What are Free Things to Do in Wellington? 2021

Free Things to Do in Wellington Staytopia

Wellington is a walker’s city. Compact, arty, quirky and set around a beautiful harbour. Four seasons in one day. It’s one of those cities where you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have an amazing day. In no order of importance here’s plenty of fun ideas! I’ve added some cheap ideas too cause you know a coffee here or there won’t break the bank. Free things to do in Wellington…

NZ Accommmodation: Want to stay in a hobbit house or a gypsy caravan? See my post: Unique Places to Stay in New Zealand, and near Wellington how about a container house in a paddock or a converted stable see here: Unique New Zealand Accommodation for Couples – Lower North Island. Check out: 9 Unique Places to Stay in Wellington

Waterfront Heritage, Art & Culture Walk:

Start the walk near the Railway Station and head left to the sea and Lady Elizabeth Lane and the waterfront wharves. This is all reclaimed land and the working end of the wharves. At this section you’ll see daily port life as you stroll past the two little red tugs – Toia and Kupe – who guide massive big container ships into port. If they’re not tied up in port you’ll see them out on the harbour working hard! Catch the fishing trawlers bringing in their hauls of fish in the evenings. Police Launch, Lady Elizabeth, berths at this end of the wharf too.

The Sheds:

This fascinating wharf walk takes you past huge sheds and 19th century buildings that were originally Wellington Harbour Board buildings and wool sheds. Today the numbered sheds accommodate galleries, restaurants, rock climbing, and bars.

On the sea side of Shed 6 you’ll see big panels with lots of stories, photos and information about the history of the waterfront.

Free Things to Do in Wellington
Bright Lights on the Waterfront

Look out for sculptures:

  • Nga Kina by Michael Tuffery near the start
  • Len Lye Water Whirler – see video below
  • Solace in the Wind (Naked Man) Statue
  • Wellington Writers Walk – 23 typographical statues – poems, quotes, thoughts dotted along the waterfront.

Watch Len Lye’s Water Whirler:

As you stroll you’ll see:

  • Frank Kitts park and the impressive Lighthouse slide (be a kid again!)
  • Historic cranes, including a floating crane
  • Scenic helicopters and tourist boats, and the Eastbourne Ferry
  • Commemorative war history plaques (look out for the interesting one about the Polish children arriving in Wellington)
  • The amazing group sculpture of Kupe, his wife and their tohunga (healer) sighting the shores of Aotearoa
  • Restaurants include: Crabshack, Shed 5, Dockside, St John’s Bar, One Red Dog, and Foxglove.
  • Museums and galleries (see below).
Star Boating Club
Star Boating Club

Walk by Whairepo Lagoon and the historic Star Boating Club – this rowing club has been active since 1860! The building was purpose-built for the club and was moved to its current position in 1989. Source.

Sitting next to Mac’s Brewbar is the New Zealand Stock Exchange and ticker display so you can check out the latest share market movements!

Art on the Waterfront Includes:

  • NZ Academy of Fine Arts – 1 Queen’s Wharf
  • The New Zealand Portrait Gallery – Shed 11, 60 Elizabeth Lane
  • Māori Arts Gallery – Boat Shed 1, Frank Kitts Park
  • Wellington Underground Market – Saturdays 10am – 4pm

Wellington Museum – great museum housed in a beautiful 1892 building. See Wellington’s maritime past, learn about migrations and the Māori and colonial history of Wellington Te Whanganui a Tara. Their website is here.

Next stop is Circa Theatre, Te Papa, Port Nicholson Marina, walk right next to the colourful boatsheds, under and around Freyberg Pool (you’ll know what I mean by that when you get there!) and on to Oriental Bay. If you feel like a coffee or sustenance by then, Beach Babylon is my favourite cafe.

Marina, historic boatsheds and Oriental Bay
Historic boatsheds, Oriental Bay, Freyberg Pool

Walk along Oriental Bay, a jewel in Wellington’s crown, and join joggers, bikers and strollers. Relax and swim at this city beach, the sand comes from Golden Bay in the South Island.

Oriental Bay

You can keep walking around the bays past Oriental Bay, along Evan’s Bay Parade, through Kilbirnie (good op shops!) to Lyall Bay. Visit Spruce Goose cafe next to the airport runway and be a plane spotter for a while or the iconic Maranui Surf Life Saving Club on the beach and watch the surfers.

