New Zealand is famous for its mountainous landscape, aqua blue lakes and endless awe-inspiring hikes. What New Zealand isn’t famous for is its cities. Of course, we’ve all heard of Wellington and Christchurch but that’s not really why we visit New Zealand. That said it doesn’t mean that the cities aren’t worth checking out and just one day in Wellington is plenty of time to enjoy most of what this city has to offer. If you can spare 48 hours for Wellington in your north island itinerary then even better!
After living in Wellington for some time we’ve got to know this quirky little capital and some even describe it as the ‘San Francisco’ of New Zealand. Having indulged myself in San Francisco on a few occasions I’m sure I quite agree but it’s certainly has a chic urban character to it, so I get where the association has been made. Exploring this city is fun and involves a lot of food, coffee and picture-perfect harbour views. I could happily give you a one-week itinerary for Wellington but for now, let’s dig into how you should spend just one day in Wellington.
How to Spend One Day in Wellington
Most travellers glide through Wellington on their way south. The ferries that connect the north island to the south depart from Wellington, so some come for an afternoon beforehand and some literally just drive through. I recommend coming to Wellington at least the day before heading south, it is the capital city after-all.
Arrive in Wellington Early Morning
Freedom Campers – Park Up in Evans Bay Marina
In this post, I’m going to assume that you have a campervan, like the majority of travellers in New Zealand, and no that’s not a presumption it’s a fact. Arrive in Wellington early morning that way you get to really make the most of the one day you have in this city. There’s are a couple of places you can freedom in Wellington but since this itinerary is covering just one day in Wellington, I recommend Evans Bay Marina. Evans Bay Marina is a great freedom camping spot to camp for the night with clean water and pretty clean toilets. The only downside is that it gets busy really quickly. If you arrive after 2 pm then you’ve probably missed your chance at getting a spot.
Head straight to the campsite when you arrive and helpfully some early risers have already left to catch the ferry south. Park up at. Evans Bay Marina and expect to enjoy the rest of the day on feet if you’re able to. If not there are buses that frequently run from Evans Bay Marina into the city. The bus stop is literally just across the street.
First thing on the list is Mount Victoria lookout. Mount Victoria lookout boats some of the best views of the harbour and city in Wellington. I say some of because my favourite has to be Mount Kaukau but it would be a real challenge trying to fit that hike in with only one day in Wellington. Mount Victoria looks over the harbour is just idyllic especially on a clear day.
Leave Evans Bay Marina and walk through the village of Hataitai until you reach a small strip of shops. There’s a zebra crossing (black and white pedestrian crossing for anyone whose not familiar with that term) cross over to the left-hand side of the road and walk towards the public toilets. Here you’ll find the track that leads to Mount Victoria.
The hike up to the lookout is steep in parts and will take around 30-40 minutes depending on how fast you walk/in my case, how many times I stop for photographs. Be sure to keep looking back because the view over Evans Bay is wonderful. Keep following the track until you start seeing the purple pillars in the ground which then direct you via ‘lookout walkway’ or just follow the crowd. See walking directions from Evans Bay to Mount Victoria below!
Once you’re on the viewing platform any sweat will be rewarded with awe-inspiring views. The panoramic views of the city below are wonderful. In the distance, you can usually see the Tararua Mountain Range. There are two viewpoints from Mount Victoria so be sure to visit both and both offer a different perspective of the city. This is a pretty touristy area of Wellington but 100% worth a visit.
If you’re unable to walk then you can drive right to the top and park the car. There’s also a bus that runs from the city and Hataitai. From Hataitai its bus number 2 towards Karori and the city it’s bus number 2 towards Seatourn Park. My best advice when it comes to getting around Wellington is to use Google Maps – its the easiest way to see which direction to walk and which buses you need to catch and where from! Unless you’re still handing with a paper map – which I am not!
Tip – Mount Victoria is gorgeous at both sunset and sunrise so it’s up to you whether you go in the morning or evening. Either way, just make sure you climb it!
Walk Down the Other Side into the city via Oriental Bay
After getting a fix of fantastic views from Mount Victoria head into the City. Take the southern walkway from the top and follow it back down to Oriental Bay. Oriental Bay is where you’ll find a gorgeous, one of the most popular summer spots in Wellington. On a day when the sun shines bright, the ocean glistening aqua blue and it’s simply gorgeous. I recommend spending little time taking in the beachfront if the weather is on your side!
Brunch at Coene’s
After all that walking you’re probably hungry so why not pop into Coene’s bar and eatery for some brunch! It opens at 11 am and serves up one of the best brunches you’ll get in the city. It’s not just me who thinks so either – The trips advisors of the world also voted Coene’s the best breakfast/brunch spot in Wellingtons. But it’s not the only great spot.
