Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and the third most populous urban area in the country. While everyone talks about Auckland (which, contrary to popular belief, is not the capital), the real magic takes place in Wellington. The architecture and eclectic vibe give this city a great personality that should not be missed.This is a city with character. There’s incredible nightlife, restaurants, art exhibits, museums, activities, and a beautiful harbor. This guide will help you get the most out of your stay.
Hostel prices – Dorm rooms range from 20-35 NZD per night, while private rooms begin around 50 NZD per night (expect to pay closer to 80 NZD for a double). Both free WiFi and kitchen access are standard. For those traveling with a tent, there are campgrounds outside of the city. Prices start at 13 NZD per night for a basic plot without electricity.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels cost between 80-140 NZD per night for a double room. Free WiFi is standard, and many budget hotels also offer access to kitchen facilities. Free breakfast is almost never included. Airbnb is available in the city, with shared accommodation prices starting around 40 NZD per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 80 NZD per night.
Average cost of food – A typical restaurant meal with cost you about 25 NZD, while a nice restaurant will cost between 40-50 NZD. Fortunately, you can find sandwiches around for 8 NZD and fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King costs between 9-12 NZD. There are also lots of cheap Asian restaurants with dishes for around 10 NZD. If you choose to cook your own food, plan to spend about 65-85 NZD per week.
Transportation cost – The system, called Metlink, is comprised of an interlinked network of buses, trolleys, cable cars, trains, and ferries. Costs vary depending on type of system and distance of travel. A day pass is available which allows unlimited travel on the Metlink. It costs 21 NZD. Bus and train-specific passes are also available, costing 9.50 NZD and 14 NZD respectively. Bike rentals are available in the city, but they are far from cheap. Expect full-day rentals to cost around 70 NZD per bike.
Suggested daily budget – 70 NZD / $50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking some of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect your actual budget to be higher!)
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Money Saving Tips
- Eat cheap Asian food – The city has a lot of great Asian food to satisfy the large student population so you can get a filling meal on the cheap.
- Cook your own food – If you down want to blow your budget on eating out try cooking your own food — you’ll save a ton of money!
- Stay with a local – While there are not a ton of Couchsurfing hosts available in the country, Wellington is one of the few places you should be able to find a host without too much trouble. Just be sure to send your request early as there will be a lot of competition during the summer.
- Take a free walking tour – Tours from companies like WellyWalks are a great way to explore the city while learning about its history, architecture, and culture. Best of all, it’s free (just be sure to tip!)
Top Things to See and Do in Wellington
- Visit the National Archives – Many of New Zealand’s most important documents are held in the National Archives. These include the original Treaty of Waitangi and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition. If you are into history, this is a good place to go. Guided tours are also available.
- Hop on the Wellington Cable Car – This icon runs from Lambton Quay to Kelburn. At the top in Kelburn, there’s a lookout, the Cable Car Museum, and Carter Observatory (a virtual voyage to the stars). Journey back down through the lush Botanic Garden.
- Tour the Beehive and Parliament House – The Beehive (a government building) and the adjoining Parliament House are a short walk from the train station. Although parts of these buildings are usually closed to the public, it is possible to take a free, guided tour. It’s a very beautiful building and you can even look down at parliament.
- See Old St Paul’s – This old cathedral is an excellent example of colonial Gothic architecture and was built from native timbers.
- Walk around the waterfront near Oriental Bay – The waterfront is a walkable public space with cafes, parks, sculpture, bars and ice cream vendors. Lots of people enjoy walking, jogging, skating, cycling, or crocodile biking. There are a few markets open on the weekend, then relax and swim at Oriental Bay. This is a great, free way to spend a day in Wellington.
- Visit Wellington Zoo – New Zealand’s oldest zoo has a large range of African, Asian, and native wildlife. Admission is 23 NZD for adults, and there are discounts available for seniors, students, children, and families.
- Check out Te Papa – The national museum is huge, covers Maori and Colonial history, is great for kids, and has an extensive section on the geology of New Zealand. The exhibits about the biological, cultural, and social history sections fo the museum are innovative and interactive. Best of all? It’s free.
- Learn about maritime history at the Museum of Wellington City – A free museum chronicling the history of Wellington. It’s great for people who have an interest in maritime history. Admission is free, and guided tours are available for 2 NZD per person.
- Head to the lookout points – Wellington City is surrounded by hills, so there are a number of good vantage points. Head up to one of them by bike, bus, or cable car and get a stellar view of the surrounding hills.
- Look cool on Cuba Street – Come to Cuba Street to watch the hipsters, artists, and vintage-styled dressers. Cuba Street has a bohemian vibe with lots of colorful shops, bars, and cafes. Street entertainers play guitar, put on funky marionette shows, or do fire dances. Take a photo with Bucker Fountain.
- Relax in the Botanic Gardens – A nice place to go for a picnic or just an afternoon walk. You can take the Cable Car from Lambton Quay for a quick five-minute trip to the top though you can walk up to the gardens. They are filled with great views, colorful flowers, lawns to hang out in, and pretty much everything you need to have a great day outside. Entry is free.
- Wrights Hill Fortress – This circular artillery embankment was built in the early 1940s, and is made up of long underground tunnels which were actually used to create the sound of the dwarven mines of Middle Earth. Completed in the final years of World War II, the fort was meant to house three gun (although only two were ever installed). Although the base never saw any action during the war, both of the guns were fired in the years following. Today the fortress has been restored and officially named a historic landmark. TV shows and movie scenes are often shot here, even in the Fellowship of the Ring. On certain holidays the 2,000 some feet of tunnels are opened to visitors.
- See the Carter Observatory – Near the top of the Botanic Gardens, you’ll find this full-dome planetarium. Head out in the evening for some stargazing or pop in during the day for various shows on the cosmos. There are some exhibits to look at, as well as a neat gift shop. Admission is 12.50 NZD for adults, with discounts available for seniors, students, and children.
- Watch movies at the New Zealand Film Archive – First established in 1981, this library is home to over 30,000 movies, any of which, can be seen free of charge on a big-screen! There is an interesting gallery to check out too, as well a small café. Film screenings are usually 5-10 NZD per person, though some are also free.
- See the wildlife at Zealandia – This is a wildlife sanctuary that can be found just west of Wellington. There are several native birds living here, including the kiwi, hihi, saddleback, and more. This project is looking to return a 225-hectare section of bush to how it was before humankind came along. Take a walk and hear the songs of the flourishing native bird populationThis is a great place to walk around freely, but there are guided tours offered as well. When you’re done outside, check out the exhibition center. Admission is 18.50 for adults, with discounts available for seniors, students, and children.
- See the Sevens – This is an annual rugby tournament held in the Wellington’s Westpac stadium every February. Drawing crowds of over 30,000 people, this event is always really fun and many people that attend do so in costume.