City to Sea Bridge: From Frank Kitts Park and the Whairepo Lagoon walk across the quirky City to Sea bridge with awesome timber sculptures of whales and fish and taniwha. This is a collaborative work of art based on the Māori creation story of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) and Te Aho a Māui which explains how Māui fished up the North Island. Source.

Te Papa – New Zealand’s national museum is the most popular thing to do in Wellington and it’s free. See Art, History, Nature, Fossils, the Colossal Squid, Māori Culture, don’t miss the Earthquake Room, Forest Walk and lots more. The new Art Gallery shows New Zealand art and changing exhibitions. See their website for what’s on.

Historic barge and Te Papa

Visit City Gallery Wellington and catch the latest exhibitions. Check out their website for what’s on, talks and events. You’ll be intrigued by the big hand sculpture on the roof – love it or hate it! (I love it) First Thursday of the month, from 5pm – 10pm catch Tuatara Open Late for Art, music, film, talks, beer, wine, and food.

Art Galleries in the City:

  • Page Blackie Gallery – 42 Victoria Street
  • Potocki Patterson Art Gallery – 41 Dixon Street (upstairs)
  • AVID – shop and gallery – 48 Victoria Street
  • Eyeball Kicks – contemporary, quirky cook limited edition prints – 117 Manners Street 
  • Ora Gallery and Kura Gallery – incredible indigenous art and craft from throughout New Zealand
  • Solander Gallery – 218c Willis Street

The Treaty of Waitangi: Housed in the National Library, this founding document was signed by the British Crown and Māori Chiefs (Rangatira) on 6th February 1840. See the Treaty and interactive displays so you can learn more. You’ll also see the Women’s Suffrage Petition on display. Huge rolls of signatures (32,000 total!) that were presented to Parliament in 1893. That year New Zealand women won the right to vote.

Funky Cuba Quarter:

  • Wonder up and down this quirky street
  • Peter Mcleavey Gallery – 147 Cuba Street
  • {Suite} Art Gallery –  241 Cuba Street (bigger than it looks from the street)
  • Kiwi Arthouse Gallery – 288 Cuba Street
  • Iconic Bucket Fountain – don’t stand too close!
  • Ikoiko shop gallery – contemporary weird and wonderful gifts and homeware
  • Cheap Eats: Fidels a healthy food joint, Aunty Mena’s for vegan and vegetarian, hip Midnight Espresso for yum counter food (also vegan); Rasa South Indian and Malaysian, find the ‘secret garden’ through Olive’s doors (brunch popular).

Botanic Gardens. Flowing over a hill above the city centre you can walk up the hill for free or catch the cable car at a small charge. At the top you’ll find the Space Place and the Cable Car Museum. The Botanic Gardens is 25 hectares of native and exotic gardens, seasonal displays and sculptures. Meander through the paths and you can arrive back in the CBD. There’s a cafe in the Lady Norwood Rose Gardens. At night you can see glowworms – next to the Pipitea stream. See the map here.

Cable Car Museum – free entrance. Learn about the history of Wellington’s iconic cable car. You’ll see an old cable car where we used to sit on the outside! No health and safety laws back then!

The Beehive – New Zealand’s seat of power! Join one of the free daily tours. They take one hour and are available between 10 and 4pm. Click here to find out more from the New Zealand Parliament website.

Highly Recommended: Get the Free Welly Walks App to guide you on your walks around the city. Walks include: nature, brewery, foodie, boutique and heritage. and has instructions, maps and images. Download it from iTunes or Google Play or App store.

Walk the Mount Victoria Loop. 4.7km and takes around 2.5 hours. Walks across the top of the hills above Hataitai, joins the Southern Walkway and returns to Mt Vic. https://wellington.govt.nz/recreation/enjoy-the-outdoors/walks-and-walkways/across-the-city/mount-victoria-loop

Walk the City to Sea Walkway. 12kms and takes around 6-7 hours. This includes the Botanic Gardens, Victoria University, vintage Aro Valley, and town forest. Starts near the beehive and finishes at beachy Island Bay. https://wellington.govt.nz/recreation/enjoy-the-outdoors/walks-and-walkways/across-the-city/city-to-sea-walkway

Looking up at Mount Victoria

Mount Victoria – head to this top spot and enjoy the panoramic views of Wellington – great for photos. FYI: Mount Victoria is also the name of the suburb below the Mount.

