Outdoor activities in Wellington
One of the things Wellingtonians love about their city is the immediate connection with nature. All kinds of Wellington outdoor activities can be enjoyed within minutes of the CBD. Green belts laced with biking and hiking trails separate suburbs; there are beaches everywhere, from tranquil harbour sanctuaries to ocean surf spots; and there's a coastal marine reserve for snorkelling and diving. What's more, the Botanic Garden is only minutes away via a ride on the Cable Car from Lambton Quay. At the top of the Cable Car you can also catch a free shuttle to Zealandia, a large eco-sanctuary set in a valley buzzing with native wildlife.
Head up Mount Victoria for views and fresh air
Rising behind Oriental Bay right in the city, Mount Victoria is one of the most popular places for locals to take visiting friends and family. The views are fabulous in every direction and it’s the perfect place to get a feel for where things are in the city.
Covered in forest, 'Mount Vic' also provides Wellingtonians and visitors with a super-handy place to reconnect with nature. Several longer trails pass through the reserve, but the Lookout Walkway is one of the best routes from the city to the summit. It begins at the eastern end of Marjoribanks Street off Courtney Place, heads south towards the Hobbit Hideaway area (where Frodo and friends hid from the Black Riders in the Lord of the Rings movie), then turns north again towards the harbour and the summit. After soaking up the views, you can continue down to Oriental Bay for a well-deserved harbourside ice cream or coffee.
Free of predator mammals, Zealandia is a 500-acre mainland sanctuary and home to 18 native species that were completely gone from the area.
Leg it on the best Wellington walks
Wellington is a very walkable city, so the locals are used to slipping on a pair of runners for a bit of a hike to clear the cobwebs. The hilly nature of the city provides options for a good workout and the reward of long-range elevated views; if you’re craving a bit of salty air, you can choose a coastal track.
In the city there's a great range of heritage trails and longer nature hikes, which can be tackled in sections if you prefer. The 14.4km City to Sea Walkway, for example, begins near Parliament Buildings and ends at Island Bay. It leads you through the Botanic Garden and several parks in Aro Valley with its historical houses. The next sections follow the forested town belt tracks to exposed hilltops, a windfarm and exceptional views. Buses from Island Bay and other urban points along the way make it easy to return to the city centre.
Detailed guides to the inner city and regional walks can be found on the city council's website. There’s also a great Welly Walks app that features nine of the top walks, from inner suburb and waterfront routes to serious hiking trails.
Eat an ice cream at Oriental Bay
Just five minutes from the city centre, Oriental Bay would have to be one of New Zealand’s best inner city beaches. North-facing and sheltered from the cooler southerly winds, this sweeping curve of white sand is perfect for swimming, relaxing, picnics and waterfront walks. A fountain in the harbour, just off the beach, operates on a regular timetable provided it’s not too windy.
Across the road from the beach, there's a café, restaurant, pizza bar and a few outlets selling coffee, gelato and ice creams to go. There are more eateries at Freyberg Beach next to the Freyberg Pool and Fitness Centre, which is perfect for combining a swim with your waterfront workout on cooler days.
The best beaches for swimming in Wellington
In addition to Oriental Bay, Wellington has many other beautiful beaches for swimming, surfing and diving.
Scorching Bay: Located on the eastern side of Miramar Peninsula, this bay certainly lives up to its name on a sizzling day in summer. It’s a hot spot for fun, particularly on weekends, with plenty of white sand and lawn to stretch out on, plus clear blue water for cooling off. The local café Scorch-O-Rama serves brunch and lunch.
Lyall Bay: On the south coast, Lyall Bay is a city surf beach powered by swells that come in off Cook Strait. It’s also a safe sandy swimming beach with life guards on duty during summer. Local eateries serve coffee and ice cream to enjoy while you watch the planes land at the airport down the end of the beach.
Princess Bay: Next along the south coast is the sheltered west-facing Princess Bay, a small curved sandy beach popular with locals. If exploring rock pools is your kind of outdoor activity, check out the point near the beach.
