Coastal Charms of Wellington, New Zealand

Click Photo to enlarge and navigate through the gallery.

Coastal Charms of Wellington, New Zealand


Our last stop in New Zealand was to explore the coastal charms of Wellington, New Zealand, the vibrant capital of New Zealand. Wellington is a city that seamlessly blends nature, creativity, and history. With just a day to explore, we embarked on a whirlwind journey, discovering the diverse facets that make Wellington an unmissable destination.

Charms of Wellington: Botanical Gardens and Cable Car Adventure

Our day began with a tranquil escape to the Wellington Botanic Garden, a horticultural haven perched on the hills overlooking the city. The best way to reach this green oasis is by taking the iconic Wellington Cable Car, offering breathtaking views of the cityscape and harbor. The cable car ride is a must-do, providing a perfect introduction to Wellington’s topography.  Note: Purchase a one-way ticket unless you don’t want to walk down through the botanical gardens to sea level, which is an easy walk.

Bob in The Wellington Botanical GardensUpon reaching the Botanic Gardens, we immersed ourselves in a world of blooming flora, winding paths, and peaceful landscapes. The themed gardens, from the fragrant Lady Norwood Rose Garden is one of the many charms of Wellington, showcase New Zealand’s rich biodiversity. A stroll through the gardens was a sensory delight and a perfect start to a day filled with exploration.  We spent about 90 minutes meandering through the beautiful and varied gardens to the main downtown streets.  We stopped in the restaurant outside of the rose garden for a quick snack before heading back into the city.

Weta Workshop – Unveiling Creative Wonders

The afternoon was reserved for our Viking excursion to the Weta Workshop, a world-Gimli - the Lord of the Rings Dwarfrenowned special effects and prop design studio that has contributed to some of the most iconic films in the world, including “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “Avatar.” The Weta Workshop offers guided tours that provide an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the creative process.  Our guide was a young Englishman who now calls New Zealand home and does various tours around Wellington, specializing in the Weta workshop and everything related to the “Lord of the Rings,” as well as many of the other Charms of Wellington.

We arrived at the workshop and were ushered into the gift shop area, waiting for the previous tour to conclude. Here, there were a few life-size characters from the movie, which were perfect for selfies. The doors to the main exhibit room opened, where we found actual movie props from not only the Lord of the Rings but several other hit movies Weta Studios was involved in making, including the “Planet Of the Apes” and “Avtar.”

Unlike the Weta Unleashed Experience in Auckland, this workshop was an actual working studio, and we were not allowed to take any pictures outside of the gift shop, which was disappointing. We marveled at the intricate craftsmanship and attention to detail in the various movie props and sculptures. A 20-minute movie showcased how the Weta workshop started and many of the Weta’s film achievements. After, we were left to explore the various props on display. Movie buff or not, the Weta Workshop is a testament to the ingenuity and talent thriving in Wellington’s creative community.

Charms of Wellington: Mt Victoria and more “Lord of the Rings” film sites

Our guide showing us movie locations from Lord of the Rings - Charles Pimmer ParkAfter leaving the Weta workshop, our guide took us past the many large studio buildings, explaining their use and what movies had been.  We then headed for the area around Mt. Victoria, where several forest scenes from the Lord of the Rings were filmed.  We went hiking down various trails where our guide explained the scenes that were shot in several areas. He showed us pictures from the film to compare the landscape we were standing near with what was shown in the movie.  Unsurprisingly, placing ourselves in the movie scenes took a lot of imagination, as the shots were altered in post-production to add various special effects.

Our tour took us to the top of Mt Victoria for panoramic views of the harbor and several hills that make up greater Wellington.  We could see the “Welliwood” sign near the studio we had just visited.

Waterfront Wonders and Museum Exploration

The downtown waterfront area is a bustling hub of activity and a testament to Wellington’s maritime charm. The waterfront promenade offers a delightful mix of cafes, shops, and cultural attractions.

A leisurely walk along the waterfront led us to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, another one of the charms of Wellington and a cultural treasure trove that showcases the nation’s art, history, and Maori heritage. Te Papa provides a comprehensive overview of New Zealand’s rich and diverse identity, from interactive exhibits to captivating displays.

Bob and I could not fit in the iconic Wellington Museum in the historic Bond Store building. This compact yet compelling museum delves into the city’s maritime history, offering insights into its evolution from a remote outpost to a thriving capital.  Unfortunately, we ran low on exploring time and needed to return to the Viking Neptune.

Summary of the Coastal Charms of Wellington, New Zealand

With its botanical beauty, creative wonders at the Weta Workshop, and the captivating waterfront and museums, Wellington proved to be a city that effortlessly balances nature, art, and history. Though our visit was brief, it left an indelible impression, inviting us to return for a more in-depth exploration of this captivating Kiwi capital. There needs to be more than a day in Wellington to cover the many cultural delights worth exploring.  This was our last stop in New Zealand, and we have promised to return so we can spend more time discovering all of New Zealand, including the South Island and its geographical and cultural treasures.



