You could easily spend all day at Te Papa, New Zealand's marvelous national museum. Six floors of interactive exhibits and displays are housed in an enormous contemporary building showcasing New Zealand's treasures. The exhibits tell the story of the nation's past, present and future; highlights include a Maori meeting house, a giant squid and a house where you can step inside and experience a virtual earthquake. Don't miss a walk through the outdoor Bush City to get a look at New Zealand's native plants and geology.
For a spectacular overview of the city and harbor, ride the cable car from Lambton Quay (behind the downtown shops) up to the hilltop district of Kelburn. The cars move along a cable in the ground, not in the air. You can ride back down, or spend an hour or more strolling back to sea level through the Botanic Garden, including the gorgeous Lady Norwood Rose Garden. Allow extra time; it's farther than it looks, especially if you take a wrong turn. Fortunately, the signage is excellent, and you can catch a cab if you need one.
The Wellington Museum, located right on Queens Wharf, is devoted to the city's maritime and cultural history. Modern technology brings Maori legends to life while a short film relives the 1968 Cook Strait ferry tragedy.
If you're set on seeing New Zealand's unique native birds, then Zealandia is the place for you. The protected sanctuary houses a growing number of flightless wonders (with no predators, they have no need to fly away), many endangered since less friendly animals were introduced to the islands. The birds are protected by a revolutionary fence designed to keep out common mammalian predators including cats, possums and ferrets. This is a good place for strolling.
Get a behind-the-counter look at Wellington's trendy coffee, deli and gourmet market scene with Zest Food Tours. A guide takes you walking from shop to shop, sampling piccolo (espresso) coffee, artisan cheeses, warm-from-the-oven bread and flavored honeys.
City Gallery Wellington, located on Civic Square, showcases contemporary visual art in a series of visiting exhibitions. The Dowse Art Museum is a 15- to 20-minute drive out of town and focuses on craft art, including jewelry, sculpture and ceramics. The Pataka is another gallery within a short drive of Wellington, and is a great place to check out works from New Zealand, Maori and South Pacific artists.
A scenic drive over the mountains takes travelers to the Wairarapa wine-growing region, a trendy weekend getaway spot for Wellingtonians and a bit like California's Sonoma Valley. Stop in Featherston to see the restored Fell locomotive before visiting the historic village of Martinborough and then traveling on to the Te Kairanga winery for a tour and tasting.
The "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" movies have boosted New Zealand up the "must-see" travel charts for Middle-earth fans. Wellington, or "Wellywood," was the center of the filmmaking. Wellington Rover Tours offers half- and full-day tours to the filming sites of Rivendell, the gardens of Isengard and Helms Deep, among others.
- Go Stargazing on Mt. John
- Visit the Wildlife Capital
- Take a Food Tour in the Bush
- Drive the Surf Highway
- Experience Art in Queenstown
- Stay on a Working Farm
- Search for Kiwi Birds on Stewart Island
- Climb a Dormant Volcano in Auckland
- Experience Maori Life in Kaikoura
- Bike the Otago Central Rail Trail
- Go Behind the Scenes in Wellywood
- Swim with Rare Dolphins in Akaroa
- Uncover a Buried Village in Rotorua
Where to Stay in New Zealand: Lodging
Getting Around New Zealand: Transportation
Auckland City Guide
Wellington City Guide
25 Ways to Save in New Zealand