Wellington City – Guide for Backpackers
Compact and creative capital city.
Every backpacker passes through Wellington City at some point to catch a ferry to the South Island or get a flight, but New Zealand’s capital city is well worth staying for a few days. Many people on working holiday visas choose Wellington as a place to work for a while. With tonnes of character from the artwork all over the city to cool and quirky streets, we can’t really blame them.
The creativity continues into Wellington’s movie scene. The city has a number of filming locations as well as the infamous Weta Workshop, which brought the magic of The Lord of the Rings to life.
For more inspiration on what to do in Wellington, check out 11 Free or Cheap Things to do in Wellington.
Things you can’t miss in Wellington
- See the art along the waterfront
- Check out the colossal squid in Te Papa Museum
- Get your geek on at Weta Cave or do a movie tour
- Shop, eat, rave, repeat in Wellington’s compact city centre
- Get an awesome view of the city from Mt Victoria, Botanic Gardens and the sea!
Power tip: Wellington is also a great city to stop for a few days and catch up with life back home. It has a huge amount of great coffee shops offering free high-speed WiFi with the purchase of a yummy hot drink.
Art and culture in Wellington
The more you walk around Wellington city centre the more you discover. There are artwork and sculptures lining the waterfront, but some artwork is more prominent than others. Quotes are carved into obscure places like under walkway bridges and in the water as part of the Wellington Writer’s Walk. Even the seating along the harbour is not just your average park bench. Sit on an odd arrangement of wooden blocks and watch people from all walks of life walk/board/bike/scooter by.
There are a few museums in the city, but one in particular is a must-visit: Te Papa Tongarewa. Countless interactive and visually stimulating displays show everything New Zealand. From social history like the Maori culture to the natural world like earthquakes and volcanoes of NZ, you can spend hours in this place. Te Papa holds the world’s largest colossal squid and temporary exhibits which have included the World of Wearable Art exhibition (in 2014), 75 years of Air New Zealand exhibition (in 2015) and the Gallipoli: The Scale of our War (2016). Te Papa also has free WiFi…
Heaps of great movies have come out New Zealand (there’s some movie about a ring that you may have heard about), many of which have had some filming done in Wellington or been produced by production workshops in the city. The city and surrounding areas are inexpensive to film in, making it a great hub for movie-making.
A must for movie buffs is the Weta Cave and Weta Workshop. The three trolls from The Hobbit stand by the entrance, so it’s hard to miss. The Weta Cave is a shop with movie collectables all made from the team behind the props, costume and digital animation for movies such as The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar, The Adventures of Tintin, King Kong, The Amazing Spider-Man, District 9, and so much more. The Weta Cave has a mini-museum and a video explaining what Weta does. For around NZ$26 you can take the Weta Workshop Tour to see how props are made and hold some alien guns.
Weta Cave is based in Miramar, which is a 30min bus ride from the city centre. Ask the bus driver and they will tell you where to jump off – they deal with movie geeks all the time.
There are a few The Lord of the Rings filming locations too, which you can see on Lord of the Rings location tours. There are half-day or full-day options. Check out the filming locations in 11 Lord of the Rings Filming Locations You Can’t Miss in New Zealand.
Shopping and Nightlife
What we like about Wellington is how compact the city centre is. It only takes about 20 minutes to walk from one side of the centre to the other.
The majority of bars and clubs are on Courtenay Place. There is Electric Avenue for cringe-worthy 90s and 80s music, Molly Malone’s the token Irish pub, Mishmosh for your classier cocktail night, and more: see the 5 Awesome Bars in Wellington.
Cuba Street has a reputation for being a bit quirky, a bit hipster, a bit bohemian. There are many options for a bite to eat: Logan Brown, Matterhorn, Fidel’s, Arthur’s, Plum and KK Malaysian to name a few. It also holds some decent op shops (second-hand stores) and vintage shops: Hunters & Collectors, Ziggurat, Emporium Vintage Boutique and Paper Bag Princess.
Head to Wellington’s CBD on Lambton Quay for a wealth of shops. All the New Zealand retail chains you could think of are here, as well as pop-up liquidation sales.
Wellington Vantage Points
Surrounded by a hilly green belt, there are some different vantage points you can get of the city without having to go too far. Mt Victoria, on the east side of the city, has 360° views with the centre on one side the ferry terminal on the other. There are even a couple of sculptures and memorials on the lookout.
Another vantage point is from the Botanic Gardens, which can be accessed by the historic cable car. It is only NZ$7 return on the cable car, which is located on Lambton Quay. Alternatively, you can walk to the gardens.
Seeing Wellington from the water offers another perspective of the city. You can take guided kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding tours both day and night.
Wellington has a whole lot more to offer than the city centre. If you have time, why not take some day trips to the surrounding suburbs and districts all with their own charms. Take a trip down the Kapiti Coast to do some beach-hopping. Make your way to the Wairarapa to see the rugged coastal areas of Cape Palliser and Castlepoint. It’s also home to the Wellington wine-growing region, meaning there are plenty of jobs for backpackers and plenty of excuses to drink some New Zealand wine. Finally, not too far from Wellington city is the Hutt Valley, especially good for exploring hiking tracks in the forests.
If you have more time in Wellington…
- See New Zealand wildlife at Zealandia: a valley of birds, reptiles and insects in their natural environment
- Your visit may coincide with some music acts or one of the following festivals: Fringe Festival, World of Wearable Art Awards Show, Royal New Zealand Ballet, or the New Zealand Festival
- Get more of a cultural fix by visiting the Wellington City and Sea Museum, City Gallery, and Colonial Cottage Museum
- See a fine piece of architecture at the heritage building Old St Paul’s
- See and learn about the Southern Skies at the Carter Observatory planetarium and interactive exhibition
- Do a free tour of the Parliament Buildings
- Rent a car and hit the road – see The Best Car Rental Companies in Wellington
- Do some of these 11 Free or Cheap Things to do in Wellington
- If the weather is bad, consider doing these 10 Things to Do in Wellington on a Rainy Day.
Where to stay in Wellington?
- Hotel Waterloo & Backpackers
- The Dwellington
- Moana Lodge
- Nomads Capital
- Cambridge Hotel
- YHA Wellington
- Wild Zebra Backpackers
- Trek Global
- Worldwide Backpackers
- Rosemere Backpackers
- Base Wellington
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