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Alternative meanings at Wellington (disambiguation)
A view of Wellington from the top of Mount Victoria. In the middle of the image you can see the internationally famous Te Papa museum.
A view of Wellington from the top of Mount Victoria. In the middle of the image you can see the internationally famous Te Papa museum.

Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand. The Wellington urban area has the country's second largest metropolitan population.

Known in Māori either as Te Whanganui a Tara (the harbour of Tara -- after the Maori name for Port Nicholson Harbour), or Poneke (the Maorified version of "Port Nicholson"), Wellington stands alongside Sydney and Melbourne as a cultural centre of Australasia, with a thriving arts scene, café culture and buzzing nightlife that locals say rival those of cities many times its size.


Location and demographics

Urban Area Population 363,400 [1] (2003)
Extent North to Pukerua Bay &
Te Marua, including
Pauatahanui; excludes
Makara, Ohariu,
Paekakariki Hill and
rural areas of the
Hutt Valley.
Name Wellington City
Population 179,100 (2003)
Land area 290km²
Extent North to Tawa; includes
Makara and Ohariu
Mayor Kerry Prendergast
See also Porirua City
Upper Hutt City
(Lower) Hutt City
Name Wellington

Wellington stands at the southwestern tip of the North Island on Cook Strait, the passage that divides the North and South Islands. On a clear day the snowcapped Kaikoura Ranges are visible across the strait. To the north stretch the golden beaches of the Kapiti Coast. On the east the Rimutaka Range divides Wellington from the broad plains of the Wairarapa, a wine region of worldwide acclaim.

Wellington is the southernmost national capital city in the world with a latitude about 41 degrees south. It is more densely populated than most other settlements in New Zealand, due to the small amount of building space available between the harbour and the surrounding hills. Because of its location in the roaring forties latitudes and its exposure to omnipresent wind coming through the Cook Strait, the city is known to kiwis as "Windy Wellington".

More than most cities, life in Wellington is dominated by its central business district. Approximately 62,000 people work in the Wellington CBD, only 4,000 fewer than work in Auckland's CBD, despite that city having three times Wellington's population. Wellington's cultural and nightlife venues concentrate in the southern part of the CBD, making the inner city suburb of Te Aro the largest entertainment destination in New Zealand.

Wellington has a reputation for its picturesque natural harbour and green hillsides adorned with tiered suburbs of colonial villas. The city's CBD is sited close to the Lambton Harbour, an arm of the Port Nicholson harbour. Port Nicholson harbour lies along an active geologic fault which is clearly evident it its straight western coast. The land to the west of this rises abruptly, meaning that many of Wellington's suburbs sit high above the centre of the city.

To the southern end of the city is the Miramar Peninsula, connected to the rest of the island by a low-lying isthmus at Rongotai, which is the site of Wellington International Airport . The narrow entrance to Port Nicholson is directly to the east of the Miramar Peninsula, and contains the dangerous shallows of Barrett's Reef, where many ships have been wrecked (most famously the Interisland ferry Wahine in 1968).

Wellington urban area population was estimated at 363,400 for June 2003; that includes most of each of the satellite cities of Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, and Porirua. The Wellington Region, however, extends much further, including the Districts of Kapiti Coast, South Wairarapa, Carterton, and Masterton.

On the hill west of the city centre, near Victoria University, is a botanic garden, and both can be reached on a funicular railway (the "cable car").

Wellington Harbour has three islands: Somes (Matiu in Maori), Ward (Makaro) and Mokopuna. Only Somes Island is large enough for settlement. It has been used as a quarantine station for people and animals and as an internment camp during the First and Second World Wars. It is now a conservation island, providing refuge for endangered species, much like Kapiti Island further up the coast. There is limited access to the public during daylight hours by means of a stopoff on the Dominion Post Ferry .

Panorama of Wellington including the cable car.
Panorama of Wellington including the cable car.

The city has an average annual rainfall of 1270 mm.



The Maori who originally settled the Wellington area knew it as Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui, meaning "the head of Maui's fish". Legend recounts that Kupe discovered and explored the district in about the 10th century.

European settlement began with the arrival of an advance party of the New Zealand Company on the ship Tory, on 20 September 1839, followed by 150 settlers on the ship Aurora on 22 January 1840. Their settlement took its name in honour of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Legend states that the settlers constructed their first homes at "Britannia" on the flat area at the mouth of the Hutt River (now Petone) but when this proved too swampy and flood-prone they transplanted the plans without regard for a more hilly terrain—Wellington has some extremely steep streets running straight up the sides of hills.


