I’ve been to a few countries now but I’d never been to one of our nearest neighbours, New Zealand. So when some cheap fares came up, I decided to head over to Wellington, New Zealand with Z and get a taste of the Land of the Long White Cloud – if only for a long weekend.
In looking up things to do in Wellington I was surprised by how much there is for such a small city (with a population of under 400,000). The list of Wellington attractions – even Wellington kids activities – is considerable even allowing for the fact that it is the national capital. Z and I saw a lot in our weekend and got through a decent list of Wellington activities and there was more we could have seen.
Wellington is a lovely, picturesque city and worth a visit if you’re travelling through New Zealand. If you’re looking for things to do in Wellington, NZ, then have a look at at what we got up to below…
In my opinion New Zealand has long punched above its weight for film production. One of the engines of that success is the WETA workshops (and more recently, its sibling WETA Digital which is now many times bigger). They produce a lot of miniatures and props for (many famous) movies and some TV shows. Founded in 1987, thanks to their work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy they are now famous.
You can take a tour of their original and still functioning workshops. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Wellington and the tours are a great look behind the scenes of non-digital effects/prop production.
The tours go for 45 minutes and are conducted by people who work there. Our tour guide started off making fake blood before moving onto chain maille and then miniatures. He explained the process for making many of the things on display, some of which we could touch and hold, in detail. All of what we saw were made for movies and shows, some quite famous. Our guide was great with questions, too. It was really interesting and it’s easily one of the top 10 things to do in Wellington.
One thing to note is that the tour has a lot of talking and explanations. Z was interested in some of the things he got to touch but was bored much of the time. There were some 12 year olds on our tour who were into it as much as anyone else – which makes sense. You need to be old enough to understand movies to really get much out of the tour. S may have been interested but it was lost on Z.
To get there you can take bus 2 to Miramar which runs from the station and down Willis and Manners streets in the city centre. It is a five minute walk (at Z speed) from either the second last or last stops on route 2. The journey took us 35 minutes.
You can book tours through their website. They recommend it in busier times (between October and April) and even in August our tour was quite full. Not surprising given it is one of the most popular Wellington places to see.
If Wellington has an architectural icon it is the Beehive – the executive building of New Zealand’s national parliament. It might not be Eiffel tower famous but it is noteworthy. Checking it out in person would have to be on any architecture or political buff”s Wellington things to do list. Tours of the Parliament are possible during the week.
As we were visiting on a weekend, Z was quite happy we wouldn’t be adding a tour to our schedule of activities in Wellington. It’s not really an attraction for kids (unless they are older and hardcore political geeks perhaps) but I liked seeing the Beehive in the flesh.
In the Beehive itself is a visitor’s centre (which was closed when we visited).
For more information visit https://www.parliament.nz/en/visit-and-learn/visit/.
New Zealand = kiwis, right? I wanted to see one. When going over the potential Wellington tourist attractions we might visit, Zealandia caught my eye. A large area once part of Wellington’s water catchment is now fenced off with a pest-proof fence as part of an ambitious 500 year strategy to return the area to its pre-human state. The result is a beautiful nature reserve featuring a stack of bird life, including the largest group of spotted kiwis in the country.
We didn’t spot any kiwis – they like to hide it seemed – but we heard them and I enjoyed the walk. There’s several walking tracks, the main one of which takes about 90 minutes. It’s a great spot for picnics, too.
It isn’t ideal for little kids. Z, never one for long walks at the best of times, got bored and tired quickly. The appeal of Zealandia is more in the nature of it all. It’s appeal is subtle. For kids – or people who want to make sure they see things – the highly rated Wellington Zoo would be a better option and I’d have been better off going there.
That said I liked Zealandia, I should have just had better expectations.
There’s a free shuttle leaving from (and returning to) various places in downtown Wellington (the Te Papa museum, the main visitor’s centre and the top cable car station). It gets you there (or back) in about 20 minutes making it one of the easier things to do around Wellington.
Check it out at https://www.visitzealandia.com/.
One of the fun things to do in Wellington, NZ, is take a ride on its long serving cable car (technically a funicular for those expecting something a bit more alpine). Great for kids and adults (Z loved it), the trip up to the top gives great views of the city of Wellington.
