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World Travel Guide > Guides > Oceania > New Zealand > Wellington

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Local time Wellington

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Wellington History

Thriving Wellington hasn’t let earthquakes, civil unrest or industrial decline get in its way. No wonder it’s branded the ‘coolest little capital’ in the world.

First to arrive (around the 10th century) was the Polynesian explorer Kupe, who named the harbour Te Whanganui a Tara (the Great Harbour of Tara) after his son.

The London-based New Zealand Company ship, Tory, sailed up in 1839. The subsequent signing of the Port Nicholson Purchase deed allocated 10% of the purchased land to the signatory Maori chiefs and their families. The rest was to be sold to British settlers.

A fledgling settlement called Britannia sprung up, later renamed Wellington.

Despite an earthquake in 1855 causing massive damage, the colony became a prosperous commercial centre and in 1865 superseded Auckland as the capital.

In the early 20th century, Wellington was characterised by a number of industrial struggles, which lead to the great strike of 1913, and the largest outbreak of civil unrest ever seen in New Zealand.

War then broke out, and when it ended in 1918, soldiers returning home carried with them a deadly influenza virus, which caused a nationwide epidemic. In Wellington alone, it claimed more than 750 lives.

The 1920s brought unemployment and depression, and the outbreak of WWII and the Japanese bombing of Darwin in 1942 led to the arrival of 20,000 US marines.

After the war, thousands lined the streets to greet the newly crowned monarch, Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.

In the 1970s, Wellington’s port declined and the waterfront became an industrial wasteland. In the last few decades however, it’s been transformed into an attractive mix of restaurants, bars, offices, art galleries and heritage trails.

Today, tourism is booming and is a mainstay of Wellington’s economy.

Did you know?
• Wellington’s cable car began whisking locals and visitors from Lambton Quay to the Kelburn lookout in 1902.
• According to legend, the distinctive ‘Beehive’ parliament building was sketched as a joke on a napkin.
• At the beginning of the 21st century, Wellington’s inner-city population jumped by 41% in five years.

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Ohtel

Inspired by New York’s high-end boutique hotel scene and modern architecture, Ohtel is a small but luxurious place to stay for the traveller who wants a unique Wellington experience. All the mid-century furnishings are from the founder’s private collection, and the hotel itself is built into the base of a steep coastal cliff space. Even the cheapest rooms are equipped with free Wi-Fi, tea and coffee. 

Hotel Waterloo & Backpackers

Right in the centre of Wellington Hotel Waterloo & Backpackers offers a wide selection of accommodation options ranging from eight bunk dormitories to private rooms with en-suite bathrooms. The hotel first opened its doors back in 1937 and underwent a number of extensive revamps after being purchased by its current owners in 1997. Facilities include a bar a café a 24 hour fully equipped kitchen and a travel desk.

Cambridge Hotel

The Cambridge has been a Wellington establishment since 1883 - Queen Elizabeth herself stayed here in the 1960s. Overall, it offers great facilities at amazing prices. Located in the centre of Wellington, it is minutes from major attractions, fine dining, and great shopping. The Cambridge has rooms to suit all budgets, from backpacker dorms to en-suite doubles and all of the rooms come with SKY TV and a mini fridge. 

Victoria Court Motor Lodge

In the heart of downtown Wellington, this lodge offering studios, and one- and two-bedroom apartments, is ideally located within easy walking distance of theatres, shops, bars and museums. Most of the 25 units have spa baths/showers, cook tops, queen-size beds and Sky TV. Off-street parking is available.

InterContinental Wellington Hotel

The imposing InterContinental Hotel, the best five-star hotel in town, is one of the city's landmarks, with two restaurants, café, pool, sauna, fitness centre, large indoor heated swimming pool, conference and banquet facilities, and business centre. Many of the 231 modern and stylish rooms and suites have excellent harbour views.

Ibis Wellington

This international budget chain hotel is a good-value option for those who want to be close to the action, but don't want to stay in a backpacker's hostel. There's a restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner but limited parking.