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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.
6 Free Things To Do in Wellington, New Zealand
Take in the views from Mount Victoria
To the east of the city, standing at 196 meters tall, is Mount Victoria. The 360-degree view from the top encompasses the city, bay, airport, Cook Strait and beyond. There are two lookout points at the top; one reached by a set of stairs, which provides spectacular, all-around views and a second lookout to the south that faces the bay in a more tranquil setting. To make an afternoon of it, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a meal with the best view in town. The 100% free of charge experience includes a workout with a strenuous hike up from the city. There is, however, a parking lot at the top – or consider taking the #20 bus from the city center.
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.
The highest lookout point on Mt. Vic delivered as promised: 360 degree views of Wellington, a sparkling city cloaked in green spaces and surrounded by water. We spent a bit of time in the spherical perch, circling around to take in the sights from different angles. Tourists gawked, residents showed off their city to visiting friends, college students plopped on the ground and ate lunch and joggers reached the top just to turn around and head back down.
The second lookout point on Mount Victoria in Wellington had us looking at less city and more bay. As a bonus, it provided views of the flight path. Planes would appear out of the clouds, descending toward the airport and passing by below us just before landing. This quieter spot with sun drenched benches was perfect for our picnic lunch and just the place to lazy away the day.
Visit the Te Papa Museum
The multi-storied, interactive Te Papa Museum is a feast for the senses! From the history of the world to the history of New Zealand, the Te Papa Museum covers it all. With numerous engaging exhibits, we could have easily spent an entire day in the museum (and we’re not museum people!).
It was almost sensory overload with endless interactive exhibits that were fun for kids and adults alike. It included everything from the history of the world, to the history of the Maori (New Zealand natives) to the history of the country of New Zealand and events that shaped it. I was most intrigued by the ‘shake shack’ that simulates the sensation of being jostled about by an earthquake.
What makes it even better is that the Te Papa Museum is open 365 days a year from 10am – 6pm daily…and is always free.
Walk the Red Rocks Coastal Trail to see the Seal Colony
What’s better than stunning landscapes and seeing seals in their natural habitat? Doing it for free! The Red Rocks Coastal Trail to the Seal Colony at Sinclair Head offers just that opportunity. The flat path hugs the coastline presenting incredible vistas along the way. The 6.5km walk ends at Sinclair Head where hundreds of fur seals sun themselves on the rocks.
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 snow-capped mountains on the South Island. We started our trek to the Seal Colony at Sinclair Head captivated by the scenery.
Following the Esplanade led us to Owhiro Bay where we saw water as teal and clear as the water of French Polynesia. As we moved along each nook the scenery around us shifted like a kaleidoscope; pieces of land, sea and sky seemingly being rearranged to create yet another magnificent view.
We finally arrived at the beginning of Red Rocks Coastal Walk that would lead us to the Seal Colony at Sinclair Head. Nestled between the water and the cliffs, the 4km trail is comprised of sand, gravel, rock and mud and includes a few small water crossings. It is nothing short of gorgeous. The further we walked, the windier it got and when we reached Sinclair Head, it was howling.
Braving the wind, we walked through the pass (seriously, I had to hold on to rocks or I would have blown back down the hill!) onto the sunny side of the point. We were greeted to hundreds of seals, barely moving and not making a sound, just soaking up the sunshine in their natural habitat. We weren’t held behind a fence. We just used common sense to keep the distance and marvel at the sight.
Spend an afternoon in the Botanic Gardens
For a dose of nature that is in the city, head to the Wellington Botanic Gardens. A trail leads from the city center to the gardens (or splurge and take the Wellington Cable Car). Paths wind through 60 acres of trees, plants and flowers. Lookout points offer sweeping views of the city. Seasonal displays and attractions can be found throughout the park. The public gardens are open from dawn until dusk and are free to everyone to enjoy.
Stroll Wellington Harbor
For yet another vantage point of the city, stroll the harbor from Queens Wharf along the Wellington Waterfront Walk and continue on to Oriental Bay. Watching the sunlight sparkle on the water during the day or the city light up at night is definitely one of the best free Wellington sights!
Browse the Harbourside Market
Looking for something to do on Sunday? Head to the Harbourside Market, the oldest market in Wellington. Browse the stalls offering just-picked produce and locally-made products. Get tempted by the prepared cuisine (believe me, it’s hard to resist!). In the summer, stick around for free performances by local bands for one of the best weekend activities in Wellington!
Before You Go:
Where To Stay
During our visit to Wellington, we stayed in an Airbnb Apartment. However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center.
Also visiting Auckland? See the best Auckland sights with our One Day Itinerary!
Our top tips for your trip
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- It’s easy to get turned around or lost in any new city! Be sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook prior to arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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