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Aotea Quay and the Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand

Things to do in Wellington – Cruise Stop

The capital of New Zealand is one of the country's major cruise ports, second only to Auckland, the country's most populous city up in the north. Wellington, on the other hand, sits at the southern tip of North Island, between Wellington Harbour and the verdant hills that are on the path of the winds blowing from the Cook Strait.

Wellington's location is ideal, as it allows cruise passengers to be within close distance of major attractions without spending a lot of time at sea. The port of Auckland, and everything cosmopolitan and chic about New Zealand, is to the north. Across Cook Strait is Picton, a quaint port town that receives passengers bound for the beautiful Marlborough Sounds and the wine trails that grow Sauvignon Blanc. Farther south are the ports of Akaroa and Dunedin which are the gateway to South Island charms like the Garden City of Christchurch, the yellow-eyed penguins of Dunedin, and the Pinot Noir of Central Otago.

On Wellington itself, the diversions are aplenty and the lay-out of the city compact so you get to enjoy more activities without spending most of the time in transit.

Wellington is a highly walkable city, so you can start your shore excursion from Aotea Quay, where large cruise ships dock, with a stroll along the redeveloped waterfront to get to the other end where Te Papa Museum, New Zealand's storehouse of Maori history, stands. Then spoil yourself with hundreds of dining and wining options that line the promenade and the streets just across, or join a foodie walking tour to sample piccolo (Kiwi speak for espresso), hot-off-the-press bread, artisan cheeses and kiwi fruit.

While getting to filming locations of the Lord of the Rings could take an entire day – a trip to the Hobbiton village of Matamata requires an overnight stay – getting behind the scenes in the city can be effortless. You have just docked at "Wellywood" whose Harcourt Park was used as a stand-in for the gardens of Isengard, or whose Town Belt of Mount Victoria, the most prominent peak, was used for filming Farmer Maggot's vegetable patch. If you’d like to bring home Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit memorabilia, or see how special effects wizardry is concocted, drop by the Weta Cave which Peter Jackson himself helped create.

Mount Victoria also affords panoramic views of the city centre if you can’t take the cable car up the hill of Kelburn, which you should. There’s an observatory on the hilltop, and a botanic garden on the way down.

A more expansive green space houses New Zealand’s native birds. The Karori Sanctuary is just 10 minutes away from downtown, but its 225 hectares of bush is a far cry from the modern life going on outside its borders. It could be hard to spot the elusive kiwi on your own, so make the most use of volunteer guides.

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