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Wellington Harbour is the large natural harbour at the southern tip of New Zealand's North Island. New Zealand's capital, Wellington, is on the western side of Wellington Harbour. The harbour was officially named Port Nicholson  until it assumed its current name in the 1980s.
Wellington Harbour is an arm of Cook Strait, covering 70 square kilometres (27 square miles), with an entrance 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) wide at its southern end between Pencarrow Head and the Miramar Peninsula.
The harbour is of tectonic origin, and a major earthquake fault, the Wellington Fault, lies along its western shore. At the northern end of the harbour is the narrow triangular plain of the Hutt River, which largely follows the line of the earthquake fault to the north-east. The city of Lower Hutt is on this plain.
The central city suburbs spread around the hills overlooking the west and south-west of Wellington Harbour and its two large bays: Lambton Harbour and Evans Bay. Lambton Harbour is surrounded by the reclaimed land of Wellington's central business district and contains the majority of the city's port facilities. Evans Bay is an inlet between Mt Victoria and the Miramar Peninsula on the flight path to low-lying Wellington Airport. Another smaller bay, popular for its beach and cafes, is Oriental Bay.
East of the harbour are several small bays, most of which are populated by small coastal communities. The largest of these suburban settlements is Eastbourne, east of the northern tip of the Miramar Peninsula.
Three small islands are in the harbour. To the south, close to Eastbourne, is Makaro/Ward Island. Further north, close to the centre of the harbour, is the larger Matiu/Somes Island, to the north of which is the tiny Mokopuna Island.
The entrance to the harbour can be dangerous, especially since Cook Strait to the south is notoriously rough. Close to the harbour entrance lies Barrett Reef, its rocks breaking the water's surface at low tide. It was here in 1968 that the Union Company car and passenger ferry TEV Wahine grounded during a storm, with the loss of 53 lives.
During the early years of European colonisation, Port Nicholson became a focus for the settlement of British immigrants. The original site chosen for what is now the city of Wellington was at Petone, close to the foreshore of Lower Hutt. A settlement was established there in early 1840, but the swampy land was unsuitable for development and the settlement (originally called Britannia but soon changed to Wellington) was moved to the present site of Wellington later the same year.
Wellington Harbour is a significant port serving the lower North Island, with the Greater Wellington Regional Council-owned company Centreport recording around 14,000 commercial shipping movements each year. The region's largest container port is in Wellington city and a there is a tanker terminal at Seaview, in Lower Hutt. Wellington harbour ferries began operating at the end of the 19th century and regular crossings between central Wellington and Days Bay continue today.
For more than a century, Wellington Harbour has been a terminal for ferries to and from South Island. In 1895 the Union Steamship Company of NZ started a steamship service on the 200-nautical-mile (370 km) route between here and Lyttelton. From 1907 it was worked with turbine steamships and from 1933 it was named the "Steamer Express".
In 1962 NZ Railways introduced the Interislander ferry service on the 55-nautical-mile (102 km) route between Wellington and Picton. This not only offered a shorter crossing but also used diesel ships that had lower running costs than the Union Company's turbine steamers. The wreck of TEV Wahine in 1968 was a setback for the Lyttelton service but a new ship, TEV Rangatira, was introduced in 1972. She lost money, survived on a Ministry of Transport subsidy from 1974 and was withdrawn in 1976, leaving the Interislander's Picton route to continue the ferry link between the two islands.
A project to develop a walking and cycling route around the harbour, the Great Harbour Way, has broad support from community groups and local authorities.
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- CentrePort Wellington
- Positively Wellington Waterfront
- Greater Wellington Regional Council
- Great Harbour Way