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I have to admit, Wellington is my favorite city in New Zealand! Yep, despite being the nation’s capital, Wellington has a quirky small-town vibe which I love. It’s such a cool city and is full to the brim of atmospheric restaurants, craft beer breweries, and awesome Wellington activities.
Like, did you know there’s a cable car here as well as one of the best museums I’ve ever visited on my travels – the Te Papa Museum? As well as that, there’s the iconic Cuba Street which is home to some of the city’s best eateries.
But slightly further afield is where you can find Wellington’s true magic and beauty – not too far from the city is the Martinborough wine region, the nature haven of Kapiti Island, and the gateway to the South Island – the glorious Picton!
Whether you have just a few days or longer in Wellington, I’m sure you’ll be itching to get out and explore beyond the city limits. So rent a car in Wellington and get set for this awesome list of 12 of the best day trips from Wellington!
The BEST Day Trips from Wellington
1. Weta Cave and Workshop
First up and at just a 15-minute (7.7 km/ 4.8 miles) drive from Wellington CBD, it’s one of the most easily accessible day trips on this list! It’s also one of the coolest; yep, Lord of the Rings fans just have to visit the Weta Workshop and Cave in Miramar – which was founded by the director of the movie franchise – Sir Peter Jackson!
In short, Weta Workshop is one of the best special effects and prop companies worldwide, and on a guided tour of the famed workshop, you will get the chance to see the props and costumes used in the Lord of The Rings movies as well as Chronicles of Narnia! As well as that, I really loved seeing the mini puppets that were used in Thunderbirds Are Go – they are iconic!
On the 3.5-hour tour, you will learn so much about the LOTR movies as well as some fascinating facts about how they created the practical effects for them. It’s so interesting getting to see how the staff here use technology to make their creations. This really is a must-do day trip from Wellington for movie buffs! Transport to and from Wellington CBD is included in the price.
It’s worth noting that there is no actual entrance fee to enter the Weta Cave, but it is essentially just a gift store with a mini museum with some props on display. So, although doing it without a tour is a great way to save some money, I highly recommend the guided tour – I learned so much on this tour!
2. Wine Tour in Martinborough
The Martinborough Wine Region, an 81 km (50 miles) drive from Wellington, is widely considered to be one of the best wine-growing regions in New Zealand. That’s thanks to its cool and dry weather and free-draining soils, which help to produce elegant grapes.
The best varieties grown here include Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. At just over an hour from the bustling city, it’s no wonder this cute European-style village is a popular day trip option for both Wellingtonians and overseas visitors!
You can, of course, choose to drive here yourself, but that means that one of you won’t be able to taste the delicious wines as the designated driver, so why not consider this small-group tour – which includes wine tastings at three vineyards? It’s a 5-hour tour that stops at Moy Hall Vineyard, Poppies Martinborough, and Te Kairanga wines.
As well as that, your driver will stop at C’est Cheese, where you can sample some yummy local cheese, and Stuart Macaskill Lakes, which is a stunning lake, ideal for a mini photo shoot! This particular tour is highly recommended and quite reasonable at $146 NZD per person.
Related Read: This wine region is also one of the best stops on the trip from Wellington to Napier if you’re up for a longer drive!
You may be wondering why I’ve included Picton, a popular holiday spot on the South Island, on this list of the best day trips from Wellington on the North Island. Well, hear me out – the famed ferry to the South Island departs from Wellington Ferry Terminal and is approximately 3.5 hours each way.
So, take your car over with you on the first ferry of the day and explore this stunning coastal town before catching an evening ferry back into Wellington! I promise it will be so worth the long day!
First up, the scenery on the ferry ride is honestly breathtaking – taking in the Cook Strait and the Marlborough Sounds, and you may even be lucky enough to see dolphins and seals on the ride over! Then, once you reach the small town of Picton, you have a plethora of activities to choose from, from accompanying the local postman on his delivery route via boat to swimming with wild dolphins!
