Dream of having the confidence to travel solo?
Read my book Get Lost to find out how!
Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect 24 hours in Wellington itinerary. Pop quiz, hotshot. What’s the capital of New Zealand? If you said Auckland, don’t feel embarrassed! Auckland is certainly the biggest city in New Zealand, though it’s not the capital. (Auckland’s the biggest if you’re counting the human population. If you’re going by number of sheep, you might get a different result.)
In fact, it’s Windy Wellington that is the capital city of the Long White Cloud. A 24 hours in Wellington itinerary will give you a head start at learning about New Zealand’s fascinating history.
Of course, since this is New Zealand, even the cities have access to some stunning nature. Wellington is no different if you don’t mind a little walking, and a lot of wind. Come with me on a 24 Hours in Wellington Itinerary, and you’ll never forget the name of New Zealand’s capital again!
24 Hours in Wellington
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
New Zealand is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re not from Australia, New Zealand, or the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. NZ electrical outlets don’t work with American or non-UK European plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
And if you’re looking for great deals on over 100 hotels for your 24 hours in Wellington itinerary, click here! I’m sure you can find something in your budget whether you are Queen Victoria or Victoria, the Queen of Student Loans.
24 Hours in Wellington Itinerary
Morning: Mount Victoria Lookout
Though I only spent about 2 weeks in New Zealand, I found that there were three activities that were popular all over the country. One was going for walks, another was admiring nature, and a third was talking about how much you love going for walks and admiring nature.
One of the loveliest places I found to admire nature during my 24 hours in Wellington itinerary is from the Mount Victoria Lookout. Some of my pals from my Intrepid Travel tour of New Zealand and I headed to the top first thing in the morning. We were rewarded with friendly greetings from Wellington denizens and their many adorable dogs. And now I shall reward you with…
three fun facts: mount victoria lookout
1) What is on Mount victoria?
There are many historic and adorable buildings you can spot on your way up Mount Victoria. My personal favorite was St. Gerard’s Church and Monastery. This building is positively ancient for New Zealand, which means it dates back to 1908. I liked it because I had never heard of a St. Gerard. I assumed that Gerard was someone’s bizarre British great-uncle, and they were just pretending he was a saint. But in fact, this church was the first ever to be named after the Catholic saint Gerard Majella. (He wasn’t made a saint until 1904, so that’s rather quick acting on the part of the New Zealand Catholics.)
My favorite fact about this church is that it is built on property belonging to a dude named James Edward Fitzgerald. According to Wikipedia, some people claim that Fitzgerald was the first Prime Minister of New Zealand. I’m sorry if this makes me sound very American and obtuse, but WHY DON’T THEY KNOW if he was the first PM of NZ or not? Some people love George Washington and some do not, but I’ve never heard anyone say that “some claim he was the first President of the United States”. But maybe this is just one way that being a Prime Minister is different from being a president.
2) What’s the reward for reaching the top?
Aside from some sweet as views? You can see this triangular Byrd monument. It’s dedicated to American explorer Richard Byrd. Byrd said that he was the first person to reach the North Pole and the South Pole by airplane. I guess it’s appropriate that his name was Byrd, then! But apparently some people dispute the idea that he reached the North Pole. Between this and the Prime Minister who might never have been Prime Minister, I’m beginning to wonder if anyone actually knows anything.
Some eagle-eyed readers out there might have caught that Byrd was an American, and not a Kiwi. So why is there a monument to him here in New Zealand? Apparently Byrd used Wellington as a base for his expeditions to Antarctica, so he brought some glamour and attention to Wellington with his voyages.
The shape of the memorial is the same as one of the tents Byrd would have used on his expeditions. There are actual stones from Antarctica used in the construction. So even if you find the climb up Mount Victoria a bit steep, just remind yourself that it’s way easier than an expedition to Antarctica.
3) What’s with the name?
I’m assuming that Mount Victoria was named after the late Queen of England. After all, New Zealand used to be an English colony. The city of Wellington itself was named after the great English general, and BFF of Queen Victoria, the Duke of Wellington. (Defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, and you could probably get a city named after you too.)
