For most of us, holidays are all about taking a break from our everyday life: escaping the office, mixing up our routines and getting some much-needed Vitamin D. Whether your ideal vacation is lying in the sand soaking up the sun, hiking through lush new pastures breathing in fresh country air or a combination of both, Wellington is that close-to-home destination that offers the best of both worlds.
It may be a treasure-trove of arts and culture but it’s also home to a wealth of bays and beaches, spots to surf or scuba dive, or just somewhere to take the family for a swim. Just a few days away and your batteries will be recharged.
Located close to the CBD, Oriental Bay at the foot of Mt Victoria has the closest beaches to the city centre and is popular with both Wellingtonians and tourists. The golden sands are available for walking, cycling or just people watching and are a favourite with families and holidaymakers all summer.
After lunch, take a drive to Island Bay to view the suburbs of tiered colonial villas. This historic beachside location on the south coast is a traditional fishing hub where there are hints of a bygone era, including the bandstand in Shorland Park. Ardent scuba divers could check out Taputeranga Marine Reserve just offshore, home to a vast array of marine wildlife and a sunken navy frigate.
A short drive takes you to Owhiro Bay where you can go on a one-hour walk or cycle to Sinclair Head and Red Rocks Scientific Reserves. About one kilometre west of Taputeranga, Sinclair Head is a winter hangout for up to 100 New Zealand fur seals, but you could see a few of these water babes sunbathing on the red rocks in the summer.
Alternatively, go on one of the seal safari tours available and end the day at Carlucci Land a few minutes’ drive away. There you can have an afternoon barbecue or drink and unwind by wandering through Wellington’s industrial fantasy playground. After viewing the sculptures, remarkable artworks and junkyard treasures that make Carlucci Land an exceptional home for recycled castoffs, play a round of mini golf or have a shot at paintball.
After some downtime enjoying Wellington’s blissful bays and beaches, head back onto shore and do some exploring of the vast Wellington landscape. For film buffs, the most important thing to do is to discover the sites of Middle Earth of film and story fame.
Start at Mount Victoria, the location for the first movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy directed by Peter Jackson – who is a devoted Wellingtonian. At the top of Mount Victoria, also enjoy the 360-degree view of the city, watch ferries sailing through the harbour and aircraft taking off from Wellington Airport. The slopes fringed by the modern Wellington city were once a hideout for hobbits.
Away from hobbits and Orcs, Wellington is home to some beautiful flora. For a peaceful afternoon surrounded by blooms, Wellington Botanic Garden on Glenmore Street contains a native forest and major plant collections as well as seasonal beds with more than 25 000 tulips to colour spring and summer and the Lady Norwood Rose Garden, home to some 3000 roses. Tracks weaving from the duck pond allow walkers to explore trees dating back to the 1860s including redwoods, pines and oaks.
The Begonia House, a Victorian style glasshouse shows tropical flowers and a lily pond all year round while Picnic Café provides outdoor lunching on good organic Kiwi food amid the scent of roses. Behind the café is a lantern where a perpetual flame lit from the fires of the Hiroshima bombing commemorates Japan’s recognition of New Zealand’s stance against nuclear weapons.
Take an easy walk along Upland Road, Kelburn to the Carter Observatory to catch sight of the stars even if it is still daytime or raining. Learn about Maori cosmology including Matariki, the Maori New Year, and Maui navigation, while a virtual space journey makes a hit with the kids.
A walk to the Cable Car Museum will provide a different view of Wellington from the Kelburn Lookout. Then take the iconic red cable car down the hill via picturesque Kelburn to Lambton Quay, the heart of Wellington CBD. A one-way ticket is $4 or $7.50 return.
Lambton Quay is where the city began, so you will find numerous heritage buildings such as the Harbour City Centre, Stewart Dawson’s Building and the MLC building on the site of an 1844 church. Public art along the way ensures you’ll run into Wellington pioneer John Plimmer and his dog Fitz, and at the top of Plimmer Steps is the Big Gertrude, a brick and tile memorial depicting the ship in which he arrived.
Still on Lambton Quay, take a break for an afternoon coffee at Midland Park before heading off for dinner or drinks at the Concrete Bar and Restaurant at the bottom of Cable Lane. From the wrap around balcony you can see the buzz of Wellington life below. After a day- or two or three- of sandy bays and working up a thirst on coastal walks, this buzzing little place is a great way to start- or end- your Wellington break.
Getting to there and away
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