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Wellington City Area Guide

Beehive Parliament Building - © Edwin Hayward
Wellington, New Zealand's capital city, has shrugged off its old reputation as 'windy Wellington', the home of drab civil servants, and embraced life as the arts and cultural capital of the country, home of Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson.

The city is set on a dramatic landscape of steep bush-covered hills around a magnificent harbour and its position at the southern end of the North Island means it can be battered by strong winds from both the north and south, although locals will affirm in a back-handed compliment that nothing beats Wellington on a good day. The steep hilly terrain of Wellington makes orientation difficult, but head for the lookout at the top of Mount Victoria for the best overview, or take the cable car from Lambton Quay to the Botanical Gardens for views of the central city and harbour.

The city centre takes up the pocket handkerchief sized area of flat land alongside the harbour and is compact and easy to walk around. The shopping precinct centres on the two areas around Lambton Quay and Cuba Street, while cafes, wine bars, and restaurants are found in and around Courtenay Place, the scene of the Lord of the Rings parade before the 2003 world premier of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at the Embassy Theatre on Kent Terrace. At the corner of Courtenay Place and Cambridge Terrace check out the Tripod sculpture, Wellington's 6.5 metre high tribute to the film industry.

Wellington's official business of governing the country takes place in the distinctively modern Beehive on Bowen Street, which houses ministers' offices, and the older and more distinguished Parliament House and Parliamentary Library in Molesworth Street. Tours of parliament are free and depart daily, or visit the Backbencher Pub opposite Parliament House in Molesworth Street to see satirical puppets of politicians and to mix and mingle with Members of Parliament and parliamentary workers.

For a cultural tour, begin at Queens Wharf and check out the Museum of Wellington City and Sea and the gallery of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, then walk around the waterfront for beautiful views of the harbour. Cross the pedestrian City to Sea Bridge, which is lined with distinctive timber sculptures, to Civic Square, and look up at the silver globe sculpture, Ferns, suspended 14 metres above the square. The City Gallery and the Wellington Central Library, worth visiting for the Nikau Palm sculptures on its facade, are both in Civic Square. Do a return crossing of the City to Sea bridge and continue along the waterfront to the national museum, Te Papa, which has good permanent exhibitions on the geological forces which shape New Zealand, including earthquakes and volcanoes, and on Maori culture. Don't miss the colourful modern Marae (Maori meeting place) on Level 4. Continue walking around the waterfront to Oriental Parade and on to Oriental Bay, Wellington's artificially created inner city harbour beach. For a longer trip, take the car or bus out to the beautiful Scorching Bay beach and its Chocolate Fish Cafe - a favoured brunch spot for Lord of the Rings stars.

To explore the harbour by boat, hire a kayak from Fergs Kayaks at Queens Wharf, or take the ferry across the harbour to Matiu/Somes Island, now a wildlife reserve for native plants, birds, and reptiles. Or stay on the ferry for the complete trip across the harbour to the seaside suburb of Days Bay.

Wellington is a great place for hiking, especially if you don’t mind steep terrain. Explore the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, a safe haven for the kiwi and other endangered New Zealand birds, independently, or book a guided day or night tour.


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