Things to Do in Wellington
Located on Wellington’s waterfront, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (better known simply as Te Papa) holds massive collections of New Zealand art and artifacts. Hear stories from local communities, see some of the best contemporary Aotearoa art, and entertain your kids while teaching them about the world at the museum’s Discovery Centres.
Zealandia Ecosanctuary is a unique wildlife conservation park in Karori, just minutes from central Wellington. A premier eco-attraction, the fully fenced urban project has restored much of the flora and fauna that once surrounded the city. Forest and wetlands provide habitat for more than 40 native bird species, amphibians, and reptiles.
New Zealand’s architectural symbol is the domed Parliament House in Wellington. Hosting the executive wing of Parliament, “the Beehive” was built between 1969 and 1981 and features murals and artworks by noted New Zealand artists. The building has 10 floors above ground including cabinet rooms and prime ministerial offices.
Looming out of the land at the end of Courtenay Place, Mt. Victoria is deeply embedded in the life of Wellington’s central city. Standing at more than 640 feet (195 meters) at its highest point, the Mt. Victoria Lookout offers 360-degree views of Wellington stretching out past the scenic harbor.
From fantastical costumes and prosthetics to large-scale props and weaponry, 3D models, and animatronics, New Zealand’s Weta Workshop is a one-stop-shop for movie special effects. Most famous for their Academy Award-winning work on theLord of the Rings films, the studio has also worked on films includingGodzilla,Avatar, andSpiderman.
Operating since 1902, the Wellington Cable Car is one of the city’s most famous sights. The ride, from the central business district to the city’s tranquil botanic garden, offers a stunning light show inside the tunnels as well as gorgeous vistas of Mount Victoria and Wellington Harbour as you reach the top.
Old St. Paul’s
Old St. Paul’s Cathedral might look out of place nestled in the Wellington suburb of Thorndon, surrounded by multistory offices and modern apartment buildings—but this heritage-listed edifice was there long before any of them. Built in 1866, the beautiful and impeccably preserved Gothic church was constructed from native timber.
Though it no longer holds Sunday services, Old St. Paul’s remains Wellington’s oldest Anglican church. After a long battle to prevent its demolition in the 1960s, the building is now managed by Heritage New Zealand, who open the church to visitors almost every day of the year. Its impressive interior houses an interactive exhibition, “Read This Building,” that details the building’s construction.
Old St. Paul’s is a popular stop for Wellington sightseeing tours, including shore excursions. Guided tours of the cathedral are available for a small fee.
Things to Know Before You Go
Entry to the church is by donation.
The Old St. Paul’s gift shop sells locally made souvenirs; all proceeds go toward preservation work on the cathedral.
Brochures about the church’s history and architecture are available in a number of languages.
Old St. Paul’s is wheelchair accessible, though some aisles may be too narrow for motorized chairs.
How to Get There
The cathedral is centrally located in Wellington, a block from the New Zealand Parliament Buildings and a roughly 5-minute walk from Lambton Quay. If you’re traveling by bus or train, get off at the interchange/railway station and head north up Mulgrave Street.
When to Get There
Old St. Paul’s is open during normal business hours except on most public holidays and when there is a private function. Visit on a sunny day—you can take a picnic and relax on the cathedral’s leafy grounds before or after your tour.
Old St. Paul’s Unique Architecture
Old St. Paul’s Cathedral is a classic Gothic Revival church and is known in particular for its grand interior design. The cathedral is built from rich brown native timber; in the building’s nave, the timber has been curved into huge arches, like the hull of an old wooden ship. The church is lined with stained glass windows and features a bold stained glass triptych behind the altar.
Fur seals aren’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of New Zealand’s capital, but here at coastal Red Rocks Reserve (Pariwhero) just minutes outside of the city, colonies of large, bachelor seals can be found from May-October. Having lost the battle to become breeding males at the fur seal colonies on the South Island, these males swim up across the Cook Strait to winter on Wellington’s coast.
Even in summer when seals aren’t around, the rugged trail leading out to the reserve offers sweeping views of the shoreline, where on the clearest of days you can see snowcapped peaks that rise from the neighboring South Island. The reserve gets its name from the reddish-hued rocks that dot the slippery coast, which are layers of ancient pillow lava formed over 200 million years ago. It’s the small deposits of iron ore that give the rocks their coloring, but ancient Maori believe the navigator, Kupe, spilled blood on the rocks when a paua, or abalone, suddenly clamped on his hand. The trail is also accessible to cyclists, joggers, and off-road drivers, and is the perfect way to connect with nature before spending a night on the town.
One of New Zealand’s oldest gardens, Wellington Botanic Garden is an escape from the clamor of the city, in the city. Right behind the Wellington CBD in Thorndon, this 62-acre (25-hectare) garden is full of native and exotic plants. Stroll along one of the many calm, tranquil paths and take some relaxing time away from the urban jungle.
Staglands Wildlife Reserve, a peaceful escape about an hour outside of Wellington’s hustle and bustle, is fun for children and big kids of all ages. Walk through a custom-designed nature park full of animals, from wild goats and guinea pigs to rainbow trout and endangered native birds, and feed and get to know these friendly critters.
More Things to Do in Wellington
Home to dance companies, artist collectives, hip start-ups, and more, Wellington’s Cuba Street district is bristling with creative energy. The action is centered along a pedestrian mall, a hot spot for buskers and street performers that’s lined with historical buildings and full of stylish, artsy stores, cafés, and restaurants.
The Wellington Museum, a Victorian-era warehouse on the Wellington waterfront, showcases the city’s stories and secrets. Get a taste for life in early Wellington, and follow its development from tribal land to colonial port—filled with sailors and seafarers—to, as coined by Lonely Planet, the “coolest little capital in the world.”
In an unassuming hangar off the South Island’s Kapiti Expressway is one of the southern hemisphere’s largest collections of vintage cars. The Southward Car Museum displays more than 400 vehicles, ranging from turn-of-the-century models and slick 1960s luxury cars to million-dollar Bugattis and immaculately-preserved family sedans.
The rural lifestyle and country charm of New Zealand’s heartland are revealed on a trip to the Wairarapa region, an area of sheep-raising, vineyards, and outdoor activities such as horseback riding and hiking through forest parks. Organized bike tours that take in the region’s farms and family-run wineries are most popular.
Permanent and touring exhibitions of contemporary art are displayed at City Gallery Wellington (Te Whare Toi). Works by New Zealand artists are highlighted along with a lively program of contemporary visual arts, architecture, and design. Major international exhibitions are likely to be staged at the gallery, all with free admission.
Perched on the southern tip of the North Island, New Zealand’s capital is an important center for arts and culture, and a popular stop-off for cruise ships. The treasure-filled Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) and the Zealandia wildlife sanctuary are within easy reach of Wellington Cruise Port.
Perched on the banks of the River Hutt, Hutt Valley is home to wildlife reserves, forest parks, historic harborside settlements, and walking and cycling trails, all of which make it a popular weekend escape from Wellington. The valley is home to several Lord of the Rings filming locations and is therefore a magnet for Tolkien fans.
Considered the city’s playground, Wellington Outer Green Belt is a strip of undeveloped green land that stretches north along Wellington’s ridgetops. Walking and biking tracks weave through the landscape, which encompasses forests, hills, and the rugged south coastline.
Located atop the Wellington Botanic Garden, the Space Place at Carter Observatory is full of interactive exhibits to help visitors young and old learn about our little galaxy. Spend the day exploring the universe. Then at night, look through the observatory’s historic Thomas Cooke telescope and see stars and planets in incredible detail.
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