Home to Doug’s parents and sister, we’ve been regular visitors to Wellington over the past 15 years. Catch it on the right day, and there are few prettier cities in the world. The view as first sight of the harbour as you drive down into Wellington Central from Porirua is one of my favourites.
Wellington is well connected by road, plane and ferry (and rail but we haven’t ever used it.)
Wellington is usually our first stop so we arrive by plane from Singapore, Melbourne or Sydney. However, other options include the Picton Ferry (from the South Island) or by car having driven down from Auckland.
We usually hire a car as Doug’s parents live about 25 minutes outside Wellington Central and there is anywhere between 3 and 5 of us so public transport soon adds up. If you are staying in Wellington Central I wouldn’t bother hiring a car as it’s a very walkable/ cyclable city and parking is stupidly expensive.
Whilst all the usual car hire companies are available we usually go for a basic family car with the lowest price possible. We used BRC rentals and Apex cars this time both of whom are situated out at the airport and provide airport pickups and drop offs. I think this time it cost a whole £9.00 per day for a Toyota Corrolla automatic so as you can see we are last of the big spenders.
Driving round New Zealand is much like driving round the UK except there is far less traffic. I coped fine despite only having passed my test in the UK 2 months before we arrived.
If you are catching the Picton Ferry across to the South Island, we have found it’s cheaper to hire a car for the North Island, leave it in Wellington and then pick up a second rental for the South Island. That way, you don’t have to pay car rates for the ferry (as much as half the cost of the journey).
What to Do
Look hard enough and there is something for everyone but here’s some of our favourites
Te Papa, New Zealand’s Natural History museum, is one of my favourite museums in the world. No matter what else is in the diary we always fit in a visit here whether it be to visit the model whale heart, Peter’s Jackson’s Gallipoli exhibition or one of the temporary exhibitions. The latest exhibition is Wonderland (a look at Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland).
Wellington Museum, situated at the other end of the waterfront to Te Papa, is tiny by comparison but we still spent 2 hours investigating the interactive exhibits. It’s a very accessible museum with lifts and ramps throughout making it kid or disabled friendly. Our only slight criticism was that for us it was a bit higgledy piggledy and there seemed to be no real connection between many of the exhibits on each floor.
The NZ Police Museum was a huge hit with Issy. Based out at the Police Academy in Aotea this was another gem. It’s a tiny museum with only 2 galleries but it’s a great one for kids. They can try on the various Police Uniforms and there are 2 trails; the Junior Detective Trail (4-8 year olds) and the Senior Detective Trail (8+). Issy did the Senior Detective trail which involved investigating the suspicious death of Ray Black. In doing so she read through suspect profiles and witness statements, learnt about how to analyse finger print and DNA analysis and how to evaluate that evidence to decide firstly whether a crime had been committed and secondly what crime had been committed.
Weta Workshops and the Cave is definitely worth visiting (and not just for the Lord of the Rings fans out there). The cave and documentary are free to attend but the various workshop tours are payable. We did the 45-minute tour which was perfect for us and at 72NZ$ for a family ticket I thought it was a bargain.
New Zealand Parliament Tour
This is certainly one of the best things we have done in Wellington and it’s free. There are 3 tours to chose from; the highlights tour, the kids tour (school holidays only) and the important features tour. We chose the latter. It was an hour and took us to the major rooms of parliament including the debating chamber. Our guide, Jim, was brilliant with the kids on the tour all of whom received a passport to complete as they went round and a stamp to confirm their attendance.
Those of you who read our blog regularly will know that a walking tour is one of our go-to activities. You generally get decent recommendations for things to do, places to eat and an insight into living in the city. Well, not this time and at the time of writing this tour has earnt the dubious accolade of being our worst walking tour in the world.
We did the Walk Wellington tour. Whilst TripAdvisor has great reviews with other guides and maybe we were just unlucky but our guide was rude, lacking in basic knowledge and the only time she got excited was when she invited everyone to the pub at the end of the tour. Doug and I could have done a better with 5 minutes warning and a Wellington Guidebook.
The waterfront is the place where Wellingtonians head to relax with a great prommenade for walking, cycling, scooting or skateboarding and a plethora of markets, eateries, bars, activites and a big playground.
Three of Issy’s top Wellington hangouts are on the waterfront; Wagamama’s (she nearly cried when it was closed for refurbishment on our last visit), Ferg’s climbing centre (see below) and the lighthouse playground.
Mount Vic Lookout
Situated 196m above the city, Mount Vic offers spectacular views across the harbour, out to the airport and beyond. There are a number of walking trails but we drove up and took lunch.
I hear it’s spectacular at sunrise or sunset but I don’t think we’d be popular if we bought a bored 9 year old with us!
When it comes to climbing and bouldering we have two go to places; HangDog in Petone and Ferg’s at Shed 5 on the Waterfront. Issy and Ryan practically lived in HangDog and although we weren’t able to take advantage of their introductory offer we did purchase 10 sessions which we could use for both kids which provided a significant discount.
Swimming pools in New Zealand put the general pools in UK to shame. They are more like Center Parcs offering everything from splash pools, saunas/steam rooms, slides, lane pools and spas. Porirua’s Te Rauparaha Arena has it all and you even get a discount for taking a child!
Get your competitive juices going with a session at Indoor Raceway, Porirua. They will let kids race independently from 5 or alternatively they have dual cars so that little ones can ride with you. Issy raced on her own and even when there was another group racing at the same time they were respectful and didn’t run her off the road which is more than can be said for her!
Other big hits with our family are mini golf at Porirua’s Pirate Cove Adventure Golf and bowling at Petone’s Stike One (which also has the added bonus of a lazer tag area as well).
I use the Playground Buddy App to locate the local playgrounds. It’s a good way of her meeting up with kids (even for a short time). Again they are usually much better equipped than those in the UK.
One of our favourites this time was Aotea Lagoon, which was also conveniently located near the Police Museum. It has a large playground and free splash park which Issy loved.
Hopefully this has given you a few reasons to add Wellington to your must see cities and may be we’ll meet you there one day.