South Pacific

Wellington, NZ: A capital place!

Photo credit: Matt Steed

With its glistening natural harbour and hillsides lined with colonial villas, Wellington is almost too quaint to be a capital city. But that’s exactly what it has been since 1865, when it stole the crown from Auckland.

Located at the southern tip of the North Island, the powers-that-be decided Wellington was better situated to keep an eye on the recently discovered gold fields of the South Island, and it has remained the capital ever since.

As well as being the seat of the New Zealand government, Wellington is also the cultural and creative capital of the country. There are more museums, theatres and cultural events than anywhere else in New Zealand, and, a flourishing film-making industry is located here. Several Hollywood blockbusters have been filmed in the country, including the smash-hit The Lord of the Rings.

Wellington was settled by the British back in 1839, but famous Polynesian explorer Kupe is thought to have arrived in the area sometime during the 10th century. Two centuries later another explorer of Polynesian ancestry, Tara, visited the area and it was called, by the Maori people, Te Whanganui-a-Tara. (The Great Harbour of Tara)

When the early European settlers established a planned town here they initially called it Britannia, but it was soon changed to Wellington in honour of the famous Battle of Waterloo victor.

As the frontier town attracted more and more settlers in search of a better life, it grew and grew, and Wellington is now the second-largest city in New Zealand. With lots to see and do for visitors and locals alike, it’s an obvious stop for any visitor, and is the perfect jumping-off point for journeys to the South Island. Wellington is the departure point for flights and ferries over the Cook Strait.

Did You Know?

  • Kiwi is the nickname given to people from New Zealand.
  • Wellington has been given the nickname ‘Wellywood’ thanks to its growing film industry.
  • When you are in Wellington, don’t be surprised if you hear whispers in the streets …
Adshels are part of a KNOW campaign, whichgives Wellingtonians specific reasons to visit the Downtown area. How does it work? The whispering Adshels ‘whisper’ out teaser tid-bits such as “Hey you! Do you want to know something that no one else knows yet? There’s a restaurant opening up down the road”. But instead of giving the answers, people are directed to look at an Adshel poster. It also includes a Downtown car parking offer. The Whispering Adshel campaign is the first in New Zealand and has been a real success since it was launched in 2006. Research shows that 76% of people have acted as a direct result of reading something in KNOW.

How to Get Here

Wellington International Airport (WLG) is located just 7 km southeast of central Wellington and is a major domestic hub, and has links to the major cities of Australia.

The Airport Flyer is an express bus service that makes travel from the Airport quite quick and convenient. The Airport Flyer takes you from Wellington Airport through Wellington City and onto Queensgate in Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt, stopping only at the main stops. The Flyer departs from the southern end of Level 0 and the service runs every 30 minutes from 6.20 AM to 8.20 PM Monday – Friday; and every hour or half an hour from 6.50 AM to 8.50 PM during the weekends and on public holidays. As well, There are multiple shuttle companies operating from the airport to locations in and around Wellington.

Taxi ranks can be found directly outside the baggage claim area on Level 0 of the main terminal. There are two taxi ranks, one being a dedicated lane for Wellington Combined Taxis and the other for all other taxi operators. Taxi operators require a special licence to operate from Wellington Airport.

Currently, there are five rental car agencies who have agencies on Level 0 of the main terminal.

New Zealand Dollar

The most convenient way to access cash in local currency is to use a debit or credit card in an ATM in New Zealand. All banks have ATMs accessible 24-hours a day, generally outside the branch or in the foyer.You might be charged a fee by your bank, and you may need a new PIN number, so contact your bank or credit card company before you travel to make sure you’ll be able to access your account.

For locations of ATMs you can visit these VISA and MasterCard Web sites.

Travellers cheques are becoming less popular in New Zealand. If you do use travellers cheques, take cheques in NZ$ not Canadian or US funds. Travellers cheques can be exchanged for cash at banks, exchange houses and large hotels, or used to settle accounts in some, but by no means all, retail or dining establishments.

Credit cards are accepted in most establishments in New Zealand. Be aware you may be charged a fee to use credit cards abroad, and you should let your issuing company know what countries you are travelling to, as their fraud departments can sometimes freeze cards used in foreign countries.

What will the seasonal weather be like?

Wellington | Photo credit: Positively Wellington Tourism

New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere so summer is from December to February, while winter falls in June, July and August.
Typical summer daytime maximum air temperatures range from 19 C to 24 C, but seldom exceed 30 C. Annual sunshine averages about 2000 hours, more than many of the other major centres. 