Viking Excursions in Wellington, New Zealand

For Lord of the Rings Aficionados Duration: 3.50 Hours

Fantasy, Film Craft, and More — A Lord of the Rings specialist guide will share anecdotes about the filming. Pass by Courtenay Place, whose Embassy Theater hosted the world premieres of The Return of the King and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. You will take in the views from Mt. Victoria and visit the Green Belt forest, where important scenes like “Get off the Road” and “Dunharrow Plateau” were filmed. See Wellywood, the heart of the Wellington film industry, and Miramar, where director Peter Jackson and Weta NZ have studios and postproduction facilities. Visit the Weta Cave’s “Windows into Workshop” exhibit for a tour of Weta’s work’s physical prop-making and makeup aspects. Before returning to your ship, you will see a short film about digital technology and browse the mini-museum and souvenir shop.

Zealandia Eco Reserve Duration: 3.00 Hours

Explore New Zealand’s Very Own Jurassic Park — Join your guide at this 550-acre sanctuary to observe the native wildlife. New Zealand has very biodiverse practices and advanced conservation techniques. See some of the nation’s rarest species—such as the saddleback and hihi birds, back from the brink of extinction. Locals often refer to Zealandia as “Jurassic Park,” as it is home to the famous “living fossil”—the tuatara, whose Maori name means “peaks on the back.” This unusual reptile is a descendant of the lizard-like reptiles that flourished more than 200 million years ago. With everything in Zealandia living wild, your guide will use birdsong language and knowledge of local habitats and flora to track down even the rarest resident animals. Following your tour, enjoy refreshments before returning to your ship.

Seal Watching at Tongue Point Duration: 3.50 Hours

Observe New Zealand’s Coastal Wildlife — Journey along New Zealand’s rugged coast in a 4×4 to Tongue Point and observe fur seals and other wildlife. Depart the pier and venture across the wide-open spaces of a large coastal ranch. Your guide will tell tales of the area’s early farmers as you watch for wild goats, horses, deer, ostriches, and cattle. While the famous Leaning Lighthouse and spectacular vistas will undoubtedly capture your attention, the main attraction here is the seals. Make your way onto the beach of Tongue Point and watch the adorable New Zealand fur seals basking in the sun and slipping into the water for a swim. A short walk lets you observe these fascinating creatures up close and take in the beauty of the landscape. Afterward, enjoy a refreshment before returning to your awaiting ship.

Te Papa & Highlights of Wellington Duration: 3.00 Hours

Visit the Museum of New Zealand and Explore Contemporary Displays — Meet your guide and set off by motor coach, passing the 19th-century Parliament buildings. During your ride, your guide will explain the history of the buildings and the city’s culture. Arrive at the waterfront Te Papa Museum and step inside to explore a celebration of New Zealand’s diverse landscape, cultures, and nature. After an introduction, you will enjoy time to explore the museum at your leisure. Impressive exhibits highlight the natural world and geology of New Zealand’s islands and the Maori culture and traditions. View interactive displays that educate, inspire, and showcase the unique aspects of New Zealand and its history through storytelling and the latest technology. After your visit, return to your awaiting ship.

Botanic Gardens & Cable Car Ride Duration: 3.00 Hours

Visit Hilltop Gardens and Admire Stunning Vistas — Meet your guide and embark on a drive along Bowen Street, passing the 19th-century Parliament buildings. During your ride, your guide will explain the history of the buildings and the city’s culture. Arrive at the cable car station and board this more than 100-year-old historic rail car for a ride to the summit. You will admire sweeping views over the Storm Coast and Wellington Harbour from the top. Walk around the botanical gardens and admire the lush native forest, plant collections, and seasonal displays. You may also visit the small Cable Car Museum, set in the original winding house that was operational from 1902 until 1978. After your tour, return to your awaiting ship.

Shenandoah: A Rural Haven Duration: 3.50 Hours

A True Kiwi Experience — Visit a historic hidden gem and gain insight into a working farm within a native birdlife reserve at Shenandoah. Upon arrival, you will be greeted by your enthusiastic host, who will lead you on a journey of discovery as he regales you with tales of the past. Formerly a Maori fortress, it is now a private haven set amid gently rolling hills and native bush overlooking the picturesque Pauatahanui Inlet. During your visit, you will learn more about its 150-year history, including its role as a US Marine training base during World War II. Your host will also open the doors to his private “Barn Museum,” featuring an array of artifacts and a private collection of restored vintage motorcycles, including a rare Harley-Davidson. Before returning to your ship, you will enjoy a selection of homegrown specialties and bid your host farewell.


Wellington, New Zealand: Embracing Culture, History, and Geography

Wellington Cultural Scene

Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, is a vibrant cultural hub that celebrates the nation’s diverse heritage. Maori traditions, European settlers, and a modern cosmopolitan flair influence the city’s cultural scene. Here, the arts, music, and literature converge, creating an atmosphere that reflects the unique identity of New Zealand.

