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Wellington

te papa museum wellington Museum of New Zealand: 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 (a Maori meeting house and the entertaining Golden Days junk shop), present (a user-generated interactive exhibition called OurSpace) and future (special exhibits). Don't miss a walk through the outdoor Bush City to get a look at New Zealand's native plants and geology.

Cable Car View: 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 and 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.

Nautical Museum: The Museum of Wellington City & Sea, appropriately located right on Queens Wharf, is devoted to the city's maritime history. Modern technology brings Maori legends to life while a short film relives the 1968 Cook Strait ferry tragedy.

Native Wildlife: If you're set on seeing New Zealand's unique native birds, then Zealandia: The Karori Sanctuary Experience is the place. 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 both strolling and hiking.

Foodie Walking Tour: 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, flavored honeys and kiwi fruit.

Art Galleries: City Gallery Wellington, located on Civic Square, showcases innovative 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 the South Pacific artists.

Wine Country: 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 at Featherston to see the restored 1800's Fell locomotive before visiting the historic village of Martinborough, known for its boutique wineries. Then travel to Te Kairanga winery for a tour and tasting.

Middle Earth: The "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" movies have boosted New Zealand up the "must-see" travel charts. Wellington, or "Wellywood," was the center of the filmmaking. Wellington Rover Tours offers half- and full-day tours to the filming sites of the Rivendell River, the gardens of Isengard and Helms Deep, among others.
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