Wellington Attractions Not to Miss

Not many travelers know much about Wellington, but this picturesque town is packed with attractions.

We’ve rounded up the top Wellington attractions to keep you busy while visiting. You shouldn’t get bored in Wellington, New Zealand with these travel tips.

Wellington attractions, New Zealand
Wellington attractions, New Zealand

Related Read: Things To Do in Wellington for Under $5

Top Wellington attractions

Te Papa

The national museum. Good if you have children to entertain on a rainy day. But also without kids it’s definitely a highlight of Wellington. Free (except for the occasional special presentation).

Museum of Wellington City & Sea, Queens Wharf

A well-presented museum of the history of Wellington, including its maritime history. Free.

It is open 10AM-5PM every day except 25 December.

City Gallery, Civic Square

Lacks a permanent collection but runs a consistently avant-garde set of exhibits. It also has the excellent cafe Nikau attached to it. 

The Wellington Cable Car

From Lambton Quay (next to the McDonald’s), 04 472 2199. Open 7 days until 10PM. The easiest way to get a nice view of the city and harbor, the Cable Car runs on rails from Lambton Quay to the Botanic Garden in Kelburn every ten minutes. $2.50 one way, $4.50 return (Concession prices are available for children, students and senior citizens over 65).

Frank Kitts Park

A great place to wander around, with walls to climb, inline skates, and jet ski rental.

Karori Cemetery 

An interesting picnic spot.

Elmscourt 

An historic art deco apartment block on the corner of The Terrace and Abel Smith Street.

Oriental Parade

A new beach. However if you are not from somewhere really cold it is unlikely that it will be hot enough for you to be in desperate need for a swim. There is a spa pool (jacuzzi) in Freyberg Swimming pool (on Oriental Parade) which is inexpensive if you enjoy “people soup”.

Karori Wildlife Sanctuary

End of Waiapu Rd, (first left after the Karori Tunnel). 10AM-5PM (last entry 4PM) every day except 25 December. A predator-proof fence encloses an old water catchment area, forming a mainland island that provides a natural haven for endangered native birds, tuatara, and other indigenous flora and fauna, safe from introduced predators. By far the most convenient place in the country to see rare New Zealand wildlife.

Plimmer’s Ark

Under and in the Old Bank Arcade on the corner of Lambton Quay and Customhouse Quay – near Plimmer’s Steps. A hundred years ago a Bank was built on top of a wrecked ship that had been used as a market. When they renovated the building they discovered the ship’s timbers and preserved the remains in the building! Just take the escalator down through the bank vault doors. 

Parliament Buildings, the Beehive (or Executive Wing), and the Parliamentary Library.

The grounds of Parliament are open to the public. Known as the hill, Parliament grounds are at the foot of Molesworth and Bowen Streets, where they meet Lambton Quay.

Parliament House in Wellington, New Zealand
Parliament House in Wellington, New Zealand

National Library of New Zealand

Corner of Aitken and Molesworth Streets (across the road from the Cathedral and Parliament). The library regularly holds exhibitions.

Turnbull House, Bowen Street (just across the road from Parliament Buildings).

This imposing brick mansion now seems small and out of place amongst the surrounding high-rises.

The Old Government Buildings

With the cenotaph in the foreground and NZ Post headquarters behind. Old Government Buildings opposite Parliament at 15 Lambton Quay. This is the largest wooden building in the southern hemisphere and the second-largest in the world. It is now the home of Victoria University Law School.

Old St Paul’s (one block east of Parliament)

This was the Anglican center for decades. Superseded by the new cathedral north of Parliament, this one is popular for weddings and funerals.

Statues and sculptures

Statues and sculptures appear in some intriguing places around town. Famous prime ministers, memorials, and works of art have all been erected in the streets of Wellington.

Wellington Central Library, (in the city square, next to the information centre)

It’s huge with great places to sit and read or if you bring your laptop to connect home via one of the city’s paid-for wi-fi networks. Entry is free.

Matiu/Somes Island 

Out in the middle of the harbour, this island has its share of history. It was once a quarantine station for immigrants, and later (and more extensively) for animals. It was also an internment camp for “dangerous” individuals during both World Wars. The ferry leaves from Queen’s Wharf and Day’s Bay (on opposite sides of the harbour). Only at certain times will the ferry stop at the island and only upon request. The best choice is to leave Queen’s Wharf at noon and return at 2:30 or 3:25.

The Botanic Garden

The Botanic Garden is a nice place to go for a picnic, or just an afternoon walk. You can take the Cable Car from Lambton Quay for a quick 5-minute trip to the top; but it is not designed to be exciting, despite being photogenic. If you’re keen on walking up, take the lifts in the The James Cook Arcade (or one of several others along Lambton Quay) up to The Terrace, head south uphill until you reach Salamanca Rd. Head uphill up Salamanca Rd until you reach Victoria University. A set of stairs on the opposite side of the road to the Hunter Lawn goes uphill right to the top of the Gardens.

