When planning our road trip through New Zealand one thing was made abundantly clear – a lot of traveler’s suggested spending more time on the country’s South Island. I’d say that a lot of this must do with the fact that people tend to travel quite far to get to New Zealand and have a limited amount of time to spend there. This of course results in trying to cram lots in – layer in the jet lag and it becomes an unpleasant race to see and do as much as possible. Give yourself time and don’t knock off the North Island, otherwise you run the risk of missing out on gems like Wellington.
Wellington is the second most populous city in New Zealand after Auckland and is surprisingly the country’s capital. There is a certain charm about the city that is unique to other capital cities that we have travelled to. You have all the fixings of a capital city combined with relaxed, small-town vibes and natural beauty.
Wellington served as our last pit stop on the North Island before hopping on the InterIslander Ferry to adventure on the South Island. Craving more accommodation that felt like home, we stayed at the Boulcott Suites. These serviced apartments are centrally located and served as a great base as we explored the city.
Here’s a steer on great ways to spend your time in Wellington.
//STRETCH YOUR LEGS
One of the joys of the capital being small? You can get around a lot of it by foot. Take the time to get out and explore the city and soak in the artsy vibes. One of the best places to do that is the Wellington Waterfront. In addition to plenty of bars and restaurants, the waterfront is lined with arts installations – like Max Patte’s Solace in the Wind and the New Zealand Society of Authors’ Writers Walk.
If you are into your scenic views, Wellington has you covered. You can take a hike up to the top of Mount Victoria for stunning vistas of Wellington city and harbor. Prefer your views without the work? Take the historic Wellington Cable Car from the city center to the suburb of Kelburn. In addition to showcasing most of the city, the lookout spans the harbor, the CBD and Mount Victoria.
There certainly isn’t a shortage of opportunities to visit museums in Wellington. If you only have time to choose one – be sure you make it to New Zealand’s National Museum – Te Papa. With over six floors spanning almost three rugby fields of floor space – you can imagine it being packed with all sorts of exhibits. Cool thing is – these exhibits help tell the story of New Zealand. We spent a few hours exploring the various interactive exhibits – including stepping inside a simulator to experience a 6.6 magnitude earthquake.
I particularly liked the exhibits that related to Māori culture. Insight into the rich history and culture of New Zealand’s indigenous people has always been fascinating to me. We also quite enjoyed Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War. This unique exhibit illustrates New Zealand’s involvement in World War I by telling the story of eight individuals. Each of the characters is represented as a giant, insanely life-like sculpture that took thousands of hours to create. 2,779 Kiwis lost their lives on Gallipoli and this exhibit does a great job honoring them. Find out more about this exhibit and more at the Te Papa website HERE.
//DISCOVER MĀORI CULTURE
Māui is a famous demi-god in Māori culture that caught a giant fish using a magical, ancestral jawbone. After struggling to reel the fish in, it finally surfaced to become what is now New Zealand’s North Island. You might recall from Destinations // Taupo that Lake Taupo is said to be the fish’s beating heart. And Wellington? That’s the head. It’s just too cool. There are plenty of places in and around Wellington to learn about the mystical culture and heritage of the Māori people.
In the same way that Te Papa shares the stories of New Zealand, the Wellington Museum has exhibits dedicated to showcasing the social and cultural heritage of Wellington – that incorporates the Māori. Be sure to catch the A Millennium Ago – Māori Stories from Way Back exhibit. This short presentation uses innovative technology to share Māori creation legends.
//VISIT MIDDLE EARTH
If you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy then you are in for a treat. The films were shot all over New Zealand, which means you can walk in the foot steps of Frodo Baggins in the search of your own magical, precious ring. Wellington, the hometown of Peter Jackson, is one the popular places to check out these beautiful filming locations. There are some accessible places directly in Wellington, such as the forests surrounding Mount Victoria (used as Hobbiton Woods), the Hutt River (used as the Anduin River) and Harcourty Park (the Gardens of Isengard). Further outside of town you can visit Queen Elizabeth Park, Waitarere Forest, the Putangirua Pinnacles, and Kaitoke Regional Park for more Middle-Erath fun. Each of these places has their own significance in the films.
New Zealand’s South Island is home to the country’s most famous natural landscapes and tourist destinations. Wellington often serves as the jumping off point for travellers making their way to explore South Island. There are many ways that you can get to New Zealand’s South Island. One of the best ways? Skip the plane and take the Interislander’s Ferry across Cooks Strait.
This 92 km, three hour journey between Wellington and Picton is one of those quintessential New Zealand travel experiences and is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular cruises in the world. You check in very much like an airport – head to the check-in counter, drop off your luggage and away you go. If you are taking a vehicle with you simply follow the signs to your check in. Find a seat by a window, sit back and enjoy the scenic ride.
A little side note if you are road-tripping through New Zealand. Most car rental companies wont let you take rental cars on the ferries for insurance reasons. You’ll need to drop-off your rental at the Wellington terminal and pick up a new one in Picton. Our rental company didn’t make this clear to us in advance and we almost didn’t have a car to pick up. Chances are you will be visiting during a popular season and the car inventory may be limited. Check in advance so you don’t have any unexpected car issues.
Considering all the great things to see and do in Wellington, it was very clear once we left that ultimately didn’t spend as much time there as we should have. When we hopped on the Interislander Ferry we said goodbye to the quaint capital and hello to the South Island.