5 Captivating Places to Visit in Wellington, New Zealand

Updated on March 9, 2020
Victoria Hannah profile image

I love to write about and photograph places I have visited. A native Aucklander, I particularly love exploring New Zealand.

The Windy Wellington Sign—a play on the famous Hollywood Sign in LA—can be seen from the drive along Oriental bay.
The Windy Wellington Sign—a play on the famous Hollywood Sign in LA—can be seen from the drive along Oriental bay. | Source

5 Unique Things to Do in Windy Wellington

If you look up at the hills driving around Oriental Bay, you will see a sign rather like the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles, with one key difference—the Wellington Sign's letters are being blown away at the end! This city was given the moniker "Windy Wellington" for a reason. It is surely gusty—especially during winter, when the air blows directly off the Cook Strait—but do not let that put you off course with this terrific city.

The capital city of New Zealand is geographically much smaller than its cousin, Auckland, further up the North Island. Auckland is the sailing and adventure city, but Wellington is definitely the culture and food city. Aucklanders will disagree, but it's true . . . and I'm an Aucklander!

Though the city is full of fun things to see and do, there are five places you truly shouldn't miss visiting while in Wellington. Without further ado, here are my Wellington musts!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cuba Street offers a fabulous array of restaurants.Looking Back Down Cuba StreetTe Aro ParkTe Aro ParkEgmont Street is full of old warehouses that have been turned into apartments and studio workshops.Egmont StreetLambton Quay in Wellington CityThe Beehive—the Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings
Cuba Street offers a fabulous array of restaurants.
Cuba Street offers a fabulous array of restaurants. | Source
Looking Back Down Cuba Street
Looking Back Down Cuba Street | Source
Te Aro Park
Te Aro Park | Source
Te Aro Park
Te Aro Park | Source
Egmont Street is full of old warehouses that have been turned into apartments and studio workshops.
Egmont Street is full of old warehouses that have been turned into apartments and studio workshops. | Source
Egmont Street
Egmont Street | Source
Lambton Quay in Wellington City
Lambton Quay in Wellington City | Source
The Beehive—the Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings
The Beehive—the Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings | Source

1. Explore Lambton Quay and Te Aro

Lambton Quay is the main shopping strip in Wellington. If you keep walking to the end of the street past all the fabulous shops, you will come across The Beehive, the Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings.

Te Aro is another lovely area to visit. It has a crafty, trendy feel, especially around Egmont Street, where there are amazing old warehouses that have been refurbished into apartments and studio workshops. Cuba Street is a vibrant place to visit and is a foodie hangout; there are loads of interesting places to eat.

The central city is a very easy city to walk around, but you will notice the hills very close by. It is a city reminiscent of places like San Francisco and Launceston in Tasmania—full of treacherous winding roads with beautiful old villas very close to the roadside to distract you. Unless you are super fit, you'll need more than your legs for exploring that area, but be careful not to get too distracted by the sights if you are exploring by car.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Entrance to Weta Cave on Weka StreetWarren Beaton's talk was one of my favorite parts of our tour. He's an amazing talent and such an interesting man.Warren Beaton at WorkA Beautiful Pohutukawa Opposite Weta Cave
The Entrance to Weta Cave on Weka Street
The Entrance to Weta Cave on Weka Street | Source
Warren Beaton's talk was one of my favorite parts of our tour. He's an amazing talent and such an interesting man.
Warren Beaton's talk was one of my favorite parts of our tour. He's an amazing talent and such an interesting man. | Source
Warren Beaton at Work
Warren Beaton at Work | Source
A Beautiful Pohutukawa Opposite Weta Cave
A Beautiful Pohutukawa Opposite Weta Cave | Source

2. Tour the Weta Cave and Workshop

Regardless of whether you're a Lord of the Rings fan or a child, the Weta Cave and Workshop is a totally enthralling place to visit. It is an absolutely stunning workshop full of exciting machinery and characters from films and exhibitions.

I am not a massive fan of special effects or any of these types of movies, but I am an artist, and I certainly appreciate the immense talent and time commitment put into this craft from this studio. The workmanship is truly extraordinary; seeing what develops from the initial visualisation to the end product is mind-blowing.

We actually got to watch the accomplished Warren Beaton—the master SPFX technician/artist—at work. He spoke about his craft and what it involved, and it was magical to watch him at work; we all felt very privileged.

Note: Mums, be careful in the shop. The stuff is different and exciting, but it certainly ain't cheap. Hold onto your little ones and your men—they will have you bleeding money if left to their own devices.

Fun Fact

The Weta Workshop is named after a giant cricket. Their name is derived from a Maori word for 'the god of ugly things', and it's no wonder why. With spikes on their hind legs and an unparalleled size, they really are ugly and scary, especially when they jump! Conservation efforts are currently underway to protect these massive insects.

