New Zealand

14 Unique things to do in Wellington

by Paul Joseph  |  Published February 20, 2020

The capital of New Zealand, Wellington is a compact city that enjoys a waterside setting, with sandy beaches and a bustling harbour at the beating heart of everyday life. Inland, colourful timber houses sit perched on surrounding hills, while the city is also renowned for its vibrant creative scene, fuelled by top notch food, wine, craft beer, coffee and cultural events.

Homes perched on a hillside overlooking Evens Bay in Wellington (Photo: Geraint Morgan via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Whether it’s cultural sites and attractions, foodie adventures, live sports, or eating out, there are a huge amount of great things to see and do in Wellington. If you’re planning a visit and would like to start building an itinerary that includes a few quirky ideas, we’ve picked out 14 of the most unique landmarks and activities awaiting you.

Come and gawp at a giant squid

In 2007 a giant 495kg squid was fished out of the ice cold Antarctic waters by a fleet of fishermen. Later, the so-called Colossal Squid would come to national attention after the fleet appeared in a TV documentary. Following its airing, Wellington’s famous Te Papa Museum decided to give the specimen a new home and it has resided there ever since, becoming one of the venue’s most cherished attractions.

LOCATIONS Te Papa HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-6pm

Colossal squid

The colossal squad on display at Te Papa Museum (Photo: Al404 via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Explore an expertly preserved fortress

Fans of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be excited to discover that the restored Wrights Hill Fortress was used to produce many of the sound effects for the famous movies. But the landmark, which dates back to the end of World War II, is also a unique place of interest in its own right, thanks to its incredible network of tunnels, as well as its original gun pits and radio rooms, that have been lovingly preserved by the Wrights Hill Fortress Restoration Society, which was founded in the early 1990s. Today the site generally only opens to visitors on national public holidays, although private tours can also be arranged.

LOCATION 50 Wrights Hill Road

Wrights Hill Fortress

A scene at Wrights Hill Fortress (Photo: Buffy May via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Immerse yourself in New Zealand’s rich history

New Zealand’s national museum is a veritable goldmine of artefacts and exhibits spanning the country’s geographical, artistic, social and cultural history, with Te Papa Museum attracting more than 1.5 million visitors every year. There are plenty of interactive elements to enjoy, making it fun for all the family, while a display honouring victims of WWII is guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings.

LOCATION 55 Cable Street, Te Aro HOURS Mon-Thurs 10am-6pm

Te Papa Museum

An art intallation at Te Papa Museum (Photo: denisbin via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Attend a festival of innovation

Festival for the Future is New Zealand’s biggest summit for leadership and innovation around the big issues of our time. The annual event attracts 1,200+ delegates from across the Asia–Pacific – from Mayors and Ministers, to CEOs and emerging leaders, to anyone looking to make a difference for our future. Celebrating 10 years of impact, the Festival is a showcase of what’s possible, and will leave you feeling challenged, inspired, and ready to push boundaries.

LOCATION TSB Bank Arena DATES 24-26 July

Inspiring Stories

A performer at Inspiring Stories (Photo: Festival for the Future)

Join revellers at a colourful street festival of music

New Zealand’s biggest annual free music festival and street fair, Newtown Festival takes place in the heart of Newtown, Wellington’s most diverse and colourful suburb. There’s music, dance, circus, parades, buskers, craft beer precincts, outdoor cafes and a myriad stalls selling all sorts of arts, crafts, fashion and treasure, including the best range of international food to be found anywhere. Listen to singer-songwriters, cutting edge indie rock, drum & bass, and alternative electronic music across a total of 16 stages and embark on a voyage of discovery in the charming side streets of Newton during this magical day of entertainment.

LOCATION Newtown, Wellington DATES 8 March 2020

Newtown Festival

Dancers get into the swing of things at the Newtown Festival (Photo: Paul Taylor)

Challenge yourself on a unique mini golf course

Mini golf is a favourite vacation activity for families, and in Wellington there’s a mini golf course with a unique difference. Located within the award winning Carlucci land Sculptures Park, the 18-hole course is the brainchild of artist Carl Gifford, whose passion for recycling discarded material inspired the course’s quirky ‘junk yard’ theme. Dotted with intricately positioned art installations of every shape and size, including giant metallic spiders, snakes, and other creations inspired by nature, players face the challenge of putting their ball through the sculptures, around trees and along hidden passageways as they strive for that elusive hole in one.

