Old Government Buildings

In its heyday New Zealand’s largest and grandest wooden building housed our entire public service.  Government Buildings is an outstanding example of New Zealand’s architectural heritage and one of the great wooden buildings of the world.

Old Government Buildings
Image: Grant Sheehanexpand/collapse

The building was designed in the classically-derived Italian Renaissance revival style. Like many colonial buildings of the era, it was built to resemble a stone palace. This was to convey strength and stability in a young country undergoing rapid growth and change. 

To avoid being seen as extravagant, the new government chose to build in timber including extensive use of kauri, and it remains probably the world's largest timber office building.  The constant threat of fire meant that it also became one of New Zealand’s first smoke-free buildings.

It was completed in 1876 - an important turning point in New Zealand’s political history. This year saw the provincial governments abolished and a central government established. For 56 years, the building was the home of Ministers’ offices, the Cabinet room and all Wellington-based civil servants.

It features include two staircases, eight vaults, 143 rooms, 126 fireplaces, 22 chimneys, two hydraulic lifts, 64 toilets, eight verandas and seven porticos. Government ministers used the building during Parliament's recess until 1921. The Executive Council met in the building until 1948.

Before long, the public service had rapidly expanded beyond the building's capacity. By 1990, the last of the public service departments had moved out, concluding 114 years of government service.

Limited restoration began in the early 1980s but by 1990 the building was empty. The government decided to restore the building and work began in 1994 under the management of the Department of Conservation.  The work cost $25 million and was completed early in 1996. It is regarded as a landmark in government-initiated heritage conservation.

Today, the Law Faculty of Victoria University of Wellington occupies most of the building that has been at the heart of New Zealand’s central government activities since 1865.  Visitors may view the displays on the ground floor and the Cabinet room on the first floor.  The grounds feature examples of New Zealand's flora, including many rare species.

New Zealand's largest and grandest wooden building.
  • Staircase

    Looking down the hanging staircase. Image: Grant Sheehan

  • Old Government Buildings, Wellington

    Government Buildings at dusk. Image Sam O'Leary DOC

  • Cabinet room

    The former Cabinet Room can be visited today.  Image: Grant Sheehan

  • Entranceway

    The stunning kauri entranceway. Image: Grant Sheehan

  • Peter Fraser statue

    A statue of Peter Fraser, the former Prime Minister greets visitors. Image: Grant Sheehan

  • Birdcage lift

    A great example of the old-style birdcage lifts. Image: Grant Sheehan

  • Public room

    The building once housed the entire public service. Image: Grant Sheehan

Address

  • 55 Lambton Quay
  • Wellington
  • 6011

Contact Information

Opening Hours

  • Monday to Friday (public display rooms only)
  • 9am - 5pm
  • Closed weekends and public holidays.
  • Guided tours: Saturdays 13 January - 31 March
  • 10am and 1pm

Cost

Free, access is limited strictly to the indicated ground floor display rooms and the Cabinet Room (1st floor). The rest of the building is privately leased to the Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington.