Just walk the city. Wellington is small by capital city standards. The whole Wellington region is only 112 sq. miles. The actual downtown area of the city is relatively small and very walkable. Cuba Street is a fun area to walk through. You can check out the eclectic shops, grab a coffee, and watch the infamous “Bucket Fountain”. On Friday nights, there is an Asian style night market and there are several festivals throughout the year that call Cuba Street home. Lambton Quay (pronounced “key”) is the more upscale shopping area. Starting at Willis St. and running all the way to the Beehive, Lambton Quay is the place to shop in Wellington. The Old Bank Arcade holds several upscale boutiques, a few one of a kind shops and some great places to grab coffee & a scone. There are tons of restaurants and cafes along the Quay as well. The Wellington Cable Car stops here and David Jones department store is about half way down the street. Definitely walk the waterfront area. You can easily walk a block over from Lambton Quay and pick up the Wellington Writers’ Walk. All along the waterfront are benches, walls, and seawall boulders inscribed with the words of local authors & poets. Some of the inscriptions are hard to find so look carefully. Or you can cross the City to Sea Bridge from Civic Square. It is a beautiful bridge with sculptures carved by prominent Māori artist Paratene Matchitt. Frank Kitts park is a great place to stop with the kids. Mine loved the Lighthouse slide. This area is also full of street performers on the weekends, there is an underground market on Saturdays, and you can rent bikes, paddle boats, and kayaks. Walk along the waterfront all the way down to Te Papa stopping in any of the museums/galleries along the way.
Te Papa Tongarewa is the museum of New Zealand. It is a beautiful and amazing facility. I actually couldn’t believe that there is no admission fee to this museum. There are donation boxes around the museum and I highly recommend making one. The museum is just that good. We visited Te Papa so many times while we were living in Wellington that I felt like we would walk in one day and everyone would yell out our names like on “CHEERS”. The Bush City Garden out back is a great area to explore on a sunny day and has a fun scavenger hunt for the kids. There are many permanent exhibits ranging from the colossal squid to traditional dress as well as rotating exhibits like Gallipoli (free) and last year’s BugLab & this summer’s Lego-based Let’s Go Build (small fee). The kids really enjoyed The Dreamworks Studios exhibit in 2015. There are plenty of hands on activities for the kids including a learning lab with VR and other STEAM activities (reservation necessary), many different cultural exhibits that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and 2 cafes for when you need to recharge. If you want to see everything here you will need at least a full day.
Go for a hike. There are many lovely hikes around Wellington. You can download the Welly Walks app from Google or iTunes for some great guides. If you want the best view of the entire city, head up Mt. Victoria. There are several places you can park and pick up the trail. Our favorite place was at the top of Ellice Street. The clearing at the top of Ellice Street is where a scene from The Return of the King was filmed but as a lot of CGI was used, it’s pretty much unrecognizable. There are many different paths to take to the top of Mt. Vic but our favorite takes up past another film site called “the Hobbits Hideaway” where Frodo and his companions hid from the wraiths. Sorry, I’m nerding out a bit here. Anyway, once you reach the summit, you will have the best view the city has to offer. It’s really fun to try to spot all of the places you recognize from a different point of view. Our kids always liked spotting their school and Te Papa. You will have to climb about 100 steps to reach the peak with 360 degree views but you can get great views from other spots if you are unable to climb stairs. I recommend going on a relatively sunny day as fog and clouds can sometimes roll in and ruin your view.
Go to the beach. Wellington sits on the southern tip of the North Island and is basically surrounded on all sides by water. This makes for lots of beaches. We had several favorites. My personal favorite is Oriental Bay because I could drop the kids off at school on a nice day, sit on the beach all day, and then leave 5 minutes before I had to pick them back up. The location is just around the corner from Te Papa and Waitangi Park. It tends to get a little crowded in the summer, but it is still a great place to be. There is a playground if the kids get bored building sand castles and you can swim out to a floating dock in the harbor if you need a little exercise. Even on a not so nice day you can still walk along the water and find beautiful sea glass. Scorching Bay is also a nice area. We enjoyed a school class get together one lovely morning. There’s a climbing structure for the kids, a grassy area if sand isn’t your thing, and free parking. The cafe is great and you can get some epic milkshakes. Our family’s favorite was Eastbourne/ Days Bay. If you are willing to take a short drive, Eastbourne is a fantastic and family friendly area. There is (usually) plenty of parking and you can always take the bus or the ferry. You can jump off the pier, rent a kayak, grab an ice cream, or join a pick-up game of rugby across the street in the park. The Days Bay Pavilion has great sandwiches and ice cream and a place to sit in the shade if you need to get out of the sun. If you drive just a little further down, you can make your own Hobbit Hole with driftwood. There are so many great beaches in and around the city, I am sure you can find one to suit you.
Last but certainly not least, visit the Botanic Garden. The best way to get there, in my opinion, is to take the Wellington Cable Car. The cable car isn’t free, but it doesn’t cost much either. It’s a pretty quick ride to the top and it is enjoyable to see the city from a different angle. Our kids liked the lightship in the tunnel too. Once at the top, take a quick stop in the Cable Car Museum to learn the history. The Botanic Garden is huge. You can take several paths back down through the Garden. There’s a loop that takes you into an Australian Garden, a path to the children’s play area, a duck pond, Treehouse Visitor’s Center, it just goes on and on. There is a brand new Children’s Garden and a Soundshell Lawn where concerts & performances are held during the summer months. The Lady Norwood Rose Garden is really beautiful and the cafe is a great place to grab a coffee or lunch. Sitting outside on a nice day is the best. There’s also the Begonia House greenhouse here and a nearby waterfall and Peace Garden. Take your time meandering back into the CBD by walking through the Bolton Street Cemetery. It’s not at all creepy, in case you wondering. It’s actually quite lovely.
I hope that you enjoy this list. It certainly isn’t all that Wellington has to offer, not even close. It’s a great little city.