Nestled at the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island, Wellington is the perfect gateway for exploring the best the island has to offer. From watching whales playing in the surf near Paraparaumu, to exploring wild Kapiti Island and indulging in the wineries of the Wairarapa, here are the best day trips from Wellington.
The Hutt Valley
A 45-minute train trip from Wellington’s historic brick-clad station leads to this charming region, passing through green valleys and cute little stations that rarely seem crowded along the way.
In Petone, there’s boutique shopping and delicious eats along Jackson Street (gastropub The Victoria Tavern is a good choice, as is next door’s Sprig + Fern, which boasts a cosy indoor area with hardwood floors, a fireplace and a wooden staircase). Experience history at the Petone Settlers Museum and good walking, plus a decent beach, along nearby Great Harbour Way and Petone Beach.
Further up the valley in Upper Hutt, Brewtown boasts terrific craft beer. For outdoor adventures, Wellington Rafting offers adrenaline-soaked trips down the rapids of the Hutt River (Te Awa Kairangi) and Kaitoke Regional Park is a lush, green world of ferns and jungle-like trees – it’s also where scenes for the Elvish city of Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings were filmed.
Kapiti Island and the Coastal Track
Taking a little under an hour, you’ll enjoy dramatic sea and parkland views on the train journey to Paraparaumu. Keep an eye on the water; you can sometimes see orca mums keeping close watch over their calves as they play in the surf along the huge, sandy beach.
Hop in a ferry and sail to Kapiti Island, a nature reserve five kilometres off the coast full of native bush and birds like the cheeky flightless weka. Take a guided nature walk through the wilderness and you might even be lucky enough to catch sight of the elusive kiwi bird.
Another great activity is walking the 3.7-kilometre Coastal Track from Queen Elizabeth Park in Paekākāriki north to Raumati South. Winding through sand dunes along the edge of the Tasman Sea’s roaring surf, you’ll enjoy sumptuous coastal views.
Treat yourself after with a meal at Sunday Cantina in Raumati South. With items like spiced lamb pizzas and barbecue pork belly sandwiches with macadamia nut slaw, it’s the perfect place to recharge.
Masterton and the Wairarapa
The Wairarapa is a verdant region north-east of Wellington decorated with terraced vineyards, farms full of fluffy white sheep, bucolic towns like Greytown and Featherston, and Lake Wairarapa, which boasts grassy shores ideal for picnics, with gently sloping hills in the distance.
A one-hour-and-40-minute journey by train from Wellington to Masterton passes through many of these relaxing landscapes, which feel like they belong in a Beatrix Potter book. Masterton is great for kids, with the pools at Trust House Recreation Centre and playgrounds and miniature golf course at nearby Queen Elizabeth Park.
Adults can visit one of the many wineries around Martinborough. Escarpment Winery has guided tours for groups of up to 10 people. Poppies Martinborough is ideal for lunch, with seasonal vineyard platters which feature dishes such as crispy salted pork belly and Spanish tortillas. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available.
Pūtangirua Pinnacles and Cape Palliser
If you think you’ve seen the Pūtangirua Pinnacles somewhere before, it’s because you possibly have; the towering rock pillars can be seen in The Lord of the Rings, marking the Paths of the Dead. The otherworldly area is about a 90-minute drive east from Wellington, up and around the harbour and through the pastoral, green Wairarapa.
Nearby is the red-and-whited-striped Cape Palliser lighthouse, which looks a bit like a giant candy cane next to the green hills and blue sea. A huge fur seal breeding colony lies to the west and they look incredibly cute resting on the beach among the rocks.
On the way back to Wellington, pop by C’est Cheese in Featherston. A cafe, deli and cheese factory (you can peek through a window to see cheese being made) rolled into one, its blue cheese and cheddar scones are legendary and the grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese isn’t too shabby, either.
Days Bay and the Remutakas
There are plenty of great places to sail to from Wellington. Among the best is Days Bay. Ferries operated by East by West depart from Queens Wharf in the city and take about 25 minutes across the usually calm water.
Once you’ve arrived, hire a canoe or kayak from Wildfinder next to the wharf in summer, or go next door to Cycle Remutaka – the team there organises cycle trips through the Remutaka Forest Park, including shorter day trips.
With trees as big as buildings, babbling brooks, stone-ringed tunnels, swing bridges over deep gorges and more, the Remutakas are where your imagination can run wild. Or you can simply marvel at nature.
On your way home, unwind at Sea Salt Café & Eatery. The beachside cafe near the wharf has expansive views, good coffee and an extensive brunch and lunch menu. The creamy mushrooms on sourdough with a poached egg is especially recommended.
Image credit: Johnny Hendrikus (Matiu/Somes Island), Jeff McEwan (Days Bay Beach), Wellington NZ (Kapiti-Coast), Destination Wairarapa (Pūtangirua Pinnacles and Cape Palliser)