Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Wellington, New Zealand

See Wellington (disambiguation) for other meanings.
Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, located at the south of the North Island, in the Wellington region. Infamous for its gusty days, it is often referred to as "Windy Wellington". The city has a population of about 163,824, according to the 2001 census, but it also attracts many workers from the nearby cities of Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt and Porirua, the settlements of the Kapiti Coast, as well as the southern parts of the Wairarapa and Manawatu regions. These are often combined into a "greater Wellington" urban area much of which is administered by the Wellington Regional Council who are responsible for regional transport, water and river management and biosecurity.

The city area itself is administered by the separate Wellington City Council and covers about 290km2. The average annual rainfall in the city is 1270mm.

It 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.

Victoria University is located in the hill suburb of Kelburn overlooking the centre of the city. On the same hill is a botanic garden, and both can be reached on a funicular railway (the "cable car"). There is also a branch of Massey University in Wellington, taking over the former Wellington Polytechnic.



Originally settled by the Maori, Wellington was known in Maori legend as Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui, meaning "the head of Maui's fish" and is said to have been discovered by Kupe in 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 was named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. According to legend it was originally named "Britannia" and constructed on the flat area at the mouth of the Hutt River (now Petone) but when this was found to be too swampy and flood-prone the plans were transplanted without regard for a more hilly terrain -- Wellington has some extremely steep streets running straight up the sides of hills.


Wellington was seriously damaged by a series of earthquakes in 1848 and another earthquake in 1855. The event in 1855 is now known as the Wairarapa earthquake and occurred on a fault line to the north or east of Wellington. It was 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 metres 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. This is the reason why the street named Lambton Quay is now 100-200 metres from the harbour. There are a number of plaques set into the footpath on Lambton Quay, at major intersections, that indicate where the shoreline was located in 1840 to show 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. Typically at least one earthquake is noticed by the inhabitants 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 is 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 is still the primary structural component of almost all residential construction. Residents also place their hopes of survival in good building regulations, which were gradually tightened during 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 were of 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 4900. (reference Phillip Temple, Wellington Yesterday).

Wellington attained city status in 1886.

External links