Some other places for a great brunch are Victoria Street Cafe, they do 241 pancakes on a Monday and Tuesday! The Hangar on Dixon Street is also a great option serving up the best coffee in town! If you’ve followed Alicia Overseas here and on Instagram then you’ll know I’m not really a coffee drinker but at The Hangar, I will drink a coffee because it’s just gorgeous – so creamy!
Te Papa Museum
After enjoying a brunch I highly recommend visiting Te Papa Museum. Te Papa is the national history museum of New Zealand and you can learn so much about New Zealand history. Go back in time to when Moas roamed the land here in New Zealand in the wildlife exhibit or revel in war history. The war exhibition is well worth going to as well. This exhibition tells the story of New Zealand’s battles in the first world war and has some pretty impressive lifelike models that fill the whole room! Check out the official website before going to see what other exhibitions are taking place during your visit to Wellington.
Te Papa Museum is completely free to enter but you do have to pay for some of the temporary exhibitions on occasions. You’ll find everything you need like toilets and water inside. You could seriously walk around Te Papa Museum all day so scheduling a short amount of time during a short one day in Wellington will be tricky but just be disciplined with your time!
Walk Along the Harbour Front
Once you’ve spent some time in Te Papa its time to explore the Wellington waterfront. Walk around the harbour taking it all in. You’ll find old abandoned ships, the Solace in the Wind Statue, a love-lock bridge and plenty of culture along the waterfront. It’s a favourite with locals and visitors alike. There’s plenty of cafes and restaurants along the waterfront to pop into as well.
One Day in Wellington – Afternoon
Visit the Parliament Buildings
Once reaching the end of the waterfront cross over the road at the New Zealand gallery and follow the signs for Parliament houses. The houses of Parliament in Wellington is architectural brilliance and definitely worth swinging by even if you’re not really bothered about politics. The Beehive is my favourite building in the city. It’s unique and full of life. If politics is your thing then you can take a tour inside for free.
Wellington Cable Car and Botanical Gardens
After visiting the Parliament Buildings walk down Lambton Quay which takes through the heart of the shopping district in Wellington. As you walk down the busiest street in Wellington remember to look up to see some gorgeous buildings. The Old Bank where you’ll now find shops and coffee is wonderful.
Walk until you get to Cable Car lane where you can catch the cable car up to the Botanical Gardens for some more epic views of the city and gorgeous gardens. I’ll admit that the cable car is a little pricey at $9 return but it’s a great way to get up to Botanical Gardens quickly otherwise it’s going o take about 30 minutes to walk from the city. If you have time then that’s great but probably unlikely with just one day in Wellington.
The Botanical Gardens are huge so have a look at the. Maps and enjoy whichever section you like the sound of best before getting the cable car back down to the city.
Visit Cuba Street
Cuba Street is where it’s all going on in the city. Imagine a street lined with cafes, bars, restaurants, shops Cuba Street is where it all goes on. You can simply take a walk down the street taking it all in or hop in and out of a few bars/cafes on your way. There are some great bookshops on Cuba Street one of my favourites being Pegasus Books as well as the iconic water fountain to enjoy just try not to get drenched as you walk past! After enjoying Cuba Street it’s probably going to be late afternoon, almost evening.
Evening in Wellington
There’s plenty to do on an evening in Wellington but mainly it consists of eating and drinking. Wellington is known for the foodie scene and people spend most weekends making their way around the newest eatery or checking out the beer in some of the breweries. Here are some of my favourite places to eat and drink in Wellington:
- Pizza from Tommy Millions on Courtnay Place $5 a slice!
- KC Cafe – Chinese on Courtnay Place, doesn’t look much from the outside but the food is to die for!
- Sweet Mama’s – American food that’s extra tasty! – Courtnay Place
- Apache – Vietnamese and Paris rolled into one! Located on Wakefield Street.
- Lulu’s for great cocktails and a more upmarket meal – Courtnay Place
- The Library – another great spot for cocktails on Courtnay Place
- ABV – Rooftop bar!
- Dirty Little Secret – another rooftop bar on Dixon Street.
- MACS Brewery on the harbour front – more a relaxed laid back vibe!
And there you have it! A one day in Wellington itinerary that gives you a chance to explore most of what this city has to offer. Of course, if you have the time there are plenty more places to explore inside and just outside of Wellington. There are so many suburbs worth visiting so if you can like I said before try and get at least 2 days in the capital city!
I hope that you enjoyed this post and if you did I would be so grateful if you could share it with your friends! Have you been to Wellington before? Let me know how you found the capital city of New Zealand in the comments below!