Wellington turns on the charm

Summer’s long, hot days may be fading into memory, but there’s something magical about autumn in Wellington. Nothing beats the beauty of those clear, crisp days, when the trees start showing their magnificent hues, the sea sparkles, and the longer nights often seem full of stars.

With Easter holidays on the calendar, it’s a great time of year to spend time with family, getting out and about to explore this exciting and diverse region. From the Kāpiti Coast’s sandy shores to the rugged south coast, through the capital city and over the hills to Wairarapa, there
really is something for everyone.

Wellington has always been strong on nature and conservation, and  there are some truly ground-breaking projects, sanctuaries, and reserves open to visitors in the region. Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, in Karori, is the world’s first fully fenced, urban ecosanctuary. The 500-acre reserve has already reintroduced 18 species of native wildlife back into the area as part of a 500-year vision to restore the surrounding  valley’s forest and freshwater ecosystem to a pre-human state. Visitors can explore the 32 kilometres of trails in the reserve, or take one of  the special tours, including dawn walks and night-time Kiwi-spotting experiences.

Further north in Waikanae, Ngā Manu offers the chance to get up close with native eels, see kiwis at night or during the day in a specially  built nocturnal house, or even sign the kids up as temporary rangers, giving them the opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes of a  busy conservation project.

The Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre at Mt Bruce is another regional nature gem. A restored forest and captive breeding site, it is home to endangered native wildlife such as whio, takahē, kākā, brown kiwi, and long-finned eels, as well as tuatara, skinks, and geckos, including Wellington’s own “Wellington Green Gecko”, found only in the lower North Island.

For an experience with animals from beyond our shores, Wellington Zoo is always a great day out. Meet Wellington’s wildest residents, ranging from capybaras to cheetahs, gibbons to giraffes, lemurs to lions and everything in between. If you really want to get in touch with  your wild side, you can take part in a close encounter with a red panda, meercat, or even a sun bear. Or get a group together and book a zoo  sleepover, where you’ll see behind the scenes after everyone has gone home and sleep in special quarters near the animals. The experiences  are popular, so be sure to book well ahead.

Speaking of sleeping in amazing places, the Wellington region is a fantastic place for camping out, and autumn brings its own benefits –  cooler nights and warmer days make for comfortable tenting. Battle Hill, near Pauahatanui, Kaitoke Park in Upper Hutt and Belmont  Regional Park in the Takapu Valley are some local favourites, with loads of scope for exploring, picnics, river swimming, and enjoying the  beautiful surroundings.

For a special experience, visit Wairarapa’s Dark Sky Reserve – one of the largest in the world – where budding astronomers and night-time  adventure seekers can be enthralled on a clear night by a star show like no other, thanks to some of the lowest light pollution in the country.

Also in the vicinity is Stonehenge Aotearoa, New Zealand’s only open-air, hands-on astronomical observatory and a replica of the famous  original in southern England. Connecting people with the sky, and natural cycles, it’s educational and evocative at the same time.

Most people know that Wellington is the country’s craft beer centre, but with Easter on the calendar in autumn, it’s fortuitous that it’s also  becoming renowned for another craft product – chocolate! The wider region is blessed with no less than five outstanding chocolate producers who are all shaking up the mainstream chocolate industry in their own delicious way.

Wellington Chocolate Factory is New Zealand’s first, certified organic, bean-to-bar chocolate maker, with a range of unique and delicious  bars made from the finest ethically traded cocoa in the world. Book a tour to learn how to be a chocolatier and see behind the scenes of the  factory, located in the city’s popular foodie laneway, Eva St.

 

Meanwhile, over in Berhampore, Baron Hasselhof’s ‘emporium’ is another fantastic chocolate destination. Call in and check them out – but  will you be brave enough to try the Matador Balls? The makers of this spiced Mexican chocolate cookie with a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a  fiery punch of ginger and cayenne say it may just change your life – but you will need to be the judge of that!

