What's it Really Like Living in Wellington? | The Invisible Tourist

Living in Wellington you come to realise earthquakes can be likened to a little brother playing a prank on you. Usually the unexpected disruption lasts a few seconds and then you’re back to going about your business. 

Living my life in the suburbs of a major Australian city, a move to Wellington’s CBD was going to be a very welcome change for me. Having travelled New Zealand in the past I thought I knew what to expect but “the coolest little capital in the world” was about to surprise me in numerous ways!

Have you always wondered about Wellington?

You don’t seem to hear much about this underrated city as any mention of it is normally drowned out by stories of adventure capital Queenstown or big sister city Auckland. Wellington is currently booming in the tech and creative industries so for the first time in 25 years more Aussies have moved to NZ than vice versa.

Thinking of crossing the ditch? Below I’ll dish out the truth of what it’s really like living in Wellington (affectionately known as Welly).

Thorndon Lookout, Wellington Botanic Gardens
Thorndon Lookout, Wellington Botanic Gardens

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What's it really like living in Wellington New Zealand?
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What’s it really like living in Wellington?

Let’s examine what it’s really like living in Wellington from all sides. Below I’ve outlined all the positives and negatives I noticed during my eight months living here, so you can have an honest idea before you go.

The Positives of Living in Wellington

1. Overwhelming amount of friendliness

You’ll be undeniably bowled over by the friendliness of absolutely everyone. I’m not exaggerating, either. Not once have I encountered a grumpy Wellingtonian and I doubt I ever will. It’s just not in their nature.

You can expect to be genuinely asked how your day is going by your dry cleaner and have a quick chat about the weather or another topic-du-jour with your local coffee barista. Isn’t that a refreshing change from the usual grunts and lack of eye contact from people in other cities?

2. Nice and compact CBD

It’s so easy to enjoy all the things to do in Wellington! The CBD area is mostly flat and compact so it’s ridiculously easy to get around by walking. This is also a negative point: When you start to think a 15 minute walk is too far, you know Welly has spoilt you for good.

The WWi Exhibitions at Te Papa and Dominion Museums are world-class
The WWI Exhibitions at Te Papa and Dominion Museums are world-class

3. Yep, everywhere is picture perfect

Almost everywhere you look can be turned into a postcard, I’m not even kidding. From occasional snow-capped mountains to colourful flowerbeds, 360 degree views to crystal-clear waterways, stunning nature walks to the hustle and bustle of Lambton Quay, Wellington has it all so don’t forget your camera.

4. It’s positive to see support for local businesses

Like us Aussies, Kiwis love supporting local companies. One example of this is Whittaker’s Chocolates are almost always low in stock on supermarket shelves while Cadbury sits next to them in abundance. Whittaker’s also do collaborations with boutique dairy company Lewis Road Creamery. It should be mandatory that you get some of this dairy goodness into your life because the combos they use for their flavoured milks are incredible!

Oh and I almost forgot the most adorable thing: The Whittaker’s Chocolate Kiwis (instead of bunnies) at Easter… Not only super cute but proceeds go towards Operation Nest Egg by Kiwis for Kiwis. What’s not to love?!

Heart on City to Sea Bridge

5. Natural ways of doing things are embraced

Not exclusive to Wellington, Kiwis believe in doing things in a natural way – you’ll mostly find grass fed (rather than grain fed) beef there. Cosmetics stores have less variety of brands available than other countries because they passed a law that refuses to allow companies who test on animals to sell their products in New Zealand.

Zealandia Ecosanctuary and Otari-Wilton’s Native Bush are two examples of initiatives to preserve the landscape from a time before European settlers… There’s something quite humbling about that.

Marine wildlife such as seals, dolphins, stingrays and penguins frequent the harbour.

6. Living in Wellington is always eventful and vibrant

You’re never at a loss for something to do. In many ways, Wellington reminds me so much of Melbourne with its great café culture and vibrant laneways. There’s always an exciting festival or event happening that is a huge drawcard and brings the community together constantly.

Welly is dotted with exciting places of interest, such as Wellington Zoo, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Botanic Gardens, Mount Victoria Lookout, nightlife on Courtenay Place, soaking up some sun at Oriental Bay, shopping on Lambton Quay, dining Cuba street, eating your way through the Night Market… I could keep going!

