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Wellington’s diverse and traditionally transient 300,000+ population base is an eclectic mix of colourful suburban and chic inner-city apartment communities. Many of the central and city-fringe suburbs have been rejuvenated over the past five years creating a vibrancy and positive spirit which is reflected in the region’s economic upturn.

Courtenay Place

Courtenay Place is the centre of local theatrical activity and the favoured destination for those seeking entertainment well into the wee hours. Restaurants, cafes, wine bars and pubs line both sides of this long, wide strip with a good spread of ethnic tastes represented in their menus.

Cuba St

For the young urban dweller, Cuba and Manners Malls are the locations of choice in which to see and be seen. Street theatre and busking are common, especially during the Fringe Festival and the International Festival of the Arts and innovative sculptures and water features add colour to the area. The concentration of cafes on Cuba is phenomenal and there is something there to suit most moods and palates.

The Golden Mile

For the sophisticated shopper, Wellington’s so-called ‘Golden Mile’ shopping district provides endless opportunities for spending. Stretching the length of Lambton Quay and Willis St, the area incorporates a number of popular shopping malls including Lambton Square, Capital on the Quay, the BNZ Centre and the newly refurbished Old Bank Arcade. You will find Wellington’s answer to Harrod’s, Kirkcaldie & Stains, on Lambton Quay.

There are plenty of eating options here too, including the ever-crowded Caffe Astoria, Paris and Forum. Watch out for the suit brigade as you pound the pavements, particularly between midday and 2pm when the surrounding office blocks, affectionately known as Wellington’s filing cabinets, empty their drawers for lunch.

Civic Square

Civic Square was developed in the early 1990s and forms a natural boundary between the Cuba St and Lambton Quay shopping precincts. A marvellous open area incorporating clever landscaping, it is popular with the lunchtime crowds in summer and is a regular venue for outdoor festivals and markets.The square is ringed by cultural institutions of note; the Wellington Public Library, the City Gallery and the Wellington Festival and Convention Centre, incorporating the Town Hall and Michael Fowler Centre. The architecturally designed City to Sea Bridge provides a quick link with the nearby waterfront.


With cycleways and parks spanning the full length of the inner-city harbour-side from Queen’s Wharf to Oriental Parade, Wellington’s waterfront is one of the most accessible in the country. The area is a popular weekend destination for families and young people with activities and attractions to cater for all interests. Museum buffs are spoilt for choice with the Wellington Museum of City & Sea having recently reopened on Queen’s Wharf and the majestic Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa gracing the shores nearby. In-line skates and kayaks can be hired from Ferg’s Rock’n Kayak and if you’re in need of a meal or drink both Dockside and Shed 5 have excellent reputations.

Mt Victoria & Oriental Bay

Mt Victoria’s colourful Victorian villas present a picture of island elegance, perched precariously on the edge of this bush-clad hillside. The ignorance of Wellington’s original surveyors to the city’s hilly terrain has led to eccentricities in streetscapes so you will need to keep an eye out for footpaths that are in fact narrow, winding streets and for private cablecars which provide necessary access to some of the more remote of hilltop homes. The Southern Walkway wends its way through the bush to emerge at the top for spectacular 360 degree panoramic views of the city. At its foot, tree-lined streets frame the pleasant inner-city suburbs of Mt Victoria and Oriental Bay. Several excellent guesthouses can be found here including Dunrobin House and some of the finest restaurants are hidden in its nooks and crannies. Try the Roxburgh Bistro, Menton, or for something a little different, Theo’s Greek Taverna. The award-winning Parade Café is a popular place for brunch, perhaps after a swim at the adjacent Freyberg Pool.


A quaint mix of old and new characterises this up-market inner-city suburb. One of the oldest areas of town, it was divided by the motorway extension in the 1970s which ripped through the middle of the Bolton St Cemetery, but much of its colonial charm survives in the narrow backstreets which can be explored on foot. Ascot St and Sydney St West are two of the finest examples of collections of colonial cottages but there are also many gems to be found along the main suburban axis, Tinakori Rd.

Historic Thorndon is rich in architectural and cultural attractions. Katherine Mansfield’s Birthplace can be visited on Tinakori Rd and the magnificent Old St Paul’s should not be missed. Don’t confuse it with its newer and larger neighbour, St Paul’s Cathedral.


