From hilltop vistas to intriguing islands, urban laneways, a fascinating planetarium and a truly artistic drinking fountain – there is so much to discover in and around Wellington City.
1. Mount Victoria
It’s a bit of a glute-busting walk, but the best way to get your bearings is from the Mount Victoria Lookout at the top of the Town Belt. Rising 196m above the city, the lookout is one of the best places to take in a sunrise or sunset, watch the Cook Strait ferries or, get your thrills if you’re a plane-spotter.
Don’t forget to take lots of selfies and thank the Colonial New Zealand Company for creating the Town Belt as a public expanse in 1841.
Fun fact: the slopes of Mt Victoria stood in for the outer reaches of the Shire in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
2. Hannahs Laneway
Wander up Ghunzee Street, turn left at the striking David Bowie mural and you’ll think you’ve passed through a portal and ended up in Melbourne. But Hannahs Laneway is a Wellington style-style laneway, complete with a boutique peanut butter manufacturer, bakery and the Wellington Chocolate Factory. This delicious bean-to-bar manufacturer will make a mockery of any willpower you might have (my pick is the salted caramel chocolate but the star anise variety is delicious too.)
Finish with a drink at Fortune Favours, a popular brew bar you can’t miss (just look for the giant hand.) Don’t leave without sampling The Wellingtonian, a light and aromatic IPA.
3. Te Puna Wai Ora
Petone is known for many things – great cafés, a lovely stretch of sandy beach and the most artistic water source in the region.
Yes, you read that right: shortly after the first European settlers arrived in Petone in 1840, they discovered that pure artesian water lay beneath the area. Today, those-in-the-know come to Te Puna Wai Ora – meaning the spring of life – in Buick Street where you can not only fill your water bottle for free, you can also admire the sculpture/fountain.
Let’s face it, Wellington was largely put on the map because it’s the centre of political power. Head to the northern reaches of Lambton Quay and the three architecturally distinct buildings that make up New Zealand’s Parliament – the Edwardian neo-classical Parliament House, the Victorian Gothic Parliamentary Library and the distinctive 70s-style Beehive.
Free guided tours of Parliament are available each day, but need to be booked in advance. When your tummy starts rumbling, head to the third floor where you’ll find Bellamys by Logan Brown, a restaurant previously only for politicians and their staff, but now open to the public so you can play ‘spot the politician’ while you eat.
5. Ngā Manu Scenic Reserve
It’s one of the jewels in Waikanae's tiara – Ngā Manu Nature Reserve, a 15ha bird sanctuary thick with picnic areas, bush walks and aviaries which has been doing great things with flora and fauna since 1981.
A key attraction is the Nocturnal House where a pair of Brown Kiwi live (another pair of Kiwi live in an outdoor enclosure where they can be viewed). If you can, time your visit for the Kiwi Night Encounter which runs every Thursday to Sunday and provides a rare opportunity for visitors to get up close with our native birds.
If that’s not possible, don’t miss feeding time – 2pm for the reserve's endangered long-fin eels or late morning for the guided bird-feeding tours.
6. Harbourside Market
The early bird catches the best produce at Wellington’s sprawling Sunday morning Habourside Market. Here, fruit and veggie stalls rub shoulders with 40+ food trucks and vans offering numerous ethnic dishes that will let you travel the world without leaving the waterfront. So even if you’re on holiday and don’t need a bag of potatoes, you can still fill your belly. The buskers are usually pretty good, too.
7. Space Place
If you don’t know your Milky Way from your Southern Cross, or even if you do, you’ll love this planetarium at the top of the Botanic Gardens.
Housed in the Carter Observatory, people have been star gazing on this spot since 1924. Look through the refractor telescope and learn about planets, galaxies, stars and constellations via interactive exhibits.
8. Matiu / Somes Island
If you’re catching the Eastbourne ferry, be sure to get off at the wildlife sanctuary that lies in the middle of Wellington Harbour.
If one place can have many lives then this lump of rock, the largest of three islands in the northern part of Wellington harbour, is living proof: not only has it been a human and animal quarantine station, internment camp and military defence position, it’s now a DoC scientific and historic reserve (as well as home to unique reptiles, tuatara and little blue penguins).
9. Remutaka Cycle Trail
It’s one of New Zealand’s 22 Great Rides, starting and finishing in the Hutt Valley. The trail runs alongside the Hutt River from Petone to Upper Hutt, before winding up and over the Remutaka Rail Trail to neighbouring Wairarapa.
Someone has thoughtfully chopped the trail into three sections, so you can do either a one-day or three-day circuit. Just remember to factor in more time than you think you’ll need, as you’ll be stopping frequently to enjoy the highly Instagrammable view.
10. Paekākāriki Escarpment Track
Feel the need to stretch your legs? You’ve come to the right place. The Paekākāriki Escarpment is part of the national Te Araroa Walkway. Opened in 2016 this 10km path is chiselled into the hills about the Tasman Sea, from Paekākāriki to Pukerua Bay (although it can be walked in either direction).
You can do it in around 2.5 hours but allow time to take lots of photos because the views across the water and, on a good day, to the South Island in one direction and Mt Taranaki in the other, are pretty spectacular.