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Wellington attractions not to be missed

Not many travellers are familiar with Wellington, but this picturesque city is packed with attractions.

We’ve rounded up the top Wellington attractions to keep you busy during your visit. You shouldn’t get bored in Wellington, New Zealand with these travel tips.

Wellington, New Zealand Attractions

Read related: Things to do in Wellington for under $5.

Wellington’s top attractions

Te Papa

The national museum. Good if you have children to entertain you on a rainy day. But also without kids it is definitely a highlight of Wellington. It is free of charge (except for some special presentations).

Wellington City Museum & Sea, Queens Wharf

A well-presented museum of Wellington’s history, including its maritime history. It is free of charge.

It is open from 10am to 5pm every day except 25 December.

City Gallery, Civic Square

It lacks a permanent collection, but offers a series of always avant-garde exhibitions. It also has the excellent Nikau café.

Wellington Cable Car

From Lambton Quay (next to McDonald’s), 04 472 2199. Open 7 days a week until 10pm. The easiest way to get a nice view of the city and harbour, the cable car runs on rails from Lambton Quay to Kelburn Botanic Gardens every ten minutes. 2.50 each way, $4.50 return (reduced prices for children, students and over 65s).

Frank Kitts Park

A great place to stroll around, with climbing walls, in-line skating and jet ski rentals.

Karori Cemetery

An interesting picnic spot.

Elmscourt

A historic art deco apartment block on the corner of The Terrace and Abel Smith Street.

Oriental Parade

A new beach. However, if you’re not from a really cold place, it’s unlikely to be hot enough for you to desperately need a swim. There is a spa pool (jacuzzi) at Freyberg pool (on Oriental Parade) which is cheap if you like “people soup”.

Karori Wildlife Sanctuary

At the end of Waiapu Rd, (first left after the Karori tunnel). 10am-5pm (last entry 4pm) daily except 25 Dec. A predator-proof fence encloses an ancient water catchment area, forming an island on the mainland that provides a natural refuge for endangered native birds, tuatara and other native flora and fauna, safe from introduced predators. It is by far the most convenient place in the country to see New Zealand’s rare wildlife.

Plimmer’s Ark

Under and in the Old Bank Arcade, on the corner of Lambton Quay and Customhouse Quay, near Plimmer’s Steps. A hundred years ago a bank was built over a sunken ship that had been used as a market place. When they renovated the building, they discovered the timbers of the ship and kept the remains in the building. Just take the escalator down through the bank vault doors. –

Parliament Buildings, the Hive (or Executive Wing) and the Parliamentary Library.

The Parliamentary grounds are open to the public. Known as the Hill, the Parliamentary Grounds are at the foot of Molesworth and Bowen Streets, where they join Lambton Quay.

Parliament House in Wellington, New Zealand
Parliament House in Wellington, New Zealand

National Library of New Zealand

Corner of Aitken and Molesworth Streets (opposite the Cathedral and Parliament). The library regularly hosts exhibitions.

Turnbull House, Bowen Street (directly opposite the Parliament Buildings).

This imposing brick mansion now looks small and out of place among the surrounding skyscrapers.

The old government buildings

With the cenotaph in the foreground and the NZ Post headquarters behind. The Old Government Buildings opposite Parliament at 15 Lambton Quay. It is the largest timber building in the southern hemisphere and the second largest in the world. It is now the home of the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria.

Old St Paul’s (one block east of Parliament).

This was the Anglican centre for decades. Replaced by the new cathedral north of Parliament, it is popular for weddings and funerals.

Statues and sculptures

Statues and sculptures appear in some curious places in the city. Famous prime ministers, monuments and works of art have been erected in the streets of Wellington.

Wellington Central Library, (in the town square, next to the information centre).

It’s huge and has great places to sit and read or, if you bring your laptop, connect at home via one of the city’s pay-as-you-go wi-fi networks. Admission is free.

Matiu/Isle of Dreams.

In the middle of the harbor, this island has its share of history. It was once a quarantine station for immigrants, and later (and more extensively) for animals. It was also an internment camp for “dangerous” people during the two world wars. The ferry departs from Queen’s Wharf and Day’s Bay (on opposite sides of the harbour). Only at certain times does the ferry stop at the island and only on request. The best option is to leave Queen’s Wharf at noon and return at 2:30 or 3:25.

The Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens is a pleasant place to go for a picnic, or just for an afternoon stroll. You can take the cable car from Lambton Quay for a quick 5-minute ride to the top; but it’s not designed to be exciting, despite being photogenic. If you fancy walking up, take the lifts from The James Cook Arcade (or one of several along Lambton Quay) to The Terrace, head south uphill until you reach Salamanca Rd. Walk up Salamanca Rd until you reach Victoria University. Stairs on the opposite side of the road to Hunter Lawn lead up to the top of the gardens.

If you have already paid for a day ticket, take the Mairangi bus, get off at the stop after the University and walk along Upland Rd until you reach the Cable Car Museum. There are several attractions at the top of the gardens:

The Cable Car Museum has two of the old carriages in semi-restored and fully restored condition and some of the original Cable Car machinery that was replaced in 1978. * The viewing platform has a great view day or night, and the large map by the round tree often has some leaflets with maps of the Gardens.The Carter Observatory is a stone’s throw from here. This is the perfect place to explore the Garden from, or stroll back to the city.

Bolton Street Memorial Park

Watch out for the friendly black cat that prowls this hillside cemetery. If you walk back from the Botanic Gardens, it’s a good place to stroll and see the epitaphs of early pioneers and historical figures.

Red Rocks / Seal Colony

This is one of Wellington’s great attractions. Red Rocks is an interesting walk named after its characteristic red rocks (probably Jasper). Take the number 1 bus to the end (Island Bay). Go through the park towards the ocean and turn right. There is another bus, number 4, that goes to the end of the road, but only at certain times. Go west (right side, if you are looking towards the water) until you run out of road. Here you will find a disused quarry and a visitor centre which will open soon.

The walk along this beach is pleasant but rocky and often very windy, so dress accordingly. If you walk for about an hour, you will come across a distinctive passage through the rock wall. Just on the other side is a colony of seals that is well worth a visit. Be aware that these are wild animals and require a certain level of respect, so keep your distance and don’t get between them and the sea, especially if you value your health.

Continuing on from here, you’ll eventually reach Makara (but it’s a long distance, and the seal colony is a recommended turning point).

Red rocks in Wellington
Red Rocks in Wellington

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