Wellington, the seat of government since 1865, is between the sea and towering hillsides that form a natural arena with the harbor as the stage. Ferries carve patterns on the green water while preening seabirds survey the scene. Houses cascade down the steep hills, creating a vibrant collage of colorful rooftops against a spectacular green backdrop. An old brick monastery peers down on the marina—a jigsaw of masts and sails bobbing alongside the impressive Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Modern high-rises gaze over Port Nicholson, one of the finest natural anchorages in the world. Known to local Māori as the Great Harbor of Tara, its two massive arms form the "jaws of the fish of Maui" (Maui being the name of a god from Māori legend).
Civic Square represents the heart of the city and forms a busy shopping area with Willis and Cuba streets. The entertainment district is centered on Courtenay Place, south of Civic Square. Thorndon, the oldest part of the city, is notable for its many historic wooden houses just north of the Parliamentary district, which includes the distinctive (some might say bizarre) "Beehive" government building.
At the northern end of the waterfront, the Westpac Trust Stadium, home to rugby matches, soccer games, and rock concerts, dominates the skyline, and Lambton Quay is part of a seafront constructed on reclaimed land. At the southern end of the harbor, Norfolk pines line the broad sweep of Oriental Bay, a suburb with a small beach and a wide promenade, backed by art deco buildings and Wellington's most expensive real estate.