Wellington suffered serious damage in a series of earthquakes in 1848 and from another earthquake in 1855. The event in 1855, now known as the Wairarapa earthquake, occurred on a fault line to the north or east of Wellington. It ranks as probably the most powerful earthquake in recorded New Zealand history, with an estimated magnitude of at least 8.2. It caused vertical movements of 2 to 3 m to land over a large area, including raising an area of land out of the harbour and turning it into a tidal swamp. Much of this land was subsequently reclaimed and is now part of Wellington's central business district. For this reason the street named Lambton Quay now runs 100 to 200 m distant from the harbour. A number of plaques set into the footpath at major intersections on Lambton Quay indicate the location of the shoreline in 1840 and thus indicate the extent of the uplift.

The area has high seismic activity even by New Zealand standards, with a major fault line running through the centre of the city and several others nearby. Several hundred more minor fault lines have been identified within the urban area. The inhabitants typically notice at least one earthquake every year, particularly in the high-rise office buildings in the city. For many years after the 1855 earthquake, the majority of buildings constructed in Wellington were made entirely from wood. The recently-restored Government Buildings, between the Railway Station and Parliament Buildings, comprise the largest wooden office building in the Southern Hemisphere. While masonry and structural steel have subsequently been used in building construction, especially office buildings, timber framing remains the primary structural component of almost all residential construction. Residents also place their hopes of survival in good building regulations, which gradually became more stringent in the course of the 20th century.

NZ's Capital

In 1865 Wellington became the capital of New Zealand, replacing Auckland where William Hobson had established his capital in 1840. Parliament first sat in Wellington on 7 July 1862, but the city did not become the official capital for some time. In November 1863 Alfred Domett moved a resolution before Parliament (in Auckland) that "it has become necessary that the seat of government... should be transferred to some suitable locality in Cook Strait." Apparently there was concern that the southern regions, where the goldfields were located, would form a separate colony. Commissioners from Australia (chosen for their neutral status) pronounced the opinion that Wellington was suitable because of its harbour and central location. Parliament officially sat in Wellington for the first time on 26 July, 1865. The population of Wellington was then 4,900 (reference Phillip Temple: Wellington Yesterday).

Government House, the official residence of the Governor-General stands next to the Basin Reserve. The official residence formerly occupied the site where "The Beehive", the executive wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings, is today.

Wellington attained city status in 1886.


Map of Wellington suburbs
Map of Wellington suburbs

Wellington's 60-odd officially-defined suburbs include the following:

North of the CBD

Churton Park; Johnsonville; Khandallah; Newlands; Ngaio; Ngauranga; Paparangi ; Tawa.

Inner city

Aro Valley; Kelburn; Mount Victoria; Northland; Oriental Bay; Te Aro; Thorndon; Wadestown.

South and west

Brooklyn; Berhampore; Hataitai; Island Bay; Karori; Kilbirnie; Miramar; Newtown; Seatoun; Vogeltown

Educational facilities

Victoria University, Wellington's oldest university has its main campus in the hill suburb of Kelburn overlooking the centre of the city, but also has two major downtown campuses. It was originally established as a constituent college of the University of New Zealand.

The University of New Zealand used to be based at Senate House on Bowen Street until its dissolution in 1961.

There is also a branch of Massey University in Wellington, taking over the former Wellington Polytechnic. The campus is based at the previous national museum (the Dominion Museum) that has been replaced by the Te Papa ("Our Place") Museum. Massey's involvement with Wellington began with the merger with the Wellington Polytechnic School. The University of Otago also has a Wellington connection, as the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences is a department of that university.

The oldest secondary school in Wellington is the Wellington College, and is a nationally recognised school in terms of producing Governors-General, military Generals, business leaders and other leaders.

One of the major secondary schools in Wellington is Wellington High School, with the number of enrolled students hovering around 1200. It is also notable for being the only co-educational school in the central city. Formerly associated with the Polytech as the "Wellington Technical College", it later split.

External links

  • Wellington City Council
  • What's On In Wellington
  • What's on and happening in Wellington, New Zealand from restaurants and cafes to events and services
  • Official NZ Tourism website for Wellington
  • Wellington history
  • 360° views of and from NZ Parliament buildings

Last updated: 02-11-2005 17:25:04
Last updated: 02-27-2005 19:05:36