From calm seasides to a busy city center, 24 hours in Wellington may not be enough to see everything, but it is enough to try a bit of everything New Zealand’s capital has to offer. A budget of $60 for a full day in windy Welly might seem a bit tight, but the city has heaps of free activities and most of them are in walking distance from one another, making food and drink the only expenses to think about.
With a big breakfast in your future, it might be a good idea to start the day with some exercise by walking up Mt. Victoria, Wellington’s highest point. It’s not anything too strenuous and the reward at the end will be worth it.
Mt Victoria offers spectacular views of the city on your conquer list today. Look down on the harbour, Cuba Street and CBD on one side. Another side offers more nautical views in the form of Lyall Bay, facing this way, the next landmass is Antarctica.
Total for the day: $0
I suggest using this route from Majoribanks Street to reach the summit and return to the city center.
Popular for its voodoo vibe and delectable dishes, next stop is Sweet Mother’s Kitchen on Courtenay Place. While the menu offers an array of NOLA favorites, I suggest sticking with the classics to get an ideal of the cuisine and stay within the budget. Po Boy with a side order of Beignets it is.
The southern-style Po Boy sandwich is pretty filling yet affordable and people will wait hours in line in New Orleans for tiny donut balls with icing sugar called beignets. These two items are sure to give you a good feed. But don’t forget a coffee to wash it all down. Wellington is known for its cafe and coffee culture, Sweet Mother’s Kitchen is a big part of that.
Total for the day: $NZ15
To reach Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, continue walking on Majoribanks Street, away from Mt. Victoria. Once you cross Kent Terrace, Majoribanks Street will turn into Courtenay Place and the cafe is just to the left.
While you might not want to move after your New Orleans-style brunch, there’s a giant squid to be seen and Maori culture to be learnt, it’s time to visit Te Papa. Located on the waterfront, one could spend days at the Museum of New Zealand, but you only have two hours.
Friendly staff at the visitors center can help you pick which exhibitions to check out. Make sure you learn a bit about Maori culture with displays like The Marae. Learn about the land, especially its fault line, at the museum’s Awesome Forces exhibition. Last but not least, see the only colossal squid exhibition in the world and learn about the mysterious sea creature.
Total for the day: $NZ15 (Yes, the museum is free!)
From Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, continue down Courtenay Place away from Mt. Victoria and make a right at Tory Street. You’ll see the museum at the end of this street.
With a lengthy waterfront walkway full of benches and grassy sections, you might as well skip the pricey restaurants here and have a picnic instead. Stop in New World, which is located just across the street and to the left of Te Papa, facing away from the harbour. The affordable kiwi supermarket has an array of fresh breads, dips, even sushi. While you could spend as little as $NZ2 on lunch here, let’s set the budget at $NZ10.
From New World, head back to Te Papa and start walking along the waterfront. I suggest having lunch on one of the plots of grass near The Boatshed which has a view of the lagoon. Another great place for al fresco lunch would be on the steps by the Civic Center.
The waterfront has an array of things to do, from renting paddle boats to learning about the city at the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. But the nice thing about it is you really don’t have to actually do anything and most people don’t. Walk along the water, relax in the sun and enjoy the sights.
Total for the day: $NZ25
Te Papa is located on the water front, turn right upon exiting the main entrance to reach destinations mentioned above.
It’s time for another stellar view of the city from above, but don’t worry, you’ll be taking public transportation to this summit and the journey is half the fun. From Lambton Quay, purchase a return cable car ticket to the Botanic Gardens ($NZ6). This public transportation route dates back to 1902 and the iconic red car has been the subject of many post cards.
People still use it to reach various destinations along the hill, but most get off at the top to visit the the Botanic Garden. The 25-hectre garden contains native gardens, floral displays and more.
A few walks start at the top. Avoid the longer routes that lead you downhill. Try some of the shorter routes, look around the gardens at the top and take in the view. Once you’ve had your fill, catch the cable car back to the city center
Total for the day: $NZ31
Coming from Te Papa, reach the cable car by turning left just after Fergs Kayaks on the waterfront. Follow this road until Lambton Quay where you’ll make a right. You’ll see a sign for the cable car on the left of this road a few blocks ahead.
Head to Cuba Street for dinner. One could spend all day on this busy street, hopping from cafe to cafe. It’s a great spot in the city at all times of day, but the nightlife here is especially spectacular.
There’s an array of restaurants and cafes to choose from along here. It’s hard to recommend just one place for people on a budget, because depending on the night, one restaurant could have better deals than another. The good news is that most dining establishments along this road offer great food and atmosphere.
Some places to consider for the best food on a budget are Tulsi, Fidel’s, Heaven Pizza and Hotel Bristol. Walking along Cuba Street is an activity in itself, so take in the city while you’re searching for where to eat and walking the meal off after. You can find a good meal here and one drink for under $NZ20.
Total for the day: $NZ51
From the cable car head back towards the waterfront on Lampton Quay and turn right at Willis Street. Make a left at Manner Street and a right onto Cuba Street.
Whatever is left of your $60 for the day can go towards the night. If you’ve followed my recommendations you’ll be left with $NZ9-10, which is enough to buy a beer, maybe two, or entrance to a gig.
Wellington has a great music scene including local and international performers. Like at dinner, it’s hard to recommend just one place to spend the night here on a budget as each night offers different deals. Capital Times weekly newspaper is a great source for this or you could just rock up to a place and check it out. Either way, I recommend sticking around Cuba Street.
San Francisco Bath House has great live shows and party nights. If a big act is playing there, don’t bother as it will be out of the budget, but sometimes entrance is free or under $NZ10. The Fringe Bar has comedy nights, karaoke and gigs. Bodega features live bands and a lot of times entrance is by donation.
Let the night take you where it will, which might even be all the way to 8 a.m. the next day. Now that would be an epic 24 hours in Wellington.
Total for the day: $51-60