Backpacking Wellington Travel Guide: Travel Tips, Budget Hacks, and Itineraries

The windy capital of New Zealand. Backpacking in Wellington means awesome views and awesome people. In this budget travel guide we'll cover how where to stay, the things to do, and all the weird and wonderful secrets the city has to offer.

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I like Wellington. I really like Wellington. I’m not someone who usually vibes with cities but Welly is a dope-ass city.

So, what makes backpacking Wellington so dope? I reckon it’s because it is the embodiment of New Zealand in city form (and New Zealand is a dope ass country). It’s kind of like if you took all the best parts of New Zealand, mixed them into one of those cake-icing squirty things, and then just pooped it all over the southern tip of North Island.

There are plenty of mountains, nature, and gardens in Wellington with mean (New Zealand slang – learn it) walks and views. It has an awesome arts and music scene which it wholeheartedly embraces. There’s a wide range of different people – locals and travellers – with that Kiwi-brand easygoing attitude. And the shopping in Wellington is awesome… I’m actually recommending shopping; that’s how dope Welly is!

Go backpacking in Wellington; that’s not a suggestion. Take this Wellington travel guide and your backpack and go to Welly. I’ll run you through where to stay and all the awesome things to do in Wellington that I’ve found over my several visits and then you can go see for yourself why it’s is the dopest city in New Zealand! Sorry Dunedin, but you’re definitely second-dopest.

How Much does Backpacking Wellington Cost?

Sweet mural in the CBD

Well… it’s New Zealand… so it’s expensive. Welcome to Australasia! It’s also the capital city of New Zealand so double oomph.

But if you’ve been a dirtbag one place then you’ve been a dirtbag everywhere. Plus, it’s New Zealand; they’ve practically written dirtbag-living into the constitution! There are plenty of things to do in Wellington for free and the city has its little ways of being kind to the more broke of us.

At a daily budget level, backpacking Wellington is going to run you roughly $60-$80 (that’s pre-applying broke backpacker trade secrets). This includes the extra wiggle room for spending money.

Consider that:

  • The accommodation in Wellington, much like the rest of New Zealand, is extremely traveller friendly (albeit pricey). There’s no shortage of hostels in Wellington at competitive prices but anything more luxurious than a dorm bed is going to sky-rocket your expenses.
  • Food and drink are notoriously expensive down under. You can splurge occasionally at some of the awesome restaurants Wellington has on offer but to keep your budget in check you’ll be grocery shopping at New World (and Countdown but New World is better) like a local.
  • The public transport in Wellington is actually… not bad. And that’s coming from an Australian whos’ deeply embittered about the pricing and availability of public services across Australia and New Zealand… so… cool!

The truth of Welly is that it’s perfectly manageable budget-wise but you are going to have to learn some of the secrets of the city. Just remember that long before there were broke backpackers, there were locals just trying to make ends meet there. Below is a breakdown of the projected costs you can expect.

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Backpacking Wellington Budget Breakdown

Hostel dormitory: $20-$30

Basic room for two: $70-$90

AirBnB/temp apartment: $60-$80

Average cost of public transport: $5

City-Airport transfer: $8

Sandwich: $8-$10

Beer at a bar: $6-$8

Cup of coffee: $3

Bottle of wine from the market: $5-$9

Dinner for two: $20-$30

 

Backpacking Wellington Budget Tips

Wellington is a trendy first-world city and that means trendy first-world city prices. If you’re you’re not being on point with your budget, you may end up bleeding fabulous multi-coloured New Zealand cash everywhere.

A bike will keep your backpacking Wellington costs down

A bike will save you money on Wellington’s public transport.

Luckily, backpacking Wellington and saving some rainbow bills is extremely doable. You just gotta know what you’re doing:

  • Partake in some urban campingYeah, alright, it’s not technically legal but I always felt the line between freedom camping and homelessness was very blurred in New Zealand. There are plenty of hidden spots and nature-y spots where you can bunker down for a night and save on Wellington accommodation. Just LEAVE NO TRACE or I’ll come find you and kick you in the shins.
  • Cook your own food This is super-duper necessary. Bulk cooking pasta is cheap. My personal daily breakfast was porridge with banana, peanuts, and linseed; all very healthy and surprisingly cheap ingredients. If you’re not near a kitchen, you’ll be needing a stove.
  • Walk the walk – Most of the cheap accommodation in Wellington is in the CBD and most of the awesome stuff in the Wellington CBD is fairly close together. If you’re heading to the outer suburbs it’s a bit of a hike but if you’re staying central then maybe just forgo the bus.
  • Shop the fruit and veggie markets – Starting from 7.30 A.M. every Sunday at the harbour and 7.30 A.M. every Saturday in Newtown. Get your food a bit cheaper and support local growers too!
  • The Free Store These dudes are absolute legends! A volunteer program that goes around collecting end-of-the-day food wastage (bakeries, cafes, etc.) and then hands it out for free. On the corner of Willis and Ghuznee Street, 6-7 P.M., Monday to Friday: expect long lines so get there early! Oh, and bring your own bag too.
  • Consider eating from the trash – Dumpster diving is extremely viable in New Zealand and – considering Wellington’s social circles of hippies, travellers, homeless, and students – it is not wholly uncommon. Never dumpster dived? Here’s a sweet guide.
  • Use a travel water bottle – Why would you buy water like a dummy when the New Zealand tap water is so goddamn tasty? Get a travel water bottle and stop using plastic, ya fool!

