Lissie has been travelling off and on for over 30 years.Not old enough to settle down and grow up yet, she seems to have the travel addiction. ...Find out more!
New Zealand is no longer the travel bargain it was a few years ago. But there are plenty of things to do for free - even in the capital city, Wellington.
Hard to miss, this futuristic modern building is a good place to start, particularly if Wellington's fickle weather is not playing fair. The engineers will enjoy the display (near the main entrance) of the clever technology which makes Te Papa one of Wellington's safest buildings in an earthquake. Inside there are many interactive and audio-visual displays which explain the development of New Zealand's geography, plants, animals and people. New Zealand doesn't have the artistic heritage of the great museums of Europe and the US, so don't expect a lot of 'Great Art' here. However, if you want to be informed and entertained, this is a fascinating and interesting museum, and well worth a half day.
There are special exhibitions from time-to-time which have an entry charge, but all main exhibits are free. There is also a reasonably priced cafe and an expensive museum shop.
Open everyday of the year 10am - 6pm (9pm Thursday) - yes, this is probably the only attraction open on Christmas Day in Wellington! More information on Te Papa here.
Wellington's waterfront used to be a fenced-off area of decaying port buildings, which prevented tourists and locals alike from getting to, or even seeing the sea. Although it's still partly a busy port - and one you will see close up if you leave or arrive via the Cook Strait ferry - there is also a lot of pedestrian friendly space where you can walk and explore several kilometres from the Railway Station to Te Papa, and then on around Oriental Bay. People watching, cafes, bars, unusual sculptures, a children's play area and a boating lagoon are found along the way.
If you can't be bothered walking and are prepared to pay something, then there are plenty of other options including mountain bikes, kayaks and paddle boats for hire, as well as self-drive cycle-rickshaws which seem to have migrated from Thailand.
Queens Wharf features some great examples of re-cycled buildings in the waterfront area, the entire complex which now houses One Red Dog pizzeria (recommended), was relocated from around near the airport. Shed 5 and Dockside (both very upmarket restaurants) are housed in old wharf buildings. The Museum of the City and Sea (free and recommended for Wellington history and holograms) was the original Bond Store.
Continuing on towards Te Papa, you will see the historic Star Boating Club next to the boating lagoon, and the contemporary Wharenui building which includes a Waka (Maori canoe) and rather nice cafe.
Nearer Te Papa, on a fine day, you'll see crowds enjoying the beer and sunshine at St John's Bar (formerly an ambulance station) and Mac's Brew Bar (another old shed). The old steam crane hasn't yet turned into a coffee shop, but give it time.
On the weekend it's hard to miss the city market which sets up in the car park adjacent to Te Papa. Good spot for lunch, or buying fresh fish and produce for dinner.
Carrying on to Oriental Parade will take you past the yacht marina and onto one of Wellington's most exclusive addresses - Oriental Parade. It's easy to see why. The sand may be shipped in from Nelson, but it's a pretty spot and fairly sheltered for swimming (by Wellington standards, this is not the tropics).
The Museum of Wellington City and Sea is open every day except Christmas day 10am - 5pm.
Barely 5km from the CBD this 100ha valley of native bush is seriously under-rated by residents and visitors alike. Zealandia has the profile - but Otari actually has 800-year-old Rimus and other ancient native trees. And it's free.
There is a formal native botanical garden area which adjoins the BBQ area with (free) electric BBQs. There are also a number of longer trails around the valley - some of which connect via a steep walk to the skyline walkway. You could walk all the way to the south coast if you had a day or so, and were fairly fit. Most people could easily spend half a day exploring Otari. For the fitter, connect to the skyline and walk north to Johnsonville - where you can return to the city via commuter train or bus.
Take the regular #14 Wilton bus from Lambton Quay, open daily sunrise to sunset. More information on Otari-Wilton's Bush here.