On arrival in a new city, the first thing I usually do is seek out a vantage point. There’s something comforting about looking out over a place from above and being able to see how big (or small) it is, and knowing where you are in the bigger picture.
From just such a vantage point in Wellington, New Zealand, you’ll find that you’re perched on the southern coast of New Zealand’s North Island. If you find the right spot you can get 360 degree views of the ocean, harbour and mountains surrounding the ‘coolest little Capital’, and on a very clear day, you can just make out the hazy mountains of the Marlborough Sounds across the Cook Strait. Luckily, I’m here to tell you where to find those right spots.
The top 5 are in no particular order, because they all make the list for different reasons.
Top of the cable car
The easiest and fastest way to get a bird’s-eye view of Wellington is to catch the cable car from Lambton Quay (every 10 minutes, 7.50 NZD/4.90USD return) to the top of the Botanic Gardens. This option has several added bonuses. Firstly, the cable car is an interesting bit of Wellington history and it’s quite pretty.
Secondly, there are two alternative routes back down to the city. You can either follow the ‘city to sea’ signs and walk past Victoria University campus back down to Lambton Quay, or head down the other side of the hill to explore Wellington’s extensive and wonderful botanic gardens. Make your way through the gardens (your route is limited only by your imagination…and the footpaths - I’d recommend sticking to those) to the Glenmore Street entrance, and from there follow Bolton Street back down into the city.
See our full list of recommended hotels near Wellington Cable Car (Lambton Quay Station) and also compare the prices with airbnbs near Wellington Cable Car (Lambton Quay Station)
This is the other top spot if you’re short on time and relying on public transport or your own two feet to get around. Mount Victoria rises 196m above the city and it’s easily accessible by bus or by walking from downtown. To get there by bus, take the Go Wellington bus No. 20 from the central city (3.50NZD/2.30USD).
If you’re feeling active and up for the 20 minute, well maintained walk up the hill, make your way to the end of Courtenay Place, cross Kent Terrace and walk straight up Majoribanks St. At the top of the street, you should see a sign for the ‘Southern Walkway’. From this point, it’s up to you which route you take, as the hill is criss-crossed with walking trails. As long as you head in a general uphill direction, you’ll end up at the lookout.
The ‘summit walkway’ is the most direct route, although views aren’t very exciting until you get to the lookout (unless you’re really keen on trees). Oh, and keep an eye out for ‘Lord of the Rings’-type scenery. The hobbits’ first terrifying encounter with the Black Riders was filmed on these trails!
A note on safety: there are no issues during the daytime. At night, I would recommend taking the longer way and following roads, especially if you’re on your own.
Here, you’ll not only find spectacular views over all of Wellington, but a spot of history too! Wright’s Hill Fortress is a network of underground tunnels and three gun emplacements built in the 1940s to protect New Zealand from possible attack. This one is a bit trickier to get to, but still possible without a car. The best bet is to take a bus from the central city up to the Karori shops, and walk from there. The track starts at the Karori Scout Hall carpark and takes you in a zig zag up to the lookout. Watch out - after a bit of rain, the track gets muddy and slippery, and takes a few days to dry up again.
Te Ahumairangi Hill Lookout
It’s quite a hike to get to the top of the hill: 40 minutes to an hour if you start from Tinakori road. Luckily, for those who don’t have the time or energy for the climb, you can also drive up - just follow the signs at the Northland end of Orangi Kaupapa Rd. Watching the sun set over the Cook Strait from the lookout, wind turbines dotting the hills, pink sky and flickering city lights below - it can be pure magic. It can also be freezing, so don’t forget your coat! No matter how warm you get on the way up, you’ll wish you had more layers at the top.
This one has by far the grandest view (in my opinion). Unfortunately, it is also the least accessible. You really need access to a car to get to the start of the walking track alone (at the end of Woodmancote Road in the suburb of Khandallah), and then there’s a good hour of walking uphill before you get to the good bit. But it’s oh sooo good.
There’s a lovely little wooden platform to sit on and take in the spectacle of Wellington’s buildings hugging the harbour; the city nestled in the folds of the surrounding mountains, and the great blue Pacific extending into the distance. This is the highest vantage point on the list, hence the grander views. If you can find a way to get up there, do it.
So, when you find yourself in Wellington - go up. Whether you just want to ride the cable car and get a view of the city centre, or whether you want to climb up to a place where you can see the South Island in the distance, go up. Take a bus, car, or hike (or all three) and find a place from which to marvel at the city below you.