Attractions In The Southernmost Capital In The World – Wellington

Good things certainly do come in small packages. Take Wellington, New Zealand, for example. Wellington may be little, but this diminutive capital city is big on funky café culture and beautiful views. Snuggled between steep, forest-clad hills and a wide sweep of the bay looking out to Cook Strait, Wellington spreads out across the slopes, and a sturdy pair of walking shoes benefit visitors who want to explore outside of the central business district.

Luckily, the main tourism highlight–the magnificent Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa)–is located near the waterfront, and the quaint Wellington Cable Car provides a scenic and extremely fun alternative to puffing up the hill to the Kelburn Lookout.

Due to the city’s position, capturing the blustery conditions right on Cook Strait, it has gained the nickname “windy Wellington.” But don’t let that put you off. On a blue-sky summer’s day, there is no prettier city in New Zealand. To learn more about this exciting travel destination, be sure to read our list of the top-rated tourist attractions in Wellington.

  1. Wellington Cable Car and the Kelburn Lookout

Wellington’s historic cable car has been climbing up the hill to the Kelburn Lookout, next door to the Botanic Gardens, since 1912. This fun five-minute journey is a scenic (and much more relaxed) alternative to puffing your way up Wellington’s steep hill from Lambton Quay in the waterfront central district. There are excellent views across the city along the way, and keen photographers will want to get snap-happy with the cityscape panoramas laid out before them once at Kelburn Lookout.

The Kelburn cable car terminal is also home to the interesting Cable Car Museum, which displays the original cable car used on the tracks. A cable car ride is also one of the top things to do at night in Wellington. Not only do you get the chance to admire the nighttime views over the city below you, but parts of the journey, including the tunnels, are lit up with colorful displays of illumination. There’s also a good café located at the top of the cable attraction.

  1. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

New Zealand’s national museum is an immersive journey into the natural forces that formed the country, the culture of the Maori people who first settled here, and the social history of both Maori and Europeans who have shaped the nation since then.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (more commonly called “Te Papa” by locals) has a wealth of exhibits to explore, from the Earthquake House that simulates the experience of being in an earthquake, to the much more sedate Arts Te Papa collection, with 11 galleries of artworks focused on New Zealand and Pacific Island artists.

The highlight of the museum though is the Mana Whenua exhibition, which traces the history of New Zealand’s Maori with a fine collection of Maori art and treasures and state-of-the-art multimedia displays. Cafés and a shop are also located on the premises and are especially handy if you’re planning a long visit or are attending an educational seminar or lecture.

  1. Wellington Museum

Rated one of the top free things to do in Wellington, state-of-the-art multimedia displays help bring the city’s history to life in the small but impressive Wellington Museum. Housed in a preserved historic building that was once one of the city’s early department stores, the museum features informative exhibits and film presentations that trace Wellington’s maritime history and the city’s evolution.

In particular, the exhibits on the 1968 Wahine disaster–the sinking of the Wahine ferry near Wellington harbor during a storm claimed 51 lives and is New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster–are a sobering and thoughtful reminder of the power of nature and Wellington’s connection to the sea. There is also a very well-presented gallery focused on Maori myths and legends.

Also worth a visit is the nearby Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, home to the country’s national monument to those who have fallen during the conflict. Of special interest is the War Memorial Carillon, a series of 74 bells that are regularly played in concerts and are well worth witnessing if you’re visiting the city at the time.

  1. The Beehive

Wellington’s most iconic building is The Beehive, the site of New Zealand’s parliament. Designed by British architect Sir Basil Spence and built between 1964 and 1979, the building with its distinctive shape is the city’s most love-it-or-hate-it piece of architecture.

Next door is the more classical-looking building of Parliament House, built in 1907 in Neoclassical Edwardian style and home to The Chamber where parliamentary debates are held.

Free one-hour tours of the parliament buildings are held daily between 10 am and 4 pm and trace New Zealand’s parliamentary history, as well as touring through the important government rooms. They leave from the visitor center on the ground floor of The Beehive.

The parliament gardens around the buildings are open to the public and contain rose gardens and a statue of Richard John Seddon who was prime minister of New Zealand between 1893 and 1906.

  1. Wellington Botanic Garden

Created in 1868, Wellington Botanic Garden is a lush 25-hectare oasis that sprawls for 25 hectares on the city hillside, full of blooming flower displays and native fauna. A series of walking tracks meander through the gardens, from conifer forest areas to ferneries and seasonal flower beds. The Lady Norwood Rose Gardens here are one of the botanic gardens’ finest attractions, with 110 rose beds boasting a flurry of different varieties.

The Space Place at Carter Observatory, with its planetarium show, is sited in the eastern section of the gardens (near the Wellington Cable Car Kelburn Terminal), and the gardens are also home to Begonia House with tropical flower species displays.

If possible, try to time your visit to coincide with one of the frequent summer concerts hosted here. For a fun day out, take the Wellington Cable Car, then walk back down to the city center after exploring the gardens.

And if there’s time left in your day for a little more botanic garden-going, pay a visit to the interesting Otari Native Botanic Garden and Wilton’s Bush Reserve, located in nearby Wilton, popular for its indigenous plant life.

  1. ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary

Dedicated to exhibiting New Zealand’s conservation efforts and its unique nature and wildlife, ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary is a 225-hectare urban eco-sanctuary only two kilometers from the city center. Here, many of the country’s native birds–including endangered species such as the stitchbird, saddleback, and takahe–can be heard and seen, as well as more than 100 kiwis (which can be spotted on guided night tours) and New Zealand’s famed reptile, the tuatara.

There are 32 kilometers of walking trails throughout the reserve for visitors to explore, plus a museum that documents the natural history of the country. Daytime and twilight tours are also available, along with a fun electric boat ride.

  1. Weta Cave Workshop Tour

Fans of the classic Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies won’t want to miss out on Wellington’s connection to Peter Jackson’s successful trilogies. Wellington is home to the director’s famous Weta Workshop, where many of the props and special effects for these blockbuster movies were made.

The best way to experience this movie attraction is aboard a Weta Cave Workshop Tour. These professionally-led tours provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how these movies were made, along with other hits, including Avatar and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

You’ll also see up close some of the models used to portray various characters and film sets. Included with the tour are round-trip transportation from downtown Wellington, a tour guide, a chance to chat with workshop staff, and an introductory documentary. A great souvenir shop is located on-site.

  1. Katherine Mansfield House & Garden

This small wooden house in the Wellington suburb of Thorndon was the childhood home of New Zealand’s most famous author. Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) was a short story writer whose modernist prose has been highly influential both in her home country and overseas. Most of the writing she became famous for was completed in London, where she moved as an adult and was friends with D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf.

The house where she was born and grew up has been restored to its original condition and is now a museum housing many of Mansfield’s personal belongings, as well as typical furniture and fixtures of the late 19th century. Guided tours are available, and a gift shop is located on-site.