 

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Where to Stay in Wellington

There’s no shortage of accommodation around Wellington with most options scattered around the CBD. That’s pretty perfect though because the Wellington CBD is right where you want to be: it’s fairly centrally located to everything and is close to the Wellington harbour.

The cheapest accommodation in Wellington is going to be backpacker lodges. It’s such a traveller-centric city and you’ll find yourself meeting a huge variety of different folk. The fun part of the hostels in Wellington is that there is someone for everyone!

If dorms aren’t your jam though, then Airbnb is your next best bet. With Airbnb, you’ll be able to find yourself a place that’s anywhere from semi-private to totally private and at a decent price. Given the uniqueness of Welly’s landscape, chances are it’ll be a seriously sweet pad too.

If Airbnbs are your thing then check out our guide on finding the right crib for your backpacking shenanigans. Follow it up with the $35-off coupon code on your first rental courtesy of The Broke Backpacker. C’mon… think of the shenanigans!

Urban camping keeps your backpacking Wellington budget down

Sneaky camping in the gardens in Wellington. 😉

Last option for the truly broke and frugal is the aforementioned urban camping. Standard rules apply: don’t stay anywhere for more than one night and pick up your goddamn rubbish! If you’re going to be camping dirtbag style you’ll want to invest in a solid tent and a backpacker stove is a rad idea too.

But if cheap and comfortable is your style, you’ll be looking at the Wellington backpacker hostels. Check out the section below with some of our top picks or go more in-depth with our Wellington hostels guide.

 

Best Overall Hostel in Wellington – The Marion

If hostels could be sexy then The Marion would definitely qualify: a new construction with wood panelling and exposed brick. Honestly, the interior design is kind of babe-ing.

It’s also got a huge communal kitchen and is located bang-on in the middle of everything. What more could you want?

Check for Best Price

The best hostel in Wellington: The Marion

Best Cheap Hostel in Wellington – Nomads Capital Backpackers

Ok, so Nomads isn’t strictly the cheapest accommodation in Wellington; if that’s what you’re looking for check out Lodge in the City: it’s crap but cheap. The Wellington Nomads is actually clean and cosy though; you won’t catch anything.

It’s also got free breakfast, free dinner, and free tea and coffee. If you can’t use that to balance out your budgeting you may wanna give up on the broke backpacker lifestyle. Also, breakfast is pancakes… pancakes!

Check for Best Price

Cheapest hostel in Wellington: Nomads Capital Backpackers

 

Best Party Hostel in Wellington – Base Wellington

Right around the corner from Courtenay Place, getting messy in Welly has never been so easy! If you would prefer your Wellington backpackers bouncing and full-power then Base Wellington has you covered.

Base has its own basement bar and bloody hell they kick it: beer pong, foosball, pool comps, karaoke, and an in-house DJ. Start your night there with pres and finish your night there with kick-ons!

Check for Best Price

The Wellington backpackers for partying: Base

 

Top Things to Do in Wellington

Things to do; things to see. There are lots of sweet adventures to go on while you’re backpacking Wellington.

 

1. Take an unexpected journey to Lord of the Rings locations around Wellington

Okkkkk, you know I had to mention this; it’s kinda hard to avoid talking about Lord of the Rings in New Zealand. Lord of the Rings tours in Wellington are totally a thing worth doing and you can check out the Weta Cave too; it’s a mini-museum connected to the Weta Workshop which produced many of the props and effects for the films. There are even Weta Worksop tours for the superfans.

Wellington airport's Lord of the Rings location

The guardian of anyone sleeping overnight at Wellington airport.

 

2. Hot-Cold at Oriental Bay

There’s a darling little beach within walking distance from the Wellington waterfront. Yeah alright, the name may be mildly inappropriate by modern standards but you’re missing the point! You see, beside this (extremely pretty) beach is a pool/fitness centre with $5 sauna privileges which means… Finnish-style hot-cold in the twinkling New Zealand ocean!