Zealandia Eco-Sanctuary
Zealandia Eco-Sanctuary

7. There’s a focus on environmental love

Wellingtonians adore and care for their environment. The fact that marine wildlife such as seals, dolphins, stingrays and penguins frequent the harbour and surrounding bays is hard evidence of the efforts to constantly improve the connection between city and nature. Did you know Wellington is a Biophilic City?

“Biophilic Cities are cities that contain abundant nature. They care about, and seek to protect, restore and grow this nature, and strive to foster deep connections and daily contact with the natural world” – Our Living City

Another wonderful initiative created by Wellington City Council is the Our Living City Project – founded on the values of Biophilic Cities, it aims to improve Wellington’s quality of life by strengthening urban-nature connections and building economic opportunities from a healthy environment.

Colonial-era buildings along The Terrace are an architecture lover's delight
Colonial-era buildings along The Terrace are an architecture lover’s delight

8. Architecture lovers will adore the Colonial-era buildings

As a massive architecture lover I’m always fascinated by the grand-looking buildings from the Colonial era that are still standing in Wellington today. Notable mentions to go Antrim House, buildings lining The Terrace, along Oriental Bay and Lambton Quay.

Did you know the majority of residential buildings in Wellington are made from wood? As a Sydneysider, many of our homes are built of brick so this was a surprise to me at first. It didn’t take me long to realise the homes in Wellington are made from wood because the structure will flex and bend a little in earthquakes. It obviously works because many of the buildings are over a century old!

9. Wellington is a very kid-friendly city

If you have young children, they’ll never be bored living in Wellington. There is oodles for them to do! Parks, museums, activity places like Capital E!, numerous hikes, Staglands Wildlife Reserve, Botanic Gardens, Wellington Zoo.

TIP: The famous Wellington Cable Car with its futuristic tunnel of lights should not be missed! 

Vibrant garden beds
Vibrant garden beds

The Negatives of Living in Wellington

1. Wellingtonians think don’t think much of their underrated city

Wellingtonians don’t speak highly enough of their adorable city. I’m not so sure why, I’m pretty smitten. Maybe it’s due to Welly’s geographical location? She’s practically sandwiched between the North and South Islands – the winds reach gale force at times as they are sharply funnelled between the two landmasses.

I guess it’s no wonder the “Wellywood” sign (created to promote Wellington’s film industry) looks like this:

Credit: Foilman via Flicker. Licence BY-SA CC2.0

2. Mediterranean groceries are scarce

As a huge lover of all things Mediterranean, I discovered it can become an unsuccessful treasure hunt to find Greek, Italian or Spanish-style groceries at the regular supermarkets in the CBD. Fresh lasagne sheets? You can forget about those.

I’m sure if you live out in the suburbs these would be available, but in the CBD they are hard to come by for some reason!

Houses on the hill in Oriental Bay


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3. Some things have strange pricing

A bottle of alcohol (specifically cider) bought from inside the supermarket (NZD 6.50) is cheaper than a pack of aspirin (NZD 8.00 for 32 tablets). Who’d have known? I’ve also paid NZD 6.00 for a single avocado and NZD 7.99 for a whole watermelon. Yes, I’m serious.

4. More “Britishness” is evident here than in Australia

New Zealand has hung on to a few “Britishy” things that us Aussies have lost in favour of American subculture. You’ll have to adjust your vocabulary to include courgettes (zucchinis), aubergines (eggplants), buggy (pram), slide (slippery-dip) and that’s just naming a few.

The alternate produce names make for a confusing experience at the self-service supermarket checkouts! However, on a positive note Guy Fawke’s night is still celebrated annually and everyone journeys into the CBD to watch a fireworks display from several vantage points. That’s something we lost long ago in Australia.

Wellington Harbour

5. The produce in supermarkets sometimes looks sad

I discovered fruit and vegetables in the CBD are usually old in quality. The produce available at the local Sunday markets in the CBD are not much different. I’m not sure if this is because a lot of produce is imported to New Zealand so it takes a while to reach the supermarket shelves or another reason I’m not yet aware of.

What’s surprising is when you eat out in restaurants or cafés the ingredients are fresh and wholesome, though.

6. ……Earthquakes

Living in Wellington you come to realise earthquakes can be likened to a little brother playing a prank on you. Usually the unexpected disruption lasts a few seconds and then you’re back to going about your business. But, on very rare occasions, they do something that will cause your heart to skip a beat.

