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.
Heading Off-Grid? • Download This Guide as a PDF!
Sign up to The Broke Backpacker’s EXCLUSIVE VIP AREA below and download our top backpacking guides as PDFs – go offline with peace of mind!
How Much does Backpacking Wellington Cost?
Well… it’s backpacking, but it’s New Zealand… so it’s expensive. Welcome to Australasia! It’s also the capital city of New Zealand so double oomph. It doesn’t really matter where you stay in Wellington, you’re travel budget is going to be quite high.
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 . This includes the extra wiggle room for spending money.
- 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. Motels in Wellington are still reasonably priced for those wanting a little more privacy.
- 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.
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
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.
Luckily, backpacking Wellington and saving some rainbow bills is extremely doable. You just gotta know what you’re doing:
- Partake in some urban camping – Yeah, 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.
- 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!
Why You Should Travel to Wellington with a Water Bottle
Plastic washes up on even the most pristine beaches… so do your part and keep the Big Blue beautiful
You aren’t going to save the world overnight, but you might as well be part of the solution and not the problem. When you travel to some of the world’s most remote places, you come to realise the full extent of the plastic problem. And I hope you become more inspired to continue being a responsible traveller.
Plus, now you won’t be buying overpriced bottles of water from the supermarkets either! Travel with a filtered water bottle instead and never waste a cent nor a turtle’s life again.
Drink water from ANYWHERE. The Grayl Geopress is the market’s leading filtered water bottle protecting your tum from all the waterborne nasties. PLUS, you save money and the environment!
Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle.
We’ve tested the Geopress rigorously from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Cuba, and the results are in: it WORKS. Buy a Geopress: it’s the last water bottle you’ll ever buy.Buy a Geopress! Read the Review
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 Airbnbs and lodges in Wellington are 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.
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.
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?
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!
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!
Base Wellington is one of our favourites in Wellington but they’re not taking guests right now. We’re not sure if they’re closed for good but we hope they’ll come back soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Name||Distance/Estimated Time||Deetz|
|Otari Wilton Bush||Multiple trails:|
20-40 mins average
|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 Walkway||12kms/5-6 hours||This 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 Garden||Multiple 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 Victoria||4.7kms/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 Walk||6kms/3-4 hours||Makara 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.|
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 region – The 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.
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:
|Coastella||February||Kapiti Coast||Music 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 Festival||February-March|
|Around Wellington||A 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.|
|CubaDupa||March||Cuba Quarter||This 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 Festival||June||Around Wellington||Mentioning it because I’m a sucker for anything Jazz. This a damn good thing to do in Wellington in winter.|
|HighLight: Carnival of Lights||October||Riddiford Garden,|
|This one is totally free! The gardens are transformed by light displays, live performances, and just all round general prettiness.|
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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. Apart from Auckland, the other popular backpacking destination, 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.
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).
Visiting Wellington? Don’t risk having to sit on the floor or change your itinerary because you missed the last ticket at the station! Find the best transport, best time and the best fare with 12Go. And why not use what you’ve saved to treat yourself to something nice upon arrival?
It only takes 2 minutes! Book your transport on 12Go now and guarantee your seat easily.
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 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!
Use Bookaway to find the best deals on transport – buses, planes, trains, and ferries. It’ll save you a load of time when organising transport and you’ll probably nab an EPIC DISCOUNT too!
Book your transport on Bookaway NOW. Get the best price for the best ride… then use those savings to buy the best feed in town!Book Your Transport Here!
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.
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.
Get Insured before Backpacking Wellington
The land of the Kiwis is pretty damn safe as is its capital city! That said, Wellington has been rocked by more than a few earthquakes in its time.
Bad things can and do happen on the road; travelling without insurance is risky. Please, consider covering yourself with travel insurance before taking off.
Members of The Broke Backpacker team have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re an easy to use and professional provider that the team swears by.
If there’s one insurance company The Broke Backpacker trusts to cover them while roaming the planet’s furthest reaches, it’s World Nomads.
World Nomads’ mission is to support and encourage travellers to explore their boundaries. They offer simple & flexible travel insurance, and safety advice to help you travel confidently.
They’ve been doing it since 2002 – protecting, connecting, and inspiring independent travellers just like you.
Get a quote below or read our in-depth review!
World Nomads provides travel insurance for travelers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a reading list for you while you’re backpacking around Wellington.
- 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 Fly – A 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.
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.
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.
Make Money…Not Online
If Teaching English isn’t really your thing, perhaps a working holiday or internship with Global Work and Travel may be another viable option for makin’ that sweet moolah. They offer opportunities in many locations throughout New Zealand, including Wellington. They’ll even support you throughout the entire process; from VISA guidance to finding you the perfect placement. You’ve got to be between the ages of 18 to 35 though…apologies if this isn’t you!
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.
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.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!