Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, is a vibrant city at the southern tip of the North Island. This bustling city has an ever changing urban landscape surrounded by the rich waters of the Cook Strait, ancient forests, and rolling hills and farmlands, making it an ideal site to explore. Our short visit last February gave us a few insights into things to check out when visiting the capital city of New Zealand. It also allowed us to create this budget travel guide that hopefully helps other travelers too. Here’s what our trip looked like:
- Arrive in Wellington | We flew into the city on board a Jetstar flight from Auckland at approximately 6:30 am.We got our tickets through one of the Friday Frenzy fare promos, thus the early flight time. But it really didn’t matter because it meant that we saved a good amount of cash on our fares, which was then used towards our other travel expenses like food!
- Drop-off bags at your chosen accommodation | In our case, it was at Trek Global Backpackers; they have a lock-up storage which is available for all the guests. This is a very convenient option because we didn’t have to drag our luggage with us while we started exploring the city.
- Breakfast at NEO CAFE | Because we got there really early and were not yet accustomed to the the location of cafes and restaurants in the city, we chose to have breakfast in the closest (and only open) cafe to our accommodation which was Neo Cafe. Our order consisted of the Buckwheat and Buttermilk Pancakes and the Neo Feast which were incredibly satisfying.
- Wellington Cable Car | One of the most well-known sights in the city center, the Wellington Cable Car is a nifty way to get from the central city to the hill suburb of Kelbern. The hills overlooking the city offers an unobstructed panoramic view of Wellington City, which is always good for photos. For the ticket prices and the operating schedule, click here.
- Explore the nearby attractions upon disembarking from the cable car | When you get off at the top of the railway, there are more than a few options in terms of sights to see and activities to experience. As you work your way down the hill, there are numerous walkways that lead to places like the Cable Car Museum, The Space Place at Carter Observatory, The Botanic Gardens, and you can also catch a free shuttle to Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary.
- Wander around Cuba Street | As we worked out way down from Kelburn to the central city, we found ourselves in one of the most recognizable streets in Wellington, Cuba Street. This street is known for it’s wonderfully diverse mix of shops, art galleries, and restaurants so it is the perfect place to fill your stomach and wander around. We certainly worked up an appetite after walking all morning, and we chose the aptly named Fidel’s Cafe (at 234 Cuba Street). This unique restaurant is a bohemian themed cafe with a wide range of fresh food, amazing coffee, and an all day alcohol menu, seriously, what more can you ask for right?
- Visit Te Papa Museum – FREE entry except for special exhibitions. | The museum houses several works of art which are incredibly comprehensive. At certain times of the year, they have sections that showcase a specific story or even some interactive artworks for the entire family. During our visit, we were lucky to witness the touching story of the ANZAC in Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War exhibit and we felt like kids again when we immersed ourselves in the wonderful world of insects in the Bug Lab exhibit. Both were masterpieces created by Weta Workshop, which most of you might know for their work in the epic Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
- At this point you can go back to your accommodation to check-in and freshen-up if you haven’t done that yet.
- If you end up visiting Wellington on a Friday or Saturday, you have an option to head to the Wellington Night Market along Cuba Street for dinner. The market starts at 5:00 pm and you’ll be spoilt for choice with the massive variety of local and international cuisine coupled with live music and lively entertainment.
- Breakfast at The Little Waffle Shop along 53 Courtenay Place | With a delightful array of flavours to choose from, from PB and J, Lemon Meringue, to the classic Cookies and Cream, this little shop is a must try. But if you do decide to have your breakfast here, know that your waffles will be sold from a kiosk and not a cafe, which means that there are no seats/tables in the immediate area. However, you could always walk a few meters to a nice spot at Courtney Place just in front of Gentlemen’s Beans (where you can also grab a satisfying cup of flat white) and bask under the morning sun on one of the numerous public benches there.
- Check out the local arts and craft scene at the Wellington Underground Market and the Welington Pop-Up Village. You never know what treasures you’ll find in these markets. We almost took home a life-sized, 3D printed Charmander! Which would have been awesome, but more practical heads prevailed so we opted for a Bulbasaur planter instead. The market is located at the Wellington Waterfront along Jervois Quay.
- Re-visit Te Papa Museum in case you were not able to see everything during the first day, which is very likely, given the size of the museum and its exhibits. If you have, an alternative is to catch a bus (or drive) to Miramar where Weta Cave is located.
