I lived in Wellington for a good part of a year, eight months to be exact and I loved every minute of it. While in Wellington, I made sure to get out and see the area. Having to be aware of my budget, I couldn’t afford to spend money on tours or pricey activities. This forced me to get out and find free things to do around Wellington. To my surprise there are an array of free things to do. Here are my favourite!
What You'll Find
- 1. Climb the Staircase to Cape Palliser Lighthouse
- 2. Spend an Afternoon at Makara Beach
- 3. Enjoy the Views from Castlepoint
- 4. Watch the Sunset at Petone Beach
- 5. Glow Worms
- 6. Bike Ride to Pencarrow Light House
- 7. Drive Around Miramar Coast
- 8. Visit the Remnants of Rivendell
- 9. Hike the Stairway to Heaven
1. Climb the Staircase to Cape Palliser Lighthouse
I came here twice during my time in Wellington. About a two-hour drive from Wellington, the road trip is gorgeous. Not mention there are other free sites to stop and along the way. Such as the Putangirua Pinnicals. One of Lord of the Rings shooting locations.
If you can make it to the top of the staircase, Cape Palliser Lighthouse offers breathtaking views of the coast. From there you can continue to climb up the ridge line for a exlusive view of the lighthouse.
Just be aware there is no marked trail and there is steep cliff faces. If you were to fall, you would be tumbling down for a ways.
2. Spend an Afternoon at Makara Beach
Makara, located the South West coast outside of Wellington. On a summer or spring day, when the wind is blowing from the North, head to Makara, the water will be still, and the weather warm.
Makara is a great to place to collect rocks and Paua shells. Not to mention it is a popular spot to fish and dive as well.
If you get bored with sun bathing or searching for rocks, there is a few hikes along the beach and up the hills that follow the shoreline. The hill-top hikes offer fantastic views of the crystal blue waters down below, and of South Island in the far distance.
At the end of your day you can stop and grab a meal from Cafe Makara, right by the parking lot.
3. Enjoy the Views from Castlepoint
This was one of my top 3 favroutire free things to do around Wellington. While I was working on a film in New Zealand, one of my coworkers wanted to get out and see some of the Wellington area. He knew I was into hiking and asked if we could go somewhere. Since I hadn’t been to Castlepoint yet, and I heard it was amazing, I figured it would be the perfect place. Man, was I in for a fantastic surprise.
About a two and half hour drive out of Wellington, you reach a sand parking lot. On your right is this massive green hill that juts out of the sea. To your left is a lonely lighthouse, sitting up top a hill. Connecting the two is a massive bronze beach. It was jaw dropping.
Once we parked, we walked to the top of the hill. On our way up we had to fight extreme winds that kept blowing us over into the hillside. Even with the fight, it only took about 30 minute to reach the top.
From the peak, the views were spectacular. My only regret was not waiting for sunset to snap more amazing photos.
Another one of my other coworkers drives up there regularly to take photos. His photos are stunning. You can check his work out at @philipnixey on Instagram. I swear, it’s well worth the look.
4. Watch the Sunset at Petone Beach
I have no idea why, but Wellington is notorious for stunning sunsets. I have never seen so many amazing sunsets in such a small time frame. In Wellington, it was almost a daily occurrence.
I was staying outside of the city in a place called Lower Hutt. Apart from the firebreak, the next best spot I found to capture the sunset was Petone Beach.
It was the only place I could get to quick enough, without having actually planned to go out and capture the sunset. It was perfect. The mountain ranges and Wellington City sitting in the foreground, while a crazy pallet of colours dance around in the background creates a beautiful live canvas.
5. Glow Worms
What? A place to see glow worms, for free?! Yes. My flatmate Jamie and I had stumbled upon them during a random night hike. Our first plan was to check out the Wainuiomata Coast, however, turned back as it began to rain. Instead we followed this small path that Jamie knew about near Wellington. To our surprise, glow worms had inhabited along a small portion of the trail. What a delight that was.
To find them, park at the top of Park Rd. At the end of the cul de sac you’ll see a gated unsealed road. Follow the road about 2-3minutrs until you come to a small grassy opening. To your left you will see a water reservoir tank. NOTE: The trail is across the grassy opening, directly ahead from which you came. If you walk towards the water tank, you have gone off course.
Once on the trail, follow it less than 100ft and you should see the blue glow of the glow worms!
6. Bike Ride to Pencarrow Light House
About a thirty minute drive out of Wellington City, is the trail head to Pencarrow Lighthouse. Well, it’s more of a gravel road that you can bike and walk down. From the parking lot it’s 10km one way to the Lighthouse, so I decided to rent a bike.
There is a bike rental hut in parking lot before the trail head. It cost me $32 NZD/4 hours, which I thought was reasonable. I wasn’t in the mood to walk 20km that day.
I was distracted most of the bike ride. There were beautiful pinks, purples and different shades of green that covered the hillside as I rode past. Across the water in the distance was good ol’ Wellington. Everywhere I looked was stunning.
As I neared the lighthouses I realized there was not just one, but two. One is one the beach, the other is perched up top a hill. It’s a short hike to reach it. I spent many hours taking photos around the lighthouses and almost exceeded my 4 hour limit.
During my bike back I spotted a male bird, courting a female. I stopped to watch. He opened his wings and puffed his chest, but she wasn’t having any of it. Eventually she gave him the cold shoulder and flew away. Better luck next time.
I made it back just in time before I got charged for an extra hour. All in all, it makes for a lovely afternoon.
7. Drive Around Miramar Coast
This is a stunning coastal drive. Less than ten minutes from Wellington CBD, you could turn this short drive into an afternoon affair. Drive past the Wellywood sign and stop at Chocolate Fish, grab a smoothy and continue on.
Follow the road to Karaka Bay. Park there and enjoy the beach or hike up the hill to Fort Ballance.
Afterwards, hop back in the car and drive along to Breaker Bay and towards Moa Point. Here you can get out and check the cool rock formations.
Once on the road again, continue through the tunnel passed the airport to Lyall Bay. This popular surf spot is a great place to grab a coffee at the Spruce Goose and watch the incoming and outgoing planes.
8. Visit the Remnants of Rivendell
One of the many popular free things to do around Wellington is Rivendell!!!! On your way to Cape Palliser make a stop at the remnants of the Rivendell Set from Lord of the Rings. There isn’t much left, but its fun to see.
Around the area are also a few short scenic walks and a suspension bridge if you want more to do.
9. Hike the Stairway to Heaven
One of my favourite hikes around the area was Stairway to Heaven. Thirty minutes outside of Wellington, this moderate hike offers amazing views of the Kapiti Coast.
It is a 10km hike that can be done in 3 hours (one way). A good portion of that time is just taking photos. You can read more about the hike here.
These were the highlights of my time in Wellington. Apart from petrol, each activity was basically free. Not only that, I also met so many cool people and got some amazing photos along the way.