Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, and the administrative centre of Wellington region, located on the south part of the North Island between Cook Strait and the Remutaka Range.

30 Apr 20 · 3 mins read

Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, and the administrative centre of Wellington region, located on the south part of the North Island between Cook Strait and the Remutaka Range. Even though the country has no written constitution so its capital status is not defined in legislation, the city replaced Auckland as New Zealand’s capital in 1865 due to its convenient location and proximity to the South Island and the Cook Strait, and the harbour being big enough to fit the Royal Navy. The Interislander ferry crosses from Wellington to Picton through the Cook Strait and Marlborough Sound since 1962, and the journey takes approximately 3-3.5 hours. It is also the southernmost capital city of sovereign state in the world. The city also has the nickname of Windy Wellington, because the topography of the area leaves it vulnerable to strong winds all year round. In fact, it is the windiest city in the world with an annual average around 29.6km/hr. Wellington used to be second largest city of the country, however, after a change in statistic methods, Wellington was split into four urban areas: Wellington City, Lower Hutt, Porirua and Upper Hutt. Lower and Upper Hutt also known together as Hutt Valley. The combined population of these four areas is around 420 000 people.

Both the New Zealand tour and the North Island tour of Odyssey Traveller includes a tour of Wellington. We usually spend a day or two here exploring the city with the help of knowledgeable local tour guide . These small group tours typically have 6 to 12 participants and are offered to senior or mature travellers who prefer being around like-minded people, keen to learn and go off the beaten track to discover hidden gems. If you’re interested in these tours, click through the above links to see the full itinerary. You can also check out our New Zealand country profile for further information.

History of Wellington

According to legends, Kupe, a Maori explorer discovered the area as early as the 10th century and Maori seasonally inhabited it, but there is no actual hard evidence on human activity before 1280. Another Maori explorer, Whatonga named the harbour Te Whanganui-a-Tara after his son and the name is still in use for Wellington Harbour. At the time of signing the Treaty of Waitangi, several iwi (tribe) fought each other for occupying the area. These iwi had contacts with Pākehā (European) traders and whalers, and the European settlement is dated from 1839 with the arrival of colonel William Wakefield. The city was named by the first settlers after Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington. Less than a year after the arrival of the settlers, Wellington was declared a city in 1840 and became the capital by constitutional convention in 1865. To date, Wellington is the center of the major government institutions: the parliament, the supreme court, Governor-General’s residence, the Government House and the Premier House (residence of the Prime Minister).

The economy of the city benefits from domestic tourism, as Wellington is constantly named as the favourite destination of New Zealanders. Building on Wellington’s charm and being named the coolest little capital in the world by Lonely Planet, the number of guest nights in the city is steadily increasing, thanks to the many museums, cultural institutions, the cafe and restaurant culture, and attractions and landmarks such as Mount Victoria, the stunning harbour, the botanic garden, the cable car and more.

war memorial
National War Memorial, Wellington. The largest of over 500 war memorials across the country celebrating the many New Zealanders who gave their lives.

Te Papa Museum

Officially known as Te Papa Tongarewa, the New Zealand National Museum opened its gates in 1998 on the harbour waterfront in downtown Wellington. The literal translation of the Maori name is ‘Container of Treasures’, and the museum was established with the aim of exploring the national identity, history and culture of New Zealand. The six floors of the spectacular building are filled with permanent and temporary exhibitions, most of which are free.

Mount Victoria

Standing at 196 metres and within 20 minutes from central Wellington, Mount Victoria is a popular hiking spot thanks to its breathtaking views and great walking tracks. The Maori name of the hill is Tangi Te Keo or Matairangi. The latter means ‘to examine the sky’ which is fitting as the Mount Victoria lookout offers spectacular views of the city, the harbour and the hills across the harbour, especially during sunrise or sunset. Walk to the top, take a picnic lunch and enjoy the view!

Lambton Quay

Wellington, New Zealand

Lambton Quay is the heart of Wellington CBD, and this was the place where the first settlers began to construct their homes. It is definitely and area worth visiting, as the northern end is the home of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings. The legendary Wellington Cable Car, the only still operational funicular railway of New Zealand runs between the main shopping street and the Wellington Botanic Garden, taking passengers up to the hill in about 5 minutes.

Oriental Bay

Aerial view of Wellington’s Oriental Bay, Boat Harbour and Mount Victoria in background

Oriental Bay is famous for its beach and the Carter Fountain near the CBD of New Zealand’s capital city. Some of the walks from Mount Victoria end in Oriental Bay, so you can combine these two attractions into a great day.

Weta Workshop

Weta Workshop is a magical place and not only for film lovers. As they craft physical effects for some of the most famous movies and series, such as The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and many more, any art lover can marvel at the ideas going into each prop and costume and the precision needed to make them. You can immerse yourself in this behind the scenes magic in the Weta cave. Visit on a short or full day guided tour, the experience is definitely not to be missed!

Related Tours

New Zealand Maori carvings

17 days

Oct, Feb, Apr, Sep, Mar

New Zealand: An Odyssey Down Under


A guided small group tour of both the North island and the South island. Your travel itinerary includes Auckland, Rotorua, Milford Sound, Queenstown and Christchurch. Maori culture also forms part of the journey to provide a memorable New Zealand tour experience.

From A$12,595 AUD

View Tour

14 days

Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Feb +1

Small group tour of New Zealand's North Island


Escorted 13 day small group tour of the East coast of New Zealand’s North island. Off the beaten track, for like minded people curious about history, culture, wine and landscapes. Your tour director and local guides share their knowledge with you the traveller on this New Zealand tour for senior travellers.

From A$11,495 AUD

View Tour

Join 22,383 like-minded travellers receiving our weekly newsletter.

Special offers and promotions
A$350 AUD first trip travel voucher
The latest tours and articles