- Half of The Travelling Pair is a massive nerd, so we could never leave Wellington without visiting Weta Cave. While at this magical place of all things Middle-Earth, King Kong, Narnia, Warcraft, one cannot help but wonder if you’ve actually made it to nerdvana. While at Weta Cave, you may just want to browse and shop for some cool stuff, or you could also take a peek at what actually happens behind the scenes through their workshop tours. The tours, albeit short, are in our opinion, the best things about the whole place. For their operating hours and ticket prices, click here.
- After the tour, head to The Larder, an award-winning restaurant, which is conveniently located a few meters from Weta Cave. This is a good place to fill up and recharge before you continue on to the day’s other activities.
- Head back to the city centre. If you still have the energy to wander, stroll along the Oriental Parade and get the chance to watch the Carter Fountain in action.
- Dinner at Dumpling’d at Willis Street. If you are not into dumplings, you can always look for a good restaurant within the city centre because there is definitely no shortage of that in Wellington.
- Breakfast at The Flight Hangar | If you love coffee, then this place should be among your top breakfast haunts in the windy city. Located at 119 Dixon St, Te Aro, Wellington, the place is usually packed come breakfast time so it’s best to get there early and be prepared to wait before getting a table if you arrive at a busy time. Their coffee is one of the best in New Zealand, The Flight of the Flat White, where you get 3 different specialty flat whites served on a tray is a must try for any coffee lover. Aside from the amazing coffee, The Flight Hangar also offers a wide range of delectable creations to go with your drinks. We tried the Japanese Hotcake (served with poached rhubarb, lavender cream cheese, and pistachio), and the Smoked Kahawai Paté with sourdough and crispy hen egg, and it was absolutely delightful!
- We didn’t have anything planned for this day so we simply walked around exploring the side streets around the city and looked at activities that we might be able to do the next day. Alternatively, you can commute via train for approximately 1 hour or drive for around 40 minutes to the Kapiti Coast, select a perfect spot on the beach and just laze under the sun for the rest of the day.
- Apart from the beach, you can also try the different walks in and around the city.
- Hit The Library for some food and drinks. If you’ve still got some energy left at the end of the day, pop in for a look at The Library at 1/53 Courtney Place. Here you can enjoy live music, luxury cocktails, sumptuous food, and awesome desserts, all in a quirky yet cozy library-like setting. Just don’t expect to be studying or reading books because the place is quite busy and can get a bit loud at peak hours.
- Breakfast at one of the cafes on Cuba Street. You could go for one of the restaurants you’ve tried over the past few days, or simply sample a new menu, Cuba Street has plenty of award winning cafes to choose from.
- Go for a hike to Mount Victoria. This being the last day of the trip, we thought it best to stay close to the city to make travelling to the airport easier and quicker come evening time. The Mount Victoria walk is located just a few minutes from the central city, simply walk to the eastern end of Courtney Place and follow the numerous signs to get to the starting point. Alternatively, you can drive/take the bus directly to the view deck at the top of Mount Victoria but where’s the fun in that? Walking through the forest, all the way up to the summit is well worth it, and LoTR fans will get a kick out of being at the actual setting where scenes from the movie were shot (Most notably the “Hobbit’s Hideaway”, where Frodo and the gang hid from the Ringwraiths as they leave the Shire). And after exploring your way through the forest, you’ll end up at the Mount Victoria summit, which offers breathtaking 360 degree views of the city.
- Lunch at Prefab. Whether you walk, or catch a ride back down the mountain, you’ll surely be ready for a feed once you reach the city. We chose Prefab Cafe on 14 Jessie Street, a classic cafe with wholesome food,freshly baked bread, and amazing coffee!
- Visit Zealandia or Wellington Zoo or both. If you’ve got a bit of time in the afternoon, both Zealandia and the City Zoo are just a few minutes car/bus ride from the CBD. For more information about these places, you can visit their websites http://www.visitzealandia.com/ and https://wellingtonzoo.com/
Most of the places that we have visited are free-of-charge, making this budget travel guide friendly to the wallet. The only attractions that required payment was the Cable Car ($7.50/person return), the behind-the-scenes Weta Cave tour ($28/person), and the Bug Lab exhibit by Weta at the Te Papa Museum (approx. $18.50/person). Which meant that most of our budget was spent on food, coffee, and more coffee!
“All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.” – Gandalf