If you have arrived in Wellington for a weekend, a short break or a cruise day, then one of the best things to do is walk the Wellington waterfront.
Wellington has an amazing waterfront close to top-end shopping, with quality cafes, bars, and restaurants. You can choose from a variety of delicious menus, enjoy wine selections, or taste a craft beer.
This is why the capital city, Wellington, is a perfect choice.
And when you book a city hotel, you have easy access to the walkable Wellington waterfront, with plenty of seasonal activities for everyone to enjoy.
The Wellington waterfront is a novel way to gain more insights into Wellington.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the artwork, sculptures, and plaques detailing the city’s history since the 1800s.
But of course, we are biased Wellingtonians who totally agree with the 2012 Lonely Planet travel vote naming Wellington “the coolest little capital in the world.”
As we also say, “You can’t beat Wellington on a good day.”
So, let’s get started on your walking tour of the fabulous sites on the Wellington Waterfront to showcase our wonderful city.
And if you have more time to enjoy Wellington, you can explore these 10 Attractions to Visit in Wellington on Foot.
Make sure to check out TravelKiwis Shop for your 2024 Calendar.
Walk the Wellington Waterfront
A great way to explore the Wellington waterfront is on foot.
To commemorate 150 years as the capital, Wellington City Council identified 32 monuments, parks, buildings and historical places around Wellington City. They have called it the Commonwealth Walkway, which covers 9km with bronze markers.
This easy walk from Queens Wharf to Clyde Wharf will showcase the best things to do to enjoy your walk on the Wellington waterfront. And include some markers of the Commonwealth Walkway.
Also, if you have a disability, this walk is accessible except the City to Sea Bridge.
1. Stroll Along Queens Wharf
Queens Wharf is a great place to start your Commonwealth Walkway, close to the Wellington CBD.
You can view portrait paintings of New Zealand artists at The New Zealand Portrait Gallery between 10 am and 4.30 pm.
And you will find plenty of bars and restaurants, including Wellington’s world-renowned coffee cafes from skilled baristas like Mojo. Their boutique roastery and cafe, a Wellington icon since 2003, is worth a stop.
If you’re peckish, a favourite restaurant is One Red Dog, which serves tasty pizzas with beer or wine. Be sure to get a table facing the harbour for the views.
But for people-watching, Dockside is a great option. But for views over the harbour, find a table upstairs at Foxglove.
2. Use a Designer Dunny
When you have to go, you have to go.
And behind Foxglove, for an unusual thing to do in Wellington, try the Designer Dunny if you need a loo stop.
These two unusual public toilets, when they opened in 2011, were dubbed:
- lobster loos
- crayfish crappers
- designer dunnies.
DesignCurial included the toilets in the world’s ten best public toilets for 2015. Another accolade for Wellington.
3. Take the Ferry to Matiu-Somes Island
If the weather is warm and the harbour calm, it is ideal for a ferry ride. You may even get to ride the new electric ferry.
The Dominion Ferry at Queens Wharf will take you to Matiu-Somes Island, situated in the middle of Wellington Harbour.
Entrance to the island is free, but there are restrictions to ensure the preservation of the birdlife and fauna on this predator-free island. So be prepared to have your bag checked.
The island’s history includes two Maori pa sites, a military gun emplacement and an internment camp.
During WWI & WWII, people considered enemy aliens and a risk to the nation were imprisoned on the island. It was also a Quarantine Station for many early immigrants, being their first experience of New Zealand.
But today, you can enjoy hill walking as Matiu-Somes Island provides great views back to the city.
Days Bay is the next stop after Matiu-Somes Island, a popular swimming beach in the summer. For the more adventurous, it’s only a short walk to Butterfly Creek or a stroll to Eastbourne Village.
The alternative is to stay at Days Bay and enjoy a coffee and/or lunch menu or take a swim from the safe beach.
4. Stop at Wellington Museum
Wellington Museum (formerly the Museum of City & Sea) is open daily with free admission.
The museum provides an informative social history of Wellington and its maritime history.
There are various exhibitions, including:
- a display of Wellington’s waterfront in the late 1800s
- history of Wellington through the 20th century
- a presentation of the nautical history, including the 1968 Wahine disaster.
Kids will love this museum as there is plenty to keep them interested. Even an old ship bell rings.
5. Book an Activity at Fergs Kayaks
For the adventurous, Fergs Kayaks offers:
- rock wall climbing
Kayaking in the Wellington Harbour is fun and will give you another perspective of the Wellington Waterfront.
If you are up for a jog or a long walk from your hotel, then it’s here you will find the start of a measured running/walking course.
Walk, run or cycle the 6.5km course around the bays out to the Zephyrometer at Evans Bay.
There are markers every 500 meters, so you can easily adapt your distance.
6. Read the History of Wellington’s Waterfront
The walls of Fergs Kayaks are where you can learn the history of Wellington’s waterfront.
The photo boards along the wall make for an interesting read.
It’s an innovative way for you to see how the waterfront has progressed to what you see today—especially the repurposing of the cargo warehouses.
7. Stay Longer at Frank Kitts Park
Frank Kitts Park is a favourite playground for children, especially the lighthouse. (Currently being renovated.
There’s plenty of green space for:
creating lots of buzz in the vicinity.
8. Find the Memorial Wall
The walls of Frank Kitt Park have many memorial plaques, including:
- The US Marine Corps
- The Spanish Civil War
- The Greek-New Zealand Memorial
- The Polish Children of WWII
Look upwards – Wahine Disaster Memorial
The yellow mast of the Interisland Ferry Wahine is a memorial to the loss of 53 lives on 10 April 1968.
