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Wellington - New Zealand’s capital city - is also known as the nation’s arts and culture capital. Although not the largest city in New Zealand, Wellington is famed for its lively down town cafés, shopping, nightlife and entertainment venues, and a dramatic harbour setting.


View Wellington region maps   

Maps and local travel information for Wellington.

Creative Capital

Wellington, built on the edge of a deep harbour and steep surrounding hills, is New Zealand's 'creative capital'. The city is home to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and national treasures such as the original Treaty of Waitangi - New Zealand’s founding document.

Nature and wildlife experiences are a major draw-card for the Wellington region. Zealandia, only minutes from the central city, is a sanctuary for endangered native birds and other New Zealand wildlife.

On the 'Nature Coast' north of Wellington, Kapiti island is an internationally-famed nature reserve where visitors can mingle with rare native birds.


Wellington - fireworks over harbour
Wellington - fireworks over harbour

Māori Culture / History

Wellington’s earliest name is Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui or ‘the head of Maui's fish’ which refers to the story of how Aotearoa New Zealand was created.

According to Māori legend, the Polynesian navigator Maui hooked a giant fish that, when pulled to the surface, turned into the land form now known as the North Island.

Kupe - a legendary Polynesian explorer - is credited with discovering Wellington harbour around the 10th century. Kupe named several places on the Wellington peninsula including Matiu (Somes) Island and Makaro (Ward) Island.

During the next thousand years, different iwi (tribes) settled in the area including Ngai Tara who gave their name to Wellington harbour - Te Whanganui a Tara means ‘great harbour of Tara’. Ngai Tara eventually merged with the Ngati Ira iwi, and other local tribal groups are Ngati Kahungunu, Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe.

European settlers arrived in the early 1840s. Petone, on the northern end of the harbour, was originally chosen as the site for the new town but the swampy land was unsuitable for development so the settlement was relocated across the harbour.

In 1865 Wellington became the capital of New Zealand, and has been the centre of New Zealand government since then.

Picnic on Parliament grounds
Wellington - Parliament grounds

Food and Wine

Wellington is renowned for its sophisticated food scene including more than 300 cafés, bars and restaurants, and claims more places to eat and drink per capita than New York.

Wellington is home to some of New Zealand's top restaurants and finest dining establishments. The city also boasts a vibrant nightlife with some acclaimed bars.

For a sample of Wellington’s many flavours, guided food tours introduce visitors to gourmet food stores, coffee roasters, cafés and restaurants and hard-to-find destinations.

Wellington - café culture
Wellington - café culture

Nature / Sustainability

Zealandia, on the hills of suburban Karori, is a unique eco-attraction and haven for some of New Zealand’s rarest native animals. It is also a shining example of Wellington's commitment to sustainability.

In the early 1990s, Zealandia was a 250-hectare area of mixed vegetation, populated by introduced pests. It’s now a world-first conservation reserve that protects native trees and animals, including rare New Zealand birds such as saddleback, hihi, and little spotted kiwi, the giant weta insect and curious tuatara reptile. Long term the sanctuary aims to restore the land to a pre-civilisation state.

Kapiti island - 45 minutes from the city - is another example of the capital’s sustainability efforts. New Zealand’s oldest nature reserve, Kapiti has untouched New Zealand bush forest that is the natural habitat of many species of native wildlife.

Wellington - Protoplasm sculpture
Wellington - Protoplasm sculpture

Art and Culture

New Zealand’s arts and culture capital has many museums and art galleries, as well as a thriving theatre and film scene. Annual large scale international events include the International Arts Festival, Wellington Sevens Rugby tournament, and World of WearableArt awards.

New Zealand’s national museum - Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand - is a contemporary museum of innovative and interactive displays. Te Papa showcases New Zealand’s diverse art and visual culture in collections featuring wildlife, history, Māori culture, contemporary art and culture.

Museum of Wellington City and Sea, in a significant heritage building on the waterfront, offers an insight into the city’s social and cultural history.

Wellington is the centre of New Zealand’s film industry. Often referred to as 'Wellywood', Wellington is the home of film director Peter Jackson and his production facility, and was a location for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong.

Weta Cave offers a behind-the-scenes look at the special effects used in the Jackson movies, including filmed exclusive interviews with Weta co-founders Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and Jamie Selkirk. The mini museum showcases characters, props and displays from more than 20 years of Weta history.

Wellington - live music
Wellington - live music


  • Wellington is the world's southernmost capital.
  • Lambton Quay - the main shopping street - follows the original 1840 shoreline.
  • Wellington’s distinctive Beehive building - in the Parliamentary precinct - was reputedly designed during dinner on the back of a napkin.
  • New York city temporarily sprang up in Seaview, on Wellington’s harbour fringe, for the King Kong film set.
  • Most Wellington residents live within 3km of the sea.