 

3. Hit the waves surfing in Wellington

Speaking of beaches, if you know to surf then that’s excellent because there’s plenty of sweet surf breaks scattered around the Wellington region. If you don’t… well, it’s time to learn! Hit up a surf school and go surfing in Wellington; Plimmerton is a good spot for beginners and a chill day trip to make.

Badass chick surfing in Wellington

 

4. Get out of the city

And speaking of day trips from Wellington, the areas surrounding the city are just as gorgeous and worth seeing as Wellington itself… and less touristy! There are even a couple of near-untouched islands to tour.

 

5. Eat, dance, chant, repeat at Bhakti Lounge

If Hare Krishnas aren’t your thing then that’s totally cool but the Bhakti Lounge in Wellington is still one my favourite places in the city. Even if you’re not going for the kirtans or to talk about the big blue guy in the sky, they also host yoga and meditation sessions. Best of all, for 10 New Zealand dollaridoos they’ll feed you until it physically hurts to walk home.

 

6. Shopping in Wellington

Ohhhh dear, protect your wallet because the shopping in Wellington is mighty tempting, even for a broke backpacker. There are hippy and flash shops all down Cuba Street, the Wellington Night Market and the Underground Market are filled with cool stuff, and there are absolutely kickass second-hand shops everywhere! Newtown gets a bit cheaper.

 

7. See the birds at Zealandia

There are more than birds… there are frogs and lizards too! Zealandia is a huge conservation eco-sanctuary in Wellington that serves as home to many of New Zealand’s endemic species. Entry will run you $19.50 NZ (but hey, pssst, you can get your ticket cheaper here) or alternatively, doing a guided Zealandia tour will give you a lot more insight into the unique ecology of New Zealand.

Up-close Takahe bird at Zealandia Wellington

The New Zealand Takahe plans its next heinous crime.

 

8. The Wellington Cable Car

It’ll take you from the CBD up across the hills of Kelburn to the lookout and right by the Wellington Botanic Garden. Plus, it’s a cable car: that’s just pure whimsy!

 

9. Be a street rat in Cuba Street

As you’re drifting around Welly chances are you’ll drift right on down Cuba Street. Cuba Street in Wellington is extremely drifter-friendly with travellers, buskers, and lovable strange-ones all finding their way there sooner or later. It won’t be long before you’re accidentally bumping into friends in the heart of Welly.

 

10. Wellington after dark

There are plenty of things to do in Wellington at night: the Night Market will have you salivating with its culinary aromas, a night tour of Zealandia might catch you a glimpse of the elusive kiwi bird (which New Zealanders fondly take their secondary name from), or just sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Welly has plenty of that.

Mount Victoria lookout is a pretty thing to do in Wellington at night

The night-view from Mount Victoria.

 

Things to Do in Wellington for Free

Maybe while you’re backpacking Wellington you’re broke. Maybe you’re not broke; you’re just cash challenged. Either way, I got you, there are still plenty of shenanigans to be had for the cash-troubled visiting the city.

  • Wellington museums – Wellington has got you covered in this department. I’m not talking Paris-level here but there are still some pretty awesome places where you get free general admission. The City Gallery, Wellington Museum, and Te Papa Museum are the big three to check out.
  • Go walking – I mean, it’s New Zealand so if you thought the capital city wouldn’t have some awesome walks… I dunno what to tell you. There’s plenty of walking in Wellington of both the mountainous and forested variety.
  • Give something back – Hey, so remember that Free Store I mentioned where you’re almost definitely going to go to score a shitton of free food. Well, they’re volunteer-run and can always use a helping hand. Maybe go use some of your spare carefree-traveller-lifestyle time to help out; you can balance the karmic cycles and meet some interesting folk too.
  • Chill by the water – Down on the Wellington waterfront is a good place to loiter like some penniless punk. There are nice parks and a diving platform you can cannonball off. I even found a Sunday slackline session in Frank Kitts Park!
  • Salty sea shenanigans – On a less windy day (Wellington doesn’t have ‘not-windy’ days) the beach is the place to be. New Zealand has sparkling water and soft sands.

