The picturesque capital city of New Zealand has its origins in Maori Legends. A Maori legend says that the name for Wellington is ‘Te Upoko te Ika a Maui’. Translated in Maori language it means ‘ the head of Maui’s fish.’ ‘Te Whanganui -a- Tara’ is yet another Maori name for Wellington, Tara being the son of Whatonga a Polynesian who had migrated to Hawkes Bay and whose son had discovered the pretty harbor on the Southern tip of the North Island. Today many Maori historical sites are found all over Wellington and the Maori themselves are included in the ethnic fabric of the multicultural city.
Wellington is often referred to as ‘Windy Wellington’ owing to the strong wintry winds that blow over from Cooks Strait and are channeled through the wind tunnels created by the skyscrapers of the business district. Wellington is the access point to the Southern Island of New Zealand. Wellington, in addition to being the political capital is a culturally rich and sophisticated city. It is situated in a natural harbor and has a water front promenade which is a hub of activity with shops, restaurants and bars.
A flag is flown from the Beehive which is a modern building alongside the Parliament house and the Victorian Gothic National Library. Different sized flags are flown to indicate wind speed and direction with a large flag being flown on calm days and a small one on windy days. The maximum temperature in summer which is in January (New Zealand being located in the Southern Hemisphere) is around 20C or 69F with minimum temperatures being around 13C or 56F. Winter temperatures range from 11C or 52F to 6C 43F. The winter temperatures rarely fall below 0c.
Getting to Wellington
Wellington International Airport is situated 8 km south east of the city in Rongotai .The speediest route to the airport is through Mount Victoria. The Airport handles both domestic and international traffic. Landing in Wellington on a windy day can be quite an adventure. Air New Zealand, British Airways, Singapore Airlines and Qantas are some of the international carriers serving Wellington. The Airport has all the amenities expected of a modern airport.
There exists a Shuttle bus to the city and the railway station called Super Shuttle and costs around $NZ 15. Another express bus called the Stagecoach Flyer departs every 30 minutes for a 45 minute journey into the city and costs around NZ9 for an all day star pass. This service operates year round.
Regular Ferries between Wellington and Picton are operated by two companies Interislander and Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry. These ferries connect for onward journeys by train and bus services. Cruise ships often make Wellington a port of call.
Wellington is reached by two highways State highways 1&2. The distance between Auckland and Wellington is 655 km and it is a 7-8 drive on the motorway which leads into the city.
There are two main bus companies for long distance journeys which operate out of the Railway station on Waterloo Quay. Intercity and Newman’s ,other coach companies such are Kiwi Experience and Magic Travelers Network also provide bus journeys to Wellington from other parts of the country.
Long distance trains operating from the Railway station on Waterloo Quay link Wellington to other parts of New Zealand.
Wellington is served by an excellent Public transport system which makes sightseeing in the city a breeze. The city is very compact and amenable for a good walk about.
Getting around Welllington
A Day tripper pass is the best bet for tourist to get access to the City Circular Bus and Stagecoach Wellington (Local bus service) routes 1 and 49. It provides unlimited travel for the day. The City Circular is a bright yellow hop on and off bus which does the rounds of the top ten sightseeing spots of the city. Newlands Coach Service operates on routes to the northern suburbs
Taxis are easily available and plentiful and provide an alternative mode of transport for travel in the city. Taxis can also be called for an additional charge of NZ$1. Black and Gold Taxis and Wellington Combined Taxis are the two Taxi companies operating in Wellington. The initial flag fall is usually $2.
Tranz metro is the intercity train service from Wellington to other cities. Tranz metro trains use the railway station on Bunny Street.
Driving in Wellington can be avoided as traffic can be congested during the working week. There are 10 multi storey car parks in the city as well as metered street side parking but even then parking can be difficult to find. Weekends parking is free but with a two hour time limit which when exceeded can result in hefty fines.