Weta is easy to find, and there is plenty of parking on the surrounding streets. It's on the corner of Weka Street and Camperdown Road in Miramar. You have to catch two buses to get there (there is no direct line), but it is easy and you don't have to wait long at all; just make sure you allow plenty of time because you do not want to miss your tour. The workshop is super busy, meaning you won't be able to fit into another tour very easily.

Note: One negative about the place—they do not have enough bathrooms for the number of people going through. From the moment I entered, the toilets had a queue in front of them. If you are running a little late for your tour, that is a problem.

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The Entrance to Te Papa Museum in WellingtonProfile View of Te PapaEntrance to the Wonderful Gallipoli ExhibitionSoldier From Te Papa's Gallipoli Exhibit (This exhibit was created in conjunction with Weta Workshop.)Soldier Made by the Weta WorkshopMore Soldiers in the Gallipoli ExhibitAn Interactive Map Showing Landings at GallipoliNurse Made by the Weta WorkshopHow Some of Their Food Was Stored There was a bowl of poppies to write a message on at the end of the exhibition.A Maori ritual—water for cleansing after being with the deceased.Entrance to the Permanent Nature Exhibition at Te Papa The animated curved screen as you enter the Nature Exhibit are breathtaking. Inside the Nature ExhibitThe Nature Exhibit is always packed!One of the Many Interactive Displays A Globe Showing the Pacific Plate and the Fault LinesOutside the Back of Te Papa Museum
The Entrance to Te Papa Museum in Wellington
The Entrance to Te Papa Museum in Wellington | Source
Profile View of Te Papa
Profile View of Te Papa | Source
Entrance to the Wonderful Gallipoli Exhibition
Entrance to the Wonderful Gallipoli Exhibition | Source
Soldier From Te Papa's Gallipoli Exhibit (This exhibit was created in conjunction with Weta Workshop.)
Soldier From Te Papa's Gallipoli Exhibit (This exhibit was created in conjunction with Weta Workshop.) | Source
Soldier Made by the Weta Workshop
Soldier Made by the Weta Workshop | Source
More Soldiers in the Gallipoli Exhibit
More Soldiers in the Gallipoli Exhibit | Source
An Interactive Map Showing Landings at Gallipoli
An Interactive Map Showing Landings at Gallipoli | Source
Nurse Made by the Weta Workshop
Nurse Made by the Weta Workshop | Source
How Some of Their Food Was Stored
How Some of Their Food Was Stored | Source
There was a bowl of poppies to write a message on at the end of the exhibition.
There was a bowl of poppies to write a message on at the end of the exhibition. | Source
A Maori ritual—water for cleansing after being with the deceased.
A Maori ritual—water for cleansing after being with the deceased. | Source
Entrance to the Permanent Nature Exhibition at Te Papa
Entrance to the Permanent Nature Exhibition at Te Papa | Source
The animated curved screen as you enter the Nature Exhibit are breathtaking.
The animated curved screen as you enter the Nature Exhibit are breathtaking. | Source
Inside the Nature Exhibit
Inside the Nature Exhibit | Source
The Nature Exhibit is always packed!
The Nature Exhibit is always packed! | Source
One of the Many Interactive Displays
One of the Many Interactive Displays | Source
A Globe Showing the Pacific Plate and the Fault Lines
A Globe Showing the Pacific Plate and the Fault Lines | Source
Outside the Back of Te Papa Museum
Outside the Back of Te Papa Museum | Source

3. Visit the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum

My career is enveloped with fashion, art and writing, so when I visit museums and galleries, I inevitably gravitate to pieces related to those subjects. Personally, I find a lot of museums that don't have to do with these topics uninspiring.

Te Papa is no such museum. I had been hearing about this place ever since it opened it 1998, and every person I spoke to who had visited it raved about the architecture and the exhibitions within its walls. Friends who had children said they couldn't drag them away.

My friend and I visited during the summer holidays (3rd January New Year 2020), so of course we knew it would probably be super busy; it was chaotic! I have never seen a museum so utterly packed with families, and because the entrance is cavernous, it was incredibly noisy. Everyone was enjoying themselves, especially the children, so the noise was a minor issue; just don't go if you have a headache!

We only had enough time to visit the Level 2 exhibitions, and even they took around three hours, including our lunch break.

Visit the Gallipoli Exhibit First

Gallipoli is a beautifully presented exhibition, but a very emotional one too, especially for Kiwis and Aussies. The permanent Nature Exhibition in the next room helps to ease those emotions, and you will enjoy the space immensely.