A windy Oriental Bay

 

 

Wellington Walks

If you’re a walk-aholic then you’re going to want to go to the i-SITE (I mean, if you’re backpacking in Wellington you probably want to check it out anyway). They have a super awesome brochure that lists all the walks plus a sweet map of Wellington. Here are some of my favourite Wellington walks:

Walk NameDistance/Estimated TimeDeetz
Otari Wilton BushMultiple trails:

20-40 mins average
1-hour max
A large reserve dedicated solely to the conservation of native New Zealand flora. Also, it has an 800-year-old Rimu tree. The forest just oozes ancient elf-city vibes.
Skyline Walkway12kms/5-6 hoursThis walk has a few access points including Otari Wilton Bush; kinda like a hop-on, hop-off walk. The Skyline Walkway in Wellington follows one of the ridges over the city so be prepared for awesome views and almost losing your hat in the wind.
Wellington Botanic GardenMultiple tracks:

Walk how you like!
Everything you’d want from gardens in Wellington: bush walks, garden walks, sculpture walks… walks for days! If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Wellington (you sly dog, you) then the gardens are open at night so can go and hold hands by the soft embrace of glow-worm light.
Mount Victoria4.7kms/2.5 hours

(That’s for the official loop walk; there are multiple ways up.)
Centrally located in Wellington, Mount Victoria is a challenging but not too challenging (196 metres) hike. At the top, you’ll find panoramic views of the whole city. It’s also another of Wellington’s Lord of the Rings location.
Makara Loop Walk6kms/3-4 hoursMakara is a rural suburb on the western side of Wellington and, if you’re up for it, is well worth a long-ass bike ride out (that’s actually how I spent my Christmas). The loop walk is accessed from Makara Beach and follows the clifftops, showing off some of Welly’s more rugged coastline.
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Walking in Wellington presents excellent vistas

 

Day trips from Wellington

If you’re craving some extra adventure while backpacking through Wellington then it’s good to break out of the city and go see some of the lesser explored Greater Wellington region.

Wellington day trips can be difficult to do depending on your destination. Some are conveniently accessed by public transport in Wellington and some will require more creative methods if you’re sans-car (I’m thinking hitchhiking).

  • Kapiti Coast – Take the train north to Paraparaumu and you’ll be on a much more chilled-out section of coastline. With a booking, you can explore Kapiti Island just offshore which has a daily tourist limit keeping the splendour mostly untouched.
  • Matiu (Somes Island) – Similar to Kapiti Island, Somes Island, smack bang in the middle of Wellington harbour, is another untouched reserve boasting beautiful birds and scenery. You can catch the ferry over from Queen’s Wharf in the CBD.
  • The Wairarapa regionThe general region stretching out from the eastern side of Wellington harbour, Wairarapa is less accessible without some form of transport but it’s worth the visit. Bonus points if you make it to Cape Palliser, the southernmost point of North Island and home to fur seal colonies.
  • Baring and Turakirae Head – For the rockhounds looking for rock climbing in Wellington you’ll want to make the trip out here. See, the southern coastline of North Island is gorgeous but with that rugged windy-as-shit vibe. Stoic boulders on the beach with routes geared to more intermediate-expert level boulderers.
  • Rimutaka Forest Park – Accessed from Catchpool Valley about an hours drive from Welly, Rimutaka Forest Park has you covered if you’re missing the proper treks while doing the city life. Head out for a day or take a tent and supplies and camp overnight.
Kapiti Island is a beautiful day trip from Wellington

The stunning Kapiti Island.

 

Wellington Festivals

I swear to god, there are so many festivals in Wellington; it feels like there’s something happening every week… at least something is on every month. Your best bet is to have a look and see what line ups with your Wellington itinerary. But there are some definite highlights of Wellington’s festivals:

WhatWhenWhereDeetz
CoastellaFebruaryKapiti CoastMusic and food… music and food… Lots of music and lots of food! An awesome festival to catch a lot of home-grown NZ music at.
New Zealand FestivalFebruary-March
(even-numbered years)
Around WellingtonA mega-bomb of the arts! You’ve got dance, visual arts, music, poetry, literature… you’ve got a lot. I think it’d be near impossible to not find something you enjoy.
CubaDupaMarchCuba QuarterThis is a goodie. The whole Cuba Street area gets turned into an absolute playground. This is when Wellington gets weird… do not miss out!
Wellington Jazz FestivalJuneAround WellingtonMentioning it because I’m a sucker for anything Jazz. This a damn good thing to do in Wellington in winter.
HighLight: Carnival of LightsOctoberRiddiford Garden,
Lower Hutt
This one is totally free! The gardens are transformed by light displays, live performances, and just all round general prettiness.
There always a festival on when you're backpacking in Wellington

CubaDupa!!!

 

Backpacking Wellington 3-Day Itinerary

This is for you: a sharp looking Wellington itinerary for those on limited time. Don’t say I never get you anything!

I’ve structured this as ‘A Weekend in Wellington Travel Guide’ – take in the city but without going rabid killing yourself in the process.