Island Bay: This is Wellington’s historical fishing village on the south coast and boats still rest on moorings in the sheltered waters today. The beach is good for swimming and a swim raft is moored in the bay during summer. Island Bay sits near the centre of the Taputeranga Marine Reserve. From the eastern end of the beach, snorkelers and divers can follow a dive trail along the offshore reefs. Scuba divers can also dive the wreck of HMNZS Wellington east of the island.
Days Bay: Located in Eastbourne, across the harbour from the central city, this long sandy beach makes a wonderful day trip. A regular ferry service leaves from the CBD wharves, giving you a chance to see Wellington from the harbour. Days Bay is a popular swimming beach and you can also hire a kayak or paddleboard from The Boatshed beside the wharf.
Meet some of New Zealand’s rarest birds and wildlife at Zealandia
This fully fenced eco-sanctuary is a world-first and a must-visit Wellington attraction. Only a short drive from the city centre, it represents years of work by dedicated conservationists and volunteers. They took a valley previously set aside for the city’s water supply and have restored ecosystems as closely as possible to how they would have been before people arrived in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Discover mountain biking nirvana
Free of introduced predator mammals, Zealandia helped introduce 18 native species of wildlife, some of which were previously absent from mainland New Zealand for over 100 years. Native birds like tūī, kākā and kereru, which thrive in Zealandia, have spread their wings to establish populations throughout the Wellington region. Within the sanctuary, some of our most vulnerable native species are also flourishing, including little spotted kiwi, tīeke, hihi and our largest reptile, the prehistoric tuatara.
For the ultimate Zealandia experience, book a two-hour small-group daytime tour with a guide. Zealandia also offers slightly longer twilight tours and night tours by torchlight. Getting there is easy: from the top of the Cable Car, it’s only a 20-30-minute walk or you can catch Zealandia’s free electric shuttle.
Discover mountain biking nirvana
Surrounded by forest covered hills and bisected by several green belts, Wellington has an impressive range of mountain bike trails to explore. Here’s just a taste of what the city has to offer:
Mount Victoria bike tracks: Right next to the CBD, most of the trails on Mount Victoria are open to mountain bikes, making it easy to explore this forested reserve on two wheels. All in all, there are more than a dozen tracks including the famous 2.3km advanced downhill known as Super D.
Remutaka Cycle Trail: This 114km trail is part of Ngā Haerenga (the New Zealand Cycle Trail) and is one of New Zealand’s Great Rides. Beginning in Petone, it passes through urban areas to north of Upper Hutt, then it climbs the Remutaka Range to Wairarapa before it crosses the plains to the Southern Coast. You can choose to ride certain sections in a day or tackle the whole trail over several days. A highlight is the historic Remutaka Incline, an engineering marvel that allowed special engines to haul trains over the ranges before the Remutaka Tunnel was built.
Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park: This is a world-class bike priority park with 40 trails for everyone from beginners and families to thrill-seeking experts. Weaving around the peak just 7km west of the city, the trails cover 45km with views of Wellington and, on a clear day, the South Island. Set in 250 hectares of regenerating native forest and scrub, the trails were designed by experts. The park is also a pest-free sanctuary for native plants and wildlife with more than 38,000 native trees planted by a supporters group.
Tunnel Gully: North of the city and 10 minutes from Upper Hutt, the Tunnel Gully recreation area has more than a dozen dedicated mountain bike trails. Set in the Pakuratahi Forest, the trails carry you through varied terrain, including pine and native forest. There's even a stream for cooling off on warm summer days. Some of the trails link with the Remutaka Cycle Trail.
Finding a bike to ride in Wellington is easy. There are numerous bike hire places in the city and near some of the trails. Cycle tour operators also offer shuttle services on longer rides, like the Remutaka Cycle Trail. If you prefer to ride your own bike, check out our guide to transporting sports equipment on the page about overweight and oversized items.
Wellington Botanic Garden
Located at the top of the Wellington Cable Car, just minutes from the CBD, these beautiful botanic gardens have been welcoming visitors since the late 1800s. As you explore the 64-acre site, you’ll find some of New Zealand’s oldest exotic trees and areas of native forest.
Children of all ages love the duck pond and colourful flower beds in the main garden. There’s also an Australian garden, succulent garden, herb garden and the highly-rated Lady Norwood Rose Garden to enjoy. A begonia house and popular café complete the attractions in this much-loved Garden of National Significance.