Sitting on the southernmost point of New Zealand’s North Island is the country’s capital, Wellington. With just 398,000 inhabitants, Wellington is small but perfectly formed, offering the ideal blend of culture, heritage, lively arts and fine food. Once referred to by Lonely Planet as the world’s “coolest little capital”, the city actually boasts more cafés, bars and restaurants than New York City, believe it or not. No matter what you’re looking for in your break, whether it’s exploring rugged coastline and rolling hills or going to see a world-class dance, theatre or musical performance, Wellington has got it covered, making the city a fantastic place to visit for anyone and everyone.
Call me boring, but museums fascinate me. So much so, that the number one highlight from my stay in Wellington was half a day spent at the Museum of New Zealand, or Te Papa Tongarewa, as it’s also known. The museum is free to enter and offers some great interactive exhibitions as you learn all about the art, culture and science of New Zealand. New exhibitions are introduced frequently, meaning no two visits are ever the same, but a few of my favourites were the earthquake simulator and exploring the life of a colossal squid through 3D animation. If your time is limited, you can hop on one of the daily tours, but I preferred to browse through the exhibits at a more leisurely pace.
It might not be at the top of your list, but I would wholeheartedly recommend stopping by at Wellington’s Parliament Buildings, which are open to visitors. A guided tour provides a fascinating insight into the country’s history, including the struggles the native Maoris went through to be recognised in politics, and will also give you a chance to watch debates live in session. Fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy are in for a treat with Wellington, as it was used for filming scenes set in Rivendell, the Gardens of Isengard and several others. Organised tours are available. New Zealand has some breathtaking natural scenery and Wellington is no exception. A visit to Zealandia, a 225-hectare area of protected forest, will give you a glimpse of dozens of species of birds, reptiles and wildlife, while a climb up Mount Victoria offers unparalleled views of the city and its surroundings. As a gateway between the two islands of New Zealand, Wellington is also the perfect place to hop on a ferry and explore the South Island.
Wellington is perched right over a major fault line, making the city prone to the effects of occasional earthquakes. Most of them are minor, but nevertheless, stringent building regulations are in place and the emergency services are well versed in responding to situations. The capital is also notorious for its near gale-force winds, so don’t put too much effort into doing your hair, because the chances are it will get ruined.
The gift shop at Te Papa is genuinely not a bad place to start when looking for souvenirs of your trip. Here you’ll be able to pick up quality Maori arts, wood carvings and jewellery, as well as more generic New Zealand-related merchandise. If clothing is your thing, you can pick up a pair of warm and cosy possum socks, or a replica shirt of New Zealand’s fearsome All Blacks rugby team, winners of the 2015 World Cup.
My visit to Wellington was part of a three-week tour in a campervan, which is a great way to see the country. If you prefer your bed without wheels, City Bed and Breakfast offers good mid-range accommodation, while Ohtel is a quirky boutique hotel in a great location that will have you paying closer to RO115 per night. Most of the big international hotel chains can also be found in Wellington.
1) Visit Te Papa museum
2) Take a tour of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings
3) Explore some of the sets from Lord of the Rings
4) Walk or drive up Mount Victoria for a fantastic view
5) Get in touch with nature at Zealandia