Winter is normally the most unsettled time of the year. Typical winter daytime maximum temperatures range from 10 C to 14 C. Frost occurs inland during clear calm conditions in winter. Due to Wellington’s exposure to weather systems from the Tasman Sea, it can get quite windy. 

The north-westerly airflows prevail in Wellington. Sea breezes occasionally occur along the coast during summer.

Rainfall is common throughout the country and provides New Zealand its lush, green countryside.

Be aware that the weather can change unexpectedly, even in summer, so be prepared if you’re heading off on an outdoor adventure.

Getting Around

Wellington is quite compact, so walking is often one of the best ways to navigate the city. Otherwise, buses, trains and ferries service the city under the joint name of Metlink.

Buses run throughout the city and surrounding areas. You can buy Ten Trip fares for a slight saving if you’re travelling beyond the central city zone. Several types of day passes are available, such as the Discovery Pass, which allows unlimited travel for one day on selected services. Night buses run on certain routes.

The Wellington Cable Car, which runs between the central city and the hill suburb of Kelburn, is something of a Wellington icon. It is used by visitors, students and commuters alike.
Tranz Metro operates an extensive commuter train network through the Wellington region. Trains service the Kapiti Coast as far as Paraparaumu, Johnsonville, the Hutt Valley and the Wairarapa region through to Masterton. Tranz Metro offers a comprehensive range of travel products and prices for travel to and from Wellington to these outlying regions.

As in any major city, taxis are common in Wellington. Several companies operate services, and some can be hired by the hour to take you on a tour of the city. Only ever get into a licensed taxi, which should have a meter running. You can flag a taxis in the street, or call private hire car companies to arrange a pick-up time and location.

If you want to rent a car, free city maps are available from the Wellington Visitor Centre in Civic Square. Car rental agencies will also provide maps, but, investing in a handheld GPS system featuring turn-by-turn voice directions could be invaluable. GPS systems today also feature points of interest that are nearby your location, and many other features that will provide a level of confidence while navigating in a foreign country.

New Zealand has a wide range of ferries and water taxis which operate from Wellington and travel either locally or to several coastal areas throughout the country.

Note You can purchase a New Zealand Travelpass, which provides several options to travel by coach, ferry and rail nationwide. Passes are valid for 12 months.

What not to miss …

World Heritage Site(s)

Te Papa, Wellington | Photo credit: Positively Wellington Tourism

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritages are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world. There are currently three World Heritage Sites in New Zealand
To familiarize yourself with the city, catch a ride on a cable car, one of Wellington’s oldest and most popular tourist attractions.

Built by prison labour in 1899 to open up access to new suburbs, the Cable Car is a pleasant ride back in time. It takes you from the heart of the central business district to a lookout that also serves as the entrance to the beautiful Wellington Botanic Gardens. You can, if you want, buy a one-way fare and stroll back to town through the greenery. Other attractions in the area include the Wellington Cable Car Museum and the Crater Observatory and Planetarium.

For panoramic views of Wellington, the harbour and beyond, head to Mount Victoria. Located just to the east of the city, this 196m-high hill is a peaceful area of greenery overlooking the bustle of the city below. You can watch ferries and planes come and go, and learn how the layout of the city has changed over the years from the interesting information boards.

Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand, is a fitting testament to the nation’s heritage, and a storehouse for some of the country’s most precious treasures. Te Papa celebrates the unique multicultural nature of New Zealand through art, exhibitions and multimedia. Highlights include virtual bungy jumping, a day in the life of a junk shop and the chance to walk through a reconstructed slice of real New Zealand countryside. Come for an afternoon and you may end up staying a week Admission is free.

Then you can visit the Parliament Buildings for a look at New Zealand’s political heritage. Free tours operate daily and include the Edwardian neo-classical Parliament House, Victorian Gothic Parliamentary Library and the distinctive 1970s Beehive.

The Old Government Buildings complex in Wellington is the second-largest wooden building in the world and an architectural masterpiece. Completed in 1876, it was empty by 1990 as the civil service outgrew its home. But after being given to the Department of Conservation in 1994, a careful restoration project began that restored the building to its’ former glory. You can now visit certain parts of the building, and see rare native New Zealand plant life in the gardens.

If you are a walker, you can follow the Heritage Trail along Wellington’s old shoreline for an insight into how the city looked before the earthquakes of the 19th century changed it forever. The trail covers more than 150 years of history, from the early days of European settlement to the modern metropolis we see today.

