5 Hour Layover in Wellington, How We Made the Most of Our Time!

View of Wellington from our plane

Coming back home to the USA from New Zealand we had a pretty crazy itinerary that had a total of 5 flights. This included a 5 hour 45 minute layover in Wellington and an overnight in Sydney, all before getting on the long flight to San Francisco. While not ideal we did make the most this crazy flight schedule. Keep in mind I used airline miles to get all the flights for free. We were fortunate enough to have business class to Australia but on the way home all flights were back in economy.

Overall our trip down under was more than amazing. We stayed with some amazing friends in Melbourne to get a more local experience but we also went out on our own to explore both the Great Ocean Road and Queenstown. It was a truly wonderful experience and we can’t wait to go back!

As for our flights coming back we were able to check our bags all the way to our final destination which was Sydney, Australia for this particular day. One thing I did not expect was that there was no security for New Zealand domestic flights which was kind of interesting and made it very easy to get to the gate. Our first flight segment was from Queenstown (ZQN) to Wellington (WLG) on a turbprop ATR 72, my first time on this type so I was excited. It was a very scenic flight with take off right over Lake Wakitupa with downtown Queenstown on the right. From there we banked and flew over Roys Peak and Lake Wanaka. I could see the top of the peak that we literally climbed just a couple days ago. As we approached Wellington the flight path cruised right past downtown giving us a perfect view of the city (see above!).

5 Hour Layover to Explore Wellington, New Zealand

For our short 5 hours and 45 minutes on the ground we had to come up with a plan. Our main goal was get some walking in so we decided on exploring the Wellington Botanic Garden. In total, our little self guided tour took 3 hours, 1 hour in transit, and 2 hours walking around the city. Thanks to helpful people on Tripadvisor they suggested we take the Airport Flyer downtown. It was easy to find as we exited the terminal near the baggage claim the pickup was just to the right as you exit. It costs $9 NZD each way per person and the Airport Flyer has multiple stops as it heads downtown. Note that it is cash only and luckily we literally had the perfect amount in bills and change. On the way back we handed the poor driver a whole bag of change. But money is money!

Wellington waterfront next to Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Wellington Waterfront

It was about a 30 minute ride to downtown. We got off at the Courtenay Place stop which is within walking distance to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (pictured above). It would be a great stop for museum lovers or if it is a rainy day. Lucky for us it wasn’t raining so we decided to continue with our plan and walk along the waterfront which we did. Not a bad little jaunt along the water to take in the harbor and the city. From there we went into city to wander the cute little streets. We would love to spend more time exploring the nooks and crannies of Wellington, it looked like a wanderer’s dream.

Wellington Cable Car

Wellington Cable Car

Eventually we made it to our target the Wellington Cable Car which we took us up to the Wellington Botanic Garden. The tram was short but sweet and only $4 NZD for a oneway. Not too exciting but saved our backs and legs from having to lug up our backpacks up the hill. Side note I realized my old backpack was no longer cutting it so it prompted a purchase for a new, the Osprey Comet. I am excited to try it on our next adventure!

View of Wellington on top of the botanic garden

View of Wellington on top of the Botanic Garden

At the top of the botanic garden you  get a beautiful view of the Wellington. While it was somewhat cloudy the day we went it was still a sight to be seen. At the entrance to the garden (which is free) there are many paths that you can take. We chose the path led down the hill the fastest aptly called the “Downhill Path” but it still went past beautiful gardens.

Wellington Botanic Garden Greenhouse

Inside the Wellington Botanic Garden

Our favorite stop was the greenhouse near the bottom with it’s circular garden and nearby waterfall. A perfect place to stop and take in the beauty of the gardens.

Wellington Beehive government building

Wellington “Beehive”

The final stretch goes through a cemetery and then over the highway where there was another cemetery. Eventually, we made it to the capital area where the infamous Beehive stands. Quite an interesting looking government building. I wonder who the beekeepers are?? Haha.

To get back to the airport we caught the Airport flyer back from the Wellington Train Station. In total it took us 3 hours to do our little tour of Wellington. About 30 minutes each way in transit and then 2 hours to do our walking tour.

We made it back to the airport with plenty of time to get through security. We could have added another hour on our tour if we really wanted to but we didn’t want to risk it. Better to play it safe if you don’t know the airport or city too well. Instead we opted to head back to the airport and enjoy our free access to the Air New Zealand lounge thanks to my Star Alliance Gold Status. Of course I filled up on way too many meatpies before our flight to Sydney, Australia.

We enjoyed our short time in Wellington and a 5 hour layover was just enough time to get a sample of the beautiful city. It left us with even more desire to come back to New Zealand. We would love to take a campervan around both the islands next time!