintroducing native wildlife back into the area.
Due to its isolation, New Zealand was once a place full of remarkable flora and fauna not seen anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, since the introduction of humans to the land around 800 years ago, the plants and wildlife living here have almost been destroyed. This was especially the case when the first Europeans arrived to New Zealand in the 1800s, bringing with them a multitude of pests that have devastated the native species.
Zealandia however, has a vision to restore the sanctuary back to the way it was before the arrival of humans. It has a square mile fully fenced area to keep out pests and predators so that the native wildlife can flourish here. Inside the sanctuary, there are over 40 species of native birds, 24 of which are found nowhere else in the world, such as the little spotted kiwi, tūī and kākā. There are also dozens of reptiles, frogs, and invertebrates such as the tuatara who are the last surviving reptiles that thrived in the age of dinosaurs.
All the wildlife is free-roaming and some of the birds from the sanctuary have actually been found as far as 100km away. However, most of the wildlife stays put in the sanctuary because of the safe environment that has been created for them.
Explore Te Papa Tongarewa the Museum of New Zealand – an awesome cultural attraction in Wellington
Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand’s national museum and holds the title of the most visited museum in both New Zealand and Australia. The museum is free to enter and has six floors of innovative and interactive exhibitions telling the extraordinary history of the country. It’s a great place for visitors of all ages to explore New Zealand’s art, culture and science history.
The museum places a great deal of significance on telling the history of the indigenous Māori population of New Zealand. The name Te Papa Tongarewa actually translates from Te Reo Māori to English as ‘container of treasures’. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to make your way around the many permanent and temporary exhibitions on display.
Take a Tour at Weta Workshop – a cool and unusual thing to do in Wellington
If you’re a film fan then Weta Workshop should be at the top of your list of things to do in Wellington. Weta Workshop is an award-winning special effects and props company. They are most well-known for producing the sets, costumes, armour, weapons, and creatures for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Over the last 30 years, they have helped some of the world’s best directors bring their vision to life such as Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron.
The best part about Weta Workshop is that you can go and check it all out for yourself. They have a number of guided tours for you to choose from. Discover how they are able to bring imaginary worlds to life with costumes, creatures, weapons and make-up. It’s an experience you won’t forget about too quickly.
Ride the Cable Car Up to the Botanic Gardens – one of the famous must-do attractions in Wellington
One of my favorite things to do in Wellington on a good day is to take the cable car up to the beautiful Botanic Gardens. The cable car starts in the heart of Wellingtons CBD, in Lambton Quay, and takes roughly 5 minutes to travel up to Kelburn Terminal way above the city. From the top of the cable car, there is a lookout point where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city and harbor.
Once you have taken in the views of the city, you can take a stroll around the Botanic Gardens. Within the 25 hectares of the gardens are a number of walking paths where you can explore the landscape of botanical displays. Within the gardens, you can find the Space Place at Carter Observatory. Here is where you can learn about the night skies of New Zealand through multimedia exhibits and a full-dome planetarium.
Hike Up to the Top of Mount Kaukau – perfect for outdoor-loving Wellington visitors
Wellington is quite unique in that you can access nature right from the center of the city. There are many walking tracks that connect you to the various hills and mountains that surround the city. Mount Kaukau which is just north of Wellington, is one of the most visible points in the landscape that surrounds the city. From the top of Mount Kaukau there are unbelievable panoramic views of the city, harbor, and Tararua Ranges, and on clear days even the South Island is visible.
There are many tracks that lead to the summit of Mount Kaukau from all directions, the two best in my opinion are the Skyline and Northern Walkways. If you fancy escaping the city for the day this is the perfect option.
Go on a Craft Brewery Tour – perfect for visiting hipters
Sometimes referred to as the craft beer capital of New Zealand, Wellington is the place for you if you like craft beer. Craft beer is a culture that Wellington has embraced with open arms, with new breweries and bars opening up all the time. Parrotdog, Fortune Favours, Garage Project, and Panhead are some of the most notable breweries in the area.
Parrotdog which is one of the most well-known craft breweries in Wellington offers tours of their brewery. You can discover the story of Parrotdog and how they make their beer, all while enjoying five little tasters throughout the tour.
If you’d like to experience a bit of the culture for yourself, you can take the self-guided capital craft beer trail. On the trail, you will discover the best craft beer bars and breweries that Wellington has to offer. If you prefer a guided tour, the Craft Beer College runs walking tours which will help you to experience the best of Wellington’s beer scene.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Wellington during August then you might want to check out Beervana, New Zealand’s largest craft beer festival. Bringing together the best of New Zealand craft beer all in one place, with over 450 beers on offer, this is a craft beer lover’s dream.
Take a Stroll Down Cuba Street – one of the liveliest areas in Wellington
If you only visit one street while you’re in Wellington, make sure it’s Cuba Street. This street has become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Almost 1km in length it’s packed full of culture with a very bohemian feel. If you walk from top to bottom, you’ll find a multitude of cafes, restaurants, bars, vintage clothing stores, art galleries, music venues, record shops, bookshops, and the famous Bucket Fountain.
If you’re looking for a great brunch spot, Olive or Fidels both have amazing coffee and top-notch food. If you want to check out some shops, Paper Bag Princess, Ziggurat, Madame Fancy Pants, and Emporium are all great choices with unique finds you’re unlikely to find elsewhere.
