Once you’ve explored Te Papa and Parliament, caught the Cable Car and descended through the Botanical Gardens, Wellington’s harbor is one of the most stunning city-side stretches of water in the world.
Explore it from the 55 km continuous coastal road or get on the water in Sir Peter Blake’s former Whitbread round-the-world yacht, Phantom of the Straits. The ferry from Queen’s Wharf visits Days Bay several times a day via the historic Matiu / Somes Island.
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Scores of walking and mountain-biking tracks around the city give a 360 degree perspective on this sparkling waterway. For those wanting a more rugged perspective, there are four-wheel drive or horseback tours at the head of the Harbour, overlooking Cook Strait.
For animal and bird lovers there’s the Wellington Zoo where you can see New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi and our living dinosaur the tuatara, or just up the coast is the Kapiti Island Nature Reserve. The Red Rocks Seal Colony is just on the south coast with tours departing the city centre. Kids will love Capital E. This unique family venue in Civic Square presents fun and challenging exhibitions and events for children.
Wellington is as well known for the attractions on its doorstep as those within the city itself. A day trip over the Rimutaka Mountain Pass is one of New Zealand’s leading wine areas and a range of wine trails. It can also be your short-term home, thanks to a plethora of boutique lodges and farmstays.
In no way does “love at first sight” apply when approaching Wellington. The two-lane highway leading into the city winds through suburbs and hills, and the last few kilometers are dominated by industrial and harbor complexes. On the horizon you will see looming office and bank buildings.
The New Zealand Company, an influential commercial trading enterprise, primarily promoted Wellington on its way to prosperity. The company had great hopes (based on Wellington’s favorable geographical location in relation to the South Island) that business would flourish, transportation routes would be shorter (also to Australia), and that the travel routes would be safer – since it had always been very difficult to reach the northern part of the island. However, the first years of Wellington’s start have a bitter taste to them, as has often been the case in historical success stories.
Wellington owes its significance to the economic interests existing right from the start. This still holds true even today: Banks and consulates, international firms and the national host of civil servants have established their headquarters in Wellington.
Although the city is best known as the true capital of New Zealand, it is most infamous for its rather peculiar weather patterns, particularly the constant west winds.
It is no coincidence that one of the most popular radio stations is called Radio Windy. For the visitor to Wellington, it is important to dress warm throughout the year. An umbrella or waterproof jacket should be at hand at all times, even when the sun is shining.
When properly weatherproofed, you can start out on a tour of the city. The best spot to begin is on Wakefield Street, where the city information center is located in the Town Hall. If you have driven into the city with a vehicle, there is a parking garage right next door at the Civic Centre.
The Michael Fowler Centre, with one of the best concert and convention halls in New Zealand, also belongs to this building complex. Among others, the National Symphony Orchestra and the National Ballet are at home here. Michael Fowler was once mayor of the city and played an important role in the (controversial) moderization of Wellington.
Between the Harbor and Hills
Wakefield and Willis Streets lead through the business center of the city. After accomplishing the short climb up to Boulcott Street, it is time to enjoy some tranquility. The Antrim House on 63 Boulcott Street rests between the highrise buildings like a serene oasis out of the Edwardian age (built in 1905 as residential quarters). Today it is the office of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust that maintains and preserves numerous historical buildings and monument which are protected.
In Wellington itself, there are three other significant historical buildings. Katherine Mansfield Birthplace (25 Tinakori Road, Thorndon) was built in 1888 and is today a museum dedicated to the author, who died in 1929. The Colonial Cottage Museum was built in 1858 and is located at 68 Nairn Street, Brooklyn. The last and most interesting of these buildings is the Old St Paul’s Cathedral, which will be mentioned again later.
For those travelers planning to visit national parks another quick stop nearby should not be forgotten. Directly next to the Antrim House are the headquarters of the Department of Conservation, usually called DOC for short (59 Boulcott Street), which is responsible for everything having to do with the national parks and national reserves in New Zealand. You can obtain all necessary information, brochures, maps and overnight coupons for the tracks and huts here at the DOC headquarters.
At the north end of Boulcott Street, the Plimmer Steps lead down again into the lower part of the city. Generations of seafarers and settlers have stepped down to the harbor by way of these stairs. They are flanked right and left by small snackbars and restaurants before reaching Lambton Quay, one of the main shopping streets in Wellington.
After about several hundred meters of window-shopping, it is time again for a climb – with the Kelburn Cable Car. If you follow the prescribed tour of the city (or if you do not shy away from the easy climb down by foot), you only need to purchase a one-way ticket. Otherwise, it is better to buy the more economical twotrip ticket.
The old days of the cable car are long gone, as is the case with that most famous equivalent in San Francisco. The cable car was put into operation in 1902. In 1972, the aged cars were replaced by sophisticated piece of machinery from Switzerland. Unfortunately, a piece of nostalgic atmosphere has been lost in the process.
In its place, the cable car today travels the 122-m long grade with ease in a total of five minutes. From the end station you not only have a spectacular view across the city and harbor, but also the opportunity to take a peaceful walk through the grounds of the Botanical Garden (25 hectares). The cable car’s end station was built by Ian Athfield, one of the bestknown and innovative architects in New Zealand. His unmistakeable style can be found throughout the city. On the left side is also Kelburn Village, with a lot of shops and restaurants, as well as the grounds of the Victoria University.
No matter which direction you decide to take, the Kelburn trip should end at the Lady Norwood Rose Garden. There are more than 100 varieties of colorful, fragrant roses to be found here, and you can enjoy a lovely lunch at the Tea House located to the left, next to the Begonia House (open until 4 p.m.).
Green Hills and Golden Beaches
Wellington does not have to imply downtown and the hectic pace of the city center. The green surroundings can be ideally explored by Bus & Walk. The Wellington City Transportation Office offers 16 trips in and around the city by means of public transportation. These trips take you to such places as the beaches of Scorching Bay and Worser Bay (near Seatoun), as well as to Owhiro Bay, Island Bay, and Lyall Bay, all of which can be rather blustery since they face the open sea. They are, however, ideal for surfers.
All of the above beaches lie along a route called the Oriental Parade. This 39 km-long round-trip tour begins at Port Nicholson Yacht Club. For the first few kilometers, it allows a look at one of the most beautiful residential areas in the city, at the foot of Mount Victoria. Those sunbathers stretched out on the beach at Oriental Bay are not actually touching New Zealand ground. The sand came to this spot as ballast via trade ships from throughout the world.
The Oriental Parade proceeds directly along the water. The end of the tour should take you to a lookout point on Mount Victoria. From here you have a magnificent view of the city, the harbor, the hills of Wellington and even of Cook Strait.
Mount Victoria, with an elevation just short of 200 m, is the ideal spot to say good-bye to North Island. And if you see one of the inter-island ferries setting anchor down at Port Nicholson after its 83.6 km trip from Picton, it is time to head down to the harbor. In approximately two hours, the ferry will embark on its journey, leaving Wellington behind; a new adventure in the wilderness of the South Island lies ahead. On the way, in the middle of the bay is tiny James Island, where Kupe, the Maori explorer, landed in the 10th century.