Wellington: Hot city, cool history

Rebecca Nuttall —  29/01/2015

Recently named one of the hottest cities in the world by BBC travel, Wellington’s getting a bit of a reputation—in a good way.

This year marks Wellington’s 150th anniversary as capital of Aotearoa New Zealand so, as a proud Wellington resident, I thought I’d show you around some of the places managed by DOC that tell the story of this busy little city.

Dominion Observatory

Did you know that New Zealand was the first country to adopt a standard time chosen by the government for everyone to follow?

From 1907 the country’s official time was determined by astronomical observations from none other than the Dominion Observatory in Wellington.

The Dominion Observatory after its revamp and earthquake strengthening.

The Dominion Observatory after its revamp and earthquake strengthening

Government Buildings

The largest wooden building in the Southern Hemisphere. One of the grandest wooden buildings in the world they say. Good thing too, considering the number of earthquakes in Wellington. It once housed our entire public service. Now it is home to Victoria University’s Faculty of Law. Fancy.

Crowd alongside Government buildings during the 1901 Royal Tour.

Crowd alongside Government buildings during the 1901 Royal Tour

Matiu Somes Island

When everybody wanted to come to New Zealand in the 1870s, we didn’t really let them. Not straight away, anyway. They were quarantined on Matiu Somes Island in Wellington Harbour. Visitors were made to sit in a smoke house with chlorine, potassium nitrate and sulphur fumes for 10 minutes just to get rid of lice. Welcome to New Zealand!

The Wellington Harbour, 1875 by New Zealand artist Charles Decimus Barraud.

Wellington Harbour, 1875 by New Zealand artist Charles Decimus Barraud

Turnbull House

Portrait of a young Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull.

Alexander Turnbull

Turnbull House was built as the private residence of the handsome, young and rich, Alexander Turnbull, to house his extensive collection of books, maps, and documents—the largest private library in New Zealand.

When Turnbull died he bequeathed his collections to the government, who purchased his home to house the collection.

Today, the National Library now houses Turnbull’s remarkable collection, but Turnbull House remains nestled in the Wellington CBD—a welcome contrast in scale, colour and texture to the modern office buildings that surround it.

The historic Turnbull House.

Historic Turnbull House

So, while Auckland was understandably upset about the capital moving to Wellington all those years ago, I think she has proven herself.

If you’re ever in town, take the time to check out some of the fascinating places that help to tell the story of our hot + cool capital city!

Rebecca Nuttall


Rebecca is an intern for the Historic and Cultural Heritage team at DOC. Failing to get her autobiography up off the ground, she shares other people's stories instead. "Aotearoa New Zealand history is rad" - someone, somewhere, at some point.

3 responses to Wellington: Hot city, cool history


    Super cool Rebecca!

    chantelle taylor 29/01/2015 at 4:59 pm

    Very cool insight into the history on our back doorstep. Thanks Rebecca!


    wow – great history lesson, thanks Rebecca!