Wellington Port Overview (New Zealand) | 10 Best Things To Do

Wellington Cable Car ride

Welcome to Wellington Port, officially known as “Windy Wellington”!

New Zealand’s capital city Wellington is known for its museums, art galleries, beautiful gardens, delicious food, and a great variety of things to do. The city sits at the southernmost point of New Zealand’s North Island on the Cook Strait and boasts a stunning natural harbor surrounded by hills and mountains. In this Wellington cruise travel guide, I share with you:

  • Wellington port info (Wellington cruise terminals, getting around the port)
  • 10 best things to do in Wellington Port & Wellington shore excursions

Visit also our cruise port guides to Milford Sound, Auckland, Napier, Tauranga, Bay of Islands, Dunedin, Akaroa, Picton

Wellington Port Overview

The port of Wellington consists of three cruise terminals: Aotea Quay, Queens Wharf, and Overseas Terminal.

1. Aotea Quay

  • This is the largest terminal that can accommodate large cruise liners. This terminal is located close to the train station, a ferry station, and a 25-minute walk from Wellington downtown (around 2.5 km/1.5 miles). The terminal overlooks Sky Stadium and is located a few minutes’ walk from Wellington Central train station where you can find some shops and cafes.
  • The pier is flat but there’s not much to find there as Wellington Port is also a cargo and container port. Walking is permitted only on designated paths that will lead you to downtown.
  • Normally, the port authorities provide a free shuttle bus to downtown Wellington (a 10-15 minute drive) that runs frequently throughout the day. There is only one shuttle that provides a ramp and you will need to check in advance the schedule for the pick-up and drop-off point downtown. The shuttle bus drops you right in the heart of the city.
  • Taxis are available outside on the pier.

2. Queens Wharf

  • This small terminal can accommodate smaller cruise ships and is located near the center of Wellington, a 10-minute walk from the major city highlights. You can find taxis on the pier. This is also a ferry terminal and the whole area is greatly developed to suit travelers’ needs, boasting shops, cafes, restaurants, and magnificent harbour views.
  • Right next to the terminal, you can find the Wellington Museum, a history museum hiding fascinating stories about the Wellington region. Lambton Square shopping mall is a stone’s throw from there.

3. Overseas Terminal

Rarely used, this terminal can accommodate small ships.

Wellington harbour
Wellington harbour. The picture was taken from Mount Victoria’s lookout point.

Getting Around Wellington Cruise Port

  • Local time may be different than your ship’s time, so make sure you set your watch accordingly for every day ashore (you’ll be advised onboard).
  • Port Wellington is the windiest port in New Zealand due to the Cook Strait and the city’s geographical position, so make sure you dress accordingly. Short showers may appear during your day ashore, so make sure you bring an umbrella and a raincoat.
  • The currency in New Zealand is the New Zealand dollar (NZD or NZ$). 1 US dollar equals 1.61 NZD. Currency converter
  • Wellington International Airport is located approximately 9 km/5.6 miles, or a 15-minute drive from the port of Wellington.
  • Explore Wellington tours and activities
  • Book a private transfer to/from Wellington cruise port
  • Find accommodation in Wellington

10 Best Things to Do in Wellington Port

1. Ride the Iconic Wellington Cable Car

One of the most popular Wellington activities is a historic cable car ride that offers unmatched panoramic city and harbour views. This iconic cable car dates from 1902 and is New Zealand’s only remaining funicular railway.

The starting point of the cable car is at Lambton Quay, in the city center, and it runs every 10 minutes. Although the ride is short and lasts only 5 minutes – it is well worth it as you get to take in breathtaking sceneries of Kelburn hills and learn about its history in a small Cable Car Museum at the top.

Once at the top, besides the museum, you can explore the spectacular Wellington Botanic Garden, Zealandia Ecosanctuary, and Space Place at Carter Observatory.

Check out Wellington Cable Car tours and activities

Wellington Cable Car ride
Wellington Cable Car ride

2. Zealandia Ecosanctuary

Zealandia Ecosanctuary and Wildlife Refuge is another must-visit place tucked in a lush forest only 15 minutes drive from Wellington cruise port. This incredible place is home to over 40 rare species of native wildlife, including rare birds (such as kākāriki, hihi, and takahē), insects, reptiles, frogs, plants, and trees.

Get your camera out and ready for tuatara, prehistoric reptiles that have a real “third eye”, wētā (looks like a giant grasshopper!), or kererū – a pigeon endemic to the New Zealand mainland. And if you are lucky to stay here for the evening, you can take a guided tour and start your search for kiwi birds, glow worms, owls, and other native creatures that you will spot coming out of the night!

