Te Whanganui-a-Tara, or the great harbour of Tara, was first discovered by the Polynesian explorer Kupe.
Wellington Harbour covers an area of 8900ha and has 76km of accessible coastline stretching from Owhiro Bay in the West to Baring Head in the East. The depth averages about 20 metres except for the harbour entrance where it shallows to 11 metres, this is also the narrowest part of the harbour.
The enclosed nature of the harbour gives many sheltered beaches and bays regardless of wind direction.
Wellington's south coast is exposed to the open sea and provides good diving and fishing areas but access is constrained by weather conditions.
The harbour is large enough to accommodate all types of aquatic activities without conflict. There are five water-ski lanes, a reserved area for personal water craft,several rowing clubs, many waka ama clubs, some great windsurfing areas and numerous yacht clubs.
Bathing is safe at all beaches except those near the harbour entrance and on the south coast - Oriental Bay, Petone Beach and Days Bay are the most popular. The summer water temperature averages 15 degress celsius with warmer water being experienced in shallower areas such as Petone Beach and Hataitai Beach.
Check out our recreational water quality monitoring pages to see where it's healthiest to swim.
For those who enjoy coastal walks, there are two easy walks from Eastbourne to Pencarrow lighthouse (about three hours return) and Owhiro Bay to Red Rocks where seals congregate from May to September, approximately two hours return. Both walks are on level but rocky ground.
There is good fishing within the harbour, with seasonal catches of trevally, snapper and kahawai. Fishing outside the harbour is more rewarding with most sea-going species available. Surfcasting from the rocks and reclamations inside the harbour is popular.
The two islands in the harbour offer sheltered anchorages for small craft. Matiu/Somes Island is a reserve under control of the Department of Conservation and landing is only permitted during daylight hours at the jetties at the north end of the island.
Harbour cruise launches operate on the harbour, with two ferries running regular services from Queens Wharf to Days Bay,Matiu/Somes Island and Petone. Other vessels have lunch-time and evening cruises.
There are around 14,000 commercial shipping movements each year, in and out of the harbour, making Wellington one of the busiest ports in the country.This is partly due to the two ferry companies operating regular freight and passenger services in and out of Wellington.
The size of ships calling in at Wellington has increased dramatically over the years. In response to this, the port now has three tugs to assist with berthing and sailing of these ships in virtually all weather.
The council has a monitoring site at Queens Wharf that measures the height of the tide and the water temperature. The tide height is measured above Chart Datum, which is the theoretical lowest tide.