5 Things to do in Wellington

Published 26 July 2016

Round the World Experts blogger Helen Winter

Helen Winter

When I travelled to New Zealand I was expecting huge snow-capped mountains, blue lakes, densely packed forests, and geothermal wonders – all of which I saw. But one thing I wasn’t expecting was the quirkiness and liveliness of New Zealand’s second largest city, Wellington – so good that I ended up staying there a week! Here are five things I recommend doing in this electric city:

Colossal squid, Te Papa

Te Papa's colossal squid (image: Helen Winter)

Discover New Zealand's past at the Te Papa Museum

It’s difficult to miss the humungous Te Papa Museum sitting on Wellington’s picturesque harbour, so there’s no excuse not to visit. Even better, it’s free for everyone! The Te Papa is New Zealand’s National Museum and exhibits cover everything from volcanoes and earthquakes to the country’s historic Maori culture and, most popular of all, a real (preserved) colossal squid.  

I was so enchanted with the Te Papa museum that I visited three times in the week I was there and I still didn’t get round to seeing everything. Aside from the interesting natural history and snapshots of information, which saved me from museum fatigue, there was also a fascinating exhibit open. Te Papa has frequent exhibitions and when I went the topic was Gallipoli, a bloody World War I battle fought in Turkey by Australians and New Zealanders, something I knew nothing about before I visited.

Zealandia, Wellington

Zealandia (image: Helen Winter)

Listen to the birdsong at Zealandia

If you aren’t into bird watching before your trip to New Zealand, then you definitely will be afterwards, especially if you go to Zealandia. Zealandia is a bird sanctuary in a protected 225-acre valley of New Zealand, but in truth it’s more than just a safe place for birds. The aim of Zealandia is to try and turn back the clock to what New Zealand was like before humans landed on its shores, a project estimated to take around 500 years to complete.

The entire park is surrounded by a huge metal fence, which reminded me of Jurassic Park. But, instead of trying to keep things in, this fence is actually to keep animals out, because as I learnt in Zealandia, New Zealand was once home to birds, insects and reptiles, and nothing else.

Zealandia was a highlight of my entire time in New Zealand. The birds here are like no birds anywhere else. The black and white tui has an enchanting sing-song tweet; the takahe is like an exotic dodo that sounds like a chicken, and I loved having to duck as the kaka swooped low to drink from nectar placed around the park. It’s not just the birds that I fell in love with here: the abundance of trees, ferns and bushes make you feel like you’re walking through an untouched corner of the world.

Fur seal colony, Wellington

Fur seal colony (image: Helen Winter)

Visit a fur seal colony

I didn’t even know you could visit a fur seal colony from Wellington until I arrived. On a coastal drive from Wellington Airport to the beautiful Owhiro (pronounced oh-thiro) Bay, I parked up and took a 90-minute walk along the coast to reach a hidden fur seal colony. There are so many seals, and they’re not shy either, snoozing right up close to the path. Of course it’s important to keep your distance, which you’ll naturally do as these colonies stink of rotten fish! If you stay until the sunset like I did, then you can watch them as they wake from their slumbers and head back into the ocean.

Helen in Wellington

Helen in Wellington (image: Christopher Atkinson)

Dine out on Cuba Street

In my opinion, the best time to be in Wellington City is after dark when the nightlife thrives. In the city are great alehouses, like the Little Beer Quarter, a bar crammed with locals, students and a careful selection of curious clutter. Just a short walk away is the bustling Cuba Street, an entire avenue filled not only with Cuban restaurants and bars, but Mexican, Spanish, Asian and Italian eateries too, making it a multicultural circus with a vast choice of culinary outings.

I went for a drink in the filled-to-bursting Fidel’s and the food looked incredible. I found myself distracted from conversation by the plates of delicious quesadillas and pilled pork sandwiches, saddened that I had already eaten that evening.

Wellington markets

Helen and Christopher at Wellington's markets (image: Helen Winter)

Browse the Markets

If you’re in New Zealand at the weekend, then you’ll want to visit the markets on the harbour. One Saturday, I visited Wellington Farmer’s Market, piled high with fresh produce and families tucking in the gorgeous smelling van-food whilst picking up their weekly supply of fruit and veg.

Another market I stumbled across was the Wellington Underground Market, filled with quirky homemade clothes, vintage items and exotic materials from all over the world. Oh and Wellington’s best brownie according to the stall-seller – and I’m inclined to agree.

To explore Wellington in more detail, check out our Journeys to New Zealand, all of which can be tailor-made to suit you. 

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