Wellington's diverse and traditionally transient population, of more than 300,000, consists of an eclectic mix of colourful suburbanites and chic inner-city apartment dwellers. Many of the central and city-fringe suburbs were rejuvenated in the 1990s. This period of rejuvenation created a vibrancy and positive spirit that is reflected in the region.
Courtenay Place is the center of local theatrical activity and the favored destination for those seeking entertainment into the small hours. Restaurants, cafes, wine bars and pubs line both sides of this long, wide strip. A good spread of ethnic tastes is evident in their many and varied menus.
For the young urban dweller, Cuba Street and Manners Mall are the locations of choice in which to see and be seen. Street theatre and busking are common, especially during the
The Golden Mile
For the sophisticated shopper, Wellington's so-called “Golden Mile” shopping district provides endless opportunities for spending. The entire length of Lambton Quay and the Willis Street area is home to a number of shopping malls. Some of the more popular ones include
There are plenty of eating options here too, including the always crowded
Wellington's waterfront is one of the most accessible in the country—cycle paths and numerous parks span the full length of the inner-city harbor from Queen's Wharf to
Mt Victoria & Oriental Bay
Mt Victoria's colorful Victorian villas present a picture of island elegance perched precariously on the edge of this bush-clad hillside. The city's hilly terrain, unfamiliar to the original surveyors, has resulted in some eccentric yet delightful streetscapes. Keep an eye out for footpaths that are, in fact, narrow-winding streets, and for private cable cars that provide access to some of the more remote hilltop homes. The
A quaint mix of old and new characterises this up-market inner-city suburb. One of the oldest areas of the city, it was divided by a motorway extension in the 1970s that ripped through the middle of the
Historic Thorndon is rich in architectural and cultural attractions.
Just across the water from the city center lies the pleasant waterside settlement of Eastbourne—it is only a short crossing by ferry.
As home to the New Zealand government, Wellington offers a delightful mix of tradition and modernity. Visitors will enjoy discovering its treasures.
Wellington has a huge variety of accommodation options whether you are dropping in for a flying visit, stopping in town for the longer stay or just catching a connecting ferry south. The city has something to suit all needs and budgets.
Downtown Wellington is the home of nightclubs, pubs, theatres and cinemas. If you like being in the thick of it then consider staying somewhere between Oriental Bay (a desirable bayside residential area) and Cuba Street (a street of great character and history). The pub scene here is rocking, shops are buzzing and the buskers (on a fine night) are pumping.
You can choose from a variety of lodgings to suit your taste and budget. If it is a little pampering and a personal touch that you're seeking then stay in Ngatipa in the Bay, an above average bed and breakfast. If your tastes are a little more cosmopolitan the Duxton Hotel is the place for you. However, if your budget is not suited to the expensive end of the spectrum, then try the West Plaza. If it is character and a bit of local history you seek, then the Museum Hotel is a sure shot.
At the business and government dominated end of the city is the James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor. Situated in the heart of the Terrace (Wellington's business district), it is one of Wellington's largest and most popular hotels for the business and leisure traveller alike.
Those on a limited budget will not find any better value than the Wellington City YHA, an excellent backpackers hostel just a short distance from Courtenay Place. Another option is the very popular Trekkers in the Cuba Street area.
One of Wellington's older areas, Thorndon is close to the business district, Parliament Buildings and Wellington's golden mile of shopping, Lambton Quay. Close to the lovely Botanic Gardens and only a short walk from Wellington's waterfront, Thorndon has a character all of its own. Whether you are looking for historic character accommodation or top of the range hotels this is the area to visit.
Spend some time in one of the oldest establishments in the city, the Shepherd's Arms Hotel. For the mid range price bracket Portland Towers is a great place to stay and is within easy walking distance of the central city and waterfront.
Wellington's splendid harbour is beautiful by day or night and if a room with a view is a must then there are several to choose from. Try The Bay Plaza, a mid range hotel just off Courtenay Place, where it is reputed that almost every room has a view of the water. The Quality Hotel Oriental Bay is also good value.
If you are happy to be a little further out of town there are lots of desirable places to stay along Wellington's spectacular coastline—particularly on the wild windswept southern coast. For a romantic place, The Lighthouse on Wellington's lovely south coast is very special for a great view. Alternatively, in the picturesque and up market seaside settlement of Seatoun, the bed and breakfast Edgewater Boutique Homestay offers tranquil views of the harbour while still within easy reach of the city attractions.
Wellington has many inner city serviced apartments suitable for either an overnight stay or for longer term. The City Life Apartments on the Terrace are a popular place for business travellers as is Quest Wellington on Lambton Quay. The Quest on Willis is one of Wellington's more recent (1998) serviced apartment blocks. Alternatively, for something a little more personal Qbissima on Webb street is a comfortable option.
