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Wellington

Cable Car (Courtesy of Amorfati.art/Shutterstock.com)

Wellington, New Zealand's cosmopolitan capital city, is located at the southern tip of the North Island and at the physical center of the country. You could say that all roads lead to Wellington -- as do all ferries cruising over from the South Island, about 60 miles away across Cook Strait.

According to Maori legend, the two main islands of New Zealand are actually the great canoe of Maui (the South Island) and the giant fish he caught (the North Island). Wellington harbor is the mouth of that huge fish. So where did the city's name come from? From Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and British Prime Minster from 1828 to 1830.

Though a geographic hub, Wellington is surprisingly compact -- it's nestled between the harbor and steep, forest-clad hills -- and wonderfully walkable. The revamped waterfront area leads from the cruise dock at the eastern edge of town to the must-see Te Papa museum in the west. A stroll along the quay is filled with surprises. There's a grassy playground for kids, large-scale sculptures and fun wooden walkways. Cross the street, and you'll have your choice of cafes and shops.

Foodies will love Wellington for its wide range of dining options (there are some 450 restaurants and counting). Note that coffee has recently replaced tea as the beverage of choice, and New Zealanders have their own lingo for coffee drinks -- flat white (not a cappuccino, but similar), short or long black (single or double espresso) and many more.

Photos: 13 Best New Zealand Experiences

--written by Ginger Dingus

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