Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city, located on the southern shore of Wellington Harbour at the lower tip of the North Island. It’s a compact city, so it’s quick and easy to buckle up in your Wellington Airport rental car to explore the hilly suburbs and find natural treasures.
The city overflows with activities and cultural highlights. Informative displays covering national history, geography and culture are housed at the magnificent Te Papa museum. Superb crafts are showcased in the Academy Galleries or, for contemporary art exhibits, pass through the City Gallery Wellington. See what’s on show at the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt or contemplate equally interesting works in the wonderful galleries at PATAKA Art + Museum in Porirua. Wellington has many architectural gems too, including the colonial cottages and gardens of writer Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace and the elegant late-Georgian Colonial Cottage Museum.
Jump in your Wellington hire car and zip up Mount Victoria’s winding roads for the reward of expansive vistas from the summit. Grind up Kelburn hill on the historic funicular railway or drive directly there via the Upland Road. Safe from urban light pollution, gaze up at the southern stars from the Carter Observatory, set within the tranquil Wellington Botanic Garden.
Drive south to Karori and visit Zealandia, a wildlife sanctuary with native birds and peaceful walks through a forested valley. You might glimpse a kiwi on a night tour at Zealandia, but for a definite sighting head to Wellington Zoo. Just south of the city, park up your Wellington rental car at Owhiro Bay and follow the coastal path for 40 minutes until you reach Sinclair Head with its colony of fur seals. For hikes through ancient native forest and across treetop canopies, drive north-west to Otari-Wilson’s Bush.
Back in the city, pick a spot to relax on the splendid waterfront walkway after parking along the quays near the railway station. Grab a coffee at Mojo, then wander past bustling Queen’s Wharf and meander through Frank Kitts Park. Take a loop of the lagoon promenade, passing the Boatshed, Te Papa and little Waitangi Park, home to Sunday morning’s bustling Harbourside Market.
Beyond Chaffer’s Marina is Oriental Bay with its short stretch of sand – a perfect spot for an ice-cream, seaside dining or a summer dip. Other local beaches worth exploring include Lyall Bay for surfing and swimming, and Island Bay for scuba diving in the Taputeranga Marine Reserve. For the region’s very best stretches of sand, day-trip one hour north of the city along the Kapiti Coast. The Kapiti Island Nature Reserve, looming prominently on the horizon, is also something special.
Wellington is a shopper’s delight, with dozens of vintage, retro and designer clothing boutiques, artisan markets and gorgeous gift shops. Evening entertainments range from the pumping bars and nightclubs scattered around Courtney Place to comedy and live acts at Fringe Bar, to excellent theatre and spectacular shows.
The city is known for its café culture and has an endless selection of quality restaurants. For fine dining in a majestic setting try Logan-Brown, for divine seafood it’s Ortega Fish Shack & Bar and delicious French fare is served at the opulent Hippopotamus in the funky Museum Art Hotel.
Wellington’s wide variety of accommodation means there’s something to suit all budgets. Indulge in luxury at the Bolton Hotel or bed down at the pristine At Home apartments, both in the heart of the city.