Wellington is best known for its creative and culinary prowess, but the city's outdoor environment deserves its own accolades. Nestled between the Cook Strait and bush-covered hills clad in the protected Town Belt, this wilder-than-you-think spot boasts idyllic vistas every way you look — and alluring natural spots in spades.
Indeed, there's no shortage of native bush or beach in this harbour city, but you don't need to be a hardcore outdoors-type to get amongst it. Thanks to Wellington's stunning geography, all the greenery and fresh air you could ever want is super close to its CBD restaurants, nightlife and galleries. For those who like to balance their busy urban breaks with sojourns in the countryside, book your flights ASAP, as you can get the best of both worlds.
Pack your finest activewear and prepare to embark on a holiday where it's easy to walk off the after-effects of all that strong local beer, those delicious cocktails and that six-course wine-matched degustation.
BAYS AND BEACHES
Wellington city was built teetering on a waterfront that's sheltered by the surrounding harbour. This means there are a lot of beaches to choose from — some rugged and some peaceful wee spots with pontoons within paddling distance.
Oriental Bay is a perennial favourite with Wellington office workers, thanks to its location just ten minutes from the CBD and its golden sand that's ideal for enjoying a cheeky yuzu olive oil gelato from Gelissimo. If you fancy going a bit more rugged, Island Bay or Lyall Bay are not far from the city and ideal for surfing. Don't forget to bring your wetsuit.
Get your exercise plus a dose of culture. Wellington's cosy city streets are freckled with beautiful street art and public sculpture, ranging from literary to graffiti and everything in between.
Look out for Charlotte Hawley's cosy mural down Egmont Street, Xoe Hall's trio of Bowies in Hannahs Laneway and BMD's anti-shark finning wall opposite Te Papa. If you wander from one end of the waterfront to the other, you'll hit an array of ocean-inspired sculptures, as well as the official Wellington Writers Walk, where excerpts from works by the city's greatest writers and poets are immortalised in concrete and set against a marine backdrop. Dreamy.
About 170 years ago, some savvy folk decided central Wellington ought to be surrounded by a band of wilderness, and the city's Town Belt was born. Arching around the CBD in a horseshoe shape, it's been miraculously preserved as Wellington has gone from a tiny colonial outpost to a bustling capital.
The belt offers walking options spanning relaxed ambles to more lengthy day-walks, with plenty of brilliant views and spots for a picnic. There's also a 360-degree view of the town from the top of Mount Victoria, which only takes about half an hour to summit starting from the Courtenay Place nightlife district.
Encircled by Wellington's waterfront and a delightful 20-minute ferry trip from the city is Matiu / Somes Island, a nature reserve with a fascinating history. Originally named by legendary Maori explorer Kupe after his daughter, Matiu was a refuge in times of war. After a few stints as a quarantine zone, the area is now conservation land and pest free, which means plenty of NZ's beautiful and sometimes bizarre native birds can be spotted. Pack a picnic and make a day of it.
Wellington is beginning to gain a bit of a rep as a mountain biking destination. With so many great tracks covering the bush-clad hills that surround the city, even office workers mountain bike to work. How's that for lifestyle?
If the hundreds of kilometres of mountain biking tracks in the Wellington region don't tempt you, there are some lower-key biking experiences in the city. Hiring a Crocodile Bike is a classic Wellington activity: you can grab a two- or four-person bike and cycle around the bays for a few hours. Or head to Switched On Bikes a rent an e-bike; these babies have redefined pedal power, so you can cruise the city's hills without breaking a sweat.
Maybe you've been to Auckland, maybe you've gone to the snow in Queensland, but now it's time to set your sights on Wellington. The harbourside city may be compact, but that only makes for excellent walkability from its excellent restaurants, cafes and bars to its cultural hot spots and around the great outdoors. Use our planning guide to book your trip, then sort out your Wellington hit list with our food and drink, culture and outdoor guides.