8 Ways to Experience Wellington Like a Local

Wellington has definitely earned its title of coolest little capital in the world: Full of quirks and unique ticks, you’ll soon see why some travelers who visit Wellington never leave.

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Photo © Liz Carlson

One of the great things about Wellington is that it doesn’t really have typical tourist spots. Most visitors coming to New Zealand aren’t here for the cities, which has left Wellington in the hands of the locals.

Must See & Do Around Town

Check out New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, which is a local treasure. Lord of the Rings fans should head out to Weta Studios to see how the movies were made, and even hop on a tour to some of the local filming locations.

Either drive or walk up Mt. Victoria, a lovely green park in the center of town that has heaps of trails and tracks and fabulous views of the city.

Two hikers make their way up to the summit of Mt Victoria. Photo credit: iStock

Wellington for Foodies

If you want to experience Wellington like a local, give yourself time to check out some of the great foodie spots all around town. Wander through the CBD and keep an eye out for hidden street art, and if you find yourself in the city on a Sunday, pop down to the harborside market next to Te Papa which sells local produce, but also has an array of delightful street carts and food trucks.

There’s a delicious night market every Friday night on Cuba Street, Wellington’s iconic hipster street full of local shops, speakeasy bars, restaurants, and delicious cafes.

Wellington’s coffee scene is world-renowned, so be sure to grab a local flat white when you’re in town.

Wellington Waterfront. Photo credit: Liz Carlson

Zealandia

Catch a ride on the classic red cable car from the Wellington CBD to the Botanical Gardens before hopping on a shuttle out to Zealandia, a predator-free fenced eco-sanctuary.

Once you walk through the gates, it truly feels like you have not only left Wellington behind but also have stepped into another world. Before humans arrived in New Zealand, there were no mammals, only birds and a couple of bats, and Zealandia is working towards protecting many of the native New Zealand species, including the iconic Kiwi bird which you can often see on a night tour.

Mount Kaukau

One of the highest points near Wellington is the secret spot of Mount Kaukau near Khandallah, just outside of town. A climb to the top will reward you with some of the best views of Wellington, and it’s the perfect place for a picnic.

Red Rocks Reserve

Just like it sounds, the Red Rocks is a coastal zone with walks and notably red rocks – a great weekend escape from downtown Wellington.

With such rugged coastlines nearby, it’s worth wandering around the local coastal walks and even visit the local fur seal colony – though don’t get too close. Check out the local cafes and walks along the nearby Lyall and Island Bays.

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Somes Island

Somes Island, in the Wellington harbor, is a scenic reserve that’s home to penguins and weta, among many other native New Zealand creatures. Once a quarantine island, now there are short walks and you can even camp here overnight after catching a ferry over.

Martinborough and the Wairarapa

The boutique wine-growing region of the Wairarapa is just north of Wellington and home to some charming little towns and vineyards with a growing gourmet scene. Many of the wineries are close to each other, and it’s great fun to rent a bike and cycle between them.

In spring, it’s home to the Toast Martinborough festival that takes place across many of the vineyards, with live music and great food. Tickets sell out super-fast to Wellington locals who return year after year.

Kapiti Island

An hour’s drive north of Wellington will bring you to the stunning Kapiti Coast, where you can catch a quick boat ride over to Kapiti Island, another nature reserve home to some of New Zealand’s great endangered species.

The number of people allowed on the island is limited per day, but for the best experience, you should stay overnight. You can even go glamping there, so check out your options and book ahead, this is a year-round destination that books out fast.

There are plenty of walking trails on the island, but the best would have to be summiting Tuteremoana. At 1,709ft (521m), this is the highest point on the island, so you’re guaranteed spectacular views.

Kiwis (the bird, not the people) are nocturnal, and you’ll often hear them at night on Kapiti, and even see one if you’re lucky. 

Kapiti Island. Photo credit: Liz Carlson

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