Explore Zealandia ecosanctuary tours and activities 

3. Wellington Botanic Garden

With 25 hectares of colorful floral displays, wonderful views, and picturesque landscapes of unique beauty, the botanical garden is a true gem of Wellington that dates back to 1844.

Here you can enjoy a relaxing walk through the impeccably maintained garden filled with beautiful botanical plant species and sculptures, and visit some of the most popular areas in the garden including Begonia House – a heated glasshouse featuring lush tropical plants; Lady Norwood Rose Garden home to over 3.000 roses; the Main Garden with its duck pond.

The gardens are located at the top of the Wellington Cable Car and offer beautiful views of the harbour. Here you can also find a cafe, facilities and a playground for kids. A ride from the pier takes approximately 5 minutes.

Explore Wellington Botanic Garden tours and activities 

Wellington Botanical Garden
Wellington Botanic Garden

4. Middle Earth – The World of Lord of the Rings

Did you know that the Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson, grew up in Pukerua Bay, only 30 minutes from Wellington? Well, that explains why he chose to shoot some major scenes from Tolkien’s legendary masterpiece near his hometown! Whether you are a fan or not, in Wellington you get the incredible chance to see the places where some iconic scenes from The Lord of the Rings were shot!

Numerous tours take you to the locations where major events in the movie took place, and once you start strolling the images will come to life: the Fellowship canoeing down the River Anduin (in reality the Hutt River), the horse reviving Aragorn on the banks of the river, a garden of Isengard, Rivendell, and so much more!

Hobbit's Hideaway - location of Get off the road scene (Lord of the Rings)
Hobbit’s Hideaway
Azog the Defiler, from The Hobbit - Weta Workshop and Cave
Azog the Defiler, from The Hobbit

Some of the locations included in the tours are:

  • Mount Victoria – Only a 15-minute drive from Wellington port, Mount Victoria boasts not only magnificent views of the harbor, but also the Hobbit’s Hideaway – a filming location of the “Get off the Road” scene where the Hobbits hid from the Black Riders just outside of The Shire.
  • Weta Workshop Museum and Cave – Only 10 minutes from the famous “Get off the road” scene location and a 15-minute drive from the port of Wellington, Weta Workshop and Cave await you to explore the place where all the magic started! Situated in Miramar, the epicenter of New Zealand’s movie-making industry, Weta Workshop is part of the studios where the costumes, props, and special effects were made for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.
  • Weta Cave is a mini-museum featuring original props, displays, and costumes from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to Avatar and District 9. The place is absolutely fascinating and you get to experience how heavy the actual costumes are, touch and see them in reality and go behind the scenes where you can see incredibly talented staff creating new costumes and props for new movies! There is also a very short video about the workshop at the site. Weta Cave is wheelchair accessible.
  • Hutt River – Known in the movie as River Anduin, a part of the Hutt River was used for shots of The Fellowship of the Ring traveling in boats after leaving Lothlorien toward Gondor (Poet’s Park is the name of the location where they launched the boats). It takes approximately a 30-minute drive to reach this location.
  • Harcourt Park, Upper Hutt – Just a 5-minute drive north of Hutt River’s Poet’s Park, you’ll reach this beautiful park that was a filming location of the gardens of Isengard!
  • Kaitoke Regional Park – Located a 10-minute drive north of Upper Hutt and Harcourt Park, this beautiful park was a filming site of the magical Rivendell and is known for its numerous walking trails, massive trees, a swingbridge, hiking, and camping activities!
  • Putangirua Pinnacles – It takes 1 hour 30 minutes one way to reach this spectacular place featuring impressive geological formations that consist of a large number of earth pillars – tall, thin spires of rock. This impressive site is known as Dimholt Road featured in Return of the King, in the scenes where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli search for the Army of the Undead.

Cruise lines normally offer Weta Workshop tours, however, if you are coming on your own, make sure you book at least a couple of days in advance to avoid disappointment!

Check out the Lord of The Rings tours and activities 

5. Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum

Housed in an imposing building overlooking the harbour, only a 10-minute walk from Queens Wharf and a 30-minute walk from Aotea Quay, Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum and a must-see Wellington landmark.

Established in 1992, the museum features a wide variety of exhibitions and collections covering New Zealand history, Māori culture, and New Zealand’s natural history with its impressive flora and fauna.

You can also visit a remarkable Art Gallery, interactive exhibitions for the young ones, and various contemporary exhibitions including the fascinating exhibition on the Gallipoli campaign in World War I seen through the eyes and words of eight ordinary New Zealanders.

The museum is huge and takes a full day to explore. It is wheelchair friendly, mostly flat with ramps for full-time wheelchair users. The entrance to all permanent exhibitions is free of charge. There is a fee for temporary exhibitions and events.

