Despite it’s compact size there is a lot to do in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand – so if you only have one day here look no further! It is easy enough to explore the city on foot so I have put together this walking itinerary to ensure you can effortlessly get to see all of Wellington’s best bits in less than 24 hours! Everything is close together but the city is fairly hilly so be prepared for some walking whilst you are here!
Wellington sits at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island. What makes it unique is that it is famous for being the world’s windiest city! Half of the days of the year wind speeds exceed 60kmh!
Why is Wellington so windy?
So what makes Wellington so windy? It is to do with it’s location next to The Cook Straight: the straight of water that separates New Zealand’s North and South Islands. Hot winds come from the north and cool winds come up from the Antarctica in the south. They meet in the narrow gap of The Cook Straight, causing the winds to accelerate and intensity. This creates wind speeds in excess of 60 km/h (32 knots) on 173 days of the year on average!
One day in Wellington Itinerary
Wellington Waterfront Walk
Start your day by strolling along the Wellington Waterfront Walk and Clyde Quay Wharf. You’ll see the Solace in the Wind statue (also known as the Naked Man Statue) and some family bikes you can rent if you wish for 30 minutes or an hour!
Walk past the cute boat sheds and continue walking along the promenade until you get to Freyberg Beach (family beach) and then Oriental Beach.
Relax for a bit here (or even have a dip in the water if you’re here in summer!) before starting the uphill walk to Mount Victoria Lookout.
Mount Victoria Lookout
Mount Victoria Lookout is one of Wellington’s best walks and provides stunning views from the top.
How to get to Mount Victoria Lookout:
Behind Oriental Beach just off Oriental Parade you’ll find a street called Oriental Terrace. This is the road you take to get to the lookout at Mount Victoria. Head straight up here (it is a little bit steep!). The road turns to the left but keep walking straight ahead – go up the stairs in front of you at the end of the road. The path will then turn into a zigzag, going through some lovely gardens. At the top of the zig-zag you’ll come to a road – turn left here onto Moeller Street.
Go uphill for about 100 metres and then cross over the road to go up the pedestrianised path on your right to Charles Plimmer Park. From here it is easy to follow the signs to the top of the lookout. However if at any point you think you are lost just look out for the purple Lookout Walkway signs and they will guide you to the top!
The viewpoint at the top offers 360 degree views of Lambton Harbour (where you just walked up from) and across to Evans Bay.
Southern Lights Sculpture
100 metres from the lookout is the giant Southern Lights sculpture. The sculpture points straight towards The South Pole and has a tiled pattern of the Southern Lights on two sides. We’ve all heard of the Northern Lights but not so many people have heard of the Southern Lights as they are certainly not as common. The third side of the sculpture has a memorial to Richard Byrd, one of the first explorers to The South Pole. The tiles here also have stones on them that were collected from the Koettutz Glacier Region in Antarctica.
After this head down the path straight infront of you. You’ll come to the Matairangi Nature Trail where there are some logs that children like to play on, and there’s also some toilets here if you need! Keep going downhill – there is even a slide you can go down (or you can walk around it!). After about 5 minutes walking you’ll see a small sign saying Lord of The Rings filming location.
Follow this path to the right and you’ll find Hobbit’s Hideout (you can type it into maps.me so you don’t miss it!). When you get there, there is no actual sign telling you that is the place, which is why it is good to use an online/offline map on your phone so you don’t walk past it! Here is how it looks though:
From here make your way down to the end of the park to Marjoribanks Street. It’s a pleasant walk with lots of really nice houses along the way. Follow this street down until you get to Courtenay Place, one of the lively thoroughfares in Wellington. There’s a heap of places you can grab some lunch here.
Te Papa Museum
A couple of minutes walk from Courtenay Place is the world famous museum Te Papa, also known as The Museum of New Zealand. Te Papa (meaning ‘our place’) is NOT to be missed during your time in Wellington! This museum is FREE (donations are happily received though) and is so incredible!
You could easily spend one whole day here (which is great if the weather is not good!). However even if you are in Wellington on a beautiful sunny day like I was, you must visit Te Papa! I am not a museum person and I can honestly count on one hand the amount of museums that really left an impact on me, and Te Papa was definitely one of them. Te Papa is world renowned and has won many awards for it’s outstanding exhibitions so you would be an absolute fool to miss this place! It was probably my favourite thing to do in the whole of Wellington.
Te Papa is open from 10am – 6pm. There is free wifi here plus you can leave your bag in the cloakroom for free, so drop it off as you’ll be in here a while! They usually have one temporary exhibition that you can pay to visit. However the free permanent exhibitions in the rest of the museum are absolutely incredible, so I would suggest to do these first.
