Climb aboard a Wellington treasure
With its brilliant red livery and incredible views over the capital, the Wellington Cable Car is one of the most striking and iconic images you will see. But unlike most quirky artefacts from the 19th century, this one is still used by commuters every day - which is perhaps testament to both its engineers and its role in Wellington history.
Where does the cable car go?
The Wellington Cable Car departs from Lambton Quay, the main artery through Wellington's central business district (CBD).
From there, it climbs up the steep hill to Kelburn passing through Clifton Station, Talavera Station, and Salamanca Station. These stations are predominately used by commuters, although Salamanca Station sits alongside Kelburn Park with its fun little children's playground and historic 1940s fountain.
The final stop is Kelburn Terminal at the top of the hill. Looking back down the track, you can see why the funicular was built - the hill is incredibly steep. And it is this incredible gradient that makes the view from the top so spectacular and the journey in the Wellington Cable Car so worthwhile.
Fun on the Wellington funicular
In true Wellington style, the Cable Car is something of a theatrical show.
While the modest ticket booth, the staff's smart uniform, and cable car itself maintain an authentic look and feel of yesteryear, the modern turnstiles and brilliantly painted terminal hall tell the story of Wellington's modern outlook.
Then as you climb the steep hill, each of the tunnels features its own joyful light show. These state-of-the-art lighting rigs give the illusion you you are travelling at light speed in a time machine. Completely programmable, they are also regularly changed to align with upcoming events.
At the top, there is a large viewing area where you can take an amazing photo of the Cable Car climbing the hill with the broad vista of Wellington city and the harbour below.
For an in-depth peek into the past, you can enjoy the free Cable Car Museum that stands next to the Kelburn Terminal. Along with local stories and history of the cable tramway's construction, the museum also houses two historic cable cars, from the days when passengers sat outside. And lastly, for engineering fans, you can admire the original winding machine that operated from 1930 to 1978.
After a good half-hour wander around the museum, you can than stroll over to the Cabletop Eatery. Whether its a full lunch with a glass of wine or a quick coffee and ice cream, you'll get a free serving of sensational views over the city on the side.
Space Place museum inside the Carter Observatory is also just a few minutes walk. Here you can learn about the New Zealand skies at night and some of the distinctive constellations that are only visible in the Southern Hemisphere. Stories are told through interactive exhibits and the phenomenal full-dome planetarium. The museum also houses the historic Thomas Cooke telescope and runs stargazing telescope viewings on selected evenings.
From the top, you can also catch a free shuttle to Zealandia eco-sanctuary, where you can wander around native bush surrounded by rare and endangered birds living freely in their natural environment.
And if you are keen on a nature walk, then you are already at the beginning of a maze of winding paths that lead back to the city through the Wellington Botanic Garden. The gentle downhill walk takes about an hour, but can easily take longer is you want to stop and learn about the themed gardens and native plants.
Once at the bottom, you'll walk past the Beehive - New Zealand's quirky parliament building, where you can take a guided tour.
How to find Lambton Quay Terminal
280 Lambton Quay, Wellington 6011
History of the Wellington Cable Car
With flat land within the Wellington city reaching capacity in the late 19th century, the city needed to look to the hills if it was going to continue to grow. Keen to propose an advantageous solution, the Upland Estate Company which owned both land and the Kelburne and Karori Tramway Company.
Backed by prominent politicians, work began on the cable tramway in 1899. By 1902 the Wellington Cable Car was in operation, and the suburbs of Kelburn and Karori could now flourish.
The story of the Cable Car's impact in Kelburn and Karori can be seen through the passenger numbers. In 1902 a total of 425,000 journeys were taken. Just ten years later, the figure had broken the 1 million mark in 1912. This is largely due to housing developments that were spreading through Karori thanks to the easy transport connection via horse drawn buses and the cable car to the city.
Despite its name, the Wellington Cable Car is actually a combined cable tramway and funicular system. The system was designed by experience railway engineer James Edward Fulton and constructed by Maurice O’Connor. The tramway design plans included three tunnels and three viaducts to traverse the steep hillside - it was a tricky accomplishment, but one that still stands firm today.
To learn more about the history of the Wellington Cable Car and the people it has provided for, visit the Cable Car Museum next to the Kelburn Terminal.
You can travel to Wellington and experience Cable Car by booking any of the following trains, packages, and tours. You can include tickets for the Wellington Cable Car with you package or tour when you book through our Travel Centre.