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New Zealand’s diminutive capital Wellington, located at the southern end of the North Island, packs a lot of punch for its size. Rising up from a glistening harbour, its quaint houses are perched on forested hillsides, forming a natural amphitheatre. The country’s capital since 1865, the city's population is just 180,000 with around 440,000 people residing in the wider region.
Lively and effervescent, it has none of the fussiness of a capital city, and a tangible slant towards art, culture and gastronomy that make it – for many – New Zealand’s most fascinating city. It’s home to a thriving film industry, which has flourished mainly on the back of local director, producer and screenwriter Sir Peter Jackson, known for his Lord of the Rings film trilogy, which has earned the city the questionable nickname of 'Wellywood', a conflation of its other nickname 'Welly' and Hollywood.
When the movie stars hit town, they're surely taken in by the pretty harbour and the sheer number of quality cafes, bars and restaurants – the locals love to dine out. The city has a booming food scene as a result, with an abundance of markets, cooking schools, foodie walks, and boutique beer tours. The region is also known for the Pinot Noir wines of the nearby Wairarapa and Martinborough wine regions. If you're really into wines you can take a ferry across to Marlborough – well known globally for its distinctive Sauvignon Blanc wines.Read more
Being the capital, Wellington is home to the stories of New Zealand’s history, both Maori and European. The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, is an innovative national museum with innovative interactive displays that is renowned for its fascinating stories of the indigenous Maori in its permanent exhibitions, as well as being home to New Zealand’s National Art Collection.
Wellington harbour was the site of the first European settlement at Petone, where the Petone Settlers Museum compellingly tells that history. The city boasts a number of superb contemporary galleries, as well as being the home of the New Zealand Opera, the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
Given that New Zealanders are never far from nature, many locals will suggest a visit to Zealandia (also known as Karori Sanctuary), home to some of New Zealand’s fascinating wildlife in a protected reserve. It's also the best place to see the kiwi, the flightless bird that is endemic to the country that serves as the national symbol, and the nickname for New Zealanders overseas.