Explore Te Papa Tongarewa tours 

Gallipoli Exhibition in Te Papa Tongarewa museum
Gallipoli Exhibition

6. ATV Adventure/Quad Biking

Off-road rides are a great choice for those of you interested in adventure activities! Cruise lines normally offer these tours and it’s the safest way to go as they guarantee your return to the port on time.

Quad bike expedition allows you to explore New Zealand’s breathtaking countryside and rugged coastline and take in stunning 360-degree views of both the North and South islands from the mountain’s peak.

Your trip will cover over 25 miles of exciting trails, ranging from sea level up to 900 m, where you’ll experience a spectacular change of natural landscapes and sceneries. The ATV ride takes approximately a couple of hours including multiple stops for photos and scenic lookouts.

Check out Wellington ATV & off-road tours and activities

New Zealand ATV ride from Wellington port
New Zealand ATV ride

7. Wellington City Sightseeing

I’ve already mentioned Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, Cable Car ride and Botanic Gardens as the top places to see in Wellington City.

However, the city of Wellington boasts several other sites and experiences not to be missed! A guided walking tour is always a great choice as the downtown area is very compact and easily walkable, and if you combine it with a local culinary experience – things get just perfect!

Wellington is known as one of the “coolest” cities in the world and is famous for a large number of local spots where you can try handmade chocolate, roasted coffee, regional cheese, honey, gelato, and a variety of craft beers.

Mount Victoria is also a popular city highlight due to the breathtaking views of the harbour from its 197-meter high elevation point, and the fact that some scenes from The Lord of the Rings were filmed there. It is easily reachable from the pier (a 15-minute drive).

History buffs should visit the Wellington Museum located right next to the Queens Wharf which offers numerous unique exhibits and artifacts displaying the region’s history, as well as the Old St Paul’s Anglican Church dating from 1860. New Zealand Parliament building, attractive for its unusual, neo-classical architecture, catches the eye of curious visitors.

Check out Wellington sightseeing tours and activities

8. Seal Coast Safari and Wildlife

The safari experience is an amazing choice for those of you who want to explore the wild side of the Wellington region. This 4wd exploration takes you to Wellington’s top wildlife spots including the fur seal colony in the South Coast’s Red Rocks nature preserve, where seal sightings are guaranteed!

Seals Colony and Wildlife Safari, New Zealand
Seals Colony

You will experience the South Coast’s picturesque countryside, rugged shipwreck coastline, and New Zealand’s rich flora and fauna that includes some rare bird species such as pied cormorants, gannets, and oystercatchers.

Some tours will get you exclusive access to Terawhiti Station, one of the country’s largest family-owned sheep farms dating from 1850, and Meridian Energy’s West Wind Turbines that generate electricity through 100% renewable sources – wind, water and sun.

On your journey along the South Coast, you’ll also be able to enjoy the magnificent views of Oteranga Bay, a passage through the Devil’s Gate, and see the remnants of the World War II observation bunkers.

Check out seal safari tours from Wellington 

9. Wellington by Bike

Cycling tours along the city’s beautiful harbour rank among the best Wellington activities. The starting point is normally around a 10-minute walk from the dock, and once you get briefed and geared up – you can start your exploration!

You’ll make numerous photo stops in front of the city’s landmarks such as Te Papa Museum and the New Zealand Parliament, and your guide will share stories on Wellington’s unique history and culture. You’ll also pass through the lively Cuba Street in the heart of the city, boasting excellent cafes, restaurants, street performers, local crafts and shops. The trip will take you along the scenic Wellington waterfront with an extraordinary view of Oriental Bay, and some tours will take you to Mount Victoria, Zealandia Sanctuary, or Shelly Bay.

Check out Wellington bike tours 

10. Māori Cultural Experience – Waka Tour

If you are intrigued by the Māori culture and would like to experience a part of their tradition, you can embark on a Waka adventure, a unique cultural experience on the water! You’ll get the chance to paddle traditionally carved waka (canoes) along the scenic harbour, and learn about the fascinating Māori traditions and customs. 

The driving time from the pier to the starting point of the tour takes approximately 15 minutes. Once at a base, a mihi whakatau (welcome) by friendly staff, waiata (song), and introductions await visitors to introduce them to the Maori culture. The group then gets fully briefed and equipped (you’ll get basic commands and learn chants, and salutes) before starting the adventure! 

This is a moderate to strenuous activity as it involves up to 5 steps, paddling for about 45 minutes, and a guided walking tour for about 45 minutes through Wellington’s hidden Māori treasures including Te Wharewaka o Pōneke building and Te Papa National Museum

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