While it's only the second-largest city in New Zealand, Wellington is the capital, and the number of cultural and natural attractions in the city and surrounds reflects its importance. Conveniently located at the bottom of the North Island, just a short ferry ride away from the South Island, Wellington sits right in the center of the country (or as much in the center of two islands as you can get). Its cafes, bars, and restaurants are among the hippest in New Zealand, and its cultural institutions some of the best. As the seat of government, it also has a bureaucratic edge, which you can see in the parliamentary buildings.
Be warned though: Wellington is a notoriously windy city due to its specific geography. When it's blowing a gale outside, retreat into one of Wellington's many indoor attractions. If it's not so blustery, count yourself lucky and enjoy the outdoors.
Learn about New Zealand culture and history at Te Papa
Officially named the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, this institution on the waterfront is simply known as Te Papa, 'our place'. This fantastic museum has both temporary and permanent exhibits that reflect various aspects of New Zealand's history, culture, and biodiversity. Entrance is generally free, and it's a very modern and family-friendly place. Don't miss Te Marae, the Maori meeting house, which acts as a traditional space yet showcases contemporary Maori art and design.
Take a free tour of the Beehive
The building known as the Beehive is actually the Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings, the place from which some of the most important decisions in New Zealand politics are made. The unusually shaped building was constructed in 1969, and visitors can take free guided tours from the Beehive Visitor Centre.
Journey to Middle Earth at Weta Workshop
Weta Workshop are one of the leading special effects facilities in the world. They service many creative industries and have worked on many high-profile films, but are best known for their work on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, directed by New Zealander Peter Jackson. A variety of tours allow visitors to learn more about the behind-the-scenes production of their favorite movies. The studio is located just outside central Wellington, in Miramar.
Check out the Easter Island Rapa Nui Sculpture
If you fancy checking out the amazing Rapa Nui sculptures on Easter Island but can't make it all the way to the remote Pacific Island administered by Chile, make a trip to Dorrie Leslie Park in the Wellington neighborhood of Lyall Bay, Wellington. The Polynesian Maori and Rapa Nui people share some cultural traits, and the President of Chile gifted a huge, 3.2 tonne Moai sculpture to New Zealand in 2004 to recognize the connections between the two countries.
Hike (or drive) to the Mount Victoria Lookout
If you can't feel Wellington's infamous wind well enough at ground level, head up to the Mount Victoria Lookout for a real blast. The panoramic views of the city and Wellington Harbour from 643 feet above help visitors get their bearings and are well worth the high wind speeds, though it's best visited on a rare, windless day. You can drive, hike, or get the bus up to the lookout.
Ride the Cable Car up to the Botanic Gardens
The distinctive red Wellington Cable Car is actually a funicular railway, which connects Lambton Quay in the central city with the hilltop suburb of Kelburn. It takes passengers up to the Botanic Gardens, so is a popular tourist attraction as well as being a way for locals to get around. There are great views of the city from where the cable car stops at the top of the hill.
Brave the wind on the Wellington Waterfront Walk
Strolling along the Wellington Waterfront Walk is a great way to get views across the city while getting an overview of some of the city's smartest bars and restaurants to come back to later. There are many public works of art along the waterfront, including the famous Naked Man statue (officially called Solace in the Wind) by Max Patte. Even if it's too cold for you to brave the sea, the bronze sculpture is always poised to do a swan dive into the harbor.
Have a drink at a library-themed bar
Wellington has some of the best nightlife in New Zealand, and one of the coolest little bars is The Library. The walls are lined with bookshelves, and you can browse some classic literature while sipping on a cocktail, wine, whiskey, beer, or cider from their extensive menu. There's also live music, and they're open every night of the week.
People watch at Oriental Bay Beach
Although Wellington’s weather isn't always suited to time on the beach, when the sun does come out and the wind stop, locals love to hang out at Oriental Bay, in the central city. Even if conditions aren't right for swimming, you can people watch or grab an ice cream and enjoy the views.
Watch for native birds at Zealandia eco-sanctuary
Zealandia is an urban eco-sanctuary that aims to produce a habitat as close to pre-human conditions as possible (but they've given themselves a 500-year timeline to achieve this, suggesting there's still a long way to go). They've successfully reintroduced more than 20 native New Zealand wildlife species to the area, helped by a 5.3 mile fence around the perimeter of the preserve to keep predators out. Visitors can take day or night tours and among the creatures you may spot are native kiwis, takahe birds, and tuatara lizards.