For a capital city, Wellington doesn’t feel all that big. In fact, the central of the Kiwi capital is just two kilometres across, making it a breeze to get around on foot. Oozing with charm, the city is packed with bustling restaurants and quirky bars and it’s the undisputable café capital of New Zealand. So much so, that Wellington boasts more restaurants, bars and cafes per capita than New York, and that’s no mean feat.

Wellington: The Coolest Little Capital

Wellington: The Coolest Little Capital

Named the “coolest little capital” in the world by the Lonely Planet, Windy Wellie, as it’s affectionately known, has a thriving arts and music scene. Local legend Peter Jackson, director, writer, and producer of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is at the centre of the Wellywood film industry. And fans have the opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at how the special effects for the Wellingtonian’s movies are created at the Weta Workshop.

As the gateway from the north to the south island, Wellington often gets overlooked by travellers moving between the New Zealand islands. Take a few days to stop, recharge and explore this vibrant, bustling, and above all else, cool Kiwi city. There are plenty of things to do in Wellington and with the city being so compact, you can pack a lot into a short time.

1. Explore the Exhibits at Te Papa Museum

Te Papa: One of the No.1 Things to do in Wellington

Te Papa: One of the No.1 Things to do in Wellington

Te Papa means “our place” in Maori, a very apt name for the country’s national museum and art gallery. The sheer size of the place is overwhelming, with a huge variety of exhibits spanning six floors. You will find everything here from the New Zealand Post archive, consisting of 20,000 stamps and related items, to a collection of approximately 250,000 fossils.

Gallipoli Exhibit at Te Papa Museum

Gallipoli Exhibit at Te Papa Museum

Teaming up with Weta Workshop, the museum has put together an incredible collection of large, frighteningly life-like, human sculptures. Telling the story of the Gallipoli Campaign in World War I, the exhibit consists of a number of sculptures 2.4 times human size which took a whopping 24,000 hours to complete, and it’s free! And if that’s not enough, you can always check out the largest colossal squid specimen in the world measuring a staggering 4.2 metres in length and weighing in at 495kg!

2. Check out the Views from Mount Victoria

Taking in the views of Windy Wellie from Mount Victoria

Taking in the views of Windy Wellie from Mount Victoria

Affectionately known as ‘Windy Wellie’, the New Zealand capital experiences gale force winds for about half of the year. By contrast, America’s own windy city, Chicago has average wind speeds of 17km/hr, a light breeze compared with Wellington’s 30km/hr wind speed average. And where is the best way to experience the famous Wellington wind? At the city’s most impressive lookout point; Mount Victoria. From the top of the peak, the views over the harbour and the city below are incredible. It’s a wonderful place to get a sense of the size of Wellington and Lord of the Rings fans will love the chance to explore some of the woodlands on Mt. Vic which were used as filming locations for some of the Shire scenes in the movies.

3. Ride the Historic Wellington Cable Car

Ride the historic Wellington Cable Car

Ride the historic Wellington Cable Car

Ask anyone who’s visited Wellington and chances are they have taken a spin on the historic Wellington Cable Car. Opened to the public in 1902, the cable car is still running strong and has become something of a city icon. Linking Kelburn with Lambton Quay, the city’s main shopping area, the cable car serves as more than just a tourist attraction with locals using it as part of their daily commute. The track climbs 102metres over the city bringing passengers to the beautiful landscaped botanical gardens which overlook the city. At the top, there is also a small museum that gives a great overview of the history of cable car use in hilly Wellington. The cable car departs every ten minutes seven days a week.

4. Weta Workshop

Bigatures at Weta Workshop in Wellington

Bigatures at Weta Workshop in Wellington

Many people argue that Wellington has Peter Jackson to thank for the city’s surge in popularity over the last number of years. And they might be right. Since the release of the Lord of the Ring movies, tourism in Wellington increased by a massive 700%! Lord of The Ring fever has certainly taken hold in the country with some visitors theming their entire trip around the movie trilogy.

Noelle eyeballing a troll at Weta Workshop

Noelle eyeballing a troll at Weta Workshop

Located in the suburb of Miramar, the Weta Workshop opened to the public for tours in 2014. The special effects and prop company has been involved in a staggering amount of productions since it was founded in 1987 including I Robot, The Last Samurai, King Kong, Peter Pan and of course the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. This is a rare opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at some of the work that goes into creating the special effects and props that make these films so real and so memorable. 12.5 million chainmail links were manufactured here from 7 miles of PVC piping, you can hold the actual gun prop used in District 9 and watch as artists work on bigatures and other top-secret film projects.

5. Cuba Street

Cuba Street

Cuba Street

Trendy, hip, bohemian; Cuba Street is the place to hang out in Wellie. Some of the city’s best restaurants are located along the six or so partially pedestrianised blocks that make up this iconic street. From early brunch to late night parties, Cuba Street is the place to be seen any time of day. Vintage shops, cool cafes, great restaurants, and craft beer bars line Cuba St. and of all the things to do in Wellington, this is one that you’ll come back to again and again. Just take some time and hang out, soak up the vibe and enjoy. But be sure to keep an eye out for that self-filling and spilling water feature that tries to splash anyone not paying attention as they stroll by.

And, there’s more…

Stopping for lunch at Maranui Surf Life Saving Club in Lyall Bay

Stopping for lunch at Maranui Surf Life Saving Club in Lyall Bay

This is only the beginning of the long list of things to do in Wellington. For a real insiders guide to the city, take a tour with Jerry – his tours are awesome, they’re tailored to your needs and give a unique perspective of the city. If you have more time in the New Zealand capital, consider organising a car hire from Wellington and explore some of the surrounding areas. Surfers can enjoy some decent waves at Lyall Bay, while the 40 kilometres of trails at Makara Peak will keep mountain bikers more than entertained. Take a spin around the harbour on paddleboard or head to the Hutt River Gorge for some kayak white-water action just forty-five minutes north of the city. Be sure to spend a few days or even a few weeks to experience Wellington and soak up the atmosphere in the coolest and most compact capital city in the world.

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Brian Barry
Brian is a travel writer, photographer, blogger, travel addict and adventure junkie. Being outdoors, getting off the beaten track and outside his comfort zone is what makes him tick. Brian's the dreamer in the relationship; when he's not travelling, he's dreaming about it! Keeping fit, cooking, music and red wine take up the rest of his time.
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