New Zealand’s capital Wellington, sits close to North Island’s southernmost point on Cook Strait. This is a compact city that has a mix of different things such as a waterfront promenade, sandy beaches, a working harbor and colorful houses made with timber sitting on the surrounding hills. The weather is usually sunny and mild but strong winter winds have been known to blow through Cook Strait, giving the city the nickname “Windy Wellington”.
Visitors delight in visiting Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. There are many interactive displays. The name of the museum in translation means “treasure box”. Inside you’ll find an impressive collection of Maori artifacts, the museum’s own colorful marae or meeting house, natural history and environment exhibitions. There are Pacific and NZ history galleries, the National Art Collections and themed hands-on discovery centers for children.
There are six floors to explore so take a map from the information desk on level two. If you prefer there is also a one-hour “Introducing Te Papa” tour available. The museum also has two cafes and two gift shops. The main highlight at this time is the state-of-the-art exhibition “Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War” charting the country’s involvement in WW I’s Gallipoli campaign through the experiences of eight New Zealander’s. There are hyper-real models created by Weta Workshops, that bring it all to life. This exhibition will go on until 2018.
To get some real spectacular views of the city head for Mt. Victoria Lookout. Mt. Victoria is located east of the city center and rises 196 meters high. You can ride a bus up most of the way but to truly experience the climb and the views walk on up. There are also some interesting info panels along the way.
Take a ride on the Wellington Cable Car. This little red cable car has become quite popular as it goes up the steep slope from Lambton Quay to Kelburn. At the top you’ll find the Wellington Botanic Gardens, the Carter Observatory and the small Cable Car Museum. At the museum you can find out about the history of the cable car since it was built in 1902. You can ride on back down or take a stroll through the gardens.
The Wellington Botanic Gardens stretch for 25 hectares. The gardens offer a tract of original native forest, the beauty of Lady Norwood Rose Garden, 25,000 spring tulips and international plant collections. There are fountains, sculptures, a duck pond, a playground, a cafe and city skyline views to enjoy.
Hidden in the hills about 2km west of the city is Zealandia, a groundbreaking eco-sanctuary. Living wild and free in the fenced valley are over 30 native bird species among them the rare takahe, saddleback, hihi and kaka as well as the tuatara and little spotted kiwi. There is an excellent exhibition about NZ’s natural history and world-renowned conservation story. You can independently explore over 30m of tracks or join regular guided tours. A special night tour gives visitors the opportunity to see nocturnal creatures like kiwi, frogs and glowworms. There is a cafe and a shop.
Film lovers will enjoy the Weta Cave, which is a mini museum of the Academy Award-winning special effects company that brought to the screen “The Lord of the Rings”, “King Kong”, “The Adventures of Tintin” and “The Hobbit”. There are 45 minute guided tours, starting every half-hour. The Weta Cave is located 9m east of the city and you can book online.
The Beehive, built in 1980 is a most fascinating part of NZ’s parliamentary complex. It is the creative design of British architect Sir Basil Spence. This is the architectural symbol of the country and it is well worth a tour.
The Museum of Wellington City & Sea offers an imaginative, interactive experience into the city’s social and maritime history. It has found its home in an 1892 Bond Store. Among the highlights are a moving documentary on the Wahine, the interisland ferry that sank in the harbor in 1968 with the loss of 51 lives. There is the drama of Maori legends told through the use of tiny holographic actors and special effects. The new “Attic” exhibition space opened in 2015.
The Wellington Zoo is committed to conservation, research and captive breeding programs. It is home to native and exotic wildlife that includes lions and tamarins. The nocturnal house has kiwi and tuatara.
For a real adventure there is “Close Encounters” that lets you meet the big cats, red pandas, giraffes and meerkats closer than ever before for a fee.
Otari-Wilton’s Bush is the only botanic garden in NZ specializing in native flora. Here you will find over 1200 plant species, including some of the city’s oldest trees, as well as an 18m-high canopy walkway, 11 km of walking trails and some lovely picnic areas.
Pukeahu National War Memorial Park is where the art-deco National War Memorial Tower stands. It was built in 1932 and can be seen from most anywhere in Wellington. It is a symbolic homage to NZ’s servicemen and women.
Old St. Paul’s was designed by Rev Fred Thatcher, the first vicar of Wellington. This is a wooden church dating back to 1866 and has claret carpets, drawers of old altar textiles, brassy organ pipes and a little shop to explore. Guided tours are available.