On the other side of the Remutaka Hill, Wairarapa’s craft chocolate game is also strong, with Greytown’s Schoc Chocolates becoming a  compulsory stop for visitors and locals alike. The multi-award winning chocolatier is known for its huge range of flavours from the more  traditional dark, milk, caramel, and strawberry flavours to the “challenging” whole lime and chilli or pink peppercorn. With 60 flavours in  their chocolate tablet range alone, it’s a destination sure to be a crowd-pleaser. In Paraparaumu, Kāpiti Chocolate Factory is known for its  bespoke range and group tours, where you’ll sample the products and see behind the scenes, as well as learning some chocolate history, or  head to Bohemein in the city to try a hands-on chocolate-making class and learn about everything from tempering to truffles. Even the  sweetest-toothed can’t fail to be satiated with so much chocolate goodness on offer.

Experiencing the Wellington region wouldn’t be complete without soaking up a good dose of culture, and there are plenty of options to  choose from. The city’s museums, including the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, are well known to be a huge treasure trove of  interest. Don’t forget to check out some of the smaller, quirkier historical gems around, including Wellington Tramway Museum (with  working trams) near Paekākāriki, Petone Settler’s Museum, Kāpiti Coast Museum in Waikanae, and Cobblestones Museum in Greytown. All  have unique collections and a range of activities suitable for various ages.

Autumn also brings ANZAC Day, on 25 April. It’s an important time to remember our history and the New Zealanders (and Australians) who  fought for their country, not just in the Gallipoli campaign, but in all wars and conflicts around the globe. Wellington is home to some  evocative and interesting memorials that are well worth a visit, such as the powerful Pukeahu National War Memorial and Pukeahu Park,  designed and built as an oasis of calm in the city where visitors can remember all those who have died in conflict, and honour the people who have served their country. It’s a special place to connect, relax, reflect, and learn. Another memorial site of importance to the country is the  Tīnui Cross, in the small Wairarapa township of the same name. Originally unveiled on ANZAC Day in 1916, just a year after the Gallipoli  campaign, it is one of New Zealand’s earliest war memorials, revealing the huge impact the events had on the quiet country town and  surrounding region. The tiny settlement is about 40 minutes’ drive from Masterton on the road to Castlepoint. Hundreds of people usually  make the walk up to the cross on ANZAC Day, and visitors can access it any time between 1 November and 25 April.

 

Top of the list for a free, family-friendly Easter outing is Wairarapa’s Balloon Festival. The annual event has had a reshuffle to make sure it can go ahead no matter what the traffic light setting. From 14-18 April there will be a spectacular display as balloons float over the region  from Martinborough all the way to Masterton. Also free, Te Papa’s Toi Art Gallery hosts Rita Angus: New Zealand Modernist until 25 April. More than 70 works by this iconic New Zealand artist are on display, including her famous self-portrait Cleopatra (1938).

Mountain bikers will be excited to hear that Capital Enduro, a new global level enduro race is coming to Wellington (23-24 April). With Mākara Peak, Wrights Hill, and Skyline track all part of the racecourse, bikers can choose between the easy and hard race categories.  Supporters and enthusiasts are welcome to soak up the atmosphere at the event hub at Karori Park. Designed to mimic a mini music festival,  it will be complete with live music, food trucks, sponsor tents, craft beer, and the start/finish gantry.

As the weather noticeably cools in May, Wellington city will be heating up with two fun festivals. Eat Drink Play (6-29 May) is a city-wide  festival of local food, drink, accommodation, and entertainment. Venues across the Wellington region will host themed events and menus.

Last year brought us fiery hot wings with a fire show, Victorian afternoon tea parties, and a magic petting zoo – so make sure you look out for this year’s lineup. At the same time the city will be beset by comedians for the highly anticipated NZ International Comedy Festival. It kicks  off with the Best Foods Comedy Gala on 1 May. Always a great night out, the gala promises gags and giggles, and often comes with a free jar  of mayo from the major sponsor.

Whatever your interests are, rest assured the Wellington region has something for you. Packing in a huge and diverse range of activities,  attractions, opportunities, spaces, and places to enjoy, it is an ever-changing, creative, beautiful, and fascinating place to come back to over  and over again. Whether you live in the region and are getting out and about to explore your incredible backyard, or are visiting from another part of the country, you won’t find it hard to tailor your experience to fit your needs, interests, and tastes – the hardest part will be trying to  fit everything in that you’ll discover along the way!

To start planning your ideal autumn in the Wellington region, and to access an extensive amount of helpful resources put together by the  people who live and breathe everything Wellington, visit WellingtonNZ.com.