If you already shelled out for a Daytripper ticket, just catch the Mairangi bus, get off at the stop after the University, and walk back along Upland Rd until you reach the Cable Car Museum. At the top of the Gardens, there are several attractions:

  • The Cable Car Museum has two of the old cars in semi-restored and fully-restored condition and some of the original Cable Car machinery from the system that was replaced in 1978. *
  • The Lookout has a great view day or night, and the large map next to the round tree usually has a few pamphlets with maps of the Gardens.
  • The Carter Observatory is a stones throw from here. This is the perfect place to explore the Garden from, or wander back to the city. 

Bolton Street Memorial Park

Watch out for the friendly black cat who haunts this hillside cemetery. If you’re returning from the Botanic Gardens by foot, this is great place to meander through and check out the epitaphs of early pioneers and historical figures. 

Red Rocks/ Seal Colony

This is one of the great Wellington attractions. Red Rocks is an interesting walk named for its distinctive red rocks (probably Jasper). Take the number 1 bus to the end (Island Bay). Walk across the park towards the ocean and hang a right. There is another bus, number 4, that goes to the end of the road, but only at certain times. Travel west (right side, if facing the water) until you run out of road. Here you will find a disused quarry and a soon-to-open visitors center.

The walk along this beach is pleasant but rocky and often very windy, so dress accordingly. If one walks for about 1 hour you will come across a distinctive pass though the rock face. Just on the other side of this is a seal colony that is worth the walk. Please bear in mind that these are wild animals and so require a certain level of respect, so keep your distance and do not get between them and the sea, especially if you value your health!

Continuing on from here, you will eventually arrive at Makara (but this is a long distance, and the seal colony is a recommended turn-around point).

Red Rocks in Wellington
Red Rocks in Wellington


Hiking Along the San Andreas Fault in Southern California

Southern California is full of amazing hiking opportunities, but perhaps few are as interesting as those that run along the San Andreas fault in the Colorado Desert of the Coachella Valley.

One of my favorite hikes along the fault is Pushawalla Palms Loop.

This hike offers different and amazing landscapes that were formed by earthquakes and tectonic plate movement along the fault.

Quick Primer on the San Andreas Fault Network

Scientists have learned that the Earth’s crust is fractured into a series of “plates” that have been moving very slowly over the Earth’s surface for millions of years. Two of these moving plates, the Pacific Plate and North American Plate meet in western California; the boundary between them is the San Andreas fault. This fault forms a continuous narrow break in the Earth’s crust that extends over 1,000 km from northern California southward to the Mexico border. Usually, these plates slowly collide, separate and grind past each other at a rate of about 50 mm per year. However sometime the plates lock in position until the stress created by the plates overcomes the strength of the rock. At that point, the rocks fracture along the fault and seismic waves radiate in all directions, causing the Earth to vibrate and shake. An earthquake occurs as the plates move feet or tens of feet in just seconds.

Since this scenario has been repeated time and again over 40 million years, it’s easy to understand that land on either side of the fault have slid in opposite directions over 450 km since the plates first came in contact with each other. Over the millennia, these quakes have pulverized rocks, changed the flow of rivers, ground down mountains, and created new mountains, hills, canyons, and valleys. Here’s a close-up view of the San Andreas fault area. The red line marks the San Andreas fault, and the small black circle shows the location of the hike.

General Desert Hiking Safety

Even though this is a relatively short hike, remember you are in a desert environment. Being prepared will increase the chance that you have an enjoyable excursion.

Here are a few basic safety tips if you are new to desert hiking:

  • Start early. Don’t hike during the hottest part of the day.
  • Know the weather forecast. You don’t want to be hiking in the desert during a thunderstorm due to flash flood concerns.
  • Stay hydrated; drink a lot of water. General rule of thumb is 4-6 liters/person/day
  • Know the signs of heat stress.
  • Cover your skin. Dress appropriately in light weight loose fitting clothes, hat, and proper shoes/boots.
  • Watch for plants and wildlife and keep your distance. Remember this is rattlesnake territory. Also, removing cactus needles isn’t pleasant and something you want to avoid.
  • Carry a trail map. Consider downloading an app such as AllTrails or MapMyRun or even better a GPS app to track your path.
  • Bonus Recommendation: Keep extra water and snacks in your car. Even hot water is better than driving home thirsty after a long desert hike.

Pushawalla Palms Loop Trail: 5 miles

Pushawalla Palms Loop is a well-marked trail located within the 17,000-acre Coachella Valley Preserve Area near Thousand Palms, California. The trailhead is located less than 15 miles from Palm Springs on Thousand Palms Canyon Rd. There’s plenty of parking on the main road but be prepared for crowds on weekends. The trailhead is open year-round and there are no fees or permits required.