By Cable Car
Cable Car service from downtown Wellington is available for the Botanic Gardens attraction with a stop at Victoria University. Tickets are NZ$3.60 for a round drip with discounts for children and senior citizens.
The Dominion Post Ferry operates a service between Queen’s Wharf, Somes Island, East Bourne and Days Bay Wharf. Days Bay is the best swimming beach of Wellington and affords gorgeous views of the city. Days Bay is a 30 minute ride by ferry and the fare for a one way trip is NZ$8.
Main Neighborhoods of Wellington
Much of the city is built on reclaimed land and the original shoreline of 1840 is indicated by plaques on Lambton Quay which is Wellingtons Central Business District or CBD. A massive Earthquake in 1855 caused the land to rise up and thus began the practice of reclaiming the land from the sea. Thorndon is a neighborhood on the fault line but real estate values here have not been affected. Thorndon has several historical buildings and great views, it is a premier neighborhood of the city. Mount Victoria is another sought after neighborhood, quiet and full of wooden homes ,it is close to the Courtenay Place area of town. Kelbourn is on the Cable Car run from Lambton Quay and has great views of the city. Oriental Bay is the waterfront neighbor hood of the city with hotels and high rise condominiums dominating the Oriental Parade promenade.
An invigorating city Wellington is hot bed of cultural activity and there is much to see and do in this vibrant city which is full of vigor and vitality.
City Gallery Wellington Wake Field Street
It doesn’t have a permanent exhibit but is a showcase for avant garde contemporary art. It has paintings, sculpture, multi media installations, it provides a peek into New Zealand’s contemporary art scene . It has a licensed bar, café and restaurant.
The Dowse, Lower Hutt 20 Km from Wellington
The Dowse Art Museum displays New Zealand arte facts such as textiles, ceramics, glass wood carvings and photography much of it is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Karori Wildlife Sanctuary 31 Waipu Road
A conservatory effort for native flora and fauna is made up of a Sanctuary which comprises an old water catchment area surrounded by a predator proof fence. This is a haven for endangered species of birds. Native wildlife such as Kiwis, Tuataras, Weta can be observed here during the guided bush walk.
Plimmers Ark, Lambton Quay
A bank was built a century ago near Plimmer’s steps at the corner of Lambton Quay. The bank was built on the wreck of a ship. During renovation of the Bank’s Building the timbers of the ship were discovered and the remains were then preserved in the building.
Katherine Mansfield Birthplace 25, Tinakori Road, Thorndon
Katherine Mansfield was a famous author. She was a contemporary of literary geniuses such as T.S.Eliot and D.H.Lawerence. Katherine Mansfield was born at Beauchamp House. Her birthplace has been restored and is nowopen to public.
Te Papa Tongawera, Cable Street
One of the most spectacular museums in the world, built at a cost of NZ$317 million it is spread over five floors and takes an entire day to see the various exhibits . Interactive displays stimulate pages from New Zealand’s history and enable a visitor to feel the part.
It shows cases Maori culture and heritage as well and highlights the importance of Maori traditions and role of the Maori in modern day New Zealand. It has, on the second floor displays from the world of nature including a skeleton of a pygmy blue whale. Many displays highlight the various events which have shaped the life of the New Zealanders. Children enjoy the museum immensely and guided tours are available but need to be pre-booked. There are two eateries in the museum the Te Papa Café and the Espresso Bar. The Te papa gift shop sells many a Maori arte fact.
Museum of Wellington City and Sea Queens Wharf, Wellington
A maritime museum, it has been refurbished at the cost of NZ$12.5 million and it is one of the newest Wellington museums. Interactive displays, audio visuals and photographs highlight the maritime history of New Zealand including the Wahine Gallery where the marine tragedy of 1968 in the Cooke Strait is illustrated.
