Wellington Museum: Hear the stories of the city

Visit the museum voted as one of the top 50 museums in the world


Waterfront Precinct


3 Jervois Quay


+64 4 472 8904


Free general admission

Take a walk along Wellington’s waterfront and you’ll come across one of New Zealand’s most architecturally significant buildings.

The former cargo warehouse is home to Wellington Museum, voted as one of the top 50 museums in the world by The Times, in London. The accolades are well-deserved – inside this striking exterior are four floors that tell you all you need to know about the city fondly dubbed as ‘The Coolest Little Capital in the World’.

The stories of Wellington and its people cover everything from the maritime history, early Māori and European settlement, the growth of the region, and how it has evolved since becoming the capital in 1865.

Upon entering, you’re taken back to Wellington’s waterfront as it was in the late 1800s - and just a word of warning, watch out for the scuttling rat! Walk through to the room that cleverly tells 100 Wellington tales, starting from 1900, and featuring the great waterfront strike of 1913, the death of New Zealand’s famous author Katherine Mansfield in 1923, the saddle of Wellington Zoo’s star attraction Kamala the elephant, and a tribute to Kirkcaldie and Stains, New Zealand’s longest-running department store.

It’s best to head to the top floor from there and work your way down, allowing at least a few hours to marvel at Wellington’s past. Up in The Attic a time capsule will take you on a 14-minute journey through Wellington’s history. Using a clever combination of cinema and art installations, the time machine spins and clanks and brings to life characters who share their fascinating stories along the way.

Step into the adjoining room and you’ll discover a whole host of interesting anecdotes, many of which are interactive. Wellington Zoo’s first lion, King Dick, and his companion Rusty take pride of place here, and if you push a button, you can hear them roar. Check out one of the sets from New Zealand’s award-winning vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, from Kiwi comedians and actors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. Or listen to recounts of UFO sightings in Wellington. There’s even an alien mailbox where kids can post their UFO drawings.

A floor down, on level 2, put 12 minutes aside to watch Maori legends come to life through holographic special effects in A Millennium Ago, where you’ll learn about Maui and the creation of Aotearoa. On the same floor, browse around Ngā Heke, which showcases some fascinating contemporary work from Māori artists and poets.

Level one features the city’s maritime history where you can step into a real captain’s cabin and learn more about Wellington’s best-loved dog, Paddy the Wanderer. In the boardroom, check out A Cameo Appearance, a textile art piece by Kiwi Genevieve Packer which celebrates the achievements of 31 prominent New Zealand women set against the backdrop of the male-dominated realm of the Wellington Harbour Board. 

Most poignant of all though is the short film on the Wahine ship disaster in Wellington harbour in 1968, which claimed the lives of 51 people. Seen through the eyes of a Kiwi film-maker, make sure you have your tissues handy.

On top of the stories, displays and curiosities, the museum regularly runs events, lunchtime talks, music gigs, workshops and temporary exhibitions to further reflect Wellington’s history and its people.

Best of all, entry is free, though money from purchases in the adjacent store goes towards running this amazing attraction that truly captures the essence of Wellington and will appeal to adults and children alike.

Where to go from here...

Rated by Lonely Planet as one of their top 500 places on earth, New Zealand’s interactive national museum is a must-visit

Te Papa

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