The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary is an ambitious 250 hectare project intended to restore and protect native flora and fauna within the city environment. A ground-breaking fence to deter predators has been especially designed and constructed and a weka breeding program is well established. Kiwis were recently released in the area, and visitors can also catch a glimpse of the famous tuataras- native only to New Zealand. The sanctuary is a must-see when visiting Wellington.


City Gallery Wellington is a dynamic cultural presence in the capital city. Whether it’s the latest exhibition of New Zealand’s avant-garde artists, or an international collection visiting the gallery there are plenty of reasons to put Wellington’s eyes-and-ears-on-the-arts on your schedule. The gallery has no permanent collection, and instead everything is constantly in motion: you might be in town for a show by anyone from Shane Cotton, Colin McCahon or Len Lye to Wim Wenders, Rosalie Gascoigne or Tracey Emin.

Performing Arts

Circa Theatre, Wellington | Photo credit: Positively Wellington Tourism/Nick Servian

BATS Theatre is described as the heart of New Zealand theatre. BATS provides audiences with an unpredictable live theatre experience almost every night of the year. Located in the Courtenay Quarter entertainment precinct, BATS encompasses an intimate auditorium and two cosy bars, providing visitors and theatre-goers a different kind of night out in downtown Wellington.

Circa Theatre, voted Wellington’s best theatre by Capital Times readers in 2006, is acknowledged as one of New Zealand’s liveliest and most innovative professional theatres. Circa Theatre showcases international, national and local drama, comedy and music and has helped foster the careers of some of New Zealand’s best known actors and directors.

The St James Theatre One of New Zealand’s finest Edwardian Lyric Theatres, this fully restored heritage building is the Wellington venue for opera, dance and major musical shows, and where the Royal New Zealand Ballet performs.

For the kids …

Founded in 1906, Wellington’s zoological gardens have all the traditional attractions. Zoo management has recently extended and upgraded the facilities to include such features as the Tropical River Trail, New Zealand’s newest and largest habitat exhibit. Zoo inhabitants include New Zealand natives such as the kiwi, the giant weta, the black stilt and the tuatara, as well as the more exotic species like the North American bison, the Nepalese red panda and the Sitatunga antelope. Enquire about educational programmes and overnight stays. Admission: Adults NZD12; children NZD6; family discounts available.

Matiu/Somes Island is a fascinating day trip from Wellington. This tiny island in the harbour is accessible by ferry from the city and is now a scientific and historic reserve. The tranquil place you see today is a far cry from the past, when it was used as a human and animal quarantine station, internment camp and military defence post. Free from introduced predators thanks to conservation efforts, it’s now a haven for native wildlife, of which you should see plenty on a walk to the 100-year-old lighthouse.

The Colonial Cottage was built in 1858 by English immigrant William Wallis. It is now Wellington’s oldest surviving building and members of the Wallis family lived in it until the 1970s, when it was turned into a heritage museum. Beautifully preserved, it serves as an interesting reminder of Victorian living, and how the first settlers combined the culture from their homeland with the new one they found in New Zealand.

Carter Observatory National Observatory of New Zealand The sky is no longer the limit.
The Carter Observatory, located at the top of the Cable Car in the majestic Wellington Botanic Gardens, is a planetarium which offers telescope viewing (weather dependent) of the skies, the Carter Experience, which includes made in-house shows and access to the telescope rooms, and some of the displays around the Observatory.

About Shopping

Old Bank Arcade | Photo credit: Positively Wellington Tourism/©Rob Suisted

Downtown Wellington is the ideal shopping destination. It’s compact (you can walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes) and has a variety of shops on offer – from worldwide chain stores to local boutiques.

Lambton Quay is one of the main shopping districts in Wellington. The quay runs alongside the waterfront and up to Willis Street. The precinct is known as the Golden Mile thanks to its abundance of retail outlets. It’s also where many architecturally impressive buildings are located, so take a second to glance up from your shopping bags now and then. The Harbour City Shopping Centre, just off Lambton Quay is a popular spot where you can find everything from shoe stores and fashion boutiques to jewelry shops and gift stores.

The Old Bank Arcade and Chambers on the corner of Lambton Quay and Hunter Street is where to head for boutique shopping in astounding heritage surroundings. Formerly the home of the Bank of New Zealand, it now features designer stores and beauty outlets, as well as several café where you can rest your weary feet.

Pedestrianised Cuba Mall is on Cuba Street, one of the city’s oldest roads. Here you will find leading New Zealand retailers and interesting one-off shops you’ll find nowhere else, so take plenty of time to wander and wonder.

The Waitangi Park Market is a popular and colourful shopping experience. Locals shop here on Sunday mornings to stock up on weekly supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables, while visitors browse the arts and crafts.

