The coolest capital city


The coolest capital city

Whether or not you pay much attention to Lonely Planet’s labeling as “one of the coolest little capitals in the World” the fact is that Wellington does have a lot going for it. It’s a pretty harbour city with a thriving cultural scene and a compact downtown area that’s easy to explore, filled with boutique eateries, cafes and markets. And yes, it also happens to be the capital of New Zealand.

Wellington region marker

But for many New Zealand visitors, Wellington is simply a place they pass through on their way to or from the South Island as they catch the ferry. It’s a shame but when you have limited time and are keen to see some of the big attractions like Aoraki/Mount Cook and the West Coast glaciers, we do understand.

Even if you aren’t visiting Wellington specifically, you should still take the time to stroll along the waterfront and have an ice cream in Oriental Bay. Along the way you should definitely stop in at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa with its many interactive displays.

So what does Wellington have on offer for outdoor adventurers? As you would expect, there are many scenic walks in an around the city. But if you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, you really want to head out of the city. Across Wellington Harbour to the east is Rimutaka Forest Park and to the north is Tararua Forest Park. These parks offer a range of tracks for adventurers of all levels.

Here are approximate travel times and distances to and from Wellington.

Drive times

  • Auckland to Wellington: 650 km / 404 miles – 8 hours 30 minutes
  • Taupo to Wellington: 370 km / 230 miles – 5 hours
  • New Plymouth to Wellington: 350 km / 217 miles – 4 hours 45 minutes
  • Napier to Wellington: 320 km / 199 miles – 4 hours 15 minutes
  • Wellington to Martinborough: 80 km / 50 miles – 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Wellington to Paraparaumu (for Kapiti Island): 50 km / 31 miles – 45 minutes

Travel times can vary significantly, particularly in popular areas during peak visitor months (December – February). For current travel times and updates on delays, roadworks and road closures, use the NZ Transport Agency journey planner before travelling. It’s always a good idea to allow extra time for photo stops and, when travelling longer distances, rest stops.

The Northern Explorer runs northbound from Wellington on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday departing at 7:55 am and arriving in Auckland at 6:50pm. The southbound from Auckland to Wellington runs on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

A regular commuter train service runs between Wellington and Masterton, stopping at Featherston and Carterton.

Wellington International Airport is approximately 20 – 30 minutes drive from the city centre by car/taxi/shuttle. There is no passenger rail link to the airport.

  • Auckland (AKL) to Wellington (WLG): 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Christchurch (CHC) to Wellington (WLG): 50 minutes
  • Queenstown (ZQN) to Wellington (WLG): 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Dunedin (DUD) to Wellington (WLG): 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Palmerston North (PMR) to Wellington (WLG): 35 minutes
  • Taupo (TUO) to Wellington (WLG): 60 minutes

A number of international airlines including Qantas, and Singapore Airlines fly into Wellington via Australia.

Wellington city centre is only about 2 km / 1.2 miles in diameter which means you can walk from one side to another in under 20 minutes. The rest of the city is covered by a reliable public transport system of buses, overland trains and ferries. Details on the routes and timetables are available on the Metlink website.

If there’s one word that most kiwis use to describe Wellington that would be ‘windy’. Located on the eastern side of the Cook Strait between the North and South Islands, Wellington bears the brunt of the prevailing westerlies as they funnel through the strait. And if it’s not the westerlies and north-westerlies blowing it’s the chill southerlies from the Southern Ocean.

All of that said, when the weather is good in Wellington, it’s really good and everyone makes the most of it. Fortunately, Wellington is also quite sunny, receiving more than 2,000 hours of sunshine a year.

Moderated by the surrounding ocean, summers (December – February) are mild and pleasant without too much humidity. The average summer high is 20 °C / 68 °F and the average low is 13 °C / 55 °F. Summers stretch into autumn with calm clear days and mild temperatures. Sounds like a good time to visit right?

Winter (June – August) tends to be wet but temperatures remain mild with an average high of 11.5 °C / 53 °F and an average low of 6.5 °C / 44 °F. That is of course unless the winter southerly is blowing in which case it’s time to pull out the woolies. It starts to warm up in spring but those northerly ‘breezes’ make an appearance again.

Check current conditions and get the latest Wellington weather forecasts on MetService.com.

While there’s not much you can do about the weather once you’re here, it’s worth knowing what to expect at different times of the year and in different parts of the country. These two articles are well worth reading:

Top things to do in Wellington

Looking for ideas to help you plan the ultimate New Zealand outdoor adventure? Here are some of the top things for active travellers to see and do in the Wellington region.

Explore Remutaka (Rimutaka) Forest Park

Filled with native birdlife, the 22,000 ha Remutaka Forest Park covers much of the Remutaka Range, the most southerly in a series a mountain ranges that run up the entire North Island. There are a number of half day and full day hikes in this park including a track to the summit of Mt Matthews, the tallest peak in the range. Most of these tracks require a good level of fitness and experience. If you’re looking for shorter, easier walks, Tararua Forest Park would be a better option.

Rimutaka Forest Park

Explore Tararua Forest Park

At 116,535 ha, Tararua Forest Park is the largest conservation park in the North Island managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC). There are 20 walking tracks, ranging from short walks of less than an hour to day hikes as well as 4 multi-day treks.

Tararua Range

Visit Kapiti Island

Located approximately 5 km / 3 miles off the coast north of Wellington, Kapiti Island is a predator free bird sanctuary. Access is limited to approved tour operators. For a unique eco experience and a chance to see endangered birds like Little Spotted Kiwi, Takahe and Kaka you can book a day trip with Kapiti Island Eco Experience. Alternatively, you can stay overnight in a lodge with Kapiti Island Nature Tours.

Kapiti Island

Ride the Remutaka (Rimutaka) Cycle Trail

This 114 km / 71 mile trail is officially recognised as one of New Zealand’s Great Rides. Starting in Petone, approximately 10 km / 6 miles north of Wellington, there are four sections, each offering a distinctive experience from urban to forested mountains to lake shore and finally rugged coastline. Depending on your fitness and the time you have available, you can choose to cycle the trail over one, two or three days. All the details you need are on the Wellington website.

Rimutaka Cycle Trail