Wellington's surrounding suburbs have many pleasant places to stay. Try the historic and ethnically diverse suburb of Newtown. The Adelaide Motel is on one of Newtown's more well-known streets and is central to Newtown's shopping area and Wellington Zoo. Further out of the central city, in Khandallah, the bed and breakfast Shalimares offers luxury boutique accommodation with views of the inner harbour.
If you are passing through Wellington briefly (by plane or boat) and do not want to enter the central city there are several accommodation options available. Try the 747 Motel in Kilbirnie (a suburb near the airport) if you are here for a flying visit. For passengers connecting with or departing from the inter-island ferries, Newlands Court Motels at the northern entrance to the city, Ngauranga Gorge, may be just the ticket.
There are a variety of hotels on Wellington's Kapiti Coast, just a short half-hour drive north of the city. The Marina Motor Lodge offers pleasant accommodation for travellers entering or leaving the city by road. Another option is the Lindale Lodge Motel an ideal base from which to explore the city and environs.
Wellington has long been considered the cultural center of New Zealand, being the home of most major musical, dance and performing arts schools, museums, theaters and now the new national Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Our Place). All of these entertainment options are located in a small picturesque city on one of the world's most beautiful harbors.
The prime theater in Wellington is the WestpacTrust Saint James Theatre, which was renovated for over NZD28 million in 1997. This beautiful state of the art theater hosts the Royal New Zealand Ballet and many productions on the program of the highly successful biennial Wellington International Festival of the Arts. The more specialized playhouses, Downstage Theatre and Circa Theatre, are renowned for performances featuring the best of local and overseas dramatic talent. The "grand old lady" of Wellington drama, the Opera House, is host to a variety of musicals and plays. Bats Theatre is the home of avant-garde productions and Stagecraft Theatre covers a wide spectrum of theatrical experiences.
The Wellington Festival & Convention Centre is actually an umbrella for three distinct theaters including the Michael Fowler Centre which plays host to a variety of international acts. The other two are the venerable Town Hall and the small Ilott Theatre. Other top grade theatres for hire include the Phoenix, the Te Papa Soundings Theatre and the Victoria University Memorial Theatre.
In this theater-crazy city it is no surprise to find specialized children's theaters including the McKenzie Theatre at Capital E. A final mention must be made of the top quality amateur theatrical groups that abound including Mana Little Theatre and Hutt Repertory Theatre.
Performing Arts and Music
Classical music is well-served in Wellington, as it is home to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Wellington Youth Orchestra, Wellington Chamber Music Society, the Wellington Sinfonia and various other string orchestras. Vocal choral groups such as the Baroque Voices are world class.
Venues for local popular and rock music groups also abound with Bar Bogeda and Blue Note being well worth a visit. Top international acts can be seen at many sites including the Queens Wharf Events Centre and occasionally at the WestpacTrust Stadium. The New Zealand School of Dance and Drama perform various concerts throughout the year as well.
The showpiece of the city is the new national Museum of New Zealand, the NZD300 million Te Papa Tongarewa (Our Place). With technological interactive displays, virtual reality rides, and the unique national art collection, this facility is a must-see. A close second for Wellington's arts attractions is the City Gallery, one of the most proactive and provocative fine arts museums in New Zealand. Other interesting exhibitions can be found at the birthplace of Katherine Mansfield, the Museum of Wellington City & Sea and the Dowse Art Museum. If you have time, travel 50 minutes north of the city to the incredible Southwards Car Museum that hosts some of the rarest vintage cars in the world.
The last of the palatial picture theatres, the Embassy (1924) has been refurbished by a trust including the Wellington City Council and Lord of the Rings director and local resident Peter Jackson. In conjunction with its sister theater the historic Paramount (1917), the Embassy hosts the annual Wellington International Film Festival. Alternative and art house movies are shown at the Penthouse and the Rialto three-theater complex. Hoyts has two multiplex cinemas in Manners Street and other partners in the suburbs to exhibit the latest Hollywood releases. Local historic films can be viewed at the Film Centre with the unique Time Cinema playing old and cherished international films.
Confined by the boundaries of hills and harbor, Wellington is a compact city with a streetscape ideally suited to a pleasant day's exploration. All of the city's attractions can be reached on foot within the central city confines, however there are excellent bus routes if you prefer to travel in comfort. The City Circular Bus Route is especially recommended with stops by many of the major landmarks, running every 10 minutes through the central city.
