From swimming to seal-spotting and The Lord of the Rings studio tours, Wellington is among the world’s most family-friendly cities. Here's how to keep the kids happy.
For daredevils: explore Frank Kitts Park
The country is known for its extreme sports so why should grown-ups have all the fun? Send the tykes down the super-long, super-high lighthouse slide at the harbourside Frank Kitts Park – it’s a rite of passage for local children. When they’re done, bribe them with gelato from nearby Gelissimo (made with natural ingredients, it’s the best in town) and spend your borrowed time at the Wellington Underground Market, held underneath the park every Saturday.
Gelissimo Gelateria, Taranaki Wharf, 11 Cable Street, Wellington City; +64 4385 9313
Wellington Underground Market, under Frank Kitts Park, Jervois Quay, Wellington City; +64 2138 9369
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For tramspotters: Wellington Cable Cars
Wellington’s little red cable cars make the short journey from the heart of the financial district to the Botanic Garden every 10 minutes. Young rail riders will delight in the steep ascent, though it’s not all fun and games – the cable car is an important service for those in the city’s loftiest suburbs, who’ve relied on it since 1902. At the top, kids can 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.
Cable Car departs from Cable Car Lane, 280 Lambton Quay, Wellington; +64 4472 2199
Space Place, 40 Salamanca Road, Kelburn; +64 4910 3140
For twitchers (and the twitchy): spot the kiwis 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 in 1995, Wellington established Zealandia, a predator-free sanctuary, 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 tuatara reptiles and the elusive kiwi. Time your visit for New Zealand’s school holidays and they can join the Kids’ Night Walks, where they’ll get a flashlight and a chance to see glow-worms light up the forest.
End of Waiapu Road, Karori; +64 4920 9213
For film critics: take a tour of the Weta Workshop
Weta Workshop is the props and special-effects company responsible for pretty much every major fantasy film to come out of New Zealand since forever (think The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and King Kong). Older kids will appreciate the Weta Cave Workshop Tour, where they can learn about making props and costumes, from arrows in The Hobbit to chain-mail armour in The Lord of the Rings. Studio creatives lead the tours and there’s no question they can’t answer (though photos are a no-go because there’s a chance you’ll spoil an upcoming film).
1 Weka Street, Miramar; +64 4909 4100
SEE ALSO: 10 Great Things to Do in Wellington
For making a splash: Oriental Bay beach
A 15-minute walk from the harbourfront, Oriental Bay beach is a great little swimming spot. Though not really a beach – it’s part of the harbour – it has been made to look like the real deal with a stretch of 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 another scoop of gelato. If the weather turns, head for the Boat Café, a tugboat moored nearby, where you can grab coffee and lunch.
Gelissimo Freyberg, 139 Oriental Parade, Wellington; +64 4385 9313
Boat Café, 139A Oriental Parade, Wellington; +64 4939 3935
For finding fur babies: take a tour of the seal coast
Go off-road in one of Seal Coast Safari’s four-wheel-drive “sealmobiles”, which traverse the beaches of the rugged south coast, about 20 minutes’ drive from the city. The seals are amazing – males grow up to 160 kilograms – and the views are equally spectacular: on a clear day, you’ll see the peaks and ridges of the South Island. The three-hour return trip travels through farmland so keen eyes may also spot deer and ostrich along the way. Tip: prepare for Wellington’s notoriously erratic weather – pack hats, sunscreen and warm jackets.
Tours depart from Wellington i-Site Visitor Information Centre bus stop, 111 Wakefield Street, Wellington; +64 4802 4860
For curious minds: Te Papa museum
One of the most-loved exhibits at Te Papa is the colossal squid: a 500-kilogram mollusc with eyes the size of soccer balls. It’s a favourite with kids, who are spoiled for choice at this very hands-on museum (bonus: general entry is free). They can also learn about Māori culture with weaving, dress-ups and traditional games at one of four interactive Discovery Centres. And don’t miss travelling exhibition Bug Lab (until April 17), created in collaboration with Weta Workshop, the special-effects studio behind The Lord of the Rings. It takes kids into the lairs of the world’s weirdest (and grossest) insects, including a jewel wasp, which can turn a cockroach into a baby-rearing zombie.
55 Cable Street, Te Aro; +64 4381 7000