Which capital city is the world’s coolest? Of course, it depends what you’re looking for. But if your dream urban escape is a mid-sized city bursting with tasty yet unpretentious cafes, bars and restaurants, classic cinema, eye-opening museums and galleries, gorgeous botanic gardens and natural scenery, and a cutting edge film industry, Wellington might just become your new favourite.
Here’s our guide to spending the perfect long weekend in Wellington on a New Zealand vacation!
Arrival Day – The Perfect Introduction to Wellington
Take your arrival day fairly easy with a welcome coffee, craft brew, or wine in one of Wellington’s countless specialty cafes or bars. In fact, there are more cafes and bars in Wellington per capita than there are in New York City, so getting out and being social over a beverage is ingrained in the city’s culture. Then kick off your sightseeing with a Zealandia by Night tour. This ecological sanctuary is dedicated to showing off the best of New Zealand’s wildlife. Many of the country’s critters are far more active from twilight onward. Your chances of spotting kiwi birds, longfin eels, and of course, glowworms are much higher in the evening, so the night tour (daily, bookings required) is often your best bet. Twilight tours also happen during the summer months. After your tour, explore the fresh flavours of Wellington. With an ideal growing climate and world class wine regions at its doorstep, the city spoils for choice when it comes to restaurants.
Essential Wellington – Harbours, History, and Hilltop Views
Start your morning exploring Wellington’s waterfront. Meander your way to the Museum of New Zealand/Te Papa Tongarewa, one of the most engaging and thorough museums in the Southern Hemisphere, and probably one of the best “national” museums anywhere in the world. Dive into New Zealand’s natural, Maori, and more recent history with a wide range of innovative exhibits that will please all ages and probably fill a good couple of hours. Explore the variety of cultural institutions around Civic Square, or if the weather’s not on your side, go gallery hopping through the Te Aro district.
Rain is always a possibility in Wellington, but if the sun has smiled on your afternoon, head for the famous Wellington Cable Car. If you happen to be passing the Old Bank Arcade close to the hour, pop inside to the Banking Chamber to see the arcade’s intricate musical clock come to life. Then hop the cable car bound for the Wellington Botanic Garden. Spread over 25 hectares, the garden is home to some of the oldest exotic trees in New Zealand. The gardens run glow worm tours at night if you want to come later or return. You can also duck into the highly interactive Space Place at Carter Observatory. In wet weather, save the cable car and gardens for another day and go gallery hopping instead. The City Gallery Wellington is the city’s premiere art collection, but you can also catch rotating exhibits at the Adam Art Gallery at the Victoria University of Wellington.
Te Aro is also the centre of Wellington’s restaurant scene, so top notch dinner options abound.
Offbeat Wellington – Welcome to Wellywood
Book a tour at The Weta Cave, the nerve centre for all things film in New Zealand. The Lord of the Rings exhibit is the star attraction, but you’ll also see creations from King Kong, District 9, and other hit films. The Weta Cave offers a wide range of tours (many with pickup from central Wellington), from popular half-day options to hands-on experiences of the creative process. Some even include dinner at the Roxy, one of Wellington’s iconic cinemas. You can also opt for a half-day Rover Lord of the Rings tour, which includes a visit to the Weta Cave, and can be extended to a full day if you’re really keen.
Whether your Wellywood close-up comes in the morning or afternoon, spend the other half of your day enjoying Wellington’s more unusual offerings, while on your New Zealand vacation. The best place to start is on Bohemian Cuba Street, where you can enjoy some of the city’s best shopping and its café culture. If you’re going in the morning, you might even book a guided tour of the city’s best coffee stops. Unusual museums and galleries dot this area too, including the National Tattoo Museum of New Zealand, honouring an art form long ingrained in Maori and Kiwi culture.
If you want to take a break from Wellington’s bar scene, grab tickets for a curated screening at any of the city’s beautifully preserved cinemas, including Mount Victoria’s Embassy Theatre, the Light House Cinema on Cuba Street, the aforementioned Roxy in Miramar, or Time Cinema, a hidden Wellington treasure in the Lyall Bay neighbourhood that seats just 40 people and hosts private screenings of classic films, both popular and obscure.
The Perfect Weekend – Sealed with a Day Trip
Extend your long weekend in Wellington with a Goway all-day trip beyond the capital.
Trek into Martinborough to sample the flavours that define Wellington’s dining scene at their source. An expert guide takes you behind the scenes, with opportunities to sample the region’s specialty, Pinot Noir, along with a three-course lunch matched to the region’s wines.
Wellington is known for its laid back charms, but country life in New Zealand winds things back even further! Let a local guide take you through three of the region’s small villages, Greytown, Martinborough, and Featherton. Enjoy wine, chocolate, and cheese tastings with the chance to shop at local boutiques.
The rocky shores and temperate waters of the Cook Strait are a haven for marine mammals, particularly fur seals. Visit Lake Ferry, Ngawi, and Palliser Bay, meeting the largest colony of these animals in the North Island. This trip also includes a Martinborough wine tasting, with the option of fish and chips for lunch. You’ll even learn how to say it the Kiwi way.
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