A visit to the Wellington Museum includes more on this New Zealand maritime disaster.
9. Browse the Maori Arts Gallery
This little boutique shop has a variety of Maori art and crafts available for sale.
You can find a gift to remember your Wellington stay or gifts for family and friends. The range includes:
- wood carvings
- pounamu (greenstone)
When you are finished browsing, you can decide either to walk the City to Sea Bridge or the Great Harbour Way bridge.
10. Walk the City to Sea Bridge
The City to Sea Bridge is an amazing wooden structure linking the Wellington waterfront to Civic Square. It’s here Wellingtonians can visit the:
- City Gallery Wellington for local and overseas exhibitions
- Michael Fowler Centre for New Zealand Symphony Orchestra concerts
The bridge has extensive views out across the harbour, looking at The Boatshed on Whairepo Lagoon.
The bridge also provides easy access to shopping and cafes along Cuba Street.
Take a Side Trip to Iconic Cuba Street
Cuba Street is the quirkiest street in Wellington and the famous Bucket Fountain. Shopping, restaurants, bars, and cafes line the street.
Cuba Street is a creative melting pot of buskers, art galleries, graffiti-filled alleyways and exhibition spaces.
11. Grab a drink at Taranaki Wharf
Wellington is known for its craft beers, and Shed22 has plenty on tap. The bartenders will help you select a beer that matches your taste with something from their pub menu.
For enthusiasts, there is a Craft Beer Festival in Wellington every year.
And for those who love their wines, St John’s Bar and Restaurant in the old St John Ambulance building has a full selection of wines.
But we love a coffee at Karaka Cafe, where we can sit out on a bean bag near the lagoon. The cafe is part of the architecturally designed Waka (Canoe) House.
You can pre-book a Waka and Cultural Walking Tours here at Te Wharewaka o Pōneke. Inside are four traditionally carved working wakas.
Taranaki Wharf is a great place to stop, relax and people-watch.
12. Admire or Ignore the Ugly Crane
The SS Hikitia, with its century-old floating crane, is on the other side of Karaka Cafe.
While it may appear as an eyesore on the waterfront, this ship is a self-propelled floating steam crane. It was built in Scotland in 1926 and is still operational, with a refurbishment undertaken in 2009.
13. Stop at the statue of Kupe
Near the SS Hikitia stands the tall and imposing statue of Kupe.
Kupe was a legendary explorer whose wife Hine Te Apārangi spoke Aotearoa on seeing the long white cloud above land.
The statue is of Kupe, Hine Te Apārangi and Kupe’s priest (tohunga) Pekahourangi.
14. Must-See Te Papa
We enjoy museums on wet or windy days. But we have found Te Papa is unique as it will have your attention from the moment you enter.
Spending 2 to 4 hours absorbing the various exhibitions and interactive displays is so easy.
Te Papa is New Zealand’s National Museum, with displays on many levels showcasing all aspects of New Zealand.
You can even experience a 6.6 magnitude simulation from the Edgecumbe earthquake of 1987.
Open daily, 10 am – 6 pm (except Christmas Day), with free admission except for certain exhibitions. Te Papa is a must-see when visiting Wellington.
15. Find lunch at Harbourside Market
If you are in Wellington on a Sunday, the Harbourside Market is the place to be.
Open from 7 am to 2.30 pm with a great selection of international foods, local produce, fresh fish and artisan bread.
In summer, the market has pop-up stores perfect for finding a gift or something for yourself.
16. Hire a Crocbike
A fun way to explore the Wellington waterfront and beyond the Oriental Parade is to hire a Crocbike.
They are so much fun, especially if you get the front seat and don’t have to peddle.
You can hire either a 3-seater or a 6-seater at Chaffer’s Marina for 30 minutes or one hour. This is definitely a unique experience you have to try when in Wellington.
17. Admire the Boatsheds at Clyde Quay
The final stop on your Wellington waterfront walk is Clyde Quay.
The quaint and colourful boat sheds are picturesque and worth a photo.
You can take a walk (it is narrow) in front of the sheds as an alternative route to Oriental Parade. There’s a chance you might see stingrays gliding by, which is a reason why Orcas love to visit.
Even though it’s the end of the Wellington waterfront walk, people love to continue down to Oriental Bay.
Relax at Oriental Bay
We are a little biased when it comes to Oriental Bay. And it’s probably due to the fact we rented an apartment here for six months before we left New Zealand as TravelKiwis.
Oriental Bay is popular for runners, walkers, skaters, and swimmers, so don’t be surprised by the volume of activity.
If you don’t feel like the Orca (who visit occasionally) swimming in the cooler temperature of the southern ocean. The Freyberg Pool is an indoor swimming pool with views of the harbour.
Oriental Parade is a splendid spot to sit and take in all the activity while enjoying a coffee.
But if you are feeling energetic, you can take a walk up to:
- St Gerard’s Monastery
- Mount Victoria Lookout
The views will be your reward out over the harbour.
Wellington Waterfront Wrap-Up
When you plan a stay in “The coolest little capital in the world.” A walk along the Wellington Waterfront is a great way to see this wonderful city.
Especially if you only have 24 hours in Wellington.
You can spend time in one of the free museums to learn more about the history of early New Zealand. Or book a kayak to get out on the Wellington harbour.
The waterfront has various bars and cafes along the way to stop and take in the magnificent views. And depending on the time of the year, maybe even a ferry ride.