There’s a ton of choice when it comes to restaurants. Check out Logan Brown for a fine dining experience, Scopa Pizzeria for the best pizza in town or 1154 Pastaria for traditionally made pasta. In the evening you’ll want to check out Laundry, a former Laundrette turned into a bar and eatery. And to top off your evening, make sure you head to Midnight Espresso for a midnight snack and coffee if you’re up for it!
Take in the Incredible Views at Mount Victoria Lookout
Heading up to the Mount Victoria Lookout is a popular activity among visitors to Wellington and among Wellingtonians too. Make your way to the top and you will be rewarded with amazing views of the city, harbor, and also the South Pacific Ocean to the north.
There are a few walking tracks that take you to the top of the lookout right from the city, such as the Mount Victoria Lookout Walkway and the Southern Walkway. If you are unable to walk to the top, you can catch a bus from the city or drive yourself. There are also a few downhill mountain bike tracks that start from the top of the lookout if you prefer an adrenaline-fuelled adventure!
Discover the Amazing Coffee Culture – Wellington is known for this
The coffee culture is an important part of Wellington’s identity. There are more than 300 cafes throughout the city and in a place this small, that means there is a new one to find around every corner.
The city is home to many well-established coffee roasters such as Coffee Supreme, L’affare, Havana, plus many others. Competition is high here which means the quality is also very high, one bad coffee will turn a customer onto another café almost instantly. Expect to find beautiful latte art on the top of your coffee wherever you end up drinking.
In a city full of cafes, there are a few that stand out from the crowd. Pour and Twist is a fully manual coffee brew bar. They brew specialty filter coffee using only manual methods, coffee is a form of art at this establishment. Customs, which is Coffee Supreme’s café, has a cool quirky vibe, you’ll find the coolest Wellingtonians hanging out here! The Hangar, which is home to Flight coffee, has a great selection of coffee choices. If you’re a real coffee nerd this is the place for you, there’s plenty of single-origin espresso and filter options, you can even try a coffee tasting tray.
Walk the Escarpment Track
If you have half a day spare and want to experience some more of the great outdoors, check out the Escarpment Track. This track is part of New Zealand’s famous Te Araroa trail, which starts at the top of the North Island and finishes at the bottom of the South Island.
The Escarpment Track takes you on a journey down the Kāpiti coastline. On this track, you will be treated to stunning views of Kāpiti Island and the South Pacific Ocean. The track is suitable for people of all ages, however, be prepared to climb approximately 1200 steps, walk 10km and cross two long swing bridges high above the bush below. The track runs from Paekākāriki to Pukerua Bay, both of which are easily accessible by car or train from the center of Wellington.
Go to the Cinema
If you’re looking for things to do in Wellington on a rainy day you can always head to one of its many amazing and unique cinemas. The Roxy cinema has to be top of your list, it’s owned by some of Wellington’s most creative residents including an Oscar-winning editor. It plays a mixture of new and older classic films and has a beautiful art décor interior, there is even a restaurant inside! You may also want to check out the Lighthouse cinema just off of Cuba Street and the Embassy on Courtenay Place.
Take a Ferry to Maitu/Somes Island
Just a short boat ride from Wellington harbor, Maitu/Somes Island is well worth a visit, it has an incredibly rich history. Before the Europeans arrived in New Zealand, Māori tribes inhabited the island and used it as an island sanctuary. More recently, since the arrival of Europeans to Wellington, it has been used as a human and animal quarantine station, an internment camp during both World Wars and a military defence position.
Nowadays it is a predator-free scientific reserve. Since the 1980’s rats and pests have been removed from the island and it has become a safe place for the native plants and wildlife to flourish. The island is a safe haven to the world’s smallest penguin, the little penguin or Korora. Without predators or the threat from humans, the penguins have been able to survive quite comfortably.
There are a few walking tracks on the island which you can choose to explore by yourself or with a guided walk led by one of the forest rangers. Also, if you feel like staying overnight you can book to stay in a house that was part of the quarantine station, or stay at the campsite on the island.
Check Out Oriental Bay
You can’t beat Wellington on a good day and when the weather is great there is no better place to be than Oriental Bay. Oriental Bay is a suburb situated on the waterfront where the rich folks of the city call home. In this affluent area, a stroll along the waterfront is a perfect way to take in the view of the city in all its glory. Right in the middle of Oriental Bay is a beach that is extremely popular with the locals as well as tourists during the summer months. Oriental Bay is just a short walk from the city center so is very easy to get to.
Take a Tour of the Beehive and New Zealand Parliament
If you fancy checking out where New Zealand’s politicians work, you can always take a tour of the iconic Beehive and other parliament buildings. The guided tours give an opportunity to learn about the New Zealand parliamentary process, New Zealand’s history and explore inside the parliament buildings. Tours run 7 days a week and are completely free of charge. You never know, you might be lucky enough to run into the prime minister!
Visit the Wellington Chocolate Factory
If you have a sweet tooth then you’ll want to make sure you visit the Wellington Chocolate Factory. This place is a chocoholics dream, whether you want to try some of their amazing bean-to-bar chocolate or enjoy one of the best hot chocolates in the city.
For those truly obsessed with chocolate, they run a variety of tours and classes. Learn about the art of chocolate making or maybe take a masterclass with the Wellington Chocolate Factory co-founder, Gabe Davidson.
All words and photos by Johnny Baker from The Photographers Passport. Jonny Baker who is originally from the UK but now residing in New Zealand. Jonny’s blog The Photographers Passport aims to provide the best information to help others explore and adventure our beautiful world. Want some more great Wellington-based content? Check out this post he wrote detailing some of the best walking tracks in Wellington. You can also check out his stunning photos of New Zealand on his Instagram.