However, like many places in New Zealand, Mount Victoria also has an indigenous Maori name: Tangi Te Keo. The story goes that two magical sea creatures, called taniwha, lived in Wellington Harbor back when it was just a lake. One of the taniwha got sick of being trapped inside a lake all the time and very sensibly broke free. The other taniwha was left behind, and eventually his sad soul flew to the top of the mountain, where it eternally wonders who is the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
24 Hours in Wellington Itinerary
Afternoon: Te Papa Tongarewa
Now, I only got to have a 24 hours in Wellington itinerary altogether on my tour. So I feel a little sheepish saying with confidence that in such a short amount of time I got to know the city. (Though I definitely enjoyed absolutely everything I experienced.) However, I do think I can say with confidence that Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, is the most exciting attraction in Wellington.
It presents pretty much everything you could want to know about New Zealand history, from the flora and fauna, to the earthquakes, to the Treaty of Waitangi. Plus it is one hundred percent free. And it’s open every day but Christmas. So you really have no excuse not to visit and get to know…
approximately top 5: te papa edition
1) birds of new Zealand
What’s a New Zealand Museum without the nation’s mighty flightless bird, the kiwi? You can find this gentle creature in the Unique NZ exhibit, dedicated to creatures that can only be found in New Zealand. Even though the kiwi has become an important part of New Zealand’s identity, no one is 100 percent sure whether or not the bird originates from New Zealand. First we don’t know who the Prime Minister of New Zealand is, and now we don’t even know where the kiwi comes from! Get it together, New Zealand!
If the kiwi isn’t freaky enough for you, get to know the moa! This is the tallest bird that has ever existed. Unfortunately for birders everywhere, it has been extinct since the 1400. Apparently the Polynesians found the moa too delicious for its own good. I have to say, if the Polynesians are tough enough to hunt down this terrifying looking creature, I kind of think they deserve to eat it. It’s a lot scarier looking than the dodo, that’s for sure!
2) the colossal squid
At first glance, I was pretty sure this beastie was one of the aliens from the movie Independence Day. I was pretty sure if I got too close, it would reach out one of its tentacles and squish me to death with its mind. But apparently, like Robert Byrd, this squid came to New Zealand by way of Antarctica. When it was discovered, it was too close to death to be saved. So the scientists who found it decided to donate Squidward here to Te Papa. I have since discovered that Te Papa is home to three giant squid, which I find a little depressing. It would be a lot cooler if there were only one!
There’s so much I’d like to learn about the colossal squid, but it’s hard to find out information. The Squid of Unusual Size like to live deep underneath freezing waters, so it’s hard to catch them unless you are impervious to cold. Only female squid have ever been found, though it is assumed that the males exist.
My favorite Colossal Squid fact is that, according to Te Papa’s website, the male probably has a fairly large penis. I should certainly hope so, Te Papa! What is even the point of being a Colossal Squid if nature decides to bestow a weenie endowment on you. Although maybe the colossal squids do have tiny genitals, and that’s why no one has ever seen the males. They are too embarrassed.
3) new zealand earthquakes
The tragic 2011 earthquake in Christchurch brought the world’s attention to the volatile landscape of New Zealand. However, the Christchurch earthquake was far from the only one in the nation’s history. In the Active Land exhibit, you can learn about the earthquake that destroyed the towns of Napier and Hastings back in 1931. (Both cities have since been rebuilt.) This earthquake killed even more people than the Christchurch earthquake.
The reason there are so many earthquakes in New Zealand is that the country is on the fault line between two tectonic plates. (This makes it Oceania’s answer to California.) In case seeing the artifacts from the Napier earthquake isn’t enough for you, the exhibit actually contains a little earthquake simulation house called The Quake House.
You can go inside and feel what it would be like to have an earthquake toss you about. In my hometown, New York City, we don’t have earthquakes, so this was a novel experience for me. But I wondered how New Zealanders would feel about simulating something that’s a very real possibility for them.