Te Papa is 6 floors high. I spent 3 hours inside and only covered 2 floors – I still hadn’t got to see everything! Te Papa is such an educational and interactive museum. So budget your time here, and make sure if there’s any exhibits that you really want to see, that you go there first. Two exhibitions that I definitely recommend are the Nature and the Gallipoli exhibitions: they were both so informative and interactive.
The Gallipoli exhibition focused on how New Zealand fought in World War 1. It was so moving, so well done and laid out – the highlight of the museum in my opinion. You saw life size models, inside the bunkers, letters the soldiers wrote and it was all explained so well without being overbearing.
The Nature section was also really interesting as it explains how unique New Zealand’s wildlife is. Did you know that half of the wildlife in New Zealand is found nowhere else in the world! This is due to New Zealand begin so isolated from the rest of the world for so long prior to the European settlers, so many new species started to form here. Since the arrival of the settlers though, more than 20% of birds have become extinct here and hundreds of animals and plants are on the brink of extinction.
All the signs at Te Papa are written in both English and Maori, demonstrating how vital the Maori culture is in shaping New Zealand.
In the Nature section, you learn not only about the wildlife in New Zealand, but also how volcanoes and earthquakes have shaped this land. All the information really helps you to understand this country a lot more, and I really recommend taking the time to come here and learn about it.
Learn about Taupo in the North Island: the world’s most active supervolcano. 25,500 years ago there was a huge volcanic Oruanui explosion. So much magma came out the volcano which caused the ground to drop several kilometres. This filled with water and Lake Taupo was then formed. You get to watch a reenactment of the eruption – it is incredible to see.
You’ll see images of the tectonic plates and how they split the North and South Island, making this land susceptible to earthquakes. You can even experience being in an earthquake simulation and learn how to protect yourself from an earthquake.
On the third floor you will get to see the impact people have had on the land here in Aotearoa New Zealand and how it has changed and transformed (not always for the better) since man arrived, including the introduction of farming.
The 4th floor looks at Social History in New Zealand and has a tribal gallery with Maori art displayed. You’ll also learn about the world of Maori, Pacific peoples in New Zealand, immigrants and young refugees stories. The seasonal exhibitions are also here on the 4th floor. I didn’t make it as far as this floor as the museum was closing, but it is something I would have really loved to have seen. However you can also learn about Maori culture if you visit a Maori village in Rotorua.
At the top of Te Papa is a viewing terrace to get some nice views over the harbour.
Visit pedestrianised Cuba Street and it’s grand old buildings for a bohemian feel, before heading towards the cable car.
Visiting the iconic Wellington Cable Car is a must when you are here! The historic cable car is New Zealand’s only funicular railway and has been in operation since 1902.
The cable car connects Lambton Quay – Wellington’s main shopping street, with the suburb of Kelburn – located in the hills overlooking Wellington. To reach the cable car, when you are on Lambton Quay look for Cable Car Street on your left. It is more like an alleyway so is very easy to miss. It is just before the McDonalds and there is a sign pointing towards the street if you look closely (see below left image). At the end of the street is the ticket office.
To ride on the cable car costs $5 one way or $9 return (half price for children). Many people ride up and then walk down as it is a nice stroll through the Botanic Gardens. Opening times for the Cable Car are from 7am-10pm Monday – Friday, 8.30am-10pm on Saturdays, and 8.30am-9pm on Sundays. The 120 metre climb takes less than 5 minutes, and on the way up you’ll go through two tunnels that have flashing lights inside them as you go up (see below right picture).
The cable cars run every 10 minutes (every 15 minutes after 8pm), and from the Cable Car Lookout at the top you can get a nice view of the city and the cable car going down (see middle picture below).
The Cable Car Museum is just as you exit the cable car at the top if you fancy visiting. It features the original cable car and entrance is free (open from 9.30am-5pm). Or you can get the free shuttle to Zealandia from the top: Zealandia is an urban eco-sanctuary where you can learn more about New Zealand wildlife. There are also toilets up here at the exit to the cable car if you need them! Not only this, there is the Carter Observatory at the top of the hill where you can visit the planetarium and do some late night telescope viewing if you wish!
As I mentioned earlier, it’s nice to take the cable car up and then walk down through the Botanic Gardens, which start right next to the cable car exit. The path is easy to navigate, just follow the mosaic flower pattern tiles on the floor (see below left). They take you through the Botanic Gardens, through the Lady Norwood Rose Garden and towards the city. As with all Botanic Gardens in New Zealand and Australia they are free to enter. There are some really lovely specialist gardens (rose garden, hydrangea garden etc) and beautiful flowers and plants everywhere.
There are signs and map showing you which path to take to get to the bottom.
When you exit the Botanic Gardens you’ll walk along the street for a couple hundred yards, then you need to turn right (following the signs) to the Rose Garden.