The Gallipoli Exhibition is very emotional, poignant and so worth visiting; it was wonderful to watch the children get enthusiastically involved with the interactive displays and learn about this disastrous war.

I visited Gallipoli on a camping tour of Europe in 1978; we slept under the stars at the mouth of the Dardanelles at night after visiting a tiny, privately run museum nearby and going to the war zones. New Zealand actually made it to the highest point before having to retreat, and it is one of the most emotional places I have ever visited; I have never felt so proud to be a Kiwi as while I was there. This exhibition was developed with the help of the Weta Workshop and will be running until ANZAC Day 2022.

After you exit the Gallipoli Exhibition, you will likely need a few moments to gather your emotions before entering the permanent Nature Exhibition in the next room. This is sheer magic for the whole family, with a plethora of imaginative and interactive displays that everyone lines up for—especially the earthquake house! The queue was so long we decided to give it a miss.

Te Papa is magic; you simply cannot go to Wellington without making time for a visit here.

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The Cable Car at the Lambton Quay TerminusTravelling up to Kelburn in the Cable CarArriving up at Kelburn to See the Magnificent ViewThe beautiful Pōhutukawa are only in bloom for such a short period over Christmas, hence the moniker 'NZ Christmas Tree'. They are actually native to the North Island but are found in the South Island as well.Marvellous Views Over Wellington HarbourAnother Breathtaking View of WellingtonKelburn VillasThe author enjoying her feijoa and salted caramel sorbet!The Cable Car Coming up to Kelburn From Lambton QuayThe Botanic Gardens are full of steep walks.The Entrance to the Botanic Gardens and the Carter ObservatoryThe Cable Car Arriving at the Kelburn TerminusThe very beautiful Pōhutukawa flower is a sign that Christmas is here. New Zealanders adore it!Cable Car Lane on Lambton Quay
The Cable Car at the Lambton Quay Terminus
The Cable Car at the Lambton Quay Terminus | Source
Travelling up to Kelburn in the Cable Car
Travelling up to Kelburn in the Cable Car | Source
Arriving up at Kelburn to See the Magnificent View
Arriving up at Kelburn to See the Magnificent View | Source
The beautiful Pōhutukawa are only in bloom for such a short period over Christmas, hence the moniker 'NZ Christmas Tree'. They are actually native to the North Island but are found in the South Island as well.
The beautiful Pōhutukawa are only in bloom for such a short period over Christmas, hence the moniker 'NZ Christmas Tree'. They are actually native to the North Island but are found in the South Island as well. | Source
Marvellous Views Over Wellington Harbour
Marvellous Views Over Wellington Harbour | Source
Another Breathtaking View of Wellington
Another Breathtaking View of Wellington | Source
Kelburn Villas
Kelburn Villas | Source
The author enjoying her feijoa and salted caramel sorbet!
The author enjoying her feijoa and salted caramel sorbet! | Source
The Cable Car Coming up to Kelburn From Lambton Quay
The Cable Car Coming up to Kelburn From Lambton Quay | Source
The Botanic Gardens are full of steep walks.
The Botanic Gardens are full of steep walks. | Source
The Entrance to the Botanic Gardens and the Carter Observatory
The Entrance to the Botanic Gardens and the Carter Observatory | Source
The Cable Car Arriving at the Kelburn Terminus
The Cable Car Arriving at the Kelburn Terminus | Source
The very beautiful Pōhutukawa flower is a sign that Christmas is here. New Zealanders adore it!
The very beautiful Pōhutukawa flower is a sign that Christmas is here. New Zealanders adore it! | Source
Cable Car Lane on Lambton Quay
Cable Car Lane on Lambton Quay | Source

4. Ride the Wellington Cable Car

The Wellington Cable Car is a funicular railway which runs from Lambton Quay, the main shopping street in Wellington, up through the wonderful villas of Kelburn to the Cable Car Museum and beautiful Botanic Gardens. It is a very short trip. At the top, you can visit the Carter Observatory and look around Kelburn; the views are stunning and it is worth spending a few hours in the gardens, although it is steep in parts.

The Kelburn terminus is also designed for the occasional function, being completely enclosed in protective glass, with outstanding views over Wellington and the harbour. If you are musically inclined, there is a piano there for anyone to play; we heard a young boy playing as we alighted from the cable car, and the acoustics were amazing.

In my opinion, the very best thing to do once you get to the terminus is to buy a huge feijoa sorbet at the café. In fact, get two scoops: 1 feijoa and 1 salted caramel together in the same cone! The guy serving me thought I was crazy and made me taste a tiny bit of each together before I bought the whole sorbet; it was utterly delicious. At least try the feijoa—it is so deliciously tangy.