Maybe it wouldn’t bother them. After all, Kiwis are used to Russell Crowe and not knowing who their Prime Minister is, so probably they can handle anything.
4) treaty of waitangi
Here’s what I learned about New Zealand history growing up in American schools:
So please don’t take anything I say about Aotearoa history too seriously. I’m not an expert. But it seemed to be that one of the most important events in the history of the nation was the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi back in 1840. This treaty was signed between Queen Victoria of England and a large group of Maori chiefs.
Supposedly, the treaty gave the Maori the full rights of British citizens. However, in practice, after the signing of the treaty, the Maori began to lose more and more of their lands to the arriving British colonists. This loss led to further conflict, culminating in the outbreak of the New Zealand Wars in the 1860s and 70s. During these wars, many Maori were killed and lost even more of their land.
Even though the Treaty of Waitangi did not create peace between the British and the Maori, nor did it prevent the Maori from losing their land, it’s still an event with lasting significance in New Zealand. Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s national holiday, celebrated on February 6th.
As you might guess, given that backstory, some people think the holiday is too controversial, and New Zealand should get a different national holiday. Want to know what I think? I think an American who just started learning about New Zealand history yesterday doesn’t get an opinion on this topic.
6) te marae
One of the most beautiful sights you’ll find in your 24 hours in Wellington is Te Marae. Marae means communal meeting place in Maori. (New Zealand is still 15 percent Maori, and many New Zealanders speak at least some Maori. I strongly suggest learning at least a few words of the language when you are there.)
This marae is meant to be a meeting place for all people, no matter their cultural background. However, it is also a place to experience the work of modern Maori artists. In the center of the marae is the wharenui (meeting house). The structure of the house represents a Maori story about the creation of our world. The floor is the earth mother, and the stained glass door is the sky father pushing away from her. (It’s similar to the story of Gaia and Uranus from Greek mythology that way, though I’m sure there are many nuances to the Maori story that I am not familiar with.)
Take your time to explore the intricate carvings all over the wharenui. Te Marae is a popular destination for school groups, so if one of the kids gets in your way, just wait until no one is looking, then push them off the wharenui. That way you’ll get a better view of the carvings.
24 Hours in Wellington Itinerary
Evening: Dinner at Istana Malaysia
In New York City, we have basically every kind of cuisine you could want. And I thought I’d experienced it all, from Georgian to Ethiopian to Filipino. But I had never been to a Malaysian restaurant in New York, so I was delighted to see that Wellington was home to many Malaysian kitchens. And one of the best reviewed was Istana Malaysia. So I decided to leave my fellow tourists and head out there alone for the evening of my 24 hours in Wellington itinerary.
24 hour treat: rojak
For my appetizer, I selected this “salad”. Rojak means mixture in Malay, and indeed this was a mix of fried tofu, veggies, fish balls, spring rolls, cucumber, and egg. It was served with both peanut sauce and a mild chili sauce. I’ve never seen a salad that had so many fried things in it before. It’s hard to believe it wasn’t invented by Americans, given how much we love fried food. I personally think tofu should only be served fried.
24 hour treat: lamb varuval
Time for another dish I had never heard of! (I mean the varuval part. I know what lamb is.) Apparently this dish originates in Southern India, where it would often be made with goat. Varuval is a dry curry, which means there’s not much sauce. It was very spicy, just like the food I’ve had in India.
But you’ll get no complaints from me! I think all that sweating just helped me burn off the calories from my fried salad. This is the kind of thinking that helps me still fit into my clothes after two weeks of constant eating and drinking. It was the perfect end to my 24 hours in Wellington itinerary.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Wellington Itinerary!
What would you do with a 24 hours in Wellington itinerary? Would you even be brave enough to kill and eat a moa if you saw it in the wild? And for the love of little green apples, who is the Prime Minister of New Zealand? Please leave your thoughts below.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY enjoy a 24 hours in Wellington itinerary. If you want to add 24 hours of a Taupo to Waitomo trip, click here.