Things to Do in Wellington
Just 10 minutes from central Wellington, the unique Zealandia wildlife sanctuary and conservation park is one of New Zealand’s premier eco attractions, restoring the flora and fauna that once surrounded the city.
The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary’s restored forest and wetlands provide a habitat for more than 30 native bird species, as well as frogs, lizards and cute green geckos.
View the exhibition tracing the development of New Zealand’s natural history, take a guided walking tour through the predator-proof, 225-hectare (550-acre) sanctuary, then refuel at the park’s cafe overlooking the lake.
New Zealand’s architectural symbol is the beehive-shaped 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, filled with cabinet rooms, prime ministerial offices, a banqueting hall, function rooms and several restaurants. Take a free guided 1-hour tour or drop into the visitor center in the ground-floor foyer. You can sit in the public galleries of the debating chamber when the House is sitting.
The capital of New Zealand, but only its third largest city, Wellington is the geographic and cultural centre of the country. Located on the southern tip of the North Island and sitting on a sparkling harbor, it is a primary departure point for ferries crossing Cook Strait to the South Island. With a vibrant arts scene and a variety of galleries, theatres and museums, Wellington has an undeniable charm and energy.
If you are arriving on a large cruise ship, you will dock at Aotea Quay, located between the Interislander Ferry Terminal and the train station. From there, a walk into the city centre is about twenty minutes. You might also take a free shuttle if offered by your ship or catch a shuttle operated by the city, which costs around five New Zealand dollars. Smaller cruise ships dock at Queens Wharf, which is right in the centre of town.
When it comes to The Lord of The Rings, New Zealand is always famously mentioned for the enchanting beauty of its scenery. From deeply-gouged canyons and ominous volcanoes to lofty, snow-covered peaks, the physical beauty of Middle-earth was arguably the films’ greatest draw. What many moviegoers don’t realize, however, is that the filming locations for The Lord of The Rings were just a fraction of the overall production. Mythical creatures such as orcs and balrogs were needed to prowl those canyons, and professional makeup and creative design were needed to round out the set.
While there are numerous tours to Lord of the Rings filming locations in cities across New Zealand, there’s only one tour where you can visit the place where the magic was all tied together. At Weta Workshop in the suburbs of Wellington, this 65,000 sq. ft. facility is where much of the design, props, makeup, and weaponry were created in the making of the films.
New Zealand’s premier museum is Te Papa Tongarewa.
Known as Te Papa (‘our place’), the museum takes an inspiring and interactive excursion through New Zealand’s history, art and culture. The museum’s prized collections focus on the areas of art, history, the Pacific, Maori culture and the natural environment.
There’s a freshness and vibrancy to this museum’s curatorship, with a huge collection of Maori artifacts, hands-on activity centers for children, re-creations of Maori meeting houses and colonial settlements, contemporary art and high-tech displays.
Take a tour of the highlights or target your favorite area of interest. Touring exhibitions are also displayed here.
One of the best places to get your bearings in the city of Wellington is from the Mount Victoria Lookout. The panoramic views stretch from the harbor islands all the way to planes taking off and landing at the airport south-east of the city center. Mount Victoria is 196 meters (642 feet) high. The lookout is topped by a triangular memorial to Antarctic explorer Admiral Byrd.
More Things to Do in Wellington
The Museum of Wellington City and Sea explores the maritime connection that ties Wellington so closely to the sea. Mixing historical displays with cutting-edge technology, the museum brings history alive with maritime artifacts, interactive exhibits, holographs, audio-visual displays and documentaries screened on a giant cinema screen.
The museum is spread over 3 floors of the restored 1892 Bond Store warehouse. The building is a feature in its own right, with historic timber beams and virtual vermin to set the scene. Another highlight is the sailing ship conservation project known as Plimmer’s Ark.
Funky, chic and full of life, Wellington’s Cuba Street District is the de facto hot spot for curbside entertainment and people-watching. This pedestrian mall boasts an artsy flare that permeates the boutiques and cafés, and it’s the best place in Wellington to find buskers and street performers sure to draw smiles.
Named for a 19th-century ship that carried settlers to the capital city, Cuba Street is full of enjoyable spots, from impossibly cool coffee shops where visitors linger and watch the rain roll in to the mall where shoppers stomp their feet to impromptu performances as they stroll by enjoying the sunshine.
If visiting in March or April, there’s a chance you could attend the Cuba Street Carnival, which only happens every other year. This trendy district becomes a procession of floats that pulses with live music and turns into the hottest place in the city.
The rural lifestyle and country charm of New Zealand’s heartland are revealed on a day trip to the Wairarapa region from Wellington. It’s an area of sheep-raising, vineyards, farms and outdoor activities like horseback riding and hiking through forest parks.
A major feature of this lovely fertile region is Lake Wairarapa, the North Island’s third largest lake. It’s a popular spot for fishing and birdwatching.
The main town, Martinborough, is a firm fixture on the foodie gourmet trail. Wellington locals flock here at weekends to drop into the cellar doors of surrounding vineyards, known for their good-quality pinot noir and sauvignon blanc wines.
Nearby there are farms to visit, horses and quad bikes to ride, outdoor rope courses, kayaking and bushwalks to get appetites firing.
Permanent and touring exhibitions of contemporary art are displayed at the City Gallery Wellington.
Works by New Zealand artists are highlighted, along with a lively program of contemporary visual arts, architecture and design. If a major international exhibition of contemporary art is touring, it’s likely to be staged here.
The gallery is a popular meeting spot thanks to its free entry and well-regarded Nikau cafe, serving organic produce and award-winning coffee.
When visiting Wellington, it’s possible to travel over the span of 30 minutes from the capital of New Zealand to the forests of Middle-earth. While the Hutt Valley is often considered as a distant suburb of Wellington, it’s also known as a filming location for the famous Lord of the Rings. Here, in this forested river valley to the north and east of Wellington, numerous scenes were shot for the movies which would capture the attention of the world.
Dry Creek Quarry, for example, was turned into Minas Tirith and the capital city of Gondor. The city makes a brief appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring, although most fans know it for its central role in the epic The Return of the King. This was also the site of Helm’s Deep, the massive fortress of the city of Gondor where armies famously clashed. Nearby, at Harcourt Park, the area was used as the filming location for the legendary fortress of Isengard.
Everyone from classic rock stars to Polynesian explorers have waxed romantic about the Southern Cross constellation, and at the Carter Observatory above downtown Wellington, visitors can gaze right up toward the heavens to witness the iconic star pattern. Peacefully embedded within the Wellington Botanical Gardens, the Carter Observatory is the capital’s best site for discovering the southern sky’s beauty. Inside, learn about solar flares and cosmic hurricanes, and feel free to ask the deepest questions of our galaxy. Is anyone else out there?
The Carter Observatory makes an entertaining visit for anyone with an interest in space. In addition to the informative displays that discuss all sides of the universe, there are two historic high-powered telescopes that raise their eye to the sky. As long as the weather permits, visitors can spend evenings craning their necks skywards at the stars.
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