Map of your backpacking Wellington itinerary

Wellington points of interest: 1. Otari Wilton Bush 2. Skyline Walkway 3. Mount Kaukau 4. Oriental Bay 5. Freyberg Pool 6. Cuba Street 7. Wellington Night Market 8. Mount Victoria Lookout 9. Te Papa Museum 10. City Gallery 11. Underground Market 12. Frank Kitts Park 13. Wellington Museum 14. Harbourside Market 15. Cable Car 16. Wellington Botanic Garden 17. Space Place Museum 18. Bhakti Lounge

 

Day 1 – Friday: See the city

I mean literally see the city… from on high. Today you’re walking in Wellington and you’re going to see why it’s such a goddamn pretty city. Expect tired legs and a strong sense of completion by the day’s end.

It’ll be an early rise and make sure you grab yourself a good brekky because you’re going to need the energy. The first place you’re going to visit is Otari Wilton Bush.

Here you can have a wander around the gardens but the real mission is into the forest. You’ll be walking through native New Zealand forest (and past an 800-year-old tree) up to the connecting Wellington Skyline Walkway.

Walking in the forest of Otari Wilton Bush

Legend says Otari Wilton Bush has its own resident spirit.

Following the Skyline Walkway along the ridge presents stunning views of both the city right down to Wellington Harbour and the rolling rural landscapes extending west. At the summit of Mount Kaukau you’ll be presented panoramic views that extend, on a clear day, to Mount Tapuaenuku on South Island. If you’re feeling any particular quotes… now is the time.

From here you can either complete the Skyline walk or cut back down to the suburb of Khandallah. You’ll need to bus it back to the city because at this point you’re probably tired and sweaty and over walking. It’s time to treat yo’self: hit the beach!

Make your way to Oriental Bay (walkable from Wellington CBD if you’ve still got the juice) and rest those tired legs. Freyberg Pool right next to the beach has the sauna for those really wanting to reward their body… with more pain! Hot and cold, baby!

Hungry? I am! Let’s go eat. You’re heading to Cuba Street for the Wellington Night Market (open Friday and Saturdays).

There’ll be local music and, even better, local food – mouth-wateringly delicious local food! Plus there is a rustic second-hand bookshop in the same alleyway slammed with that old book smell (mingling with the food smell: ahhhhhh).

There are extra bonus points for anyone who takes their food to the top of Mount Victoria. There are numerous buses that run that way and the view at night is magical and sparkly but fair warning – your food will probably get cold.

 

Day 2 – Saturday: Tourist day!

The second-day backpacking Wellington is going to be spent down by the waterfront. It’s time for museums and shopping!

Starting at the southern end of the Wellington waterfront is Te Papa Museum. Te Papa hosts a huge array of exhibits showcasing many aspects of the cultural and natural history of New Zealand… including a mothertrucking colossal squid. That’s one step above a giant squid!

Heading north along the waterfront brings you to the City Gallery Wellington (across the City to Sea Bridge towards the city). Vibrant art installations from local and international artists and also Civic Square out front is a nice place for a breather – I think it must be the feng shui.

Back over to the waterfront to the Wellington Underground Market which is – yup, you guessed it – underground! A small space below the elevated Frank Kitts Park (a mega-dope place to chill) the markets are open Saturdays and have an awesome variety of trinkets, doodads, and knickknacks. And assorted trinkets, doodads, and knickknacks make for excellent pressies.

The famous sculpture on at the harbour

Solace in the Wind by Max Patte.

Just up past Frank Kitts Park is the Wellington Museum. Now personally I’m not a three museums/galleries in one day kinda guy but if you are, full steam ahead. It’s also free and has exhibitions more focused on the post-colonisation era. Otherwise, you can just take a load off in the park.

Now it’s Saturday night. It’s Saturday night and you’re in Wellington. That means it is time to Par-Tay Down and you better believe that capitalisation is intentional!

Check out the Nightlife in Wellington section for more info on where to hit up but, without a doubt, you’ll find a vibe you dig in Welly on a Saturday night. There’s a lot of good music and people around.

 

Day 3 – Sunday: Big chillout

Right, so I’m assuming after a glorious night getting down that you’re tired and groggy and potentially also dying. So today is going to be a chill day. Sleep in and then it’s time to go grab some brekky (and water).

First, we’re over to the Harbourside Market (right beside Te Papa Museum). Fruit, veg, coffee, breads, cheese, chutneys… you get the idea. You’ll find yourself something that perks you back to the land of the living.

After breakfast, it’s time to ride the Wellington Cable Car. Accessible from Lambton Quay (close to the Wellington Museum) the cable car runs only a short trip that offers all the whimsy that you would expect from a gently sloping climb.

The ride will terminate right near the Wellington Botanic Garden which is big, spacious, and lush. Enjoy the chillness: go wandering or just park yourself under a tree, read a book, and watch the sky.

