A Two-Day Itinerary
Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, lies at the bottom of the north island. Although Auckland is bigger, Wellington is the governmental and business centre of the country.
I like to think of it as the Ottawa to Auckland’s Toronto.
Wellington isn’t very big. I walked across the length of downtown in under an hour. But in that space, there’s a lot to do.
Although it’s not as naturally beautiful as Kaikoura or the Bay of Islands, I really believe people need to visit. Wellington is a foodie hub. It has the country’s national museum (which is free!). And it has an amazing waterfront.
If you’re driving around New Zealand, you’ll have to stop in Wellington to take the ferry to the South Island.
Why not extend your stay to enjoy what Wellington has to offer?
Head to Cuba Street for dinner and drinks. The restaurants range from Italian to Thai to Spanish. You’re sure to find a delicious meal.
Get there early to avoid waiting for a table. Either dine around 6pm or stop by to make a reservation for later.
If you aren’t able to get there early, don’t worry! Restaurants will take your name and send you to a neighbouring bar to wait for a table.
On Friday night, there’s an outdoor food market on Cuba Street. You’ll find arepas, dumplings, gyros and more.
There are lots of spots to sit on the steps near the market. Sit down to enjoy your meal or wander up and down Cuba Street. Amongst the restaurants are clothing stores, antique shops and other indie outlets.
If you’re looking for an authentic Kiwi dinner, go to Floriditas. I had my first ever Tuatuas (giant clams) and pavlova there. The Tuatua are absolutely massive clams that come in a white wine linguine. The pavlova was brown sugar with poached fruit and cream.
Floriditas is a bit expensive. My meal was just under $60, but the food was so good I didn’t care.
Wake up early and head to Mount Victoria. (By early, I mean before noon.)
On a clear day, the small peak on the edge of the city offers tremendous views. Unfortunately, Wellington’s notoriously changeable weather means you can’t guarantee the panoramic sight.
Hiking Mt. Victoria takes about an hour if you take a direct path. There are numerous ways to reach the peak, so opt for the long route if you want more of a walk.
I intended to take a direct route but somehow found myself wandering up a mountain bike path that took me out of my way. Read the signs (unlike me) and you won’t get lost!
On your way down Mt. Victoria, head towards Oriental Parade. It’s an area outside of downtown Wellington with pretty architecture.
Wander along the seafront to get back downtown. You’ll pass layers of painted houses with shuttered windows and cool pastel colours.
Te Papa Museum
Te Papa is the Museum of New Zealand. It’s the most significant tourist attraction in the city. And entry is free for everyone!
The museum has mutiple levels of exhibits. Go see the Maori exhibits on level 4 for a wealth of information of their culture and experiences in New Zealand. Level 3 showcases the transformation of New Zealand’s landscape with the settlers. At the moment, level 2 houses the Gallipoli exhibit. It’s been extended to stay at the museum for a few more years.
As much as I love Maori information, Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War was by far the best exhibit in the museum.
I’ve visited twice now and still can’t believe how incredible it is.
Te Papa hired Weta Cave to build larger than life models of scenes from the war. These giant figures have incredible detail. Each person has their own story to go that is runs on an audio loop around the room.
Even if you don’t care about war exhibits, go to see the Weta designs. They’re unbelievable.
Lucky is a cheap, simple option for dinner. But OMG is it delicious.
The food stand specializes in fried chicken burgers or fried halloumi burgers. You can get the two put together on one bun and you will never be hungry again!
There’s no seating at Lucky, but there are city benches where you can enjoy your meal.
Wellington Cable Car + The Botanic Gardens
Start the day with a ride up the cable car. Get a one-way ticket so you can ride to the top and skip the uphill trek. If you want to take it back down, get a return ticket.
The cable car takes you to the top of a peak opposite Mt. Victoria in downtown Wellington. At the top, you can head to Zealandia (a nature reserve) or wander the Botanic Gardens.
Wandering down the hill through the Botanic Gardens is a nice way to get to the bottom.
It can be tricky to find your way out of the trails and back to the street. I ended up heading back up (so much for skipping uphill climbs!) to take the cable car down.
Wellington’s government buildings are nestled near the entrance to the cable car. It’s a short walk to see the “beehive” building – one of the government offices.
It’s not a famous attraction, but the architecture is interesting. The grounds around the buildings have some lovely benches to sit and admire the scenery.
Head downtown to Lashings for the most delicious brownie you will ever have! I don’t say this lightly. I love brownies. I’ve eaten a lot of them. But Lashings’ is hands down the best I’ve ever had.
It’s not big, but it’s well worth the $4 NZD. The brownie is rich and chocolate-y, so a giant American sized portion would probably close your arteries (but what a way to go!).
Looking for something more intense? Try their PB & J brownie.
Wellington’s waterfront reminds me a lot of Halifax. I love wandering along it and feeling nostalgia for my old home.
It’s also an easy spot to find restaurants. As a Wagamama-addict (a British Asian-fusion chain), I always head there for some ramen or katsu curry.
On Sunday, there is a Harbourside Market just past Te Papa. Grab lunch from a local food truck and eat it beside the ocean.
If you don’t feel like walking there from the Botanic Gardens, catch a bus.
I’ve already written about my experience at Weta Cave, but it has to be a part of this itinerary.
Weta Cave is the design house for Peter Jackson’s films.
You can take a tour of the design studio alone or add on a chance to see their miniature studio. I only did the design studio and regret it. The miniatures aren’t just action figures as I’d thought. They’re entire cities and buildings recreated for specific filming or set design.
Book your ticket in advance to get a time slot.
The studio is a ways outside of the city. Catch a cab or an Uber to get there for $20-30 NZD.
If you’re flying out of Wellington, Weta Cave is halfway to the airport. It’s an easy stop over before a flight. I did it and made my flight with plenty of time to spare!
I’ve been to Wellington 5 times now: 3 times for pleasure and twice for business. Each time I got to discover something new. From new restaurants to new tourist attractions, there was never a chance to be bored.
There’s still lots I haven’t done (and too much food to ever consumer in one lifetime), so I’ll happily keep going back.
Wellington is often thought of as a place to live and not to visit. A lot of my friends here say it’s “boring” or “there’s nothing there.”
But they’re wrong. There’s so much to do and see (and eat).
Take the time to visit New Zealand’s capital and experience another side of the country. It might not be climbing Mt. Cook or skydiving in Taupo, but it’s still uniquely New Zealand.
What side of a country do you prefer to see? The nature? The daily life? The history?