Because Picton is built within the picturesque Queen Charlotte Sound, as you can imagine, most of the activities in Picton are water-based. As I mentioned above, one of the best tours I’ve done here is the Mail Boat Cruise. Yep, mail in the Queen Charlotte Sound is delivered by boat and has been for the past 150 years! So, on this extremely popular tour, you can join the local postman as he delivers packages to remote homes along the Sounds! And if time allows, he will also stop off at one of the secluded beaches along the way! The price per person for this tour starts at $110 NZD per person.
Another great thing to do in Picton is to visit Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary, which is home to unique birds like tui, Kererū, bellbirds, robins, fantails, and parakeets. It was given the status of a designated wildlife reserve in 1920 and has recently been made predator-free thanks to the efforts of local volunteers.
Boats to the island leave Picton at 8 am every day, and tickets cost $98 NZD per person. You should note, though, that this tour only operates between October and April, and you should book online in advance to secure your place.
Another awesome activity in this small town is to book a dolphin cruise which offers the opportunity to see three different types of dolphins – bottlenose, hector, and dusky as well as take in the scenery of the Marlborough Sounds. This 4-hour tour is very popular too, and should be booked in advance!
Hot Tip: Although Picton is possible to visit on a day trip from Wellington, if you have time, why not spend a night or two?! You can browse all of the best hotels in Picton here!
4. Visit Zealandia
Another easy day trip option from Wellington and a great choice for animal lovers is Zealandia Ecosanctuary. It’s a fully fenced eco-sanctuary that is home to native birdlife like the Tui, Takariki, and Takahe. It was, in fact, one of the first sanctuaries in the world to totally fence off the animals. Also housed here are reptiles like the Green Gecko and Tuatara!
What I found fascinating is that Zealandia has a 500-year vision to restore the waterways and valleys around the city as close as possible to their pre-human state.
You can explore Zealandia on your own or with a professional guide, but I found this 2-hour guided walking tour to be so informative, and I’m so glad I booked it. On the tour, you will learn all about the different species here and get up close to them at the numerous feeding stations which are dotted throughout the sanctuary. It’s a small group tour – limited to just 10 people, so it’s a more personalized experience. Tours depart at 10 am, 11 am, or 1 pm and cost from $58 NZD per adult.
If you decide not to do a tour – the entrance fee to Zealandia costs $23 NZD per adult and $10 for children over the age of 5.
Zealandia is a 10-minute (4.2 km/ 2.6 miles) drive from downtown Wellington.
5. See seals at the Red Rocks
If you’re looking for a fantastic winter day trip from Wellington, look no further than the Red Rocks in Owhiro Bay, where you can see up to 300 seals lazing on the rocks. It’s a 30-minute drive here from Wellington CBD (12.4 km/ 7.7 miles), and there’s a fascinating tale behind how the rocks got their name.
The Maori story tells of Kupe, a Polynesian explorer who cut himself on paua (shellfish) and bled on the rocks. Would you believe the rocks are believed to be 200 million years old!!
In the winter, you will only see bachelor male seals here; that’s because they swim here after not being able to breed among the larger colony on the South Island. To get to these seals, you must follow an easy 7.4 km walking track, which ends at a beach at Sinclair Head (where you’ll see the seals on the rocks). It will take most people 4 hours return to complete. The trailhead starts from the car park located at the end of Owhiro Bay.
It’s important not to get too close to the seals!
Whanganui is a small city built on the Whanganui River. In fact, one of the oldest cities in New Zealand, and because it’s a little over a 2 hour and 20-minute drive (195 km/121 miles) from Wellington, it’s a great day trip option from the city, especially if you love history, kayaking and, hiking!
Whanganui River is the longest navigable river in New Zealand, and so as you can probably guess, some of the best things to do in Whanganui involve this river. From kayaking to enjoying a riverboat cruise.
