Our final stop on New Zealand’s North Island was the capital city of Wellington. Setting off from Rotorua, we enjoyed the long scenic drive that took us through hills and forests, alongside Lake Taupo, and past lots of farmland.
Wellington became the nation’s capital in 1865, taking over that title from Auckland. This move was made because of fears that the resource-rich South Island might decide to seek independence from the north.
Today Wellington is home to around 400,000 people, making it the second largest city in the country (but only about one-fourth the size of Auckland).
Te Papa Tongarewa
Te Papa Tongarewa (meaning “container of treasures”) is New Zealand’s National Museum and we were excited to check it out, especially since the museum is free (except for special exhibitions).
Within the museum we learned more about New Zealand’s natural history, including the role of invasive species in the ecosystem.
The kids liked the hands-on exhibit highlighting the music, language, and arts of native peoples in the South Pacific.
There is a large collection of Maori art, featuring traditional works as well as modern interpretations of the traditional art forms.
Another gallery told the dramatic history of the Battle of Gallipoli. This hard-fought WWI engagement is commemorated annually on ANZAC day in Australia and New Zealand.
Behind the museum there’s a “bush walk” with native plants on display.
On Saturdays there is a farmer’s market adjacent to the museum. We browsed the stalls and selected a delicious loaf of olive bread.
On our second day we set off on a self-guided walking tour of Wellington. Being the capital, we had to check out some of the government buildings including the “Beehive” that houses the executive wing of parliament.
Later we made our way down colorful Cuba street, which was lined with interesting sculptures, street art, and a wide selection of funky shops and cafes.
We also stopped by the historic Old St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Gothic cathedral was completed in 1866 using native woods. We were awed by the craftsmanship of the roof supports and the stained glass windows.
Wellington Cable Car
The next day we decided to go for a ride on the Wellington Cable Car. Along our five minute journey to the top, we passed through a tunnel that had a dazzling installation of LED lights.
From the top of the hill we had a great view of Wellington and the harbour beyond. Next to the upper station there’s a free Cable Car museum that houses some of the original wooden cars.
Instead of taking the cable car back down, we decided to have a stroll through the botanic gardens.
The kids were pleased to find a playground along the way.
We were thoroughly impressed with Wellington and wish we could have stayed longer. Hopefully we’ll be able to get back in the future!
In our next update, we begin our journey across the South Island!