From flying through trees at Adrenalin Forest, experiencing the earthquake house at Te Papa, or discovering modern-day dinosaurs at Zealandia, Wellington’s a fantastic city for families. Here are some of the best kid-friendly activities.
For daredevils: fly through trees at Adrenalin Forest
Add some serious adventure to your holiday: Adrenalin Forest is a rope-climbing destination for all ages and ability levels, with bridges, swings and treetop courses in a lush, wild setting. Just 20 minutes north of Wellington, there are seven courses to be explored, with one of them taking you up to 31m off the ground. There are plenty of harnesses and expert staff on hand to help keep you and your little ones safe.
If there’s sunny weather, head straight to the nearby Aotea Lagoon. Its Splash Pad playground features spray cannons, misters and a giant red bucket that dramatically pours water over the excited kids below. There’s also a miniature railroad to take you around the lagoon for further exploration.
Across the road from the lagoon is the New Zealand Police Museum. In addition to learning about the history of policing in New Zealand, there are detective mysteries to be solved and police uniforms to try on for that perfect photo op.
For film critics: take a tour of Wētā Workshop
Wētā Workshop is the props and special-effects company responsible for pretty much every major fantasy film to come out of New Zealand (think The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and King Kong). Older kids will appreciate the Wētā Workshop Experience, where they can see and learn about props, costumes, creatures and models from their favourite films. Studio creatives lead the tours and there’s no question they can’t answer (although photos are a no-go because there’s a chance you’ll spoil an upcoming film).
For animal lovers: visit Wellington Zoo
Hundreds of different animals from around the world are waiting to say hello at Wellington Zoo, from native species like green kea parrots and hairy kunekune pigs, to cheetahs, chimpanzees and, this being New Zealand, sheep. The zoo is open from 9.30am to 5pm every day except Christmas Day, and is a 12-minute drive south of the city.
Get up close to some of the zoo’s inhabitants with a special Close Encounters experience – 10 per cent of the price goes to local and international wildlife conservation projects. The encounters allow you to help feed capybaras, giraffes, lemurs, meerkats, red pandas and even sun bears (depending on which encounter you book).
If you’re really lucky, the animals may choose to get even closer. The meerkats, for example, have been known to occasionally hop up onto visiting guests’ laps when they’re in the right mood. Guests must be aged six and up for the encounters (and 14 or older for the sun bears).
For water babies: make a splash at Oriental Bay
A 15-minute walk from the central city, Oriental Bay is a great swimming spot with golden sand (which was shipped in from the South Island). Kids love the play equipment, including the huge rope-climbing frame, plus the Gelissimo kiosk, where you can grab waffles or a scoop of gelato. Forgot your swimmers? Hire a quirky three- or six-seater Crocodile Bike and cruise along the Oriental Bay waterfront instead.
For curious minds: experience Te Papa Tongarewa museum
Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand’s national museum – and it’s huge (and free to visit). Hands-on exhibits can be found on each of the multiple levels, covering the social and natural history of the country. Highlights include the earthquake house, where you can feel the power of shifting tectonic plates. Or find out more about the giant moa, an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to New Zealand and could grow to more than 3m high and weighed over 200kg.
On levels four and five is Toi Art, a collection of contemporary and historical art. It includes an immersive space where your mood controls the colourful lighting, and a hands-on area that invites guests to create, play, draw and explore a magical, multi-coloured world.
For the wild ones: discover dinosaurs at Zealandia
In early times, New Zealand had almost no predatory mammals and its birds were fearless – making them easy prey when humans arrived. Populations were decimated, or wiped out entirely. But just a few minutes’ drive from central Wellington lies Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, the world’s first fully fenced ecosanctuary, with a 500-year plan to return the land to its pre-settlement state. For kids, that means there’s 225 hectares to search for native birds, prehistoric tuatara and even glow worms. A night tour is the perfect chance to try and spot one of the more than 140 elusive little spotted kiwi that call Zealandia home.
For tramspotters: ride the Wellington Cable Cars
Wellington’s iconic red cable car makes the short journey from the heart of Lambton Quay to the top of the Wellington Botanic Garden ki Paekākā every 10 minutes. Young rail riders will delight in the ascent and the LED light installations in the Cable Car’s two tunnels, though it’s not all fun and games – the Cable Car is a vital service for those in the hills of Kelburn, who’ve relied on it since 1902. At the top, take in the views from the lookout before letting the kids blow off some steam in the gardens (there’s a great playground) or check out Space Place, where there’s a full-dome planetarium and a historic telescope for stargazing.
Image credit: Steve Unwin (Wētā Workshop); Johnny Hendrikus (Te Papa and Wellington Cable Car); all courtesy of Tourism Wellington.