Tour One: Walk the Waterfront
Wellington's waterfront is one of the most beautiful and accessible in New Zealand and a stroll along its fringe is a pleasant way to spend a sunny summer's afternoon. Start your walk under the sails at Queen's Wharf, a tastefully landscaped area sheltering several excellent cafés and restaurants. Nearby, Ferg's Rock ‘n' Kayak hires out in-line skates and kayaks as a fun means of transport. Continuing around the inner harbor basin, you will pass Circa Theatre, one of three professional theatres in the city. Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand stands majestically before you round the headland. If you have time to spare, it is worth exploring the museum's excellent displays.
As you join Oriental Parade, Wellington's small boat marina and Overseas Terminal are on your left. Take a seat under the Pohutakawas (native trees) and watch the activity. If it is hot enough you may enjoy a swim at Oriental Bay or relax over a long cold lemonade at the aptly named Vista Café & Bar. If out with kids, Parade Café is a child-friendly alternative. For those who are especially keen walkers, the waterline walk can be continued as far as the Eastern suburbs.
Tour Two: Coastal Cruise
If you have access to a car, a far greater proportion of Wellington's coastline is accessible to you. Beginning your car cruise at Oriental Parade, wind your way around the foot of Mt Victoria to the Eastern suburbs. Following the coastline closely you will discover bays of individual charm and character. If it is a nice day, make sure to stop for a swim at Scorching Bay and have a coffee.
The Peninsula round trip is complete when you return to the airport. The road crosses the southern end of the runway so do not be surprised if a 747 roars in overhead.
If you have time keep following the coastline past the popular surfing beach at Lyall Bay, the colorful beachside suburb of Island Bay and on to wild Owhiro Bay. Take a break and watch the ferries that travel the Cook Strait. Alternatively, spend a couple of hours following the coastal walk to see the seals at Red Rocks. From Owhiro Bay the road climbs back through Brooklyn to the central city.
Tour Three: Political Wellington
It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but in terms of the New Zealand political scene, Wellington is where it all happens. Begin your day by scanning the local paper The Dominion over breakfast at a local café. Popular breakfast haunts for the city's movers and shakers are the Lido, Paris, and Caffe Astoria. Refreshed and ready for business, begin your political tour at the National Archives where the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document is held.
Returning to Lambton Quay, visit the Old Government Buildings. The first governments were run from the Northland town of Russell, but when the parliament later moved to Wellington it was housed for many years in these purpose-built wooden buildings. You can visit the inside on your own and there are many interesting photos and explanatory notes displayed. The building now houses the University's Law Faculty and the Department of Conservation information center.
Time for lunch and where better than the Backbencher Pub, famous for the political caricatures which grace its walls and for a menu based on current politicians. If you are lucky, you may even catch some of them dining here when the House is in session.
Across the road is the magnificent and newly refurbished complex of buildings which make up the current Parliament. Guided hour-long tours run throughout the day and will give you an excellent view of the interior of the complex including the Parliamentary Library, the Maori Select Committee rooms and, of course, the debating chamber.
Tour Four: Town and Gown
This walking tour will take you from the historic Thorndon Quarter at the foot of bush-clad Tinakori Hill to the lofty academic heights of Kelburn, home to Wellington's Victoria University. Beginning your walk at the base of Molesworth Street head towards Tinakori Road—on the left you will pass the majestic Parliament Buildings and the recently refurbished Wellington Cathedral of St Paul.
At the top of Molesworth Street, the Northern Motorway cuts a swathe through Wellington's oldest suburb—Thorndon. Despite its intrusion, much of the original charm has been retained and as you wander up Tinakori Road you will see the mark of colonial New Zealand in the wooden cottages and villas nestled into the hillside.
Continuing south on Tinakori Road, Thorndon Village is your next stop and provides plenty of options for dining. Tinakori Bistro is good for a long lunch and the adjacent deli for a quick bite or takeaway en route. Another option is the Shepherds Arms Cottage & Hotel for a perfect pub meal around the fire on a winter's day.
After lunch take a short detour down Ascot Street and back up Sydney Street West. These delightful 19th century streets are classic remnants of the colonial heritage. Your tour continues through the Botanic Gardens with several entrances on Glenmore Street. Climb the maze of tracks to the Carter Observatory and the peak of the hill. From here, return on foot to Lambton Quay via Kelburn Parade and Victoria University Campus or take the Cable Car, which descends to the central city in three short stops.
And if you have the time, a visit to Wellington's famous Karori Wildlife Sanctuary is well-worth the 10 minute drive. This urban sanctuary, the first of its kind, hosts an array of native flora and fauna, including New Zealand's renowned natives the kiwi and the tuatara.