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What to see and do in Wellington – a guide to notable activities and attractions

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From the lofty cable car and Mount Victoria Lookout to coastal seal tours and the verdant marvels of Zealandia, exploring Wellington throws up a whole host of exciting highlights. Every whim is catered for here, with films buffs delighting in the Lord of the Rings tours and culture vultures able to while away endless hours in some of the most interactive museums in the world.

Mike Watt

My Destination local expert on

Wellington (NZ)

Cable car

 

A Wellington icon, the fire-red carriages of the city’s famous cable car offer a memorable ride from Lambton Quay to Kelburn, revealing a breathtaking vista of Victorian villas overlapping the gleaming new high rises. Disembarking at the summit of Kelburn Lookout, visitors can check out the free Cable Car Museum – home to the original century-old cars – and the nearby Carter Observatory and Planetarium. You can then either catch the cable car back down to the quay, or take a 40 minute stroll into the center through the lush landscapes of Wellington Botanic Garden.

 

Wellington Botanic Garden

 

The design of Wellington City cleverly blends dense townscape with a patchwork of greenery. Arguably the city’s most famous green space is Wellington Botanic Garden; a 25 hectare haven of exotic rockeries and winding palmed paths, serene rose gardens and a Victorian glasshouse. A walk around the gardens is particularly striking in spring when 25,000 vibrant tulips bloom, and also at night, with the soft gleam of glow worms illuminating the pathways.

 

Zealandia

 

Just 10 minutes from the city center, the eco-sanctuary of Zealandia is a unique Wellington attraction – the world’s first fully fenced nature retreat of its kind. A valley nestled beside a tranquil reservoir, Zealandia aims to restore the local habitat to a pre-human state, meaning the preservation of hundreds of native species such as entertaining kaka parrots, New Zealand’s national symbol the kiwi bird and the Jurassic tuatara. Wander around 32km of trails, check out the interactive exhibition and dine at the terraced café.

 

Te Papa Museum

 

New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa is Maori for ‘container of treasures’ and is a must-visit while in Wellington. Spanning diverse themes such as art, history and Maori culture, the museum offers an in-depth look into the country’s vibrant past, with films, pictures and games blending into one superb interactive experience. Extensive and yet free, Te Papa is definitely no ordinary museum, and shouldn’t be saved for a rainy day.

 

Mount Victoria lookout

 

Looking out over the tapestry of Wellington from above is an essential part of visiting this city. Rising 195m over the ocean, Mount Victoria Lookout provides sweeping views of Downtown Wellington, Lyall and Evans bays to the south and Port Jerningham and Oriental Bay to the north. Drive to this lofty lookout via a winding road from Oriental Bay, take a weekday bus or tackle the two hour walk – it’s well worth the view!

 

Guided tours

 

Discover the treasures of the Wellington area with a choice of fascinating guided tours. Seal Coast Safari run 4WD tours along the rugged coastline, finishing up at Tongue Point – home to a colony of fur seals. If you’re more of a film fan, go for the magical Lord of the Rings Tour that whisks you through the film locations of the famous franchise. Visit the Great River Anduin, Rivendell and Helms Deep, as well as the Weta Cave mini-museum in the heart of ‘Wellywood’.