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A small city with a big rep, Wellington is famous for being NZ’s constitutional and cultural capital. It is infamous for its weather, particularly the gale-force winds that barrels through. It lies on a major geologic fault line; negotiating the city’s one-way traffic system can also leave you quaking with rage.

But don’t be deterred – these are mere trifles on Welly’s multilayered, jam-packed stand of sweet treats. For starters it’s lovely to look at. Gorgeous Victorian timber architecture laces the bushy hillsides above the harbour. There are hill-top lookouts, waterfront promenades and craggy shorelines to the south. Downtown, the compact CBD vibrates with museums, theatres, galleries and boutiques. Everyone here looks arty and a tad depleted, like they’ve been up all night molesting canvases. These creative vibes are fuelled by kickin’ caffeine and craft-beer scenes. Mandatory Wellington accessories: skateboards, beards and tatts…preferably all three.

Places to Visit in Wellington

Te Papa

Te Papa is Wellington’s ‘must-see’ attraction, for reasons well beyond the fact that it’s New Zealand’s national museum. It’s highly interactive, fun, and full of surprises: aptly, ‘Te Papa Tongarewa’ loosely translates as ‘treasure box’. The riches inside include an amazing collection of Māori artefacts and the museum’s own colourful marae (meeting house); natural history and environment exhibitions; Pacific and NZ history galleries; the National Art Collection; and themed hands-on ‘discovery centres’ for children. Big-name temporary exhibitions incur an admission fee, although general admission is free.

You could spend a day exploring Te Papa’s six floors and still not see it all. To cut to the chase, head to the information desk on level two and collect a map. For exhibition highlights and to get your bearings, the one-hour ‘Introducing Te Papa’ tour (adult/child $15/7) is a good idea; tours leave from the info desk at 10.15am, noon and 2pm daily. ‘Māori Highlights’ tours ($20/10) run at 2pm daily. Two cafes and two gift shops complete the Te Papa experience, which could well consume a couple of rainy-day visits. The museum’s current star attraction is the state-of-the-art exhibition ‘Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War’, charting the country’s involvement in WWI’s Gallipoli campaign through the experiences of eight ordinary New Zealanders; key to the exhibition’s impact are the hyper-real models produced by Weta Workshop, which bring it all to life. The museum will host the exhibition until 2018.

Wellington Botanic Gardens

These hilly, 25-hectare botanic gardens can be almost effortlessly visited via the Wellington Cable Car (nice bit of planning, eh?), although there are several other entrances hidden in the hillsides. The gardens boast a tract of original native forest, the beaut Lady Norwood Rose Garden, 25,000 spring tulips and various international plant collections. Add in fountains, a playground, sculptures, a duck pond, a cafe and city skyline views, and you’ve got a grand day out indeed.

Mt Victoria Lookout

The city’s most accessible view point is atop 196m-high Mt Victoria, east of the city centre. You can take the No 20 bus most of the way up, but the rite of passage is to sweat it out on the walk (ask a local for directions or just follow your nose). If you’ve got wheels, take Oriental Pde along the waterfront and then scoot up Carlton Gore Rd. Awesome views and actually rather interesting info panels.

Zealandia

This groundbreaking eco-sanctuary is hidden in the hills about 2km west of town: the Karori bus (No 3) passes nearby, or see the Zealandia website for info on the free shuttle. Living wild within the fenced valley are more than 30 native bird species, including rare takahe, saddleback, hihi and kaka, as well as tuatara and little spotted kiwi. An excellent exhibition relays NZ’s natural history and world-renowned conservation story.

More than 30km of tracks can be explored independently, or on regular guided tours. The night tour provides an opportunity to spot nocturnal creatures including kiwi, frogs and glowworms (adult/child $75/36). Cafe and shop on-site.

 

Parliament House

Wellington’s austere grey-and-cream Parliament House was completed in 1922. Next door is the 1899 neo-Gothic Parliamentary Library, as well as the modernist Beehive ; across the road is the Government Building .

Free one-hour tours depart from the visitor centre in the Beehive, on the hour from 10am to 4pm – arrive 15 minutes prior.

 

Embassy Theatre

Wellywood’s cinema mother ship is an art-deco darling, built in the 1920s. Today she screens mainly mainstream films with state-of-the-art sound and vision. Bars and cafe on-site. Has the facade facelift been finished?

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