It’s still surreal to say I experienced a 6.2 magnitude quake where the shaking lasted a full 90 seconds. Lamps fell over, bottles tumbled off the table and the fridge was very close to tipping over. For me, the aftershocks got really annoying and were unnerving as I couldn’t be sure if the light shaking would escalate into something bigger.

I was due to fly back to Australia a few days after and for the first (and only) time in my life I was looking forward to flying home just so I could be on ground that didn’t move! Having said that, earthquakes are few and far between so it’s not a real reason to put you off visiting Wellington.

Magnolias in winter vs summer
Magnolias in the Botanic Gardens: Winter vs Summer

Concluding life in Wellington

Overall, as you can see the positives are abundant and negatives pretty minor. Like any city there are niggly things you tend to ignore because the reasons to love Wellington life certainly outweigh any negative ones.

With something for everyone and a brilliant feel-good vibe, Wellington will welcome you with open arms and make you feel like a part of its family. Oh Wellington, it goes to show that what they say about you is true… “You can’t beat Welly on a good day!”

Is Wellington a city you’d like to visit or live in someday? If it’s not, it should be! If you found this helpful, take a look at all my articles on New Zealand, or head on over to my Pinterest or Instagram for more inspiration. Let me know in the comments below and if you’d like to save this article for later, don’t forget to share it to Facebook or Pin It!

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist






EDIT: On 4th May 2017, Wellington was ranked #1 place in the world to live by The Financial Times, based on a study of 47 cities. You can find the NZ Herald article about it here. Well, I’m not really surprised!

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What's it Really Like Living in Wellington? | The Invisible Tourist

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What's it Really Like Living in Wellington? | The Invisible Tourist



  1. Hello Alyse, I am conducting some research for a client who is considering a move to Wellington with his young family. He has specifically asked me to find out if Wellington is culturally diverse and if his young son is likely to experience racism. Not sure that it matters but his son is of Indian and Vietnamese ethnicity. I know that over 27% of Wellington’s population are from overseas but, without having lived there, I am not sure about the likelihood of encountering racism. It makes me sad that I have to ask. Do you happen to have any information available on this? Thank you, Olivia

    1. Hi Olivia,
      That’s very exciting for your client! I can only provide you with my first-hand experiences. Wellington and particularly New Zealand in general is very welcoming of all cultures. They are very inclusive of people from all different backgrounds. As the country’s capital I met plenty of people from all over the world on working visas, including Indians, Asians, Brazilians, Americans, Canadians and Europeans. In my 8 months there, I never encountered nor heard of any racism. Now that’s not to say it won’t ever happen (which can be said for any city around the world) but I believe the likelihood is very low as Kiwis are some of the kindest people out there. I hope that helps!

  2. No mention of housing prices. Three quarters of a million for an average city house? What do tens of thousands of people do to manage that?

    1. Hi Joe, that’s something I could add into the article! Many young professionals within Wellington rent apartments in or near the city. By the time people reach their mid-late twenties some can afford to purchase a modest dwelling outside the city after saving a deposit. I’m originally from Sydney and $750k for a smallish house is pretty standard here as well. People manage as wages are higher than other parts of the world (I’m guessing you’re from the USA?) and by having their priorities clearly defined at a young age. It is possible 😊 Thanks for your comment!

  3. This was really interesting!

    My husband and I visited Wellington for a few days on our honeymoon, and we found it to be such an interesting city! We’ve both done a fair bit of travel, yet we couldn’t really compare Wellington to anywhere else we’d visited before – so unique!

    1. So glad you found this interesting, Miranda! Wellington is pretty special, isn’t it? From the mountains to harbour, museums to eateries, day trips to nightlife – There’s something for everyone 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  4. This was an interesting read! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in NZ as an Aussie. Interesting to hear that more of us are moving there as well. Wouldn’t have thought that!

    1. So glad I could provide some insight for you! It’s funny because when us Aussies meet foreigners overseas, they usually assume we and Kiwis are pretty much the same. There are a quite a few differences that I didn’t realise until I lived there! Thanks so much for your comment ?

  5. Very well written! Loads of useful information. Glad that you are all safe after the earth quake.

    – Aparna from Playgroup.

    1. I’m so glad to hear you found this useful! Thank you so much Aparna. Hope you have been well!

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