Encircled by towering mountains and set around a spectacular stretch of coastline, Wellington is one of the most picturesque Pacific cities.
As New Zealand’s third-largest city and administrative capital, Wellington is also very much a cultural capital. This is a place where nature meets high-tech modernity with outstanding results. Music, theatre, dance and fine art events burst from the cultural calendar 365 days a year and yet rugged mountain trails, lush greenery and deep blue seas teeming with marine life are right on the doorstep. Recent polls put Wellington in the top five cities in the world to visit and it is easy to see why.
New Zealand is spread out over two islands, North Island and South Island. Wellington is located right at the southern end of North Island, with a stunning harbour right at its core and the business and residential districts fanning out from here in all directions.
The city’s airport is well served by domestic and international flights and it is also possible to arrive here by road, bus, rail and even boat. It is a major destination for New Zealanders and international visitors alike, keen to sample its huge quantity of excellent restaurants, cafes and bars as well as all the cultural activities and sights it has to offer.
Wellington and Auckland have traditionally fought head to head for cultural supremacy but there is a strong feeling these days that Wellington is winning hands down. Or perhaps that is just what the local residents think! Certainly it has gained more attention on the world stage in recent years, both for its cultural activities in general and in particular as home to New Zealand’s burgeoning film industry thanks to the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films.
Despite its suburbs stretching away into the lush greenery of rolling hills in the distance, central Wellington is in fact very compact and ideally suited to exploring on foot. Start your tour right in the centre, on the city’s Golden Mile, the main vein or trunk road, which runs from the railway station along Lambton Quay, down Willis Street to Manners Street and the pedestrianized section of Manners Mall, before arriving at Courtenay Place.
Much of the centre of this stretch marks the cultural and commercial heart of the city and it is well worth taking the time to explore the streets and walkways that lead off to the left and right, packed full of quirky boutiques, mouthwatering restaurants and lively bars where bright young things party from dusk until dawn on weekends and warm balmy evenings.
The waterfront is another pleasant place for a leisurely wander. Start at Kumutoto and work your way along to the sophisticated beach area of Oriental Bay, taking in Queen’s Wharf, the landscaped greenery and waterfronts of Frank Kitts Park and the Lagoon and bridge along the way.
It would be impossible to visit Wellington without taking a trip on its iconic Kelburn cable car, which operates between Lambton Quay and Kelburn, offering spectacular views out over the water and the gleaming rooftops of this modern and vibrant city to the rugged greenery of the mountains beyond.
At the height of the Kelburn end is the lovely Botanic Garden, which makes a lovely spot for a walk in the shade or a picnic on the grass during the summer season. There is also a small Cable Car museum here with two restored cars from the original cable car installation along with various pieces of original machinery, which will catch the eye of the children and anyone with an interest in engineering. The cable car journey between Lambton Quay and Kelburn takes five minutes and it is also possible to walk – slightly more popular downhill than up.
New Zealand is bursting with museums and galleries just waiting to be discovered. Make time to visit Te Papa, the national museum, and the Museum of Wellington City and Sea, which pays homage to Wellington’s rich marine history. The City Gallery is home to a constantly changing exhibition of contemporary art and is also well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in fine arts and painting.
There are some extraordinarily beautiful views to be had over Wellington both from the city centre and the surrounding area. Head out of town to one of the many lookout points for some excellent photo opportunities and the chance to admire this picturesque city from another perspective. Mount Victoria provides the best look out, with a full 360-degree panorama stretching out for miles around, while Mount Kaukau, Wrights Hill and the Brooklyn Windmill are other great options.
For something a little different take the ferry out to Somes Island in the harbour. The island was once used as a quarantine station for immigrants and animals and was used as a prison camp during both the First and Second World Wars.
There are some lovely buildings to be admired as you make your way around Wellington, from beautiful Art Déco mansion blocks to the Old Government buildings, new Parliament buildings and a number of statues and sculptures that punctuate the pavements at every turn.
Wellington’s rich cultural calendar offers something to entertain pretty much 365 days of the year. Theatres abound in this colourful city and local listings will provide you with up to date information about what’s on at the Circa Theatre, Bats Theatre, Downstage Theatre and Embassy Theatre from one week to the next. The city is also home to several large-scale festivals that are attended by people from all over the Pacific and beyond every year.
Courtenay Place is home to Wellington’s lively nightlife scene and partying here is fun and refreshing. Entrance charges are low, drinks are inexpensive and the dress code is generally relaxed and casual, leaving the emphasis on enjoyment. Start your evening with a gourmet meal at one of Wellington’s many and varied eateries, dance until dawn to the latest club sounds and wake up to a new day of exploration and discovery in this remarkable New Zealand city.
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