There are actually plenty of walks to do around the garden filled with the distinct New Zealand birdlife. The Wellington Botanic Garden also houses the Space Place Museum with its own full-dome digital planetarium. You can chill out and watch some screenings while still learning: that’s a productive chillout!

After you’ve successfully relaxed it’s time to feast… a feast for the soul… a soulfeast! Make your way back to the CBD because it’s time to head to Bhakti Lounge; Sunday is their party night. At 5 P.M. the festivities kick off with a yoga session followed by kirtan (mantra-centred music, meditation and dance) but if all that stuff ain’t your cup of tea the all-you-can-eat dinner starts at 7.15. Believe me, you want to attend on an empty stomach!

Backpacking around Wellington reveals the city's little secrets

 

Now it’s nighttime and your weekend is over. Take one last stroll down Cuba Street and say goodbye to Wellington. Try not to get splashed by that bloody stupid Bucket Fountain.

 

Backpacking Wellington Tips and Travel Guide

Whether you’re going for a long stay or just backpacking through Wellington I got some little bits and pieces to share with you; some handy tips so you’re experiencing the city to its fullest potential!

 

Best Time of Year to Visit Wellington

Summer. Oh my god, summer. I honestly wouldn’t want to bother visiting Wellington at any other time.

The thing about Wellington is that it’s the windiest city on earth. I was there in April and it was already bloody cold with galeforce winds that iced me to the bone… and I didn’t have shoes on! Ok, that last part was my fault.

One of the windfarms outside the city

The Wellington region accounts for about 70% of New Zealand’s wind power capacity.

The Wellington climate is lousy in winter and the surrounding months; it’s cold, rainy, and windy. October through to April is the best time to visit Wellington with November to February being the sweet spot.

 

Getting In and Out of Wellington

Wellington is one of New Zealand’s major points of interest so it gets a lot of thoroughfare. Other than Auckland, most people flying internationally into New Zealand go to Wellington International Airport.

Getting to and from the airport is simple. The Airport Flyer, an express coach service, runs on 10-20 minute intervals from the airport. They run you $12 NZ to either Courtenay Place or Wellington Station in the city. Alternatively, walk 10 minutes from the airport to Broadway and take the number 2 bus for less than half the price.

Getting between Wellington and anywhere else on North Island without a plane means using the InterCity bus service. The train line only extends out into the greater Wellington region but the InterCity buses run between Welly and most anywhere else on North Island. Or, you know, there is hitchhiking; New Zealand is kinda boss for hitchhiking.

Wellington also serves as the passageway to South Island for anyone looking to do the journey by ferry. The ferry services run between Welly and Picton on South Island.

The Wellington to Picton ferry

 

There are two services that run inter-island: one is appropriately named the Interislander Cook Strait Ferry while the other is the Bluebridge Ferry. Of the two, Bluebridge is ever slightly so cheaper… slightly. Both services run from their own individual wharves (Bluebridge is also more conveniently located) and if you’re planning on crossing to South Island it’s totally worth doing the journey by ferry.

The first time I caught the ferry I watched the serene views of Wellington Harbour and the Malborough Sounds while thinking deeply about life. On the return trip, I decided ferries were boring until we hit rocky seas and I slid around the halls in my socks. Either way, you’re winning.

When you’re ready to travel to Wellington, forgo buying tickets at the station and book them online instead! You can now book transport in advance for most of Asia using 12Go and doing so can really save you some stress (and maybe money, too).

Powered by 12Go Asia system

 

How to Get Around Wellington

You’re realistically looking at buses as your main form of public transport in Wellington. There are trains but they aren’t particularly useful for anyone backpacking around Wellington CBD (except the Kapiti and Wairarapa lines for anyone looking for a day trip).

Fortunately, the buses are actually pretty reliable and will get you most anywhere you want to go. This ain’t no Japan but it’ll get the job done.

Price-wise, they’re not too bad but grabbing yourself a Snapper card will save you money if you’re catching the public transport in Wellington more than a few times. The card is a typical cashless tap-on system; it costs you $10 NZ to purchase and saves you 20-40-ish percent on fares so the cost of entry balances out quick. It also works on taxis and the Wellington cable car so if you’re hanging in Welly it’s worth grabbing one.

The Wellington cable car over Kelburn

The esteemed and whimsical Wellington cable car.

The East By West ferry service also runs the trip out to Matiu/Somes Island and Eastbourne over on the east side of the harbour (more good Wellington day trips).

