Cable Car History

The award-winning Cable Car Museum brings the story of Wellington’s iconic cable cars to life. Located within the original Winding House, the Museum is home to two of the original grip cars and the historic winding machinery once used to haul the cars through a series of tunnels up the steep incline.


Wellington in the 1890s was the fastest growing city in New Zealand. Its expanding workforce wanted to live close to the busy shops and offices of Lambton Quay, but such residences were scarce. At the same time, the hills directly above the city centre remained sparsely settled with farms, or covered in scrub. In 1898, the Upland Estate Company was formed and its shareholders were instrumental in forming The Kelburn & Karori Tramway Company Ltd. – an ambitious new enterprise that aimed to provide a cable car service between Lambton Quay and Kelburn. Wellington residents flocked to try out the cable car service when it opened for business on 22 February 1902. Interest and enthusiasm for the new facility proved so great that an estimated 4,000 people were carried up and down the line over the opening weekend. Once at the upper terminus, many people took the opportunity to ride on one of the connecting horse-drawn buses to Karori. Others walked down to the city again through the Botanic Gardens. As Kelburn and Wellington grew, so did the number of people riding the cable car.  Annual passengers rose from 425,000 in 1902 to over a million in 1912. During 1926 these ‘relentless red rattlers’ transported over two million people between Wellington’s harbour and hills – more than the population of New Zealand at the time.


The original winding house for the cable car system now houses the Cable Car Museum and has been classified by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust as having ‘historical and cultural heritage significance’. The winding house was built in 1902 to accommodate the steam engine and winding gear and to serve as a maintenance depot for the grip cars. Over the years, the building has been altered to accommodate changes in the pulley system, most dramatically in 1933 when electricity replaced steam as the force driving the winding gear. When new technology rendered the winding house redundant in 1978, the building sat vacant until opening as a museum in 2000.



Open: 10am to 5.00pm every day

Closed: Christmas Day

General admission is free, bookings are essential for all schools and tour groups.


The Museum is located at the top of the Cable Car, a ten minute ride from Lambton Quay.

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