by Lizzie Dunn
With so much to see and do in Wellington, we’ve selected our top 50 picks – so make sure you check them out on your next visit!
1. Te Papa
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa towers on the edge of the waterfront and is host to a range of local and international exhibitions. Featured exhibits have a ticket cost but there are always plenty of free exhibits worth exploring. With reportedly 60,000 hours of reading to be had within the museum there is no chance of running short of material. www.tepapa.govt.nz
2. Parliament Grounds
The Beehive is one of Wellington’s most iconic (and unusual) buildings and, surrounded by long green lawns and stately trees, is the perfect place to take a book or your lunch and enjoy the sun at the political heart of the capital city.
3. Get political
Take a free tour of the Parliament Buildings and see inside the Beehive itself. Tours leave on the hour every day. www.parliament.nz
4. Kreuzberg Summer Café
Operating, as the name suggests, as a summer scene, this café is run out of a caravan in an old carpark on the corner of Cuba and Webb St. Picnic tables and potted plants give the illusion of an inner-city oasis and there are cheap $5 beers between 5-7 on a Friday evening.
5. Roti Chenai
This curry dish, served generously with roti bread, is a particular local favourite and can be found at any of the Malaysian Restaurants around town, typically priced at between $6-9.
6. The Botanic Gardens
Nestled on the hills above the city, the Wellington Botanic Gardens are lush grounds of winding paths, old trees, picnic spots and tended flower beds. At the very heart of the gardens it is so quiet and green that it is easy to forget the proximity to the city – which remains only a short walk away. www.wellington.govt.nz
For an infusion of culture a night at the theatre does not have to also hit the wallet. Bats theatre on Kent Terrace hosts a range of work by both established and emerging local theatre groups and tickets can be as cheap as $12. Check out their website for what’s on today. www.bats.co.nz
8. People watching on Cuba Street
Cuba Street is the bohemian centre of Wellington city and home to an eclectic array of shops, cafes, and bars. Find a spot on a bench or in the window of one of the many cafes (Fidels and Plum are ideal for this) and watch the passing array of people and fashions.
9. The Cable Car
The cheerfully red Wellington Cable Car offers a painless trip up the hill to the Botanic Gardens and is something of a local icon. Leaving Lambton Quay every ten minutes, they offer stunning views across city and harbour as they ascend the hill. www.wellingtoncablecar.co.nz
10. Watch a Movie at the Embassy
Catch a film at the stylish Embassy Theatre, built in 1924 and elegantly refurbished by Peter Jackson for the world premiere of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The Embassy shows a range of current films and every Sunday screens a “true film classic” for film-buffs and old cinema fans. www.eventcinemas.co.nz
11. Sevens Weekend
It is worth visiting Wellington on a Sevens Weekend to see the city transform for the annual rugby tournament. Sevens-goers dress in costume and Wellington becomes the site of the city’s biggest, yearly dress-up party. Keep an eye on their website for ticket information because this event sells out mega fast. www.sevens.co.nz
12. Live Jazz
Several cafes around the city host live jazz performances throughout the week including Mojo Bond Street on Fridays and Sunday afternoons at Hummingbird on Courtenay, an ideal way to enjoy some of the local talent.
13. The Bucket Fountain
Cuba Street’s distinctive water feature is a peculiarly strong point of local pride. This tower of brightly coloured buckets has been a feature of Cuba Mall since 1969. As the puddles around the sculpture’s base will attest, this is a feature best observed from a distance – especially on windy days.
14. Second-hand Bookstores
Whether you are looking for a new read or to exchange an old one, Wellington Centre is home to several excellent second-hand bookstores. Arty Bees on Manners Street is one of the largest venues and a walk up Cuba Street will uncover other gems for backpacking bibliophiles. www.artybees.co.nz
15. Hawthorne Lounge
A sneaky turn off Tory Street leads up a flight of stairs to Hawthorne Lounge and back in time to a themed gentlemen’s bar of the 1920s. The bartenders wear waistcoats, jazz plays in the background, and poker sets can be borrowed from the bar. The drinks are not all cheap but the place is perfect if you are after something different for your night out in town. www.hawthornlounge.co.nz
16. Improv at the Fringe Bar
Located on the corner of Cuba and Vivian, the Fringe Bar is generally known as the home of comedy in the capital. The Wellington Improvisation Troupe (WIT) perform here every Wednesday. www.thefringebar.co.nz
17. Left Bank Arcade
Turn off Cuba Mall and discover the varied delights of Left Bank, a paved arcade surrounded by miscellaneous shops, galleries, and cheap but cheerful eateries.
