Top 10: What to Do in Wellington

I had the pleasure of living in Wellington for six months (sometimes I wonder why I left). I actually really, really miss it – there’s such a serene, quaint beauty to Wellington that can’t be replicated elsewhere.

Below is a list of my top 10 picks of what to do in Wellington. Whether you’ve been here, are coming here, or hope to come here, one thing stands true: Wellington is the coolest little capital city in the world*.

*2011, Lonely Planet

Precursor: I didn’t have a car or bike while living here and I love the outdoors, nature, and wildlife – hence why the majority of this list seems tailored toward that sort of stuff.

1. Explore the countless bays.

There are tons of them – my top pick is the border of Seatoun and Breaker Bay, where a beautiful 360-lookout (Point Dorset) is located. Stunning – I’ve yet to see a better view of New Zealand than there.

I’m pretty sure there are at least 20 different bays scattered around one patch of land. Not to mention all the smaller bays hidden within each “bigger” bay. It’s insane.

Breaker Bay. My absolute favorite.
Breaker Bay. My absolute favorite.

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2. Cable Car, Botanic Gardens and Carter Observatory.

This will only cost you about $2-3NZD (for the ticket up to the Cable Car) – the gardens and observatory are free (as long as you don’t do the exhibitions in the observatory).

The Wellington Botanic Gardens are HUGE. You could spend hours there and still miss things… so amazing. There really is no way I can describe its beauty. You just have to visit in person to understand. I recommend taking the Cable Car up, walking around the gardens and observatory, and then taking the simple 20-30min. walking trail back down to the city through the gardens. Easy.

Cable Car
Cable Car
Carter Observatory
Carter Observatory
Wellington Botanic Gardens
Wellington Botanic Gardens

3. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Quite simply, the most beautiful museum I’ve ever walked through – and it holds my full attention, which is applaudable. Six floors of great exhibits that are kid-friendly and educational. It’s a great first stop for those arriving in Wellington since you learn so much about the culture and history of both the city and New Zealand in general.

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4. Take a ferry to Matiu/Somes Island and Days Bay from Wellington Harbor.

Personally, I liked Somes Island more, even though it’s extremely small and quiet. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some seals, penguins and sheep. It’ll cost about $22 NZD round-trip for a day ferry, but you can even camp out on Somes Island for $10 NZD. Days Bay has a cute little beach and beautiful neighborhoods nestled into vast green hills. And of course, more hiking trails… just don’t get lost (insert snark here).

Matiu Somes Island
Matiu Somes Island
Days Bay (hike)
Days Bay (hike)

5. Explore Weta Cave in Miramar.

It’s free, and a tourist attraction for any diehard LOTR fan. The Window Into Workshop tour is $20 NZD and mainly geared toward those interested in the film industry, but still really neat. A must for any geek (in other words, if you enjoy San Diego Comic-Con, you’re going to come to Weta Cave and probably spend a few hours here). It’s really tiny, but you can also explore the surrounding Park Road Post Production Studios and Weta Digital buildings (admiring, no going inside) and gaze in awe.

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6. Hike up to Mount Victoria for a panoramic 360 degree view of Wellington CBD.

A must for anyone stopping by for just a day or two. Exceptionally beautiful at night, as well. If you’re into LOTR, try to find the Hobbit’s Hideaway – the location where the Hobbits hid from the Ringwraith in The Fellowship of the Ring. If you’re even smarter, you can Google other points of interest throughout Mount Victoria that also are home to LOTR locations.

By night...
By night…

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…and day.

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7. Red Rocks Reserve

Note that May-October are the best times to see the infamous NZ fur seals along the coast. You’ll see lots of fancy rock formations along this hike, but just note it’s about 2-3 hours to get to the red rocks area (plus allowing time to get back). You can always take a 4WD vehicle and save some energy if you’re feeling up for it – or better yet, cycle!

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8. Google “Wellington hikes.”

Then again, anywhere in NZ has great hiking trails. But seriously, there are countless trails – far more than I could even get to in just six months.

You'll never know where one trail leads...
You’ll never know where one trail leads…
... but the views are always worth it.
… but the views are always worth it.

9. Zealandia: The Karori Sanctuary Experience. 

I loved it so much, I bought an annual pass. Probably one of the best things about Wellington – birds galore! Also a great area to hike or run through as well. It’s comparable to a Jurassic Park sanctuary with never-ending lush mountains and hills. It’s fantastic.

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10. Take the Metlink train with a Day Rover pass.

Trains depart daily from Wellington Railway Station. There are three lines you can take with this pass: Waikanae/Kapiti (my favorite), Johnsonville, and Upper Hutt.

Upper Hutt
Upper Hutt
Paekakariki Beach (Kapiti line)
Paekakariki Beach (Kapiti line)
Wairarapa/Masterton
Wairarapa/Masterton

I didn’t really add cafes, eating, drinking, etc. in the mix because – well, that’s a given. It’s pretty hard NOT to find cute cafes throughout Wellington, and it’s easy just to wander around Cuba St. in CBD to find some of the best cozy spots. Here’s to hoping you ALL visit this beautiful little city…

BONUS: Be in the know with these great deal-saving sites below for New Zealand!

  • BookMeYou could save hundreds of dollars on activities, meals, and tours just by checking here first. I wish I had known about this sooner…
  • GrabOneBasically NZ’s version of GroupOn, with much less selection. But hey, the e-mail alerts are always handy.
  • TravelBug secret sales: Run by TradeMe, this is for the more risky travelers on a tight budget. Think about it as blind dating with accommodation/airfare. As its description reads: “We can’t tell you where you’re booking until after you have paid. You can see their user rating and their general location, so take a little risk and get a hot deal.
  • Mighty Ape: The NZ version of Amazon (I state this lightly. Amazon also ships to NZ, but the cost of shipping depends on the product). Daily deals can be found here.
  • TradeMeThe NZ version of eBay: efficient. always recommended by Kiwis, and straightforward. Boom.
  • Gumtree: The NZ version of Craigslist.
  • GrabASeat: Partnered with Air NZ, this site is really useful for anyone traveling without heaps of baggage. They also feature reverse auctions, which run every Tuesday and allow you to grab a deal before someone else does (or before time runs out).
  • GroupOn NZIt exists, but the deals aren’t the greatest.
  • TreatMe: Good for spa/activity deals.
  • One Day Deals: Lists helpful money-saving sites in a list toward the bottom.
  • Air NZ e-mail alerts: I believe they only offer deals on one-way airfare, but they’re really helpful!
  • GetFrank
  • Deal A Day

All prices listed in NZD. Also check out Young Adventuress’ guide to Wellington, as well as my best friend’s blog for more helpful tips on Wellington!