5 Captivating Places to Visit in Wellington, New Zealand
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 2020 Victoria Hannah