You’ll then stroll through the Bolton Street Cemetery but it is not creepy at all – infact it is very beautiful with lots of roses everywhere, especially if you visit in the summer. The Cemetery was built in the mid-1800’s but in the 1960’s a motorway was built that would bisect the graveyard. During the excavations for the motorway 3,700 bodies were exhumed and relocated.
Cross over the motorway, take a right and walk down – then you’ll see the famous Beehive building on your left.
Beehive and Parliament Building
The Beehive (named so because it resembles a beehive!) and Parliament buildings are nice to photograph, especially around dusk when they are lit up. Walk around to the front – you can get better pictures here than at the back as there are nice gardens here. From here you can then stroll back down to the riverfront.
Head to lively Queens Wharf for dinner and drinks. There are some really nice places here and a lovely atmosphere.
Cruise ships often dock into Wellington, which means on these days there will be up to an extra 5000 or so tourists in Wellington! Click here to check the cruise ship schedules, so you can hopefully avoid visiting around this time. However, I visited when there was a big cruise ship docked and still Wellington didn’t feel too busy. If you are visiting Wellington on a cruise ship, you should be able to complete most of the itinerary here!
New Years Eve
Wellington is the first major capital to celebrate New Years Eve. I was actually in Wellington for New Years Eve and saw in 2020 here by the harbour which was really exciting. There was free music and entertainment at Whairepo Lagoon, Frank Kitts Park from 8pm until midnight. There were fireworks for the children at 9pm, and then the main fireworks display at midnight went off from the promenade on Lambton Harbour right next to the lagoon. You can bring your own drinks (there are plenty of portaloos here so no need to worry!) and relax here with friends, or you can go to one of the nearby restaurants and enjoy the view. It was busy but not too crowded at all.
After the fireworks head over to Courtenay Place. All the bars here are absolutely heaving! There were so many people queueing up to get inside the bars and clubs! This night is the one night of the year everyone goes out in Wellington, you’ll never normally see town so busy with people! So if you want to have a party, you’ve come to the right place!
How to get to Wellington
One way to get to Wellington from the South Island is to take the ferry from Picton across The Cook Straight. The journey takes about 3.5 hours however often the straight can experience rough currents and swells from the strong winds coming from the south, meaning ferry services can sometimes be disrupted. The Cook Straight can be quite an unpredictable crossing and it is even named as one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world. Not only this, but for convenience as well (flights are faster and often cheaper), many people choose to fly from the South Island to the North Island. If you need to take the ferry (to bring a vehicle across for example), click here to view ferry times and prices. It is best to book ahead to get the best deals.
If coming from elsewhere on the North Island you can drive to Wellington. If you are planning to be in Rotorua and drive down, check out my article on visiting a Maori Village in Rotorua!
Many people choose to fly to Wellington with Air New Zealand or JetStar as it is often the cheapest and fastest way to get here from other parts of New Zealand.
Flying into New Zealand
When flying to New Zealand you need to show your return ticket to the check-in agent before they will check you in for the flight, so have it handy! Note they will not accept just the booking reference, they need to see proof of onwards ticket. Also they need to see that you have already purchased a valid visa for New Zealand. Click here for the NZeTA visa.
Internal flights in NZ
Personally I love taking internal flights in countries – the airport process is so quick!
As with many countries if you are making an internal flight within the country you don’t need to show passport – even if you are a tourist. You also don’t need to have your liquids separate yay! Meaning you can bring liquids over 100 mls in your hand luggage.
How to get to Wellington city centre from the Airport
To get to the city from the airport you can take the Airport Flyer bus. Go down to the ground floor of the airport, go outside and turn left – you’ll then see the red bus opposite to your right. It costs $12 to get to the centre.
Or a cheaper option is to keep walking left, go past Rydges Hotel and continue along the road. At the roundabout turn right (where you’ll see a Z petrol station and a Burger King). Then take the first left onto Hobart Street – right outside Airport Motel Lodge Hotel. On the same side of the road you’ll see a bus stop. Take the number 2 bus (or N2 if you are arriving in the night!) to Courtenay Place (one of the main roads in Wellington City Centre). The bus costs $5 and lasts about half an hour. If you want to take this bus back to the airport later, you can take it from outside the McDonalds on Courtenay Place.
That being said, the airport is only 5km from town. So if you want to take an Uber/Ola you can get them from very cheap from here just outside the airport area (like at the Burger King or bus stop I just mentioned). If you get the taxi from the airport they are normally double the price (around $30).
I hope you enjoy your day in Wellington, it sure is one fantastic city! Be prepared to check the weather before you go! I was lucky and had a glorious sunny day when I was there with not a hint of wind at all, but you might not be so lucky!
If you will be heading down to the South Island check out my blog posts:
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