Lastly, renting a bicycle is a lot of fun and Wellington is set up pretty well for riding around; I had an awesome time just zipping around the city listening to tunes. It’s worth taking into consideration your quadriceps though… once you get out of the CBD it’s mostly hills and mountains which is both absolute hell and hella fun. For every up, there’s a high-speed, downhill, speed-wobbles bombing!

 

Safety in Wellington

Look, all in all, chances are you’ll be totally fine. It’s New Zealand; things are pretty chill over there.

All that said, be safe and be smart. It’s the capital city and that means lots of people and not all of them are going to be winners. When I was busking in Welly, I ended up being the featured background music to a pretty solid punch-on; things do happen… plus I got front row seats to the fight!

Don’t get so sloppy that you don’t know what you’re doing; don’t act like a dick and don’t make yourself a target. Do all that and you’ll be absolutely fine. Keep your belongings safe and on your person – money belts are excellent for that.

Lovable streetrats in Wellington's Cuba Street

Goddamn hooligans.

One thing to note is that Wellington (and Auckland) are facing a growing housing crisis meaning an increase in the homeless population. Honestly, most of the vagrants I met were harmless and pretty fun to talk to but it’s worth mentioning.

Chilling by the Wellington waterfront

You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.

GET IT HERE

 

Get Insured before Backpacking Wellington

Even if you are only going on a short trip to Wellington, you should always travel with insurance.

Shoutout from Will – The OG Broke Backpacker: Have fun on your backpacking adventure, but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.

As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads. Check out our review on why it’s the best.

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Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.

 

 

 

Wellington Accommodation Travel Hacks

Yeah, so, New Zealand isn’t cheap by anyone’s standards. Get used to bitching about the cost of living while you’re over there: it’s a popular topic of conversation.

Backpacking Wellington has heaps of accommodation options

What if I told you this was a 15-minute bus ride from the CBD?

There are plenty of places to stay while backpacking in Wellington but the accommodation costs will sting a bit. Luckily, there are always ways to reduce the cost.

  • Couchsurf! – Couch surfing is a great way to save on cash on Wellington accommodation and it usually results in getting shown the local side of town too.
    The problem with Couchsurfing is that there are plenty of surfers and not many hosts. Treat it like a job interview: show your best side and plan your Wellington travel in advance. Check out our guide on Couchsurfing for tips on how to get around.
  • Tap into your backpacker network – If you’ve travelled in New Zealand at all (or anywhere else for that matter), then you more than likely have someone in your six-degrees that can put you up while you’re in Welly.
    Reach out to friends and friends-of-friends and see if anyone in your network is happy to offer a couch in exchange for washing their car or demolishing their DIY sweat lodge (or something… I dunno, I’ve done some weird shit for a bed). Us travellers tend to take care of each other so never be afraid to just ask for help.
  • Camping – Find yourself a peaceful campsite on the outskirts of town or a secret spot in town. If you’re prepared, you can sleep anywhere!

 

Places to Eat in Wellington

There’s not a lot in New Zealand cuisine that is particularly unique (some Maori-style cooking notwithstanding). The restaurants in Wellington are generally a mishmash of foods from various cultures; the kind you’d expect in any major western city: pizza, Thai, Indian, burgers etc. That doesn’t mean the food isn’t delicious though.

In regards to Maori cuisine, you have Karaka Cafe sitting on the Wellington waterfront. I can’t say they’re exactly Maori food though, so much as a typical cafe with Maori influences. They do cook some of their food in a hangi (traditional Maori ground oven) and hangi fry bread is always delicious. Like it’s fried bread – c’mon!

Fish and chips are one of the most significant cultural cornerstones in New Zealand. If you’re a vego, eating chips is still a mandatory requirement travelling to New Zealand.

Mt Vic Chippery is tasty and close to Oriental Bay which means fish and chips at the beach – oh, the culture! They can also do kumara (sweet potato) chips, another New Zealand classic. The Chippery is a more pricey takeaway shop; if you’re looking for a bang-for-your-buck feed, look for the typical takeaway shop where it looks like the cooks are dying of heatstroke.

And since you’re doing fish and chips at the beach you better get a brew to go with that. Wellington has got a niche little craft beer scene going strong.

The restaurants in Wellington have good beer

The craft beer game is strong!

Black Dog Brewery serves up some pretty tasty experimental brews but I gotta give my shout-out to Garage Project. These dudes started out as a microbrewery running out of a defunct petrol station and have since grown to become a pretty banging operation.

Fresh April from these guys is a mean IPA. Grab one of these, get your chips, and then hit the beach!

 

Nightlife in Wellington

You’ll find just about something for everyone in Wellington. A walk down Courtenay Place on Saturday night and you’ll hear a range of live and electronic music flowing out of the venues. I mean, hell, there was even a drum ‘n’ bass gig on New Year’s… are you seeing why I love Welly?!