The trailhead is the starting point for several area hikes, so make sure to follow the Pushawalla Palms trail signs. For the first 0.5 km, the path winds its way through a dry stream bed know as a wash. During the brief fall and winter rainy season, washes like this provide drainage channels for surrounding hills and mountains. These rains help to disperse wildflowers seeds which root in the sandy soil as the water slowly evaporates. Come spring when the grounds warms, the seeds sprout and the trail is lined with purple, yellow, and white wildflowers. This is not the image most people have of the desert. The wildflowers draw large crowds in the Spring, but fortunately, most people only hike a short portion of the trail to view the wildflowers.

After walking through the wash, the trail begins climbing Bee Rock Mesa. This mesa and the surrounding hills are wedged between two faults that have squeezed and uplifted the rocks and gravel to create this straight line of sharply defined hills along the fault.

The trail winds its way along the ridge of the mesa. Although this is not a knife edge, be careful since there is a 90-100 meter drop off on either side of the trail. Enjoy your walk on the mesa; take in the sweeping views knowing that 3+ miles directly beneath your feet is the San Andreas fault.

After hiking 1.6 km, the Horseshoe Palm grove appears on the right-hand side of the trail at the base of the hill. This long string of palm trees extends over 1.5 km. These palms flourish in the middle of the desert because the fault beneath us has pulverized the bedrock allowing groundwater to seep close to the surface and nourish these trees. It’s not uncommon to see a straight line of palm trees or other vegetation growing along sections of the San Andreas fault.

The path follows the ridgeline for 2.5 km. By now the crowd will have significantly thinned out with most people returning to their cars. Unfortunately, these people assume the wildflowers in the wash are the best part of this trail – they are so wrong.

Over the next 1.25 km, the trail begins a gradual descent to the floor of the Pushawalla Canyon. A section of the trail has been heavily eroded by recent rainstorms. This isn’t a difficult area to navigate but it does require more careful footing.

After 3.2 km of hiking, you emerge on the floor of Pushawalla Canyon and are almost immediately surrounded by a lush green environment. In both directions, for as far as the eye can see, there are the Pushawalla Palms. Why is it called Pushawalla? Legend has it that Pushawalla was the name of a local Native American who lived to be over 100 years old. Allegedly he died when a summer cloudburst flooded the canyon he was in and swept him away. The canyon where he was found is called Pushawalla Canyon.

The California Fan Palms are the only palm tree native to the United States. The telltale sign of the California Fan Palm is the “skirt” of old dead palm fronds that cascade downwards around its trunk (rather than dropping off like other palms). Be careful walking around the fallen palm fronds. They’re often used by rattlesnakes for cover and shade; snakebites have been reported in the Pushawalla Palms area. It’s worth repeating, respect desert wildlife.

You can explore Pushawalla Canyon in both directions. Underground fissures caused by the San Andreas faults provide groundwater in the canyon an easy route to the surface. You’ll notice a small stream flowing on the ground. The stream often mysteriously disappears into the sand and then reappears further down on the trail. Be on the look-out for rabbits, coyotes, and all kinds of birds who are drawn to the water.

Often it feels more like you are walking through wetlands with tall grasses and vegetation encroaching on the trail. It’s strange that this beautiful desert oasis was created by faults and earthquakes that we normally only associate with damage and destruction.

After exploring the palm oasis, it was time to head back. There are several options you might want to explore. For our return we chose to climb out of the canyon via the rock gully that we had used to descent from the ridge and then follow a trail to the base of the hills. Walking on the desert floor provides a new perspective of the terrain. As we passed the Horseshoe Palm grove, we had a clear view of several people hiking on the ridge trail above us.

As we hiked further away from the hills, the vegetation became sparser. But remember, the interesting thing about the desert is that it hides its beauty so well.

If you are hiking in the late winter or spring be sure to move slowly and look carefully. You will find a variety of small and large flowering plants and maybe even a lizard or two along the trail.

After hiking on the desert floor for slightly more than 1 km, we climbed back up to the ridge and made our way to the car.

For this hike we logged 10 km, but various maps indicate typical lengths ranging from 6-8 km. Our excess mileage was due to our extensive exploration of Pushawalla Canyon. Even with a stop for lunch and photos, we completed the hike in 3.3 hours. In the satellite image below, the red dot marks the trailhead, and the green dot marks the intersection where we rejoined the ridge from the desert floor on our return route.

Hiking along the San Andreas Fault in the Coachella Valley is not about finding the “giant crack in the ground”. Millions of years of erosion have piled upwards of 3 miles of gravel and rock debris on top of the fault. Although the fault is buried, you know now that it’s easily visible by following the strip of green vegetation that runs in a straight line against an otherwise bare series of hills and brown desert washes. Hopefully, this information will encourage you to explore the San Andres Fault and Pushawalla Palms on your next visit.

Additional Resources

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

Places to Stay

There are countless resorts, boutique hotels and Airbnbs to stay at in the Greater Palm Springs area. Except during the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals in April, obtaining a booking should not be a problem.

Places to Eat

Because the Greater Palm Springs area is such a tourist draw. There are eateries to meet any need.

Here are a few of our favorite spots to enjoy an after-hike dinners: