Spectacular hikes in the summer, world-class wineries to explore during winter and cultural festivals year round mean that Wellington is always ready to play host. To help you decide when is the best time to visit, we’ve pulled together the ultimate city guide on things to see and do during every season.
Named Pōneke in the Māori language, New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, lies on the southern tip of the North Island and is perched on a famously blustery waterfront fringed by lush hills. But don’t let “windy Welly’s” reputation deter you – a little planning and warm layers are all you need to make the most of the city’s easily compact centre, relaxed pace, foodie scene and great outdoors.
What’s on in summer
Summer is the peak season for visitors, with long sunny days and warm-but-not-hot weather (highs of 21ºC and lows of 13º) – just right for wandering the sculpture-lined water’s edge or hiking the Escarpment Track, cruising Days Bay by kayak or watching the sunset from Mount Victoria.
Adventurous types will love exploring Wellington’s natural beauty on a guided hike, bike tour or off-road 4WD as part of the Regional Parks Summer Events series. Previous highlights have included snorkelling the Taputeranga Marine Reserve and drive-in movie screenings surrounded by native bush.
Soak up the sunshine, sip local cider, snack on a barbecue brisket burger and enjoy an afternoon of live music at the annual Wellington Wine & Food Festival on 10 December 2022.
NZ Fringe – Aotearoa’s largest open-access arts festival – comes to town in February and March. Expect everything from immersive light installations and boundary-pushing comedy to death-defying knife-throwing stunts; keep an eye on the website for upcoming program announcements.
What’s on in autumn
Days tend to be crisp and clear in autumn, hovering around 13ºC. Fiery red and gold leaves at the Wellington Botanic Garden need no filter and it’s the best time of year to spot orcas and dolphins frolicking in the harbour.
Hosted by the eclectic Cuba Street precinct in March, CubaDupa is a two-day festival of art, music, dance and more. Also in March, Homegrown is a big ticket on the Kiwi music calendar, with sets from the likes of Sachi and Chaii.
Visitors in May will find a bevy of creative tipples to try at Eat Drink Play, a showcase of the city’s thriving hospitality scene. There’s a self-guided cocktail trail, high tea spreads and hotel offers to take advantage of.
What’s on in winter
While ski meccas like Queenstown are buzzing during winter, Wellington’s vibe is more laid-back. With a high of 12ºC during the day and lows of around 7º in the evening, conditions are ideal for cosy pursuits. Think: exploring some 55 galleries and museums and hunkering down with a glass of New Zealand pinot noir at Naumi Studio’s sumptuous Lola Rouge Grand Bar.
Ring in the Māori New Year at Matariki ki Pōneke in June; a celebration of local culture and history with drum wave performances, art installations and fireworks every evening over three nights. The dates for this shift every year according to the position of the stars and the lunar calendar, so make sure you check the calendar in advance.
Throughout August, Wellington on a Plate offers cooking workshops, talks, special tasting menus and the chance to vote for the city’s best burger (Chaat Street’s dabeli-spiced potato patty with tamarind chutney took out the top spot in 2022). Craft beer enthusiasts won't want to miss Beervana, where more than 70 breweries are represented at Sky Stadium in August.
What’s on in spring
Things start to move outdoors – festivals, gigs, eating and drinking – and tulips burst forth in springtime as temperatures reach highs of 18ºC. But unpredictable rainfall means you’re likely to experience four seasons in one day, so don’t forget to pack an umbrella.
Over 350 Sakura cherry trees bloom during the annual Blossom Valley festival at Aston Norwood, a five-hectare Japanese-inspired garden, 40 minutes’ drive out of the city. Held for a few weeks from mid-September, guests can picnic beneath the pretty pink canopy and wander gorgeously lit trails after dark.
Catch a bilingual cabaret or storytime session with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra during Te Hui Ahurei Reo Māori o Te Whanganui-a-Tara (The Māori Language Festival of Wellington) in September, then head to Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum, for breakfast with plenty of kai (food), kōrero (discussion) and kawhe (coffee).
Oenophiles will be spoilt for choice at Toast Martinborough, to be held on 20 November in 2022 across the picturesque winemaking region just over an hour outside of Wellington. Stroll, bike or shuttle bus between eight vineyards, stopping to enjoy tastings and gourmet snacks along the way.
Image credit: Johnny Huynen (Wellington skyline); Johnny Hendrikus (Escarpment Track and Wellington city); Image credit: WellingtonNZ (Cuba Street); Naumi Hotel; Blossom Valley.