The Waimarie is a coal-fired steam paddler that offers a unique cruise experience. It boasts a galley and a bar so you can indulge in awesome food and drink while taking in the scenic river views. Alternatively, hop on a heritage river cruise with Motor Vessel Wairua, which departs daily at 11 am and is 2-hours long!
I should mention too that the Bason Botanic Gardens, a 15-minute drive from the city, are well worth exploring too. Here, you will see a huge variety of native and exotic plants, and there are some great walking trails too.
One of the most popular things to do in Whanganui is the Durie Hill Tower and Elevator, which boasts awesome views of the city, you can get the elevator to the top, which only costs $2 NZD per adult and $1 per child, or walk up – be warned though it’s quite steep and there are lots of steps! From the Memorial Tower, you can walk an additional 176 steps to the top, and it’s from here, you’ll find the best views of the city as well as the Tasman Sea and Whanganui River, and even Mount Ruapehu on a sunny day!
Nature lovers will adore Bushy Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a 247-acre sanctuary for native birds like kereru, morepork, kingfishers, and more! And it’s predator-free, meaning the birds can flourish. There are also a variety of easy walking trails here where you can spot one of the tallest trees on the North Island – a rata tree that is 141 feet (43 meters) high!
7. Kapiti Island
Kapiti Island is one of the oldest and most important nature reserves in New Zealand and is located just a few kilometers off the coast of the North Island. It’s home to some of the most unique flora and fauna in the country, as well as endangered bird species like the Kiwi, Weka, Tui, and Taheke.
Ferry’s to this small island depart from Paraparaumu Beach, which is a 45-minute drive (56 km / 35 miles) from Wellington CBD.
It’s advised to book a guided tour of the island, as your knowledgeable guide can teach you all about the creatures and plant life found here on a guided hike through the forest. Alternatively, you can opt to just get the ferry here and then explore the island on your own – however, you will need to obtain a Department of Conservation Permit, but the ferry company can arrange that for you.
This guided tour comes highly recommended and starts from Paraparaumu Beach, so you will need to make your own way there from Wellington. It includes the ferry ride, a guided walk of the island, lunch on the island, as well as all permits. Allow 6 hours for this tour; prices start from $202 NZD per person.
If your itinerary allows, this overnight Kiwi spotting tour on Kapiti Island is a truly unique experience and offers a very high chance of seeing the elusive kiwi in their natural habitat. Prices vary depending on what type of accommodation you’d prefer and you can choose from en suites, cabins, and luxury tents. Guided walks, meals, and all permits are included.
8. Visit Matiu/Somes Island
Another stunning island off the coast of Wellington that too has a rich history and an abundance of wildlife is Matiu/Somes Island – which is just a 30-minute ferry ride from Queen’s Wharf in the CBD. This means it’s a great day trip option for those who are short on time or don’t fancy a long day of driving!
Matiu/Somes Island is a predator-free scientific reserve owned by a local Maori tribe called the Taranaki Whānui. On the island, there are a number of walking trails which is where you can spot birdlife like kakariki, little blue penguins, and other species such as the tuatara, geckos, and the giant weta.
The shortest trail is the Bullock Trail, which will take just 10 minutes to complete – and, interestingly, is one of the original walking trails here. I loved the 30-minute return Gun Emplacements Track which leads to the top of the island. Along the way, you will see the gun emplacements used in WWII, and from the viewpoint, you will be treated to incredible views of Wellington Harbor. Finally, the Loop Track is a varied trail where you can see examples of its WWII history and awesome views of Wellington Harbor.
Ferries to Matiu/Somes Island run several times a day from Queens Wharf. Services are less frequent on the weekend. Tickets cost $24 NZD return per adult and $12 return for a child from 5 to 15 years.
9. Remutaka Forest Park
Remutaka Forest Park is one of the most popular day trips from Wellington, particularly for cyclists and hikers. This 55,000-acre park is just 30 km (18.6 miles) from the city, meaning you’re not spending too long getting there, so you can spend more time enjoying its various hiking and biking trails!