Wellington after dark …

Osteria Del Toro Food | Photo credit: Positively Wellington Tourism/Pat Shepherd

New Zealand’s capital city is famous for its café culture, and many stay open late into the evening. You can indulge in some serious people watching from any one of the 400 hundred or so throughout the city – it’s said Wellington has more cafés per capita than New York City – and enjoy some of the best coffee you’ll ever taste …

When you venture out in and around Wellington after dark, you should begin with a trip to Courtenay Place. This vibrant collection of clubs, pubs and bars forms part of Te Aro, one of the largest entertainment districts in the country. The party lasts until well after dawn on weekends, but any day of the week attracts an interesting mix of locals, backpackers and tourists. Te Aro is also where to head if you want to catch a movie or see a show – it is home to several cinemas and theatres.

Enjoy a pint and a slice of history at The Shepherd’s Arms Hotel. Established in 1870, this boutique heritage bar is the oldest bar and hotel in the country, and is filled with historical memorabilia. You can do drinks al fresco on the balcony in summer, or cozy up by the fire in winter.

Eating and drinking by the waterfront begins at Queens Wharf. This recently rejuvenated precinct now boasts of several cafes and bars, and is a great place to start your evening. Relax with a glass of wine as the sun sets, then walk the short distance to Courtenay Place to continue your evening.

Sports / Outdoor Adventure

Simply put, Kiwis love their rugby. Even those New Zealanders not into sport will take an interest when the All Blacks are playing, and if the national team is unfortunate enough to lose, the entire country goes into mourning. To see where the fearsome warriors play in Wellington, visit the world-class Westpac Stadium. If you’re lucky enough to score tickets to an All Blacks game, you’ll get to see them perform their famous haka, a ceremonial Maori dance, before the match. The stadium is also where the International Rugby Sevens is played. This yearly event is a must-see on Wellington’s sporting calendar and attracts thousands of fans from around the world supporting the 16 international teams. The two-day event in February is described as being the biggest fancy dress-up party on the planet as spectators don anything from Superman costumes to nurses’ outfits. The party spills over into the streets once the tournament is over, and there is even a Sevens Street Parade and Party in the city.

Kiwis also love their cricket, and it’s an occasion when they play their closest rivals, Australia. The New Zealand national team is known as the Black Caps and is one of the top teams in the world. They play at both Westpac Stadium and the old ground, the Basin Reserve. This is where you’ll also find the New Zealand Cricket Museum, a must for fans of the sport.

A short drive around Wellington’s eastern bays brings you to a sheltered beach that at one end, below the cliff, offers sheltered swimming and sunbathing and at the other offers a popular dive entry point. Experienced and not so experienced divers will enjoy the diving here. The rocks are great for exploring underwater (for extra excitement swim through the natural crack in the rock) and crayfish are (in season) plentiful.

A Seal Coast Safari is an adventure of discovery. You can drive for 20 rugged kilometres along the beach, over rocks, around the bays and headlands, with the ocean lapping the 4WD trucks. The tour includes a visit to a colony of New Zealand fur seals, where you will be delighted while walking amongst them, or just observe their native habitat; the crashing waves and the famous Leaning Lighthouse of Wellington. On the return journey you will climb up and over a fault-line, through a farm, sample spectacular views of the city, the South Island and the Pacific and Tasman oceans and distant mountain ranges. Finally the tour also visits the Brooklyn Wind Turbine, with more stunning views of the city, harbour and surrounding hills.

Local Customs and Etiquette

Most Kiwi etiquette rules relate to issues of equality. There is little class structure and not much racial tension between the many different ethnic groups. New Zealanders tend to be outgoing and often express an interest in overseas visitors.

A fairly liberal, forward-thinking country – New Zealand gave women the right to vote back in 1893.

As a rule, Kiwis are a laid-back, friendly bunch. You’ll probably hear the phrase “How’s it going bro?” between friends and strangers alike, and if something’s good it’s often described as “sweet as”.

Most Kiwis are very environmentally conscious and treat their land with a sense of respect that stems from the traditional Maori view that everything in nature has a life force. Damaging that life force hurts both the object and the offender. Actions that flaunt this belief are frowned upon.

Tipping is not expected in New Zealand. If you have received good service at a restaurant and want to show appreciation, five to 10 per cent of the bill is fine. If you don’t tip, it doesn’t usually affect how quickly you get served.

Don’t be surprised if you see two people pressing noses in the street – it’s a traditional Maori greeting.

Above all, New Zealanders are honest and open, and appreciate the same from you.

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