Only minutes from the city center of Wellington you'll find the notable Zealandia eco-sanctuary, a protected conservation project home to some of New Zealand's most endangered creatures. Tucked away in a reservoir basin lies a miniature urban national park where you can wander hiking trails for hours admiring some of the rare birds and endangered flora and fauna. Though after the sun sets things are taken up a notch and you have the chance to spot a kiwi, New Zealand's iconic nocturnal flightless bird.
With the sea on one side and surrounded by green spaces all around, there is an abundance of parks and conservation land at your disposal within an easy drive from Wellington. Head over the bumpy Rimutaka Ranges to Cape Palliser for coastal hikes and seal spotting at the lighthouse; though don't get too close if you don't want to be chased down the beach.
Wellington is very much New Zealand's cultural capital, full of vibrant art galleries, pop-up events, foodie spots, theater events and unique experiences such as spoken word nights. Don't miss the World of WearableArt show every year in Wellington, a massive experience where design and theater are combined, one of the most popular events in all of New Zealand.
Best Day Trip
A scenic hour drive from downtown Wellington through the mountains will bring you to the boutique wine-growing region of the Wairarapa. The charming town of Martinborough has an array of delicious eateries and plenty of quaint wineries that are in easy walking or biking distance from each other. It's best experienced during the local food and wine festival, Toast Martinborough, every spring, and is a great opportunity to hang fast and loose with the locals who look forward to the event every year.
Most Iconic Attraction
You can't miss New Zealand's national museum Te Papa, which caters to all, young and old alike. For the fun and curious, it's a treasure trove, sitting on the banks of the harbor with some of the best views of the city. Full of interactive experiences, it shares the story of New Zealand and is free of charge. Don't forget to experience the earthquake exhibit and say hello to the local giant squid, and on Sundays the Harbourside Market takes place next-door—an incredible open air market full of great food, local music and plenty of affordable fruits and veggies.
Wellington was made for late nights, and many say that the city is best experienced on a Saturday night, if you're up for it. Full of speakeasy bars, themed restaurants and clubs that you have to know where to look to find them, it's a city that really comes alive after the sun goes down. Most of them are smack in the city center, hidden down laneways and alleys off Courteney Place—just follow the noise and you'll find somewhere to spend the evening in good company. There's a bar for every taste here.
Hitch a ride on Wellington's picturesque historic cable car that journeys from the city's central business district up the hills to the charming neighborhood of Kelburn and overlooks the city from the botanical gardens. Built at the end of the 19th century, this iconic red cable car has been a symbol of Wellington for decades. Avoid days that cruise ships are in town.
Wellington has a thriving underground music scene and it is one of the major cultural aspects of the city. Take in a gig at one of the many amazing local venues and you'll fit right in with the locals. Many of New Zealand's great bands get their start playing here, and music is an integral part of what makes this artsy city tick.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Neighborhood to Explore
Head out of the city center of Wellington to the Miramar Peninsula to get a taste of one of the best local neighborhoods. Packed full of good eateries and plenty of picturesque beaches and coastline, it's now also well-known for its cinematic impact, being home to Weta Studies, which produces many major feature films, including The Lord of the Rings.
Cuba Street is the best place for people watching in Wellington. A mostly pedestrian area near the CBD, it's packed full of artsy cafes, fabulous restaurants of every flavor, and unique shops that attract every type of visitor imaginable. It's the beating heart of Wellington's cultural center and the perfect place to while away the hours watching the very unique and memorable souls that shape the city.