The Rogue & Vagabond has got to be one of my faves. The dance floor sucks big time but the music is tight! I’m talking eclectic jazz, blues, and other harder to find genres. Plus, they got big-ass beanbags to chill on outside.

Valhalla also gets a lot of local New Zealand bands and I’ll give a big shout-out to any venue supporting live music. It’s got that dingy basement vibe with a focus on rock, metal, and punk but they feature other genres too.

Wellington nightlife brings the city alive

Drinking is expensive in Wellington so pre-drinks are always a smart idea. On the topic of drugs though, they are certainly around and attainable but similarly pricey. As always, it’s a matter of knowing and asking the right people and staying safe.

The same goes for weed. On my first Wellington visit, I encountered a number of people saying they were having a hard time scoring like there was an unseasonal dry spell. But it’s definitely around and if it’s coming from further up north, it’s really good.

 

Books to Read While Backpacking Wellington

Here’s a reading list for you while you’re backpacking around Wellington.

  • The Backpacker Bible Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
  • Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley And its sequel ‘Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley’ by Danyl MacLauchlan are just fun, chill reads. Quirky and weird, a self-described “classic Kiwi comic mystery erotic horror adventure novel”, Unspeakable Secrets is set around the streets of Welly with inspiration from real citizens. Don’t take it too seriously and you’ll have a laugh.
  • The Godwits FlyA semi-autobiographical story by Robin Hyde written with a distinct poetic prose that at times, admittedly, lacks structure. The immense detail of her writing, though, paints a vivid portrait of Wellington life in the early 1900s.
  • We Will Work with You: Wellington Media Collective 1978-1998 An interesting read highlighting many cultural and political aspects of Wellington’s history. The Wellington Media Collective was an activist organisation that supported community groups through their graphic design and printing initiatives. This book serves as a companion to the art exhibition and offers a startling array of illustrations and prints by the WMC giving insight into the social and political climate of Wellington through some of its most tumultuous periods.
  • Pounamu Pounamu A short story collection penned by the esteemed Witi Ihimaera, the same author of ‘The Whale Rider’. Though not specifically related to Wellington, Pounamu Pounamu depicts themes of Maori culture, identity, and perspective in 1960s New Zealand. It’s an important read for any traveller of New Zealand seeking a deeper insight into the country and its people.
The Beehive is one of Wellington's tourist attractions

The Beehive: New Zealand’s iconic parliament house.

 

Make Money Online while Backpacking Wellington

Backpacking in Wellington long-term? Keen to make some cash when you are not exploring the city?

Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills! It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.

Learn what it’s like to be a VIPKID teacher, a top company in the field of online English learning.

The mountains of Makara are another of Wellington's walks

‘Hello – is it me you’re looking for?’ – Walking in Wellington.

In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.

 

Being Responsible while Backpacking Wellington

Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.

Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.

Don’t pick up single-use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.

Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.

Respect New Zealand's creatures while backpacking Wellington

Ya keep trashing mother nature there’ll be none of these cuties left!

Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single-use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.

Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.

Backpacking around Wellington will bring you ample opportunities to participate in debauchery, and it is very important to have fun, let loose, and get a bit wild at times. Most trips I have been on across the world have included at least a few mornings where I wake up knowing I went too far.

But there are some things that will put you in the category of a straight up jackass if you do them. Being super loud and obnoxious in a tiny hostel at 3 A.M. is a classic rookie mistake.

Everyone in the hostel will hate you when you wake them up. Show your fellow travellers respect whilst backpacking in Wellington and anywhere else for that matter!

 

Final Thoughts on Backpacking Wellington

The thing I really like about Wellington is that people seem genuinely happy to be there; they seem genuinely proud of their city. Yeah, it’s the capital city and it’s busy and pricey, but it doesn’t feel like it.

Surrounded by the twinkling harbour and rolling green mountains with balconies and rooftops peeking above the treeline, it’s easy to get comfortable in Wellington. Spend a time little here and you’ll quickly be bumping into friends and acquaintances as you stroll around town. It’s a city that feels like a charming little town.

If you’re just backpacking through the Wellington tourist spots then you’ll have fun. But if you’ve got the capability to stay longer it’s totally worth it.

Many of the travellers I met in New Zealand worked or hung out in Wellington at one time or another. It really isn’t hard to build yourself a little tribe here. Hell, you might just be tempted to settle… and you wouldn’t be the first.

The view from Zealandia

 

Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.”


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The windy capital of New Zealand. Backpacking in Wellington means awesome views and awesome people. In this budget travel guide we'll cover how where to stay, the things to do, and all the weird and wonderful secrets the city has to offer.

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