The influence of the indigenous Maori culture is palpable throughout Wellington. The Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, colloquially known as Te Papa, is a testament to the prosperous Maori heritage. The museum showcases traditional Maori art, artifacts, and cultural practices, offering visitors an immersive experience of New Zealand’s indigenous roots.

Wellington’s thriving arts scene is evident in its numerous galleries, theaters, and street art. The city hosts a myriad of cultural events and festivals, attracting artists and performers from around the world. The annual New Zealand Festival and Wellington Jazz Festival are highlights, bringing the streets alive with music, dance, and theatrical performances.

Culinary delights also play a significant role in Wellington’s cultural tapestry. The city boasts diverse eateries, from traditional Maori and Pacific Island cuisine to international flavors. Cuba Street, a bustling pedestrian mall, is a gastronomic haven where local cafes, restaurants, and food markets tempt the taste buds.

History of Wellington

Wellington’s history is a captivating narrative of exploration, colonization, and resilience. The Maori people settled in the region centuries ago, drawn to the abundant natural resources and the strategic location of the harbor. European exploration in the late 18th century began a new chapter in Wellington’s history.

In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, paving the way for British settlers to establish Wellington as the capital of New Zealand. The city’s growth was fueled by the gold rush in the 1860s, attracting fortune seekers and immigrants. The colonial architecture connecting the cityscape, particularly in areas like Thorndon, reflects this development period.

The geographical features of Wellington played a crucial role in shaping its history. The city is nestled between the Rimutaka Range and the Tasman Sea, making it prone to earthquakes. The devastating 1855 Wairarapa earthquake altered the landscape and led to land reclamation along the waterfront.

Wellington, New Zealand Geography

Wellington’s geography is a spectacle in itself, blending natural beauty with urban development. The city is situated at the southwestern tip of the North Island, embracing the shores of Wellington Harbour. Surrounded by hills and rugged coastlines, Wellington offers a stunning panorama of landscapes.

The iconic Mount Victoria, a prominent hill near the city center, provides panoramic views of Wellington and its harbor. The lush greenery of the Wellington Botanic Garden contrasts with the urban sprawl, offering a serene escape within the city limits. The Wellington Cable Car, connecting Lambton Quay to the Botanic Garden, provides a scenic journey through the hilly terrain.

The waterfront is a focal point of Wellington’s geography, with a picturesque promenade offering a blend of recreational spaces, cultural institutions, and dining options. This proximity to the water defines the city’s character and contributes to the maritime activities that have shaped its history.

We were able to see five of the top ten things to do in Wellington in a day, which we were happy to fit in during a single day.

Top 10 Things to Do in Wellington

  1. Te Papa Tongarewa Museum: Immerse yourself in New Zealand’s history, art, and culture at this renowned national museum. With interactive exhibits and Maori treasures, Te Papa offers an enlightening journey through the nation’s past and present.
  2. Wellington Botanic Garden: Take the iconic Wellington Cable Car to the Botanic Garden and explore the diverse landscapes, themed gardens, and walking trails. The views of the city from the top are unparalleled.
  3. Weta Workshop: Dive into the world of filmmaking and special effects with a visit to the Weta Workshop. The guided tours provide an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the creative process behind iconic films like “The Lord of the Rings.”
  4. Mount Victoria Lookout: Hike or drive to the summit of Mount Victoria for breathtaking panoramic views of Wellington, the harbor, and the surrounding landscapes. It’s an ideal spot for sunset or sunrise.
  5. Cuba Street: Wander through this vibrant pedestrian mall, lined with eclectic shops, cafes, and street art. Cuba Street captures the essence of Wellington’s creative and bohemian spirit.
  6. Wellington Waterfront: Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the waterfront, dotted with sculptures, parks, and cafes. The Te Papa Museum, Oriental Bay, and the historic Wellington Museum are accessible from the waterfront promenade.
  7. Zealandia Ecosanctuary: Explore this groundbreaking conservation project, home to various native New Zealand wildlife. Zealandia offers guided tours and walking trails in a lush natural setting.
  8. Matiu/Somes Island: Take a ferry to this predator-free island in Wellington Harbor, known for its historical significance and wildlife sanctuary. Matiu/Somes Island offers hiking trails and a glimpse into New Zealand’s military past.
  9. Wellington Cable Car Museum: Delve into the history of Wellington’s iconic cable car system at this museum located at the Kelburn terminus. Learn about the engineering marvel that has connected the city and the Botanic Garden for over a century.
  • City Gallery Wellington: Explore contemporary art exhibitions at the City Gallery Wellington, housed in a striking modern building. The gallery showcases a diverse range of local and international artists, making it a cultural hotspot in the city’s heart.

In conclusion,

Wellington, New Zealand, is a city that seamlessly intertwines its cultural richness, historical significance, and stunning geography. Whether immersing oneself in Maori traditions at Te Papa, exploring the creative wonders of Weta Workshop, or enjoying the natural beauty from Mount Victoria, every moment in Wellington is an invitation to experience the essence of this captivating capital.