I am addicted to train and cable-car travel and particularly enjoy funiculars; they are an amazing piece of engineering. When this cable car goes through the two tunnels, it lights up like a time machine inside, with multi-coloured LED light patterns. I can't think of a nicer way to commute than this fabulous railway with its majestic views.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Embassy Theatre is located at the base of Mt Victoria.Looking Towards the Downstairs Bar From the Main EntranceLooking Out Towards the Entrance From the Downstairs Bar and Ticket CounterThe Downstairs LoungeThe Downstairs BarThe Sublime Lounge Area UpstairsBeautiful Craftsmanship in the Walls and StaircaseThe windows are such a stunning work of art!
The Embassy Theatre is located at the base of Mt Victoria.
The Embassy Theatre is located at the base of Mt Victoria. | Source
Looking Towards the Downstairs Bar From the Main Entrance
Looking Towards the Downstairs Bar From the Main Entrance | Source
Looking Out Towards the Entrance From the Downstairs Bar and Ticket Counter
Looking Out Towards the Entrance From the Downstairs Bar and Ticket Counter | Source
The Downstairs Lounge
The Downstairs Lounge | Source
The Downstairs Bar
The Downstairs Bar | Source
The Sublime Lounge Area Upstairs
The Sublime Lounge Area Upstairs | Source
Beautiful Craftsmanship in the Walls and Staircase
Beautiful Craftsmanship in the Walls and Staircase | Source
The windows are such a stunning work of art!
The windows are such a stunning work of art! | Source

5. Catch a Movie at the Embassy Theatre

The Embassy is a spectacular cinema. It was originally built in 1924 and has undergone many refurbishments over the years. The last one, completed in the early 2000s, was underwritten by a $4.5-million grant and has been done with passionate workmanship. Plus, it has been strengthened against earthquakes.

There is a very cool lounge area downstairs complemented by another wonderful lounge and bar upstairs which surrounds a striking central curved staircase. The interior is sublime, and it would be a dream to go to a movie there in the evening. Unfortunately, we missed out on seats as it is a hugely popular cinema, so if you are going to a movie, book ahead!

Even if you don't get tickets, it is a super cool place just for a coffee or drinks with friends. The view from the majestic windows is certainly worth the trip up the stairs.

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Victoria Hannah

    Comments

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      • Victoria Hannah profile imageAUTHOR

        Victoria Hannah 

        5 weeks ago from Sydney, Australia

        Hi DredCuan, yes I totally agree with you. Wellington is a very hilly city and it is worse the higher you go but the views are with it. Climbing that high is not for me, give me a cable car any day, just like SF!

      • dredcuan profile image

        Travel Chef 

        5 weeks ago from California

        What I enjoyed the most in Wellington is the cable car going to their Botanic Garden. The view from above is absolutely breathtaking. It's kinda hard to climb up and down though. Wonderful photos!

      • Victoria Hannah profile imageAUTHOR

        Victoria Hannah 

        6 weeks ago from Sydney, Australia

        Thank you Rochelle, I love photography and sharing my pics so do appreciate your words.

      • rdsparrowriter profile image

        Rochelle Ann De Zoysa 

        6 weeks ago from Moratuwa, Sri Lanka

        Thank you for sharing your adventures :) I really enjoyed the pictures :)

      • Victoria Hannah profile imageAUTHOR

        Victoria Hannah 

        6 weeks ago from Sydney, Australia

        Oh I am so glad to hear that Liz!

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        6 weeks ago from UK

        2 years on and I still go through it.

      • Victoria Hannah profile imageAUTHOR

        Victoria Hannah 

        7 weeks ago from Sydney, Australia

        Thanks so much Liz, I really love writing for HP although I still stress about the structure and re-edit myself over and over again. I think I will ask if everyone goes through this at the beginning!

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        7 weeks ago from UK

        This is a very interesting and very well-illustrated article. I have learnt a lot about Wellington through reading it.

      • Victoria Hannah profile imageAUTHOR

        Victoria Hannah 

        7 weeks ago from Sydney, Australia

        Thank you Linda,

        When you do go to NZ take plenty of money, it is a classy but expensive country, rather like Canada from what my niece tells me. She went to Canada a few months back and said it was absolutely stunning, fabulous people but expensive. It is still on my 'To Go' list one day!

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        7 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is a very interesting article. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the photos and reading the information. I'd love to visit New Zealand one day.

      • Victoria Hannah profile imageAUTHOR

        Victoria Hannah 

        7 weeks ago from Sydney, Australia

        Thank you Nella,

        I appreciate the feedback, especially as a beginner on this stage.

      • Nella DiCarlo profile image

        Nella DiCarlo 

        7 weeks ago from Guelph, Ontario

        Enjoyed this article ! Great tips and well written , hope to visit one day

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