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Wellington Cruise Port

Port of Wellington: An Overview

You can't beat Wellington on a good day, so the saying goes. But New Zealand's cosmopolitan capital city, located at the southern tip of the North Island, rolls out the 'fun carpet' even when the legendary wind is blowing. Located in the centre of New Zealand, all roads lead to Wellington -- as do all ferries cruising over from the South Island, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) away across Cook more ...
You can't beat Wellington on a good day, so the saying goes. But New Zealand's cosmopolitan capital city, located at the southern tip of the North Island, rolls out the 'fun carpet' even when the legendary wind is blowing. Located in the centre of New Zealand, all roads lead to Wellington -- as do all ferries cruising over from the South Island, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) away across Cook Strait.

According to Maori legend, the two main islands of New Zealand are actually the great canoe of Maui (the South Island) and the giant fish he caught (the North Island). Wellington Harbour is the mouth of that huge fish. So where did the city's name come from? From Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and British Prime Minster from 1828 to 1830.

Though a geographic hub, Wellington is surprisingly compact -- it's nestled between the harbour and steep, forest-clad hills -- and wonderfully walkable. The revamped waterfront area leads from the cruise dock at the eastern edge of town to the must-see Te Papa museum in the west. A stroll along the quay is filled with surprises. There's a grassy playground for kids, large-scale sculptures and fun wooden walkways. Cross the street, and you'll have your choice of cafes and shops.

Foodies will love Wellington for its wide range of dining options (there are some 400 restaurants and counting). Another thing Wellingtonians are obsessed with is coffee. Kiwis, as New Zealanders are known, have their own lingo for coffee drinks -- flat white (not a cappuccino, but similar), short black (espresso) and many more. less

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Hanging Around

Aotea Quay cruise terminal is an industrial area. It's a 10-minute walk to the train station, which has cafes, newsstands and small shops.

If you're docked at Queens Wharf, you'll be a few steps from the Museum of Wellington City and Sea, recently named as one of the world's top 50 museums, not to mention a couple of blocks from all the downtown shops and restaurants.

Don't Miss

Museum of New Zealand: You could easily spend all day at Te Papa, New Zealand's marvelous national museum. Six floors of interactive exhibits and displays are housed in an enormous contemporary building showcasing New Zealand's treasures. The exhibits tell the story of the nation's past (a Maori meeting house and the entertaining Golden Days junk shop) and present (the world's largest Colossal Squid) as well as New Zealand's national art collection. Be sure to ask about the daily guided tours, which showcase the best of what's on offer. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday until 9 p.m. Free admission except for short-term exhibits, guided tours and the earthquake house.

Cable Car View: For a spectacular overview of the city and harbour, ride the cable car from Lambton Quay (behind the downtown shops) up to the hilltop suburb of Kelburn. The cars move along a cable in the ground, not in the air. You can ride back to the city (NZ$4 one way, NZ$7.50 return), or spend an hour or more strolling back to sea level through the Botanic Garden and the gorgeous Lady Norwood Rose Garden. You could also catch a cab if you need one.

Nautical Museum: The excellent Museum of Wellington City and Sea, appropriately located right on Queens Wharf, is devoted to the city's maritime history. Modern technology brings Maori legends to life, while a short film relives the 1968 Cook Strait ferry tragedy. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free admission.

Native Wildlife: If you're set on seeing New Zealand's unique native birds, Zealandia is the place to go. The protected sanctuary houses a growing number of flightless wonders, including the native kiwi (with no predators they have no need to flee), many of whom were endangered when less-friendly animals were introduced to the country. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Foodie Walking Tour: Zest Food Tours spend three hours exploring Wellington's best culinary experiences, as well as the city's history and architecture. A guide takes you walking from shop to shop to sample gourmet products such as coffee, chocolate, cheeses and other specialties in top food venues you might never find if you're not a local. The three-hour nosh (NZ$169 per person, about US$123) begins at the Wellington i-SITE Visitor Information Centre at 9:30 a.m. and ends with lunch. Reserve in advance.

Shopping: Get a glimpse of history while you shop in the Old Bank Arcade on Lambton Quay. The building is Old-World beautiful, and the remains of an old-time ship can be seen through a section of glass flooring. Cuba Street is also a popular shopping location. Browse through top New Zealand designs, including Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester, and vintage clothing at Ziggurat and Hunters & Collectors.

Getting Around

Wellington is relatively small. You can walk to all the major sights from your ship, though you may want to grab the ship's shuttle or a taxi from Aotea Quay to the centre of town and walk from there.

By Taxi: You'll find cabs at the port. Wellington Combined Taxis accept debit and credit cards. They also have set rates around the city and back to the ship. You can also call them on 04 384 4444 (within NZ).

By Bus: Walk from the dock to the north end of Lambton Quay for frequent bus service linking one end of the harbor to the other. Go to the railway station for buses traveling beyond the city centre and harbour area. Bus fares are NZ$2 for a one-section ride and day passes are NZ$9.50, but this doesn't include the cable car.

By Rental Car: For out-of-town exploration, rental cars are available from the usual outlets -- Avis, Budget and Hertz. For more information, visit the Wellington i-SITE Visitor Information Centre in Civic Square.

Lunching

Hint: Tipping is not customary in New Zealand.

Casual Cafes: As long as you're visiting Te Papa, you may as well stop for a bite at Te Papa Cafe. It's open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For a quick pick-me-up, try Mojo (182 Wakefield St.) for excellent coffee and Greek pastries. Head to Wellington's ethnic dining enclave, called Cuba Quarter, and window shop (or follow your nose) until you find your favourite foods. They're all there -- Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican.

Local Food: Floriditas (161 Cuba St.) offers great dining in casual surroundings. This smart, spacious café and restaurant is well known for its seasonal food, delicious baking, interesting wine selection and great service. Open Monday – Saturday 7 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Gourmet: Opened in 1991 in the historic Plimmer House, the Boulcott Street Bistro is regarded as one of Wellington's finest restaurants. Lamb shanks are the signature dish but the crayfish and prawn omelette is worth trying too. The food and atmosphere are award-winning and the service is slick. Open for lunch Monday to Friday from 12:00 noon; Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. and dinner from 6:00 p.m. seven days a week.

Where You're Docked

The big ships dock at Aotea Quay, between the Interislander Ferry Terminal and the train station. The walk to the city centre takes 25 to 30 minutes. Small ships dock at Queens Wharf, right in the heart of town.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The New Zealand dollar is about 1.40 to the U.S. dollar, which is good news for cruisers. The easiest way to get local currency is from an ATM, found at the railway station and at major banks. Shoppers using debit cards can ask for "cash out," the Kiwi term for money back. For current exchange rates, check www.oanda.com.

Language

Everyone speaks English. A few handy, commonly used Maori phrases are "kia ora" for "hello" and "ka kite ano" for "see you again."

Best Souvenir

A bottle of wine, perhaps a Pinot Noir from the nearby Wairarapa region, or a pair of gloves made from a blend of possum fur and sheep's wool. Both will warm you up back home.

For More Information

Call Tourism New Zealand at 866-639-9325
On the Web: www.wellingtonnz.com and www.newzealand.com
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Australia & New Zealand
The Independent Traveler Message Boards: New Zealand

--by Ginger Dingus, Cruise Critic contributor; updated by Sharon Stephenson.

All photos appear courtesy of Tourism New Zealand.

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