This park offers a fantastic opportunity for mountain bikers to cycle the famed Remutaka Rail Trail, which is 18 km (11 miles) and starts in Kaitoke and ends at the summit. It’s a gently graded trail and should take most people an hour to ride each way!
Aptly named the Rail Trail because it follows an old railway line that was established in 1878. Cycle through native forest, across bridges, and through tunnels – the terrain is so varied on this popular track. Plus, the view from the summit of the old Fell engine route is gorgeous. On your return cycle, the scenery is very different, think rolling green hills and lots of farm animals.
While for walkers, the Orongorongo Track is an easy 5.2 km (3.2 miles) each-way walk that follows through both podocarp and broadleaf forests; it ends at some swimming holes in the Tūrere Stream. In total, the walk will take 4 hours to complete.
This guided tour is a great option as it includes transport from Wellington. Plus, all equipment and lunch is included too. When booking, you will be given the option to choose the 18 km as described above or the longer 25 km trail, which is more suitable for experienced bikers. Allow 6 hours for this tour, and prices start at $143 NZD.
Related Read: there are several other awesome hiking trails on the North Island, check out the best ones here!
10. Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course
If you’re after a more thrill-seeking day trip from Wellington, look no further than the Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course in Porirua, a 20-minute drive (23 km/ 14 miles) from the CBD.
This adrenalin-pumping high ropes course features over 100 different challenges across seven different height levels, starting at 5 feet (1.5 meters) and working your way up to 101 feet (31 meters!) You ease yourself in with the lower levels and end with the more scary, super-high levels, so it’s not as heart-stopping as you might think.
Some of the fun challenges include the Tarzan jump, wrecking balls, crossed logs, and an Indiana jump!
Before you embark on the course, an experienced staff member will teach you how to use the Clic-iT safety system. A nifty, completely safe system that enables you to complete the course alone, without a guide.
Entry to the Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course costs $47 NZD per person.
11. Cape Palliser and the Putangirua Pinnacles
For a unique day trip from Wellington, I recommend hitting up Cape Palliser, an hour and 45 minutes (121 km / 75 miles) from the city. The region boasts a beautiful lighthouse, abundant marine life (specifically fur seals), as well as the popular Putangirua Pinnacles – made famous by the Lord of the Rings movies!
What’s cool, too, is that archaeologists believe that Cape Palliser was one of the first places in New Zealand the Maori (or Polynesians as they were then known) inhabited!
Cape Palliser Lighthouse is a standout red and white striped lighthouse that was built back in 1897. It’s a steep climb to the top of the Lighthouse (a whopping 242 steps, to be specific), but from this prime vantage point, you’ll be treated to awesome views of the Cook Strait.
The fur seal colony at the cape here is the largest on the North Island and well worth checking out. You’ll spot these super furry creatures lazing on the rocks near the Lighthouse in every season, but the breeding season is from mid-November to mid-January, so that’s a great time to visit!
This full day guided tour is highly recommended and includes a visit to the lighthouse, a wine tour in Martinborough, as well as lunch at a top restaurant in Martinborough!
If you’re a LOTR fan, you may recognize the Putangirua Pinnacles from the Paths of the Dead scene in the Lord of the Rings movie – The Return of the King. And they are located just a 5-minute drive from Cape Palliser or 118 km (73 miles) from Wellington. The Pinnacles are actually ‘hoodoos’ or earth pyramids, and they were formed approximately 7 million years ago by heavy rain and flooding that forced the sediments of the Putangirua Stream to join together into the ‘pinnacles’ you see today.
There are three walking tracks leading to the Putangirua Pinnacles. The easiest is the Pinnacles Track which takes 45 minutes and is 1.5 km long. It follows through the native bush for most of the way before reaching the lookout point.
The Ridge Walk Track is the same length (1.5 km), but it’s not as easy because there’s a very steep uphill section that allows you to join the Pinnacles Track. If you want to make a day of it – continue uphill from the lookout – along the way, you’ll have fantastic views of Lake Onoke and Palliser Bay. This track will take 3-4 hours return, but I consider it one of the best hikes in New Zealand – so it’s well worth the trek!
If you don’t fancy driving yourself to the Cape Palliser, then this full-day guided tour is your best option. It includes stops at the Putangirua Pinnacles, Cape Palliser Lighthouse, Ngawi Village, and Lake Ferry. Pick up and drop off to Wellington CBD is included in the price, as well as lunch!
My top tip: On your drive into the Lighthouse, be sure to stop at the quirky fishing village of Ngawihi.
12. White Water Rafting
Ending the list of the best day trips from Wellington on a high with this thrilling white water rafting tour! It’s one of the top whitewater rafting tours in New Zealand, and it starts just 45-minutes from the city center, making it the closest wilderness river to any New Zealand city!
The river winds through an ancient forest with podocarp trees that are thousands of years old, and you will come across some cascading waterfalls too. So not only is the scenery breathtaking the ride itself, which involves over 50 thrilling rapids, is likely to take your breath away too! It’s a grade 3 river meaning it’s certain to get your heart pumping!
My top tip – is the river is at its most exciting after rainfall, so if it’s been raining, this is the best time to book this day trip!
The meeting point for this tour is Twin Lakes Rock, near Upper Hutt. You must drive yourself here; alternatively, they can pick you up at Upper Hutt train station for an additional fee. Lunch is included. You will be provided with all necessary safety equipment, together with a wetsuit, booties, and fleece.
Where to Stay in Wellington, New Zealand
There are a ton of great places to stay in Wellington, however, as with any big city, location is everything! So if you need help narrowing down your options, keep reading. I’ve highlighted my favorite accommodations for each budget.
Luxury – $$$
If you’re a luxury traveler, then check out the Doubletree By Hilton Wellington. I stayed here once on a business trip/getaway. The location is a little further from the center of the city, but I enjoyed the walk. Plus, the rooms here are so stylish and beautiful, with a super comfy bed and a luxurious rain shower.
You can expect to pay closer to $400 NZD per night, but the best deals I’ve found are on Booking.com.
Mid-range – $$
Those on a medium budget will love Ramada by Wyndham. You get great value for money here since it has a good location, a trusted hotel name, modern rooms, a fitness center, and parking (huge bonus!). The center of town is just a short walk away, and there are laundry services if you’ve been on the road for a while! Prices per night are roughly $150-300 NZD.
To snag this awesome deal, check availability and book the Ramada by Wyndham online here.
Budget – $
My top choice in the budget category is The Marion Hostel. It’s right in the heart of the city, just steps from Cuba Street, which is full of restaurants and bars and a 5-minute walk to Courtney Place’s nightlife. They provide towels and toiletries and access to a kitchen, lounge, and rooftop terrace. They have big dorm rooms starting at $44 NZD and private accomodations starting around $134 NZD for 2 people. You can book this awesome boutique hostel on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.
Another option for budget travelers is The Cambridge Hotel and Backpackers. I sometimes stay here if I’m driving to other North Island destinations since it’s perfect for a stopover. For starters, it’s one of the cheapest places in Wellington and has dorm beds for around $35 NZD and private rooms starting at $113 NZD. It’s also located centrally and easy to book on Booking.com.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It is what most budget backpackers get for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (DTRAVEL5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually purchase it as soon as we land in the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
And that’s a wrap on 12 of the best day trips from Wellington, as you can see I’ve included varied options – and there’s a day trip suitable for everyone on this list! Whether you choose just one or several of the options on this list, I just know it will only add to your experience in this quirky, vibrant city!
Before you visit Wellington, be sure to look around on this website more. I have written tons of detailed articles about other amazing places to visit on the North Island that I’m sure you’ll want to check out! Here are some of my most popular guides: