Wellington Sightseeing

  • Te Papa, Museum of New Zealand, 3 hours

  • Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, 2 hours

  • Lord of the Rings Tour, half day

  • Zest Guided Gourmet Walking Tour, 4 hours

  • Cable Car ride to Wellington Botanic Gardens, allow 2 hours

  • Tour Parliament Buildings, 1 hour

Drive Times


Napier – Wellington, 5 hours
Palmerston North – Wellington, 2 hours

Avoid entering the city from 7am to 9am when all the commuters are heading in the same direction.  Similarly avoid heading out on a Friday evening.

Wellington Population: 170,000

Wellington is a vibrant and busy city, boosted through the week by many thousands of visitors who come to do business with government and the many corporate headquarters located there.  They and those who live there enjoy the many cultural experiences available, art galleries and craft outlets plus a thriving night life.  In fact, Wellington has more cafes and restaurants per head of population than New York!  Filmmakers like Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson call Wellington home and have created extensive film infrastructure in the area.  Leading actors, writers, poets, artists, musicians, composers and fashion designers are also based there, each adding to the creative atmosphere of the city.

History and Culture (Maori legends, wineries, European History)

The earliest name for Wellington, from Maori legend, is Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui.  In Maori it means ‘the head of Maui's fish’.  Caught and pulled to the surface by Polynesian navigator Maui, the fish became the North Island.  The Polynesian explorer Kupe is credited with the initial discovery of Wellington Harbour.  From Maori tradition it is estimated he arrived with his followers around the 10th century.  Several places around the Wellington peninsula were named by Kupe, for example Matiu (Somes) Island and Makaro (Ward) Island.  People have lived there since Kupe's discovery.

Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara) is another Maori name for Wellington.  Tara was the son of Whatonga, another Polynesian migrant, who had settled in Hawke’s Bay.  Whatonga sent Tara on a tour of inspection of the lower North Island in the 12th century.  After a year Tara returned and reported that the best place he had seen was ‘at the very nostrils of the island’.  As a result Whatonga and his followers shifted south - the first iwi (tribe) in Wellington was thus Ngai Tara.  Ngai Tara eventually amalgamated with another iwi, Ngati Ira.  Other iwi associated with the area were Ngati Kahungunu, Ngai Tahu, and Ngati Mamoe.  Since the beginning of the 19th century iwi including Ngati Mutunga, Ngati Tama, Te Atiawa and Ngati Toa have migrated to the Wellington region.  Evidence of early Maori settlement and cultivation can be found at sites all around the Wellington peninsula.

Early European settlement of the region was based around the Kapiti coast, which was a whaling base.  In an early attempt at settlement, the New Zealand Company sent ships out to settle the area in 1826, but they were unsure of the reception they might receive from the Maori there so sailed away again.  They made a second and successful attempt at settlement in 1839.  Colonel William Wakefield, in a race to purchase land from the Maoris before it was decreed all land sales must be negotiated by the crown, purchased large tracts of land around the harbour from chiefs Te Puni and Wharepouri.  This enraged chief Te Rauparaha who said it was not theirs to sell.  Wakefield ignored his complaints.  With shiploads of immigrants already on their way, he was determined to gain as much land as possible.  This was the cause of much angst in the years to come.


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