Wellington Stories and Tips

Wellington's Cable Car: A symbol of the city

Cable Car Photo, Wellington, New Zealand

You can’t visit Wellington without taking the famous Cable Car, or funicular railway, that leads to the upper section of the Botanical Gardens and to the suburb of Kelburn. The lower terminal is located in the heart of the Central Business District along Lambton Quay. To locate the office, look for the miniature trolley car on a sign pointing towards Cable Car Lane which takes you back to the ticket office and platform. The cable car is one of Wellington’s oldest and most popular tourist attractions. The shiny red cars feature prominently along the hillside as they climb the steep hill. The best views over Wellington and its beautiful harbour can be found up here at the Lookout.

Tom and I planned to take the cable car up and then walk back down through the Botanical Gardens and Bolton Street Memorial Park. Cars depart every ten minutes from the top and bottom at the same time and cross in the middle. A one-way ticket costs $1.80NZ for adults and $1NZ for a child. It runs from 7am to 10pm Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 10pm Saturday and Sunday; Public Holidays 9am to 10pm.

The line runs 628-metres straight up the side of the hill at a nearly steady one in five gradient. There are three tunnels and three bridges along the way. It runs at about 5 metres/second with a maximum passenger load of about 100 people. Just under a million people use the cable car each year, many of those being students going to the University stop and business people taking it down to the city during the week.

The Cable Car Museum: If you want more specific information about the history of the cable car system, visit the Cable Car Museum at the upper terminus on Upland Road. The museum is located in the original winding house and has been open since December 2000. Here in the museum you can see the original Grip Car 1 and Grip Car 3 and electric winding gear. Visit their website at www.cablecarmuseum.co.nz Admission to the museum is free and is open during the summer from 9:30am to 5:30pm daily and in winter it is open from Monday through Frideay from 9:30am to 5pm and Weekends from 10am to 4:30pm.

My engineer husband is always fascinated with the inner workings of funiculars and such. This means that not only do we have photographs of the funicular itself, but photos of the control panels, the manufacturer information, wheels, cables, tunnels, track, you get the idea.

A Bit of History: At the turn of the century, Wellington was in a phase of expansion. With proposals to build in the suburb of Kelburn, another proposal was brought forward for a cable car or funicular to provide easy access. In 1898 the plans were approved and land was acquired to start building. Construction began the following year and three crews worked around-the-clock to finish the hybrid cable car/funicular line. It opened to the public February 22, 1902. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that the cable car suffered from safety and comfort complaints. Major upgrades were undertaken with new cars being brought in from Switzerland. The double gauge was replaced with a single gauge track and the original propulsion mechanism was replaced converting it to a funicular, although it is still called a cable car. "The new system was designed to retain the Edwardian ambience of the old whist incorporating the latest safety equipment."

How the cable car works: "The Cable Car is a standing funicular which operates on the driven balance rope system, i.e. the two cars are at either end of a single rope which is driven by and electric motor located at the top station. Thus, as one car moves downhill, the other moves up.

The cars run on a single track and pass each other on a loop situated at Talavera Station. Each car has double flanged wheels on one side which follow the outer rails and ensure that the car always takes the same leg of the passing loop.

The driving and braking mechanisms are controlled by electronic equipment which is fully automatic, excepting that the car attendants control the doors and the starting of the cars.

The system has four separate braking mechanisms which provide for both service and emergency braking."

Visit the Wellington Cable Car website: www.wellingtonnz.com/cablecar

If you are visiting Wellington, make it a point to take a trip up the Wellington Cable Car. The views on the way up are outstanding and it is a great way to get to the top of the Botanical Gardens where you can spend the afternoon or morning wandering and exploring the gardens. And for $1.80NZ (about $1.20US) the price can’t be beat.

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