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Wellington is New Zealand’s capital of cool, with an energetic local vibe that embraces art, culture, and cuisine. It is a compact city with most of the major sights either within walking distance of the CBD or a short taxi ride away, so it is easy to get around. Here are 10 things to do in Wellington, with activities covering everything from kiwis to UFOs, seals, a chocolate factory and more.

Where to stay in Wellington

Wellington is filled with hotels offering something a little different. QT Wellington is a quirky avante-garde hotel filled with incredible art. It’s in a prime location across the road from New Zealand’s national museum and offers a choice of hotel rooms and self-contained apartments. Head to the The Terrace and you will find the elegant Grand Mercure Wellington which is virtually unrecognisable after a multi-million dollar refurbishment. Grand Mercure Wellington is quieter than QT Museum Wellington and has a ‘secret lift’ that helps guests avoid the climb up the hill to the hotel’s main entrance. Both hotels have a restaurant that is worth staying in for and an excellent room service menu.

QT Museum Wellington
Art packed lobby at QT Wellington
QT Museum Wellington
Hippopotamus Bar at QT Wellington

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Grand Mercure Superior Room
Grand Mercure Superior Room
Grand Mercure bathroom
Grand Mercure Wellington renovated bathroom

Wellington coffee and cuisine

It seems there is a coffee shop on every corner in Wellington yet they all do a roaring trade, such is the local obsession with quality caffeinated brews. And it’s not just about the coffee. Wellington also offers stellar dining opportunities. Try Hippopotamus for elegant European-inspired fare or FORAGE Kitchen + Bar for some of the best paddock-to-plate dining in town. If you are staying in one of the apartments at QT Wellington, a visit to fresh produce emporium Moore Wilson’s is a must. The family run business has been operating since 1918 and is a great spot to rub shoulders with the locals.

FORAGE Kitchen + Bare scallops
Art on a plate at FORAGE Kitchen + Bar
Moore Wilson's in Wellington
Stock up on goodies at Moore Wilson’s
Amuse bouche at Hippopotamus
Amuse bouche at Hippopotamus
Havana in Wellington
Hipster coffee haven Havana

Weta Studio Tours

As someone who has never seen a Lord of the Rings movie, I wasn’t that excited about my Weta Studios Tour before we arrived at The Weta Cave. However, the tour proved to be a surprising trip highlight. You don’t need to be a fan of Middle Earth to enjoy your time here. If you’ve ever seen a movie and wondered ‘How do they do that?’ this tour will answer all your questions and more. From how to make realistic looking armour and chain mail (it’s much harder than you think) to creating creepy creatures with moving eyes and faces, this tour is packed with movie magic. There is also a retro Thunderbirds are Go tour which is ideal for those who remember to original show and want to learn more about the recent remake of this classic series.

Weta workshops exterior
Weta Studio Tour
Artists at Weta Workshops
Friendly artists at work at Weta Studios

Cuba Street and Hannah’s Laneway

Cuba Street and emerging hot spot Hannah’s Laneway offer an intriguing collection of boutique shops, eateries and destination provedores. Enjoy a guided tasting and factory tour at Wellington Chocolate Factory, a flight of fountain-style sodas at Six Barrel Soda and peanut butter tasting at the cute hole-in-the-wall shop Fix and Fogg. Don’t miss the savoury Smoke and Fire which comes with a chilli hit.

Six Barrel Soda
$5 tasting paddle being created at Six Barrel Soda
Six Barrel Soda
Sip and share at Six Barrel Soda
Wellington Chocolate Factory
Chocolate tasting at Wellington Chocolate Factory
Fix & Fogg peanut butter tasting
Fun peanut butter sampling at Fix & Fogg

What to do at Te Papa

New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, is highly interactive and filled with amazing artefacts and stories about the country’s unique geological, biological and cultural diversity and history. From a touching ANZAC tribute highlighting the sacrifice of those who fought at Gallipoli to an earthquake simulator and a giant squid, this attraction should not be missed. Even if you have been here before, it’s worth visiting again as exhibits change on a regular basis. Guided tours are also available and can be pre-booked on the website.

Te Papa exterior
Explore Te Papa
Gallipoli exhibit at Te Papa
Poignant Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa

Wellington Museum

Wellington Museum is a big surprise to most visitors. It is less well known than Te Papa but equally impressive, particularly for those who are interesting in learning more about Wellington itself. Many visitors stumble across it by accident and end up staying for hours. The museum comprises three stories of fascinating city history housed in one of Wellington’s original harbour buildings, with exhibits covering everything from what it was like to work as a sailor in Wellington to the city’s reputation as the UFO capital of New Zealand. Don’t miss The Attic on the top floor and it’s cutting edge storytelling technology and quirky exhibits.

UFO sightings in Wellington
Find out about Wellington’s many UFO sightings
Street art in Wellington
Art is everywhere in Wellington

Wellington Cable Car

Wellington Cable Car has been operating for over 100 years and travels from the CBD to Wellington Botanic Gardens with views over the harbour and beyond. It is best enjoyed when the weather is good as you can make the most of the views and walk back to the CBD via the gardens which are filled with gracious old trees and flower gardens. However, provided you have wet weather gear, there is nothing stopping you doing the trip in the rain.

Wellington Cable Car
Wellington Cable Car

Go on a Seal Safari

Meet some hardy (and slightly smelly) Wellington locals on a lively 4WD adventure that heads off-road for a ramble along Wellington’s rugged coast line. Seal Coast Safari Tours offer a unique chance to get up close and personal with fur seals who seem to love nothing better than having their photo taken (provided you don’t get too close!). This tour’s handy half day format makes it easy to fit into a visit, even if you’re short on time. Throw in coffee and a homemade muffin to enjoy as you take in the stunning scenery and you’ve got a great day out.

Seals
Meeting the friendly locals on a Seal Safari Tour
Seal Coast Safari
Tea and a muffin with the seals

Explore Wellington’s markets

If possible, time your visit for a weekend so you can explore Wellington’s excellent markets. On Friday night, Wellington Night Market offers tasty food stalls along with live bands, cultural dance performances and karaoke. Wellington Underground Market features handmade arts and crafts and is a good option for rainy days as it is held in a carpark under Frank Kitts Park on the harbour front. Harbourside Market is a local favourite filled with colourful food purveyors, providores and peddlers of the city’s finest foods. It takes place every Sunday from 7.30am to just after lunch.

Wellington's markets
Explore Wellington’s markets

ZEALANDIA Sanctuary

This ground-breaking wildlife sanctuary, which is only 10 minutes’ drive from central Wellington, is the world’s first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary. ZEALANDIA Sanctuary has reintroduced 18 species of native wildlife and is as close as you can get to experiencing Wellington’s pre-civilisation landscape without travelling back in time. And, of course, there are kiwis. Sign up for an after-dark tour and you might just spot one in the wild at this unique wildlife sanctuary.

Disclosure: The writer travelled as a guest of Destination Wellington and drank way too much excellent coffee while she was in town. 

If you are also heading to Queenstown and looking for somewhere to stay, we enjoyed The Rees Hotel and Peppers Beacon.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.