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16 inspirational art encounters in New Zealand’s cultural capital

Wellington is a magnet for visionary artists of all types, and the city is packed full of the surprising, the creative and the inspirational. From giant sculptures and underground theatres, to jazz festivals and a cocktail bar for book lovers, come discover the sensory delights of New Zealand’s cultural capital.

Get literally literary

Writers Walk I Love This City Wellington NZ WCC Photo.jpg
  1. Head down to the Wellington waterfront to find the Writers Walk, where the poetry becomes sculpture. The words of some of New Zealand’s greatest writers are installed around the harbour’s edge in concrete, wood and steel. Grab a map from the i-SITE Visitor Centre to find them all.
  2.  Katherine Mansfield is considered New Zealand’s most internationally renowned writer. Fans of Mansfield’s modernist prose and early 20th century literature will want to visit the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace, a restored and preserved Thorndon cottage that brings to life the well-to- do colonial society that this distinctly bohemian author was born into.
  3. Lose yourself in one of Wellington’s quality independent bookshops, like Arty Bees, Quilters, Ferret or Parsons Books and Music. Once you’ve found something you like, head to The Library cocktail bar on Courtenay Place, where comfy chairs and delicious drinks await. And if you finish that novel, the bar’s walls are lined with more than a thousand books for you to enjoy.

Play musical chairs

Cuba Mall Party Pls credit Wellington Jazz Festival image Pauline Leveque 11
  1.  Wellington is the home of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and the Michael Fowler Centre is their rehearsal room and concert hall. There’s nowhere better to hear ‘New Zealand’s greatest covers band’ play the likes of Sibelius, Mahler, Liszt, Brahms and more. Plus you’ll hear works from New Zealand’s contemporary orchestral composers like Gareth Farr, Jack Body and John Psathas.
  2. Every winter the Wellington Jazz Festival brings some of the world’s hippest musos to town. From big bands in big venues to trios in cafes and swing on the streets, Wellington is infused with the spirit and style of jazz. 
  3. To get up close and personal with the local music scene, head to the likes of Meow and San Fran, for a drink and a boogie. If you’re a true live music fan, pay a visit to the legendary Bodega, which has seen everyone from The White Stripes, The Melvins, Amanda Palmer and the Hilltop Hoods, as well as pretty much every awesome New Zealand band ever.

Explore a gallery of galleries

Tivaevae Out of the glory box Nga Toi
  1. Te Papa’s Nga Toi exhibition space is home to some of New Zealand’s most significant artworks. Goldie’s colonial portraits of Maori elders are displayed alongside Colin McCahon’s epic panels, and a former Venice Biennale installation based around a real Kiwi-made 4WD. Image: Tivaevae: Out of the glory box.
  2. Nearby in Civic Square, the City Gallery is a beautiful space whose ever-changing exhibition programme showcases contemporary art from New Zealand and around the world. Expect diversity and bring curiosity as you explore the City Gallery’s latest programme of painting, photography, video works and installations.
  3. Want to get right to the heart of New Zealand culture and society in an afternoon? Try a visit to the New Zealand Portrait Gallery. Faces of the powerful and the humble; leaders, athletes, artists and ordinary Kiwis are rendered in a huge range of portraiture styles. 
  4. Keep an eye open when you’re walking through town and you’re bound to spot one of the dozens of private galleries scattered throughout the city. They’re a must for the true art lover, and perfect if you’re considering taking the next step and bring back something for your own home.

Head into the Great Artdoors

Solace in the Wind by Max Patte Wellington NZ Photo Nicola Edmonds
  1. The Wellington Sculpture Trust looks after more than 20 large-scale public artworks that you’re bound to encounter on your visit. Two of the most famous are Neil Dawson’s Ferns, which appear almost magically suspended above Civic Square, and Phil Price’s Zephyrometer, a precision-engineered piece of kinetic art, that responds to Wellington’s famous wind. The i-SITE Visitor Centre has a map to all the works.
  2. Wellington’s most-photographed resident is likely to be Max Patte’s life-sized bronze figure, Solace in the Wind, who leans precariously but contentedly off the edge of the waterfront behind Te Papa.
  3. Cuba St is the bohemian heart of Wellington, home to cafes, bars, vintage boutiques, bookshops, record stores and galleries. It’s also a popular spot for Wellington’s best street performers. On any given day you might encounter the likes of a classical guitarist, a marionette show, an airbrush artist or a circus performance. 

Discover a whole new stage

RNZB WellingtonNZ PHOTOCaptureStudios sml
  1. Home to Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School, Wellington is full of performers and theatre fans. Try the St James and The Opera House for big touring shows and musicals, and Circa Theatre on the waterfront for the best in contemporary and classic plays. To check out the cutting edge, head to the cosy, yet ultra-hip BATS Theatre, birthplace of many NZ performance legends, including the world renowned Flight of the Conchords.
  2. Laugh yourself silly at VK’s comedy club off Cuba Mall, run by local stand-up Vaughan King. The atmosphere is laid back and friendly as New Zealand’s best comic talents and up-and-coming stars hit the stage, while international comics drop in for a set. Every April & May the Comedy Festival is in town, and along with the San Fran down the road, VK’s is the place to be.
  3. The biggest festival of all is the biannual New Zealand Festival, a showcase of theatre, music, visual arts and everything in between from around New Zealand and the world. Held in February, it’s the ultimate time to be in Wellington for arts lovers. 
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