Travel guide to Wellington – Top things to do
Wellington may be known for its volatile weather, at times crossing several seasons – hurricane winds, flash rain, and sunshine all in a day, but this harbour city is full of character. The pristine water glistens, the air breathes of the surrounding lush hills (acting like the lungs of the city), and yet for such a green and hardly urbanised city there is such a concentration of great food, culture and forms a great starting point for trips around New Zealand.
Here are some of the top things that Almost Always Ravenous would recommend doing whilst you’re in Wellington…
Start your morning with a visit to the Sunday Harbourside Farmers Market. Shop alongside the locals for the freshest produce Wellington has to offer at this weekly open air market. Grab a French baguette filled with freshly roasted chicken, nibble on lush strawberries, line up for a fresh squeeze of juice, taste some local honey, and finish off with a crepe. Once you’ve put together your picnic basket, plant yourself in the adjacent Waitangi park and enjoy the breeze and sunshine.
Where: Parking lot corner Barnett & Cable streets (next to Te Papa Museum)
When: every Sunday 7.30am – 2pm.
Get a coffee fix, and brunch from Flight Coffee Hangar. Other brunch spots for a lazy morning include numerous quirky (almost Melbourne like) cafe’s: Floriditas, Memphis belle, Capitol. If you’re in Miramar (aka for Weta Caves), then The Larder is a must for a coffee and bite.
Check out one of the many museums and galleries. Te Papa – an enormous six floor interactive museum and art gallery located on the waterfront – is at the top of my recommendations. See the colossal squid, feel the earth quiver in a simulation room, learn about Maori history, and exhibit after exhibit on geology / environment / real forest exhibit, contemporary art, and many temporary visiting exhibitions too. [Entry is free. Opens daily from 10am.] Don’t know what happened to my photos from Te Papa… can’t seem to find them.
Take a stroll along Wellington’s harbour on a sunny day. Civic square is a great starting point to get your bearings for the city. Surrounding the open communal space is Wellington’s information centre, City Gallery, Wellington Town hall, and most importantly it is only a short walk from the harbour, wharf precinct, and Cuba Street. Why not hire a bike and cycle along the water edge – rental sheds can be found scattered along the harbour.
Explore the streets of Wellington city. Get a taste of Wellington’s historic buildings – walk through the Old bank arcade, take a hike to the northern end of Lambden quay to see the Beehive & Old St Paul’s cathedral. For those wanting a little shopping – Cuba street, Courtenay place and Lambden quay are your best bet. *Tip: shoppers beware, Wellington shops close quite early – hours generally 9am to 5pm.
Take the cable car to Kelburn lookout for panoramic views of Wellington harbour. [cable car access terminal from Lambden quay; cost $4 one-way, $7 return] The cable car takes you up a steep incline high above Wellington’s terraces, where you can enjoy the landscape and grab a bite at a cafe. You can choose to take the cable car back down, but I’d suggest taking the scenic walk through the botanic gardens (finishing near the government buildings).
From the government buildings, you might as well take a detour to historical Thorndon. It’ll feel like you’ve stepped into San Francisco, with boutiques, antique stores, and quirky cafes abound.
Fill your stomach at a Wellington’s Night Market, held twice a week in the heart of Cuba St. It is full of vibrant energy where locals gather to eat, and enjoy the live entertainment. From Chinese dumplings, to Moroccan cuisine, crepes, hearty Filipino, simple Hangi, or a nibble of Hangarian pastry.
Where: left bank, off Cuba St.
When: Wednesday & Friday evening, from 5pm.
Did you think you could leave Wellington without splurging on fine dining did you? There are a gazillion options for you to bankrupt your budget, whether it be at Logan Brown or the White House. However if you’re in the know, you can grab a bargain at many places by dining at lunch time, or pre-theatre. More on that on the next post… SEE HERE.
If you have a bit of extra time up your sleeve, rent a car and head a little further afield from Wellington…
- For all you LOTR (i.e. Lord of the Rings) fans out there, Weta caves is a must! What started out as a small merchandise store, has now started a behind-the-scenes tour of the production workshop. Get an insight into the creativity and imagination that goes into crafting behind LOTR trilogy, district 9, Narnia and many more. See here and here for more LOTR film locations.
Where: 1 Weka St, Miramar. How far: approx 15 min drive.
Opens: daily 9am-5.30pm.
Cost: entry to shop / museum is free. 45 minute window into workshop tour: $20.
Mt Victoria – panoramic vantage point of Wellington harbour and city
Where: Lookout road, Mt Victoria.
How far: Short 5 minute drive from city centre. If you are heading to Weta Caves, make a detour here.
Martinborough winery region (Wairarapa Valley). With soil and climate conditions that closely resemble Burgandy, it is no wonder that Martinborough produces some of the best pinot noirs in the world. (*ahem I bought a few bottles myself). A great day trip, or as part of the Classic New Zealand wine trail.
How far: approx. 1 hour drive. All the wineries are in close proximity to each other, so you could hire a bike and leisurely hop a few vineyards while you are there.
*Tip: Australia allows you to bring in 2.25L (approx. 3 bottles) tax free. Anything more and you could be liable for taxation / fines. Must say I haven’t had any troubles bringing more, but it’s probably luck of the draw. Please check your own countries customs laws.
Looking for a bit of adventure? Do some bush walking, kayaking, or if you’re game check out Adrenalin forest for some adrenalin pumping multi-level aerial obstacle course – I loved it.
Where: Okowai road, Porirua
How far: 20 minutes drive.
- Avoid mobile roaming fees. Buy a pre paid sim card when you arrive, from either 2 degrees or telecom (New Zealand’s major telcos). Both have several stores throughout Wellington, and have good coverage across New Zealand. Be sure to check out their data bundles for good deals.
- Taking a taxifrom airport?Ask the driver to take the oriental bay scenic route – amazing views and only a small detour.
- Check the forecast everyday. Weather is unpredictable in Wellington. Whilst much of the city walking strips are sheltered by rain eaves, it can still get pretty wet and windy. So bring a jacket / sturdy umbrella / raincoat. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- Money. Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) have good rates for selling NZ dollars, with no fees. And most places will accept VISA/ Mastercard, so don’t worry about exchanging too much before you fly.
- Food guide. My personal recommendations for where to eat.