History and Culture
Museums and Galleries
Te Papa (short for Te Papa Tongarewa, which in Te Reo Māori means ‘container for our treasures’ ) is the national museum of New Zealand, and well worth a visit. You can learn about the history, geography, natural history and art history of New Zealand there, including the exhibition Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, which was co-created with Weta Workshop.
This very special museum is a richly immersive treasure on Wellington’s beautiful waterfront. Housed in a heritage building built in 1892, it uses evocative displays, art, poetry, and holograms to tell the fascinating stories of the Wellington region. Be sure to nip up to the “Attic” for some steampunk inspired time travel.
Wellington’s City Art Gallery is also worth a visit, with many free exhibitions of contemporary artists.
The NZ Portrait Gallery tells the story of New Zealanders through contemporary and historical portraiture in a variety of mediums. Check the website to see what exhibitions are on show. They also inspire new generations of artists by offering free portrait drawing sessions on the last Saturday of the month.
This proud museum has promoted the creation, understanding, and appreciation of the visual arts since 1882. New works by established and emerging artists are displayed in the halls of a stunning historical building on Wellington’s waterfront.
Take a voyage of discovery and experience the stories of Aotearoa’s skies. Catch a screening in the full-dome digital planetarium theatre, explore the interactive exhibits, and on a clear night admire the heavens through the historic Thomas Cooke telescope. The Wellington Cable Car is a great way to get here!
A vast collection of historical documents such as newspapers, diaries, letters and images that give glimpses of everyday life and historical events in New Zealand history. Explore the museum’s vast archives, or visit one of the exhibits, including He Tohu, a permanent exhibition on the Treaty of Waitangi and women’s suffrage. If you can’t get to the museum, or want to look through the collection at a later date, many of the resources are available in digital format.
Worth braving the elements for! Hop aboard a traditionally carved waka for a once in a lifetime chance to paddle a traditional Māori canoe. Your adventure starts with a traditional mihi whakatau (welcome) including waiata (song). You’ll be taught everything you need to know to become kaihoe (paddlers), learning basic commands and chants, haka and salutes, in preparation for your journey. Once back on land, you’ll be taken on a walking tour of significant Māori cultural sites to discover Wellington’s hidden Māori treasures.
Wellington’s Cable Car is a working piece of history. It’s great fun to ride, and offers amazing views from the top, and a free shuttle bus can take you from there to the eco-sanctuary Zealandia. You can also visit the free Cable Car Museum.
View some cutting edge technology from the past and see how the cable cars of old were hauled up the steep incline you’ve just climbed (or are about to descend). Take a seat on the “Relentless Red Rattler” and be grateful that today’s cable cars offer a much smoother ride. Set over two floors, this free museum features restored equipment, trolleys, exhibits, and a short film about the evolution of Wellington’s iconic transport system from the 1900s to the present day.
Cuba Street is one of the cultural centres of Wellington. Here you’ll find interesting independent shops, the famous Bucket Fountain (an iconic Wellington landmark), and on Friday nights a great market with a huge range of delicious international cuisine to try. You can also find several craft beer brew bars here and close by.
When’s the last time you purchased your gourmet peanut butter out of a literal hole in the wall? If you answered “never”, then here’s the place to go to fix that! Other hidden gems include gourmet eateries, chocolate factories, and delightfully tucked-away watering holes.
Wellington’s stunning waterfront is a pedestrian-friendly space that rings the capital’s sparkling harbour. It’s as much a destination in its own right as a thoroughfare between restaurants, bars, cafes, museums, and historical attractions.
Download one of the free heritage trail guides to discover the stories and history underneath your feet. A few steps up from the harbour is the City to Sea Walk Bridge, which features large Māori carvings. Scattered along the water’s edge are a number of memorial plaques and artwork to look out for. And if you’re lucky you might just spot a little blue penguin, a seal, stingrays or dolphins!
Conveniently located next to Te Papa, Harbourside Market operates Sunday mornings all year ‘round. Known as being Wellington’s oldest market, it offers fresh produce, bakery items, confectionary, cheese, fresh hot coffee, and loads more.
If you fancy a bite at night and want to try something unique, the Wellington Night Market on Cuba Street has you covered. Enjoy exotic, flavourful cuisine and stellar entertainment while you soak up the best of Cuba Street culture. This funky market operates on Friday on Cuba Street’s Left Bank, and on Saturdays on Lower Cuba Street (across the road from the Michael Fowler Centre).
Flora and Fauna
Zealandia is something very special. A predator-proof eco-sanctuary – the first of its kind in the world – Zealandia is home to a myriad of New Zealand native birds, reptiles and plants. It has been rated one of the top 100 greatest places in the world by Time Magazine. You can visit and explore independently (general admission tickets are valid for two days), or take a guided tour with one of Zealandia’s resident experts. The sanctuary offers both daytime and night-time tours (night time gives the best chance of seeing our national bird, the kiwi, as they are nocturnal), which last between 2 and 2.5 hours.
Part of worldwide conservation efforts for various species, Wellington Zoo is another good option if you’re keen to see some native New Zealand fauna, though they also have animals from all over the world (but no snakes – New Zealand has no snakes and works very hard to keep it that way). For a really special experience, they offer various Close Encounters. These allow you to get up close (even inside the enclosure in some cases) to some of the zoo’s animals – for example, feeding red pandas, or petting a cheetah. All proceeds from the encounters help fund the zoo’s conservation efforts.
