How much time should I spend in Wellington on a two-week trip to New Zealand?
March 17, 2009 7:09 PM   Subscribe

I'll be in New Zealand for two weeks (Apr 5-19), flying into and out of Wellington but spending my time traveling around the South Island. How much time should I spend in Wellington at the beginning or end of the trip? Should I head straight for the ferry, or is it worth spending a few days exploring Wellington and its surroundings?
posted by Dasein to Travel & Transportation around New Zealand (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's definitely worth checking out Wellington, but in my experience the city is fairly compact so you should be fine with one long day, or slightly longer if you want to really thoroughly look around Te Papa (the national museum) or tour Parliament.

Make sure you look on Cuba Street and get something to eat/drink at Fidel's.
posted by fearthehat at 7:30 PM on March 17, 2009

I'm living in Wellington and agree that you can probably see most of the highlights in a day or two. The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary is also worth visiting, and they do nighttime tours where you can see kiwi birds.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 7:34 PM on March 17, 2009

I did the same thing back in 2005. Muttonbirds notwithstanding, visiting Te Papa was really the only thing I really liked about Wellington. Being on the South Island was one of the highlights of my life, and I would recommend giving ol' Northie the short shrift to spend every possible second making your way around the South Island. MeFiMail me if you want travel suggestions.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:18 PM on March 17, 2009

I can second third on Te Papa Tongarewa. Imagine all the Smithsonians -- art, science, history, culture -- in a single building (scaled for the country's size, of course). Nicely done, too. Make sure you see Te Marae and the rest of their fine collection of Pakeha and Maori art; check out the only complete colossal squid specimen around; experience a simulated earthquake (or maybe a real one); then there's Jeff Thomson's Holden station wagon covered in corrugated iron.

Depending on what you're into, tho' you couldn't spend enough time on S.I either. Christchurch. . . Kaikoura. . . Marlborough. . . Te Anau. . . Milford Sound. . . hard to choose for a mere two weeks.

Kia ora.
posted by Herodios at 8:43 PM on March 17, 2009

I love Wellington to bits, that's why I live here, but I wouldn't spend more than two days if you only have a couple of weeks up your sleeve. Like a lot of nice cities to live in, what makes it good is the ambience, not a list of things to do, and you just don't have time.

Feel free to email for specific advice.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:32 PM on March 17, 2009

I've lived in Wellington for 30 out of my 36 years, and I agree with i_am_joe's_spleen. It's a lovely town, but not worth more than a day or two as a short-trip tourist. Te Papa is definitely worth seeing and you should wander round the Cuba St area, get yourself brunch at one of the many excellent cafes (Fidel's, Aro St, etc)...but if you're in NZ, you really want to see the SI.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:45 AM on March 18, 2009

Te Papa, the Wildlife Sanctuary, the Museum of the Sea; it really depends what you want to do, to be honest. It's definitely one of those places where you get most value letting it percolate for a while and enjoying it; that's all very well if you have heaps of time, but not so much in your situation. There's lots of interesting stuff (the Reserve bank museum with its hydraulic computer, for example), the landmark cafes, and whatnot, but it all takes time to find and enjoy.


Meh. Why bother with a bad knock-off of a provincial English town?
posted by rodgerd at 2:18 AM on March 18, 2009

Wellington resident here and I agree that a long day would be anough if you only wanted to see the city. If you want to go to Karori Wildlife Sanctuary (or Otari Park, which is really close by and in my opinion much more awesome) or maybe delve a little deeper, you won't feel bored for two days. It depends what you want to see and what your plans are for the South Island. Wellington is easily the best city in NZ so I wouldn't waste any time on the others in such a short period. South Island does have some of the most magical places you can imagine, but in terms of one day vs two it really depends what your schedule is. If an extra day will mean missing out on another place, don't do it. Also sorry to be negative and rant, but prepare yourself that if you only allow one day and it is rainy and windy, it probably won't be a very enjoyable impression of the city. Feel free to mail me if you want to know anything or are after recommendations (from a 19yo university student).
posted by atmosphere at 3:08 AM on March 18, 2009

Former Wellington resident here. I'd spend two days,no more, but do it at the end of your trip so that one of them is a Saturday. Wellington doesn't exactly close on Sundays but the general vibe of the place can be depressingly quiet, especially if you're accustomed to big cities.

Go out on the Saturday night. It's not a metropolis, but Wellington does have a decent live music scene and a surprising number of cool, small bars. You can pretty much skip the nightlife in other NZ cities, but I've had some good nights out in Welly. The old Embassy Theatre is a nice place to catch a film. There are some great cafes and contemporary restaurants, but don't bother with anywhere offering Asian food. There's nothing sadder than an earnestly-served 'traditional tom yum' that tastes like packet tomato soup. (No really, this actually happened to me).

Te Papa could easily take half a day. If you like vintage transport, the Cable Car is a pleasant way to get to the top of a big hill and see the city from above. Cuba Street has lots of little shops selling local fashion and crafts. The local zoo is a good place to see native wildlife like kiwis, wetas or tuataras. (If you're lucky, you'll see them in the wild down south, but they're rather more reliable in captivity).

If you have transport, you could drive about half an hour north and visit the pukekos on Kapiti Island. You could also take a day trip to Martinborough, a boutiquey winegrowing area that Wellingtonians like to escape to. I hear they make great chocolate there these days.

And yeah, try not to pin your hopes on the weather. You will have a horrible trip if you arrive with the attitude that the only nice day is a sunny one.
posted by embrangled at 4:43 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wellingtonian here - the city doesn't really do tourism and we'd prefer it was kept that way :) The Interisland ferry is that way, hurry up don't miss your boat.
posted by dydecker at 4:44 AM on March 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to all for the advice. I think I'll head straight for the ferry when I arrive, and per embrangled's suggestion try to ensure that I'm around Wellington for the Saturday before I leave. I'm overwhelmed with the number of great things to do on the South Island while I'm there (I think I'll travel on the Magic Bus for ease of transport), so I'll see how much time is left over for Wellington at the end, once I've had my fill of caving, glacier hikes, regular hikes, horseback riding, kayaking, etc. Seems like you kiwis have yourselves and awesome little country.
posted by Dasein at 7:55 AM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dasein, sensible stuff. After your trip down south Wellington is a nice place to have dinner/go out on the town/do civilisation. I'd rather be in Welly than Queenstown on a Saturday night :0
posted by dydecker at 8:09 AM on March 18, 2009

A timely blog from someone who is not me on coming back.

Botanic gardens are also worth a visit - the Rose Garden is very pleasant when in bloom.
posted by rodgerd at 2:54 PM on March 18, 2009

Thanks for the link, Rodger.

It kinda hints at he feeling of expectation of heading down Nguaranga Gorge and that vista of Wgtn suddenly opening up in front of you. I think it's an amazing sight, especially at night if you've traveled down the North Island and it's been farms all the way.

NZ is more than than just farms and scenery.

I once hitchhiked down with some loud, brash students who had come down from Hamilton to study at Vic. They were all braggagio and faux-cynicism, but when after the vista opened up they went silent and stayed that way all the way into the city.

It's a romantic view, as powerful an entrance as any city in the world.
posted by dydecker at 6:31 PM on March 18, 2009

It's a romantic view, as powerful an entrance as any city in the world.

I studied at Vic for a year, and after my first trip home I came back on the bus. Rounding that beand and seeing the harbour hit me hard; home was not home anymore - Wellington was home.
posted by rodgerd at 11:12 PM on March 18, 2009

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