Wellington is our kind of city. It’s big enough, but not too big. It’s a thriving city, but surrounded in nature. The people are friendly and the craft beer scene is sensational. What Wellington – and all of New Zealand for that matter – is not, however, is a budget destination. The steep prices for accommodations, meals and public transportation add up in hurry. No worries (or she’ll be right, as Kiwis would say), once in the city, there is plenty of entertainment that doesn’t cost a dime. In fact, these 6 free things to do in Wellington, New Zealand were some of the highlights of our trip.
Some cities are more comfortable than others; Wellington was as comfy as my favorite hoodie and a pair of well-worn jeans.
Within such a short time we felt at ease, like we were at home instead of just staying somewhere. We didn’t feel like tourists in Wellington, New Zealand. By the second or third day, we no longer needed maps or train schedules – we just knew, like locals know.
And, although we did what every first-timer to this city should do: The trolley, Mount Victoria, the Red Rocks Coastal Walk to the seal colony, and the Te Papa museum, locals were doing them, too. Residents use the trolley to get home, joggers get a workout on the paths to the top of Mount Victoria, local families spend the day walking the shoreline to the seal colony and everyone’s been to the Te Papa Museum. We weren’t just awkward tourists getting in the way.
On our last full day in Wellington we wanted to roam the city. We no longer needed to look at a map, we knew our way around. We didn’t, however, know where we were going. It was a Sunday and rainstorms were threatening, so things were a little quieter than we’d seen them during the week. Where we did find people was at the Sunday Market and Te Papa Museum in Wellington.
We walked down our favorite city streets, past a few of our favorite places to grab a pint of craft beer and made our way to the waterfront. Apparently, Wellington wasn’t done surprising us as we came upon a large outdoor produce and food truck market, the Harborside Market, full of locals. Since it was our last day in town, we didn’t really have a need for any veggies or fruit, but I love markets so just walking around looking at the local produce put a smile on my face.
As if there isn’t enough to love about Wellington, we’ve got one more reason: It’s the craft beer capital of New Zealand. We are not seeking out these little beer meccas, luck would just have us landing smack in the middle of them. Long before learning about the craft beer in Wellington, New Zealand, we had made comparisons between Wellington and Portland, Oregon. Both feature the beauty of nature, clean cities and locals who would rather be outside than in, love their beer and their planet. But, while Portland insists on ‘Keeping it Weird,’ Wellington is insisting on ‘Keeping it Beered.’
I have absolutely fallen in love with Wellington, New Zealand. The water and coastlines are beautiful, the green spaces and lookouts are amazing and we’ve lucked out with the winter weather being mostly sunny, blue skies with just a bit of wind.
The city itself is a bustling, cheerful place. The lively harbor attracts visitors and locals alike; a backpacker eats lunch on a bench next to a man in a suit on his phone while kids play on the jungle gym behind them. The main arteries of the city are lined with an endless variety of restaurants, shops and generally happy people. Of course, with a city this fantastic what is there to be unhappy about?
There are two things for certain that can be said about our travels: We like to be close to water and we like stunning views. Wellington is most definitely ticking both of these boxes, proven with a trip to the top of Mount Victoria. Sitting at the eastern edge of the city at 196 meters (643 feet) high, Mount Victoria in Wellington has jaw-dropping 360 degree views of the city, bay, airport, Cook Strait and beyond.
We were lacking the enthusiasm to climb Mount Victoria in Wellington from Oriental Bay and instead took the convenient #20 city bus from the main station up the winding road to the top of the mountain. The two official lookout points provide some information about the city’s history, but it was difficult to pay attention as my eyes kept lifting to the impressive scenery.
While there is so much to see in Wellington, perspective is everything. A little elevation gain changes how we saw the city. While Mount Victoria is a popular viewpoint, the views from the top of the Wellington Cable Car and city Botanic Gardens are are also impressive.
The Wellington Cable Car takes riders up the side of the mountain for views of the entire city. The entrance to the cable car can be a bit tricky to find; it’s hidden down an alley off Lambton Quay. Once we were on the correct street, however, it was easy to locate the cable car sign. We bought our tickets and grabbed a seat on the waiting trolley. Just a short ride to the top, we headed to Kelburn Lookout for the incredible city and harbor views.
I’ve been completely captivated by the city of Wellington, whether we are strolling along the harbor, sipping beer at a brewery or seeing the stunning scenery nearly everywhere we look. But in addition to the spectacular city life, scenic shorelines are just a bus ride away in South Wellington. We set out to explore the coastline from Island Bay to the Seal Colony at Sinclair Head, where it was promised we would see a plethora of seals.
The half hour bus ride out of the city dropped us off at Shorland Park, a gathering spot for young families and teenagers just across the street from the beach. The dramatic coastline had us gawking, layers of land appearing on the horizon. In the distance, across Cook’s Strait, we could see snowcapped mountains on the South Island. We started our trek to the Seal Colony at Sinclair Head cpativated by the scenery.
It’s been two months and five days since we’ve started our journey around the world and today we’ve arrived at our first major holiday spent abroad. This year, we’ll be celebrating Fourth of July in a foreign country. To be honest, as much as we love to trael, today we are missing our homeland a little bit. I’m a sucker for traditions, but celebrating an American holiday on foreign land presents a challenge. But, hey, getting signatures on the Declaration of Independence wasn’t easy either – pulling together a celebration for the US of A’s 238th birthday, even if it is just the two of us, was a must.
We didn’t have any concrete plans for our day trip to Devonport, New Zealand – just a walk around town and up to the fort was all that was on our agenda. Honestly, we were most excited about the 12 minute ferry ride there and back – what we saw in Devonport was just a bonus.
Day trip to Devonport, New Zealand: Ferry from Auckland
On the ferry to Devonport, we sat on the back of the boat to watch the Auckland skyline take shape as we sailed away. Once docked in Devonport, we strolled along the waterfront on King Edward Parade toward North Head, an old military base. With our late start and temporary sunny skies, we bypassed the free Torpedo Bay Navy Museum and headed straight up the hill.