Aro Valley is a snapshot in time – this historic 19th century working class neighbourhood evolved into a student enclave and strong little community. With its close proximity to Victoria University of Wellington there’s been minimal development in the area. So the original workers cottages and tall Victorian villas sit squeezed together in this green urban valley.

Drive up or down Devon Street if you have a car (super narrow and exciting when you meet another car!).

Walk up Holloway Road (for history buffs this was a working class stronghold during the 1951 Waterfront Lockout.) Source. Everyone knows everyone in this popular street and every year they put on a street cocktail party for the residents.

Nature Walks in Aro Valley: Polhill Reserve Loop (2 hours) from the entrance to Holloway Road. Aro Valley is part of the City to Sea Walkway.

The Massey Memorial is an incredible spot hidden on the hill at Port Halswell. Just past Shelly Bay. Walk up the signed steps to this mausoleum of New Zealand prime minister, William Massey.

Swim at the beautiful golden sand beach at sheltered Scorching Bay. Busy in the summer weekends with swimmers and snorkellers.

Weta Cave – see Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, King Kong film making props and buy a souvenir. Free entry. Tours and workshops start at $28.

While you’re in Miramar visit the beautiful art-deco Roxy Cinema, built in 1928 and restored in 2011. Catch the Oscar displayed in a glass case on the second floor. This was won by Jamie Selkirk for editing the Lord of The Rings: Return of The King. Cheap times for catching a film are: Tuppence Tuesday $10 all day or weekdays before 5pm costs only $12.

Red Rocks Reserve. In the winter months you can walk around the stony beach and see a fur seal colony basking on the rocks. Take food and drink and expect to take around 3 hours to walk in and out. FYI: The rocks are red because they are made from iron oxide formed thousands of years ago by an undersea volcanic eruption.

Free Things to Do in Wellington (just outside the city):

Petone – heritage and boutiques

Head out to ’boutiquey’ Petone around the harbour for quirky cafes, craft beer, contemporary fashion, and a busy foodie scene.

Free things to do: walk the street one way and the beach the other. visit the water fountain for artesian water, Te Puna Wai Ora (The Spring of Life), visit the Settlers Museum on the waterfront, visit Petone’s old Police Station and Jail.

For food lovers see The Dutch Shop, OnTrays Deli, La Bella Italia Restaurant and Deli, Mexico Restaurant, Siam Spoon (Thai), Kilim (kebabs), amazing Seashore Cabaret on the waterfront and many more.

Eastbourne – Beachside Village

Eastbourne is a picturesque seaside suburb across the harbour from the city. Days Bay, the bay before Eastbourne, is the best for swimming with the fun pastime of ‘jumping off the wharf’.

Hike up the hill behind The Pavillion Cafe for a nature walk. Further on in Eastbourne you’ll find the quaint little village shops, Eastbourne Wharf, Swimming Pool, Butterfly Creek Walk and Pencarrow Walk (or bike) around the coast to the Lighthouse. Cheap eats: buy fish and chips and eat at the beach or the playground.

Porirua – Celebrating Diversity

Porirua is a popular place to live for Maori, Samoan, Cook Islands and other Pacific Island communities. This creates a wonderfully diverse and friendly community. Every Saturday morning from 7am the Porirua Market is open with fresh fruit, veges, produce and cooked food from around the globe.

Pataka Museum: In Porirua – 19 minutes (in good traffic) north of Wellington. I love Pataka Museum it’s exhibitions are always amazing and showcase art from Māori, New Zealand and overseas artists. Free entry.

The New Zealand Police Museum – housed at the Royal New Zealand Police College, this museum is based on Scotland Yard’s Black Museum. See police methods, social and political history and a look at the country’s more infamous crimes. Open 10am – 5pm every day. Free entry.

While in Porirua walk the Onepoto Loop Track. 5.5 kms and takes about 2 hours. Follows the coast with lovely views, open grassy areas and is an easy hike.

Happy Travelling! Hope you’ve enjoyed this list of Free Things to Do in Wellington. If you need any more information or want to join the conversation please share in the comments section below. Alisa 🙂

See also: New Zealand South Island Holidays – 4 Baches You’ll Love!

Pic courtesy of Sam Halstead by Pixabay, Image by Bernd Hildebrandt from Pixabay. Image by 377053 from Pixabay 

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