LOCATION 281 Happy Valley Road HOURS Fri-Thurs 9.30am-6pm

Carlucci Land

Along the Carlucci land mini golf course (Photo: Carlucci land)

Enjoy Wellington with the wind in your hair

Set against a stunning backdrop of dramatic hills, Wellington’s natural beauty can be explored by foot, but for those who like the idea of a little assistance, there’s also the option of traversing the city’s scenic delights aboard a high-tech electric bike. Switched on Bikes are a renowned local company operating out of Wellington Waterfront who offer e-bike rentals as well as fully guided tours around the city’s most desirable spots. Delivering all of the pleasures of open-air cycling, but with a little less exertion required to tackle those steeper points of the route, an electric bike tour is the ultimate chance to experience Wellington in a fun and adventurous way.

Switched on Bikes

As Switched on Bikes tour group hug the coastline (Photo: Switched on Bikes)

Escape the city hubbub at a rooftop craft beer bar

If you’ve been hitting the tourist sites hard in Wellington and are looking for some respite from the urban mayhem, The Hop Garden is the perfect place to come and kick back, unwind and savour some of the very best food and drink the city has to offer. Tucked away in the city suburbs, set against the imposing backdrop of Mount Victoria, this rooftop craft beer bar combines a desirable setting with a wide array of locally produced beer, top class wine and a mouth-watering food menu. An airy garden-patio, with its glass roof and pretty grape vines, add to the relaxed and sociable atmosphere.

LOCATION 13 Pirie Street, Mount Victoria HOURS Mon 3pm-10pm Tues-Weds 3pm-10.30pm Thurs-Fri 7am-12am Sat 12pm-12am Sun 12pm-10pm 

The charming garden-patio at The Hop Garden (Photo: The Hop Garden)

Admire an animated musical clock

Nestled among the array of shops in Wellington’s historic Old Bank Arcade is the Banking Chamber, which is home to an intricate Animated Musical Clock that has become something of a tourist attraction in its own right The clock animate the entire building with its hourly tunes, at which point it opens up to reveal a series of magical vignettes that depict the arcade’s rich history.

LOCATION The Old Bank Arcade HOURS Mon-Thurs 9am-6pm Fri 9am-7pm Sat 10am-4pm Sun 11am-3pm

Learn about Kiwi tattoo customs

Nowadays it’s hard to move without seeing someone adorned with body ink, but the National Tattoo Museum in Wellington celebrates forms of anatomical decoration that boast a somewhat richer heritage. Here, visitors can learn all about the fascinating history of Maori and Pacific tattoo traditions, as well as New Zealand’s distinctive techniques and styles. The museum also houses an impressive assortment of artefacts, tools, and illustrations.

LOCATION 187 Vivian Street, Te Aro HOURS Sun-Thurs 12pm-5.30pm Fri-Sat 12pm-8pm

Fox National Tattoo Museum

The entrance to the National Tattoo Museum (Photo: brent simpson via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sample a range of mouth-watering beers

Opened in 2009 in the heart of Wellington’s technology and cultural hubs, situated in the basement of a historic former police station, Hashigo Zake is one of the main reasons that Wellington has grown into a major centre of beer appreciation and brewing, offering a chance for patrons to try countless beer styles and breweries for the first time. On Friday and Saturday nights it’s also a great place to enjoy live music in an intimate setting. The bar is open seven days a week.

LOCATION 25 Taranaki Street, Te Aro HOURS Tues-Thurs 12pm-11pm Fri-Sat 12pm-1am Sun-Mon 12pm-9.30pm

A bar tender pulls a pint at Hashigo Zake (Photo: Jed Soane of The Beer Project )

Marvel at a multitude of native plant life

The only public botanic garden in New Zealand that’s dedicated exclusively to native plants, Otari-Wiltons’ Bush offers a magical experience for horticulture enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy exploring its vast parameters, with highlights including a cultivated area entirely surrounded by a native bush reserve, an 800 year old rimu tree, a treetop walkway, and a rock garden.

Native flowers at Otari-Wiltons’ Bush (Photo: Margaret Donald via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Enjoy some amateur astronomy

Thanks to its refreshing – literally and metaphorically – lack of pollution, New Zealand is one of the very best places for star-gazing in the world. The Carter Observatory has been New Zealand’s national observatory since 1977 and since that time has become an important institution for public education. Amateur astronomers can come here to enjoy its world class planetarium, as well as digital exhibits that transport you to the southern constellations and beyond.

LOCATION Wellington Botanic Garden, Kelburn HOURS Tues & Fri 4pm-11pm Sat 10am-11pm Sun 10am-5.30pm Closed Mon, Weds & Thurs

Sochi Art Museum

An astrolobe at The Carter Observatory (Photo: Kevin Carmody via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Join a delectable foodie tour

With more cafes and restaurants per capita than New York, Wellington has an energetic foodie scene, and visitors keen to get a flavour of it can join a city food tour. Zest Food Tours run small, personalised group tours of Wellington’s culinary hotspots, all hosted by expert guides who will share local stories while guiding you around a variety of cafes, bars, restaurants, food stores and coffee shops, with plenty of samples to enjoy along the way.