There’s majesty all along Wellington’s coast. Whether you stroll the walkable city’s waterfront, visit seals at Red Rocks or explore the pristine Kāpiti Coast, there’s an adventure for everyone.
Wellington’s a city perched on the harbour’s edge – and that means there’s plenty of beautiful blue waterfront to explore. A paved path hugs the water’s edge, stretching from the city’s historic railway station to Oriental Bay and beyond. It’s perfect to experience on foot or on two wheels (electric or otherwise).
Along the way, you’ll spot 23 quotes from local poets and writers, such as the acclaimed late poet Lauris Edmond, who described Wellington as “the city of action”. You’ll find the plaque with her quote overlooking the Whairepo Lagoon, where you’ll also discover an eye-catching fountain and sculpture called The Albatross Fountain. Afterwards, stop by the Taranaki Wharf to watch as swimmers jump off a specially designed 8m high dive platform. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, feel free to join them!
For action of a different sort, the waterfront is full of interesting places to eat, from upscale Dockside where seafood is king (there’s a vegan menu, too), to the Māori-inspired cuisine at Karaka Cafe (the signature dish is a café version of the traditional Māori hāngī meal) and nautical-themed Coene’s, where alfresco diners overlook boats bobbing in the harbour as winged rays glide past.
Wildlife abounds along Wellington’s coast. A fur seal colony lives on the south coast at Red Rocks, which, with its striking hills, was a filming location for The Lord of the Rings. Migrating whales can appear in the harbour between October and March and, if you’re a keen scuba diver, check out Taputeranga Marine Reserve. It’s home to a vast array of marine wildlife, as well as a sunken navy frigate.
Another place to visit is Matiu/Somes Island – catch an East by West ferry from the central city waterfront for the 25-minute journey. You can spend hours exploring the 25-hectare former quarantine station and military outpost. The island is now a haven for endangered little penguins – the world’s smallest penguins – and, this being New Zealand, there are also fluffy sheep dotted around.
The East by West also sails to Days Bay, a beautiful sandy beach north-east of central Wellington that’s a popular swimming and picnicking destination in the warmer months. Hire kayaks and paddle boards from Wildfinder, or pedal a bike along the scenic (and flat) coastal trail to the Pencarrow Lighthouse, the first permanent lighthouse built in New Zealand. Not only that but its first keeper, Mary Bennett, was the country’s first female lighthouse keeper.
North of Wellington is the Kāpiti Coast, a huge region of parks and cute towns where you can sometimes see orca mums and their calves in the water just metres from sandy beaches. Taking the train is a relaxing – and beautiful – way to get there, passing through forests and fields right along the coast.
With sea on one side and hills on the other, the Escarpment Track, a 40-minute drive north of Wellington (or take the train), is nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven. Walkers are rewarded with panoramic views of both the Tasman Sea and rolling green hills dotted with white sheep and crooked fences. Beginning at Pukerua Bay or Paekākāriki (the route lies between them; you can go either way), the 10km trek takes between three-and-a-half and four hours. Some advice: the route can be steep in sections, so bring water and snacks – and ensure your phone and camera have plenty of battery life.
Where to stay
On the waterfront and centrally located, the QT Wellington exudes an air of quirky elegance throughout its 81 guest rooms, which are decked out with works of art and eclectic, colourful wallpaper.
Even if you’re not staying the night have a bite at Hippopotamus, where award-winning chef Jiwon Do serves French-inspired cuisine made with local produce in a hipster setting that includes dazzling chandeliers and stuffed peacocks.
Image credit: Celeste Fontein (Karaka Cafe); Johnny Hendrikus (Matiu/Somes Island); Ben Mack (Paekakariki Escarpment Track); Babiche Martens (QT Hotel).