Wellington, New Zealand Travel Guide: Top Things to Do and See in New Zealand
More than just the land of hobbits and elves, New Zealand's cosmopolitan capital boasts a stunning waterfront, vibrant nightlife, and, rumor has it, more cafes per capita than New York City.
Currency: New Zealand dollar
Language: English, with a few unique slang words thrown in. Here's some sample vocab: "jandals" (flip flops), "sweet as" (cool),"munted" (broken), “heaps” (lots), "togs" (bathing suit), and "dairy" (convenience store).
Weather: Wellington is the southernmost capital in the world, so the city experiences its coldest season between June and August. This is when Wellington truly earns its nickname "Windy Welly," so dress warmly if you're planning on visiting during New Zealand's winter. In the summer months of December to February, temperatures average between 70-90°F.
Getting here: Most international flights arrive in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city located about ten hours by car north of Wellington. Nonstop flights from Auckland to Wellington take just over an hour. The Airport Flyer express bus takes passengers from the Wellington Airport to downtown Wellington for $9.00. Taxis are also readily available and you can expect to pay around $30 for a ride downtown from the airport.
Getting around: Once in Wellington, it's easy to get around downtown by foot. The MetLink bus is a also convenient option for visiting surrounding attractions such as the Wellington Zoo and Weta Workshop.
What to Do
Wellington Cable Car: The iconic cable car takes passengers from downtown Wellington up to the residential neighborhood of Kelburn and back. The journey each way is only about five minutes, but the steep ride up is well worth it for the scenic views. At the top you can also visit the small cable car museum and botanical garden.
The Weta Cave: Weta Workshop, the design studio behind The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and more, offers behind the scenes tours that give visitors the chance to see props, costumes, and other accessories from various “Wellywood” films.
Wellington Zoo: The Wellington Zoo features animals from all over the world and many native species, including New Zealand’s national symbol - the kiwi bird. Kiwis are nocturnal, so you’ll have a limited view inside their nocturnal house. But you’ll be able to at least catch a glimpse of Tahi the famous one-legged kiwi with a prosthetic limb.
Te Papa Museum: New Zealand's indigenous Maori culture has a fascinating history that's on display at the Te Papa Museum. As a bonus, entry is free to all.
Cuba Street: The colorful pedestrian mall on Cuba Street is known as the quirky, bohemian section of Wellington. Shop, eat, and snap a selfie in front of the famous Bucket Fountain.
Westpac Stadium: In addition to the national rugby team (the top-rated All Blacks) there are two local Wellington teams (the Lions and the Hurricanes) that play at Westpac Stadium. If you can't score tickets but want to still want to experience New Zealand rugby culture, catch a game on the screen at Four Kings or one of the many sports bars in downtown Wellington.
The Beehive: A parliament building located near the business district of Lambton Quay, the Beehive gets its nickname from its distinctive cone shape. Guided tours of the Beehive are available daily, just be sure to book in advance.
Where to Eat and Drink:
For craft cocktails, Cuba Street has the best options with Matterhorn and Good Luck Bar being standouts. Courtney Place is where you'll find the party, especially at fixtures like El Horno (try the sangria!) and The Establishment.
Great coffee can be found on just about every street. Soak up the atmosphere and sample a flat white (a slightly stronger version of the latte) at a funky cafe like Enigma or Espresso Holic. For brunch, hit up the famous Fidel's Cafe, fittingly located on Cuba Street.
The Wellington Waterfront not only has a postcard-worthy backdrop, it has some of the best dining options. For an upscale meal with a view, check out waterfront staples Dockside and Shed 5. The waterfront area is also very pedestrian-friendly and great for a post-dinner sunset stroll.
If fine dining isn’t your thing, there are plenty of uniquely Wellington fast food options. Hell Pizza, a chain featuring pizzas named after the seven deadly sins; Burger Fuel, which has standard burger options as well as the classic Kiwi burger with beetroot and egg; and Abrekebabra, a local favorite for hearty kebabs, are perfect for a filling, cheap meal after a day of sightseeing or a night on the town.
Tip: Some great restaurants in Wellington (Satay Village, Red Hill, and Tequila Joe’s to name a few) are BYO, meaning customers can bring in their own bottle of wine for just a small corkage fee.
Where to Stay
Wellington has decent hostel options for those on a budget. Beds in shared dorms at Base Backpackers Wellington and The Cambridge Hotel start at at around $30 - $40. James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor is a nice mid-range hotel, and for something a little more luxurious, there’s the five-star InterContinental Wellington. All of these options put you right downtown and within walking distance of places to dine and shop. Airbnb-ers can also find plenty of accommodations to choose from in Wellington.