Houses of Parliament, Molesworth Street
The Houses of Parliament are worth exploring as they do include the distinctly shaped administrative services building called the Beehive .The Buildings were renovated at a cost of NZ$165 million and reopened to the public in 1995. A one hour tour takes in the sites of Parliament House, the Parliamentary library which is an example of Victorian, Gothic architecture and the Beehive. The Old Government building situated across the road is the second largest wooden building in the world and worth visiting as is Turnbull House i another imposing brick mansion close by
National Library of New Zealand, Molesworth Street
The National Library of New Zealand displays art and history associated with its research wing the Alexander Turnbull library. Books, Manuscripts, photographs archives and newspapers are all available to the public. It is open from Monday - Friday from 9am to 5pm. The weekend hours of the library are shorter.
Wellington Botanic Gardens, Thorndon
One of the star attractions of the city, they are accessible by a photogenic cable car ride or by the Centennial Entrance off Tinakori. The Wellington Visitor center or Tree house visitor center supplies maps and guides to the Botanic Garden. They are spread over 62 acres and are managed by the city council of Wellington. This verdant enclave has many endangered plant species, seasonal blooms and plants native to New Zealand in its environs. The Lady Norwood Rose garden, The Begonia House and The Garden Café have a wide variety of plants on display. The Bolton Street Memorial park is a part of the gardens and includes a cemetery, there is also an observatory called the Carter Observatory located in the park. The Cable car which takes visitors to the Gardens also has a museum associated with it at the top. It displays the history of the service which is a century old and has two restored cable cars on display. It is free to the public. Operating hours of the museum are 9 am to 5.30 pm on weekdays .On weekends and public holidays the timings are 10 am to 4.30 pm.
Wellington Zoo, Daniell Street, Newton
The zoo is the only place in Wellington to see the famous brown Kiwi bird. New Zealanders are often described in the sporting world as Kiwis. The Sumatran tiger, The Malay sun bear are some of the endangered species visible and protected at the zoo. New Zoo attractions are the Tropical River Trail which showcases animals in a rainforest setting, Close encounters which enables one to feed various animals in the zoo and work with a zoo keeper for a day. The Close Encounters excursion has different age requirements for various activities and needs pre-booking. There are also the Wild Summer nights held at the Zoo. During this time one can have a picnic at the zoo to the accompaniment of Jazz and Blues music. This event is held during the summer months of February and March.
Hotels, Restaurants and Nightlife
Wellington, apart from the attractions listed above has many works of art displayed on streets for public consumption. This adds to the vibrancy of the city and emphasizes the importance of art in this city. In addition to art installations, the city has many festivals and carnivals including the Cuba Street Carnival which is a large street fair held every year in February.
Wellington has many good hotels but if one looks for a novel experience one might want to stay at 98 Oriental Bay at Oriental Parade which is a Parisian Style antique filled town house located in a gorgeous bay and has an old world charm to it . At the other end of the spectrum is Bolton Hotel on Bolton Street which is spanking new and as modern as they come.
Wellington boasts of a number of ethnic restaurants. Malaysian, Indian, Greek and Sushi restaurants abound. Many stalls serving ethnic delicacies can also be found at the BNZ food court on Victoria and Wilseton Street. Roti, Satay Village, Tulsi, Little India are some of the good ethnic restaurants located in Wellington. Fine dining can be indulged in at Logan Brown ,located in a bank building and Francois, a French restaurant. Numerous ‘chippy shops’ fish and chip are found all over the city, Aro Street Fish and Chips, Dennis Fish Supply are to name a few.
The party central area of town is Courtenay Place in the Central Business District. It is bustling with Bars which are crowded at the end of the work week. Cuba Mall is another location for bars and pubs. Some of the bars of Courtenay Place are Mighty Mighty, Coyotes, Kitty O’Sheas. Good Luck Bar and the Matter horn are in Cuba Mall.
Wellington has an active coffee house scene as well. These cafes are supplied by local roasters such as Café Laffare, Coffee Supreme and Peoples coffee. Expressholic, Simply Paris and Fidel’s Café are a few of the popular cafes located in Wellington and worth a visit to imbibe the local café culture.