Just across the harbour, a short crossing by WestpacTrust ferry from the central city, lies the pleasant waterside settlement of Eastbourne. Days Bay is a popular destination for families and sun seekers in summer and is also convenient for its close proximity to several excellent reserves and walking areas including Butterfly Creek and the Pencarrow Lighthouse. The unrestricted views of Wellington City and the entrance to the harbour are magnificent.

History of Wellington

According to Maori legend, Wellington was first discovered in the 10th century by the great Polynesian explorer Kupe and named Te Whanganui a Tara – the Great Harbour of Tara – after his son. To this day the spectacular natural harbour surrounded by steep hills is said to be one of the most beautiful in the world. By the time the explorer Captain Cook visited in 1773 the harbour was lined with Maori settlements. Today a popular viewing point, Mt Victoria, is built on top of an ancient Maori burial ground. However, both Cook and Abel Tasman, a previous visitor who stopped by in 1642, were driven back by the fierce winds, which have earned the city its often ill-deserved reputation of ‘windy Wellington’.

It wasn’t until 1840 following settlement by British pioneers from the New Zealand Company that the city was named Wellington in honour of the Iron Duke who lent his support to the company. Sir William Wakefield who, along with the other founding fathers of the city now lies at rest in the Bolton St Cemetery, led the first wave of settlers. It is said that Wakefield’s deals with the Maori included buying Wellington for 100 muskets, 100 blankets, 60 red nightcaps, a dozen umbrellas and other sundry goods.

Wakefield and his followers originally established a base at Petone, however, flooding from the Hutt River forced them to relocate at Lambton Harbour, a drier location and the present focal point of the city.

Lack of space soon led to a decision by the spirited settlers to reclaim the harbour and following the earthquake of 1845, which conveniently raised the foreshore by four feet, the reclamations got underway in earnest. By the turn of the 20th century the original shoreline was totally replaced by wharves and warehouses. It seems hard to envisage, but most of the commercial heart of Wellington was originally sea, and the Town Hall and Railway Station now stand where ships once berthed.

As the shipping industry modernised, it no longer needed many of the waterfront buildings and over recent years some of the best have been redeveloped for public use. One of these historic icons, the Bond Store, now home to one of Wellington’s newest museums, the Museum of Wellington City & Sea, was originally an 1892 storehouse for a variety of goods from corsets to whisky and coffee.

In spite of natural hazards like earthquakes, fires and the ever-present gale force winds, the fledgling colony of the mid-1800s quickly became a thriving import and export centre and in 1865 superseded Auckland as the capital. The original powerhouse of the nation, the Old Government Buildings, was built in the 1870s and is the largest wooden structure in the southern hemisphere. Across the road stands Parliament Buildings, built in 1922. Its square marble angles contrast dramatically with the rounded contours of the Beehive, the capital’s distinctive circular Cabinet offices, built in the late 1970s.

Another of Wellington’s unique attractions, the Cable Car, was built between 1899 and 1902 and received a major upgrade in 1978. Accessed from Cable Car Lane, off Lambton Quay, it climbs steeply to the inner-city suburb of Kelburn, giving stunning views over the city and harbour.

In spite of a massive reconstruction of the city in the 1980s, which saw the demolition of numerous older earthquake-risk buildings, Wellington still has many old buildings, which provide an insight into its history. Amongst the churches which have survived are gems like Old St Paul’s Church in Thorndon, the Anglican Diocese of Wellington from 1866 to 1964, and St Mary of the Angels, which shows the influence of traditional French Gothic architecture.

Also providing a precious glimpse of the past and an insight into the lives of the early settlers are the Colonial Cottage in Nairn Street; Ascot St in Thorndon, Sexton’s Cottage and Katherine Mansfield Birthplace, where the world famous writer spent her early childhood.

As well as historic buildings Wellington contains many sites, gardens and walks which have survived from the early days. Amongst these are the Botanic Gardens and the famous Red Rocks Seals colony at Owhiro Bay, a rugged stretch of coastline which is supposedly stained by the blood from Kupe’s cut hand.

Wellington continues to grow both in cultural diversity and in terms of the numerous attractions on offer. Recent initiatives such as the building of the new national museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, and the WestpacTrust Stadium draw more and more visitors each year. Despite its growth, however, the city retains the natural charm and beauty which originally attracted the early settlers in their droves.