18. Oriental Bay
It is hard to beat the golden beach of Oriental Bay on a sunny day in the capital. Take a dip into the ocean or go for a walk along the promenade and, if you need refreshment, make the most of any one of the cafes just a short stroll from the water’s edge.
19. Kayak along the Waterfront
Get adventurous and hire a kayak or two from Fergs Kayaks on the waterfront and discover a different perspective of the Wellington harbour. With freedom hire kayaks you don’t need to book – just rock up and the fleet is ready to go.
20. Kaffee Eis
This delectable gelato shop can be found on Courtney Place, Oriental Bay, and beneath Frank Kitts Park. Not only is the gelato delicious but the range of flavours expansive – your biggest problem will be choosing between the many, many flavours on display.
21. Wellington Writers Walk
Wellington is a proudly literary city, home to many well-known New Zealand writers and a prestigious writing program at the university. The Wellington Writers Walk is a self-guided tour around the waterfront which will take you between quotes about the city presented in stone sculpture. This is one way to explore the waterfront area while getting to know some of the local literary legends.
22. Catch the Interislander to Picton
If the South Island doesn’t feature in your overall itinerary you can still get a glimpse of what it has to offer with discounted ticket price for a same day excursion to Picton. A great way to glimpse the beautiful Marlborough Sounds and still be back in Wellington in time for dinner. www.interislander.co.nz
A train trip out of the city centre, Petone is a suburb steeped in European heritage with streets packed with historic architecture and character houses. Jackson Street, the town’s long main street, is packed with shops and cafes. Easily reached by train or bus, Petone is an easy outing from the city centre.
24. Explore the Wairarapa
East of Wellington, the beautiful Wairarapa can be reached by train or bus. It is a lightly populated area of several small townships – and several vineyards. Follow the Wairarapa Wine Trail Map (available at the i-Site) and sample the local flavours.
25. The City Art Gallery
This grand old building off Civic Square hosts a range of changing exhibitions and, with free entry into the gallery, an ideal activity for one of Wellington’s grey days. www.citygallery.org.nz
26. Mighty Mighty
A Cuba Street favourite, this bar celebrates kitsch with a bright and eccentric décor of red velvet curtains and sequined table cloths. On the first Saturday of every month you can also catch the Mighty Mighty markets – stalls of second hand clothes, crafts, and tarot readings. www.mightymighty.co.nz
27. San Francisco Bathhouse
Also known as SFBH, or ‘San Fran’ to its regular patrons, this is the place to go for live music and a place to see a range of both local and international acts. Check out a local gig guide or their website to see what is playing. www.sfbh.co.nz
28. Brooklyn Wind Turbine
The steep walk to the lone wind turbine atop Brooklyn’s Polhill reserve is worth every inch of pain along the path for some of the best views back across Wellington City and Harbour.
29. Wellington Zoo
Catch the bus through Newtown to Wellington’s own zoo and spend a day with the animals. www.wellingtonzoo.com
30. Matiu/Somes Island
Located in the centre of the Wellington Harbour, Matiu/Somes Island has an extensive Maori and European history. It has been the site of two Maori Pa, a place of quarantine for people and livestock, and an internment camp during wartime. Today it is a predator free nature reserve cared for by the Department of Conservation and can be reached via ferry. www.doc.govt.nz
31. Aro Valley
This colourful and laid-back part of town is home to many of the cities university population. Between the local park and the small stretch of shops and cafés there is the teeming sense of people coming and going. The streets are lined with historic houses and the fish and chip shop is generally considered one of Wellington’s best.
32. Café Meow
Tucked down Edward Street (between Willis and Victoria) Café Meow is a cheerful café of mismatched furniture and retro décor with a menu which provides plenty of options for those with gluten free, vegetarian, or vegan dietary needs.
Formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Centre, Zealandia is a unique eco-sanctuary and the place to see some of the local wildlife up close. Some of New Zealand’s rarest birds, reptiles, and insects live within the 550 acre grounds. If your trip to New Zealand will not be complete without seeing a kiwi of the feathered sort, this is the place to go. www.visitzealandia.com
34. Boutique Cinemas
If you have a rainy day to wile away, why not try a film at one of Wellington’s smaller cinemas? Paramount on Courtenay Place shows a range of both popular and art-house films and is the home to many of the film festivals which pass through Wellington on a regular basis. The venue includes in two smaller theatres furnished with comfy two-seater chairs. Penthouse Cinema in Brooklyn and the Lighthouse Theatre in Petone are other places worth checking out.
35. Crocodile Bikes
Sure it’s not the smoothest way to travel, but riding a bike shaped like a crocodile’s head is certainly a more memorable way to navigate the Wellington waterfront. Prices begin at $14 for half an hour and expect photo opportunities aplenty.
36. Southern Cross
This friendly bar on Abel Smith Street hosts a range of events from games nights to free movie evenings and has a variety of board games on the premises – including giant jenga.
37. Locally Roasted Coffee
Wellingtonians pride themselves on their knowledge of coffee and the city is home to several locally roasted coffee brands. Mojo, Peoples, Emporio and Havana Coffees all rate high among the local favourites.
38. Maranui Surf Club Cafe
Grab a coffee from the iconic café clubrooms of the Maranui Surf Club and enjoy the scenic vantage across the waters of Lyall Bay. Maranui is a popular local hangout and there can be long queues on weekend mornings but it is well worth the visit. www.maranuicafe.co.nz
This small town sits on the edge of the Kapiti Coast, wedged between the Akatarawa Ranges and the sea. It is also the gateway into the Queen Elizabeth Park, an area of wetland and forest you can explore by foot or on horseback, tours and rides leaving from Stables on the Park.
40. Alice Bar
For a bit of magic and whimsy, try the Alice in Wonderland themed Alice Bar tucked down the unassuming Forrester’s Lane. Follow the white rabbit on the sign and indulge in a Mad Hatter’s tea party with cocktails served in teapots.
Wellington is a great place for op-shopping with vintage boutiques, bargain racks, and everything in-between. Cuba Street is the ideal place to start with a range of gorgeous stores for all budgets, from the bargain-full Paperbag Princess and Recycled Boutique right up to the glamorous garments and eccentric window displays of Hunter and Collectors.
42. Sunday Markets
If you head to the waterfront on a Sunday morning you will find Chaffers Carpark beside Te Papa transformed into a bustling farmers market. Grab some cheap produce or a coffee to go and enjoy the bustle of the crowd.
43. Free Summer Music
With summer come a variety of outdoor events throughout the Wellington region, not least the popular summer music put on in the Botanic Gardens every year. There is a different band every night so pack a picnic, round up a group, and make the most of this free and vibrant event.
44. Indulge in a Gourmet Cupcake
In the elegant Old Bank Arcade of Lambton Quay cupcakes have been perfected into an art form and seem more like miniature sculptures than edible fare. Check them out in the window display of Tempt and – if you are tempted – these really are good enough to eat.
45. Explore Middle Earth
Make like Frodo and explore the Mt Victoria region east of the city centre. Mt Vic was the site of the project’s very first footage – the “get off the road” scene of the first film – and other subsequent scenes from the films.
46. Discover the Bays
If you have access to your own wheels go for a drive around Wellington’s surrounding bays. It is a chance to see some of the other corners of Wellington and, on a fine day, you will catch a glimpse of the South Island rising up from the sea in the distance.
47. Weta Cave
Head out to Mirimar for a free glimpse behind the workings of Wellington’s Weta Workshop, the team behind the special effects of Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and Avatar. Weta Cave is a mini-museum which also sells a range of related merchandise. www.wetanz.com
48. Museum of City and Sea
This free museum houses the social, cultural and maritime history of Wellington. Smaller than Te Papa but no less innovative, it mixes traditional displays with interactive exhibits and even houses a three story high cinema screen. www.museumswellington.org.nz
49. The Matterhorn
One of the classier establishments in town, The Matterhorn has several sleek indoor areas and a sheltered outside area with a large fire for winter and coloured bulbs strung overhead. And although the Matterhorn won bar of the year award for three consecutive years (2006-9), its menu still includes some more affordable options for the backpacker budget.
50. Carter Observatory
At the top of the cable car the Carter Observatory has an optimal position to observe the heavens. Inside the observatory there is a state-of-the-art domed digital theatre, and outside the theatre there is late night stargazing every Saturday until 9pm. www.carterobservatory.org