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.
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.
Repair work in progress, access limited
We have started plaster works to repair damage caused by the Kaikoura earthquake. For safety reasons, we must limit public access to the building during the work. Access to public display rooms is reduced to the Cabinet Room on the first floor. Organised guided tours on Saturdays run from 19 January until 30 March 2019. We regret that we cannot arrange other group tours until after the repair work is completed.
Summer Saturday Guided Tours
Explore some of the behind-the-scenes features of this stunning building on one of our guided tours on every Saturday from 19 January until 30 March. Tours operate at 11am and 2pm and run for about 1.5 hours. There's no charge, but koha/donation is appreciated. Numbers on each tour may be limited to ensure everyone enjoys themselves.
Meet your tour guide, Mike Deavin at the main entrance about 10 minutes beforehand.
Sorry, there is no public parking available onsite at Old Government Buildings.
New Zealand's largest and grandest wooden building.
- 55 Lambton Quay
- Monday to Friday (public display rooms only)
- 9am - 5pm
- Closed weekends and public holidays.
- Guided tours: Saturdays 19 January - 30 March
- 11am and 2pm
Free, access to public display rooms is reduced to the Cabinet Room (1st floor) due to plaster works to repair earthquake damage. No group tours may be arranged due to the repair works. The rest of the building is privately leased to the Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington.