Wellington is a beautiful capital city with museums, walks, outdoor cafes and more. While NZ can quickly become expensive, there are plenty of budget-friendly outings to enjoy, considering the easy layout, accessible beaches, and nature within the city. From the free exhibits at Te Papa Museum to a steep but doable hike up Mt. Victoria, here's my guide to navigating Wellington. Be sure to check out my map of locations with notable locations, activities, and to-do's.
All Things Sir Peter Jackson
If you're a fan of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, check out Weta Workshop. They create all kinds of movie magic and are located in the eastern Miramar neighborhood.
(If you're interested in visiting the actual Hobbit houses, I've written a post about that, too!) You can take a tour bus there, which is a decent deal, or the #2 Bus can get you there a bit cheaper.
At the Weta Cave, there's a free film, fun gift shop, and a you can check-in for a slightly over-priced tour of the props room. It's 45 minutes of being able to ask questions, see and handle weapons and set pieces, along with insights into the complexities involved in the special effects. While I found it interesting, the price seemed a bit high to me, and you may find that the other free offers are enough. Book ahead online, and get there on time.
Te Papa is beautifully set along the waterfront and currently features Gallipoli The Scale of our War (in partnership with Weta Workshop). This WWI story-based attraction showcases 8 massive replicas of New Zealanders' experiences in the war. The Kiwis featured are 2.4 times the size of a normal person, and to give you an idea of the craftsmanship, each eyebrow took an hour to make. Each hair was placed individually, and each pore was carved by hand. It is a must see, if you visit by 2018.
Walks and Day Trips
Mt. Victoria lookout is the most obvious walk for its central location. There's no limit to the walks in the area, but if you're looking for a nice view of the city and don't want to go far, take a 40 min. walk up the hill, starting on Majoribanks Street, or hitch a ride on the bus.
Mount Kaukau is slightly higher than Mt. Vic, and is found in the neighborhood of Khandallah. You wouldn't necessarily find yourself there as you would need to take the train, but if you do, it's about a 40 min. walk up the hill for the amazing 360-view.
If you love a boat ride, hop aboard the East by West ferry to Days Bay, across the harbour in the Eastbourne area. It was an easy ride, with nice views. There's a quaint beach and grassy lawn, immediately after disembarking. Grab an ice cream and enjoy the sun!
Island Bay, along the south coast has stunning views, rocky beaches, big waves, and penguins!
You can walk the Te Raekaihau track for more views, and on a clear day, you can see the South Island.
If you head west along The Esplanade on the water's edge, The Bach Cafe is a handy destination after exploring the coast. Be sure to check their hours beforehand.
Cable Car to Botanical Gardens
This is my favorite place in the city. Be sure to take the Cable Car up to the sprawling Botanical Gardens.
If you're lucky, you may hear a band playing at the Soundshell, in the spring and summer. Summer Soundshell events are listed here.
Many of the cinemas are beautifully renovated art houses, along with current releases. My favorite was The Embassy. The Hobbit and LOTR happened to premiered there. The less charming Reading Cinema (Te Aro) is centrally located and has deals on Tuesdays, as do the other cinemas in town. Further out of the center: Light House (Cuba), Roxy (Miramar), Penthouse (Brooklyn), and Empire (Island Bay). All on my Map of Wellington.
If you end up timing it right, be sure to see a Rugby or Soccer game at Westpac Stadium. It's situated just above the train station and is an easy 20 to 30 minute walk from the city center or, as they call it, the CBD (Central Business District).
I was able to see the Phoenix soccer game, and the Lions rugby match. Tickets were easy to get, affordable, and I didn't have to deal with parking.
If you're into Cricket, check out The Basin Reserve, again it's right in town and walkable.
Markets and Fairs
Sundays at the Harbourside Market are a weekly occurrence with great food and coffee trucks. My personal favorite was the fresh berry ice cream truck. There are some decent musicians busking, and imaginative street performers.
If you hit it right, the Gypsy Extravaganza is a once-a-year event held in the neighboring park. It's basically a bunch of gypsy caravans in a massive fair, selling goods, with a band playing and hula hoops and other fun. It's pure joy, if you manage to find them on their loop in the North or South.
If it's a warm enough day, bring your togs (what they call a swimsuit) to the harbour.
Wellington is built along the water, so musicians set up along the walkway, and anyone can jump off a number of different platforms into the frigid cold water.
Again, if it's really hot, my favorite area was Oriental Bay for a swim. The water is incredibly cold, so if you're dying to get in, I recommend taking the ferry up to Easbourne Bay.
Deals and Restaurants
1. Wellington's local site has information on the latest happenings all over the city.
2. Courtenay Place is full of specials, so it's always a good place to start for food and drink.
3. Cuba Street has a Friday night market and a slew of interesting choices between Abel Smith St. and Dixon St.
4. Chow has really nice asian fusion, and is 2 for 1 food on Mondays.
5. A few favorite places: Havana Bar (Cuba), Loretta Restaruant (Cuba), Library Bar (Courtenay Place), Maranui Cafe (Lyall Bay), Karaka Cafe (Lagoon in CBD)
6. Less appealing places, but fantastic deals: Domino's $5 value pizzas, and McDonald's $.70 soft serve.
7. During December, there's a Wellington Advent Calendar with daily deals.
8. Non-food deal: Free car rental relocation. Cars need to be driven to different locations if some companies are overstocked in a particular city, so if it fits with your journey, you can travel on the cheap.
9. Treat Me and Grabone are sites full of ways to save.
A map of all of these locations are here.
Wellington is very walkable, and a well laid-out city. It's also one of the windiest places in the world. On a nice day, it's pretty spectacular and a great place to chill on the waterfront.
Links of Wellington locations:
My Map of Wellington
Wellington's own homepage full of events and happenings
Westpac Stadium for all things sporty
Weta Workshop to tour some movie magic
Te Papa museum has cool exhibits, including Gallipoli The Scale of our War
Mt. Victoria and Mount Kaukau offer great walks for 360-views
East by West ferry to Days Bay, Soames Island, and Seatoun
Island Bay for a walk along Te Raekaihau and The Esplanade to The Bach Cafe
Cable Car up to the Botanical Gardens
Harbourside Market for fresh fruit and veg on Sunday mornings, next to Te Papa
Cinemas: The Embassy (Te Aro), Reading Cinema (Te Aro) deals on Tuesdays, Light House (Cuba), Roxy (Miramar), Penthouse (Brooklyn), and Empire (Island Bay)
Beaches: Oriental Bay, Easbourne Bay