Experience Wellington’s rugged landscapes and say hello to the adorable coastal seals from the comfort of a 4-WD “Sealmobile”. Your informative hosts will take you to the top of Brooklyn Hill to see the wind turbine and enjoy the 360 degree view of Wellington City, the Cook Strait, and the South Island. You’ll then travel through wild country landscapes until you reach the majestic coastline. There, you’ll travel up the coast until you reach the leaning lighthouse, where you’ll enjoy a hot beverage and gourmet muffin with the seals.
If you’re keen to get out and about (though bear in mind it will be winter during CoNZealand), then Wellington City Council’s website has a comprehensive list of trails and walks you can go on while in the area. We recommend wrapping up warm, and rewarding yourself with a cuppa at one of Wellington’s many excellent cafes after you’re done!
This island, which you can’t miss in the middle of the harbour, is a predator-free scientific reserve with a fascinating history including being a quarantine station (for humans and animals), and even an internment camp during World Wars I and II. You can visit it via a ferry which leaves from Queen’s Wharf – just be careful to keep an eye on the time, as there are limited ferries off the island. If you feel so inclined, you can catch the ferry from the island (instead of returning to town right away) to scenic Days Bay.
If you’re into SF and fantasy movies or TV, then a Weta Workshop tour is THE absolute must-do. They offer a range of tours, the classic one being the Weta Cave Workshop Tour, which can be taken in English or Mandarin. A variety of tours can be booked via the Weta Workshop Tour site.
Note for drivers heading to Weta Workshop: Parking can be difficult so you may need to park further away or take one of the Weta bus tours which collect you from Wellington Station.
Lord of the Rings/Hobbit Filming Locations
The Wellington region is home to several of the locations for both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movie series. You can find out more at newzealand.com.
A must for any fan of the Fellowship, Rover Rings Tours offers full or half-day tours that take you to the best of the Wellington-based filming locations. Group sizes are kept small, ensuring your knowledgeable guide can give you a truly personal experience.
Want something even more personalised? Choose a one or two-day adventure with Mike the Guide and let him take you on a very special tour of Middle Earth. The two-day tour even takes you on a winding hike through the spectacular natural landscapes used for the Paths of the Dead – if you dare!
If you’re in the city and find yourself needing dice in a hurry, or want to grab a new board or card game to take home as a memento of your journey, Wellington’s got you covered.
The folks at Caffeinated Dragon have board games, card games, puzzles, and dice on offer. And because this is Wellington, they naturally have delicious coffee available as well.
Cerberus Games has Wellington’s largest selection of games in store, as well as collectible card games, game accessories, role playing games, and gaming events.
Not looking to buy? Counter Culture has over 900 games available for hire while you enjoy their delectable food and drink. It’s a great place to spend a few hours with friends and try out that game you’ve been meaning to play, or revisit old favourites.
We know one of the important questions on any CoNZealand goer’s mind will be: where are the good bookshops? Well, you’ll be glad to know there are plenty of options here in Wellington!
Arty Bees Bookshop on Manners Street is a Wellington institution, and well worth a rummage for second-hand bargains.
If you’re looking for a mainstream bookshop, the best option in central Wellington is Whitcoulls on Lambton Quay. Here you’ll find popular fiction and non-fiction works, children’s books, stationery, and a selection of games, puzzles, and toys.
If you visit Petone, just outside Wellington City, you will find Schrodinger’s Books. Opened in 2019, they an eclectic range of fiction, science, SF and fantasy plus children’s books. The short bus ride from the bus station in central Wellington takes a scenic drive beside Wellington’s Harbour.
Finally, we can’t leave out Wellington’s beloved Unity Books. They offer a fantastic selection of New Zealand literature and authors.
Just up from the city centre in the leafy Karori neighbourhood is Marsden Books. Billed as a ‘real’ bookstore, it features an eclectic selection of New Zealand publications, fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books.
Cafes and Restaurants
Wellington is generously appointed with cafes, restaurants and bars, in fact it’s rumoured that Wellington has more cafes, restaurants and bars, per capita, than New York. Cafe culture is huge, and Wellingtonians take their coffee very seriously – try a famous flat white or long black to get a taste for the local favourites.
Everybody has their own personal Top Ten, but if you don’t know where to start, ask a friendly local for their recommendations. You can also peruse one of the many ‘best eats’ lists such as the ones found on:
Being cat crazy is a fantasy reading pleasure for some and a visit to Neko Ngeru Cat Cafe, run by American native Richelle Okada, and husband Ken (from Japan) could be the place to get a relaxing kitty fix just a short bus ride from Central Wellington.
The Library Bar on Courtenay Place http://www.thelibrary.co.nz/ serves excellent cocktails and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
The Black Sparrow bar under the Embassy Theatre https://www.theblacksparrow.co.nz/
BATS Theatre, just down from The Embassy cinema on 1 Kent Terrace https://bats.co.nz/
Circa, on the waterfront by Te Papa Museum https://www.circa.co.nz/
Hannah Playhouse, on the corner of Courtenay Place and Cambridge Terrace http://www.hannahplayhouse.org.nz/
The Opera House Wellington, just off Cuba Street on Manners Street https://www.eventfinda.co.nz/venue/the-opera-house-wellington
The Gryphon Theatre, just off Cuba Street on Ghuznee Street http://gryphon.stagecraft.co.nz/
Want More Ideas?
For more information and ideas for activities while in Wellington, visit the WellingtonNZ website.