WellingtonSee & Do
Wide of the cable car driving up the tracks with the sun setting over Wellington city and harbour in the background.

Wellington Cable Car

For over 120 years, the Cable Car has trundled up and down the Kelburn hillside. Ferrying commuters, students, and tourists between Lambton Quay, Victoria University, and the Botanic Gardens. The five-minute trip has become a Wellington must-do for tourists.

Every 10 minutes, the bright red Wellington Cable Car departs from Lambton Quay and makes its way up into the hills of Kelburn. 

The 612m journey travels through three tunnels and over three bridges. Once you’ve reached the top you’ll have risen 120m above sea level. The views of the city below and harbour and hills beyond are, predictably, spectacular.

A milestone in engineering when it opened in February 1902, this is New Zealand’s only remaining funicular railway. Originally steam-powered when it began, the two red cable cars have traversed the hill many times a day for over one hundred years.

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As you travel from the city centre to the Kelburn terminal make sure you check out the LED light installations by Angus Muir. Each of the two tunnels has 60 arches of light strings, which synchronise with a computer program. The program allows the Wellington Cable Car team to choose different patterns and put on special displays for events, such as the Pride Rainbow, Matariki Stars, New Zealand flag, and plenty more.

Putting the fun in funicular history 

Once you reach the top, pause to take in the panoramic views from the nearby lookout. Then head into the Wellington Cable Car Museum. Housed in the original winding house, the museum extends over three floors. It tells the story of how Wellington’s most iconic transport system developed. At the entrance level you’re greeted by the ‘Relentless Red Rattler’. Used from the 1950s to the late 1970s, the cable car unit gained its nickname because of the rattling noise it produced when going up and down the hill. Further through you’ll find a gift shop, archives, photography, and models. A detailed Lego display of the whole cable car route complete with houses, bridges, and trees is a highlight. There’s also a selfie wall where you can pretend you’re standing in the Cable Car tunnel — complete with twinkling LED lights. 

The floor below houses Grip Car No. 3. This beautifully restored cable car was used in the early 1900s. It’s an elegant piece of machinery that evokes an earlier time of technological progress and late Victorian innovation. The ground floor is home to the winding machine room. This was fully operational from 1930 to 1978. It served as the nerve centre of the cable car system. Here you’ll see the machinery once used to haul the cable cars up the hill to the summit. The century of engineering skill, innovation, and technology in the museum is fascinating. Entry to the museum is free. 

The return journey back to Lambton Quay completes the experience. However, if you feel like walking, you can enter the Wellington Botanic Garden directly beside the Kelburn terminal. There are also free shuttles to Zealandia, and Space Place is a two-minute walk away.