The ride is short – just three and a half minutes – but there is a lot to do at the top (which we’ll cover) in addition to the views and the ride. Both of which are great. It’s a Wellington must do in our opinion.
One of the busier tourist attractions in Wellington we visited, the cable car is popular but we didn’t have to wait long to buy a ticket or get a ride. The cable cars leave regularly, roughly every five minutes.
A nice bonus: kids under five are free.
The lower station is on Cable Car Lane, off Lamberton Quay. It’s tucked inside a shopping mall/office building complex but is well signed.
The Wellington Cable Car was overhauled in 1979. The original cable winding station is now home to a small museum on the cable car’s history. There’s a lot of information about the system’s design, construction and operation which I liked to read (when Z let me) plus there’s some of the old cars themselves.
Z loved climbing on one of them and looking over the other (older) one he wasn’t allowed to climb on. After riding on the cable car he was interested in how it worked (or used to work).
The museum is small but well done and kept Z (and I) interested for more than 20 minutes. It is also free to enter, like much of the stuff to do in Wellington. There is nothing to lose by checking it out.
See the Cable Car Museum’s page for more information.
Perched on top of a hill overlooking Wellington is the city’s Botanic Garden. Another of the free things to do in Wellington is to have a wander around after getting off the cable car. The top station is on the edge.
There’s several attractions within the gardens (like the cable car museum and Space Place – see below), plus some nice walking paths. The gardens themselves are quite nice and the views over Wellington are spectacular on a clear day. We had a picnic there and really enjoyed sitting round on the grass on a beautiful sunny day.
There is a visitor’s centre within the gardens and a playground for the kids. A Children’s Garden is (at the time of writing) almost finished and looks to be worth a visit when complete.
If your pace is a bit slower than ours this is one of the places to go in Wellington that could soak up a lot of well spent time. A visit here on a sunny day is one of the best things to do in Wellington.
Some of these aren’t just for kids (well, almost all of them) but these are the places to visit in Wellington that we think are best for kids. Best for Z anyway…
There is a range of things in Wellington for kids. If you’re visiting Wellington with kids then these are worth a stop. Some of them would be in a Wellington top 10 things to do list even without their kid friendliness.
Museums can be a bit hit and miss. However New Zealand’s National Museum (it’s often just called Te Papa as well, after the area it is in) is one of the best family activities in Wellington. Unless you hate history or museums it has something for everyone.
Different aspects of the history of New Zealand are laid out in an easy to explore way. Knowing almost nothing about Maori history or culture meant that both Z and I got a lot out of the Maori sections. For a four year old, Z is right into places’ first inhabitants but even if he wasn’t it would have still held his interest.
Many sections had interactive displays with touch screens – perfect for Z. There were several kids areas with hands on play stuff related to the displays they were near.
One of the highlights for me was seeing the skeleton of Phar Lap. He was born in New Zealand before moving to Australia as a young horse. Z was underwhelmed but it was – to put it mildly – cool. I do feel for poor old Phar Lap, though. His skin and heart are in Australia, often in different museums.
Amazingly (or at least amazingly to me) entry is free although there are some areas you need to buy tickets for. Maybe for this reason it was busy when we visited on a Saturday but the place is big so it wasn’t an issue.
We spent a couple of hours easily here. A visit could well cover half a day.
A few minutes walk north of Frank Kitts Park (see below) is the Wellington Museum. It claims to be one of the world’s 50 best museums. That’s a big claim I’m not sure if I’m qualified to judge but it is a great museum and one of the places in Wellington, New Zealand, that we enjoyed the most.
The museum is located in the old Bond Store – the warehouse where unloaded goods were kept until all duties were paid. This history is clevery woven into the museum.
I think the best museums are the ones that tell stories. The Wellington Museum does a great job of telling the story of Wellington – how it emerged, grew and came to be as it is now. The history was easy to dip into and out of, which was good for us because Z ‘s focus can shift fast.
There’s four levels and Z found the top level – The Attic – the best with some hands on stuff for him to touch.
We spent just over an hour here but we could have spent more. It’s one of the better things to do with kids in Wellington. Both Z and I liked it a lot. It’s definitely a Wellington must see attraction.
Like many of Wellington’s other museums, entry is free.
If you’re looking at where to go in Wellington then the Botanic Gardens is a good choice. There’s a lot of fun things to do in Wellington for kids in close proximity to each other, including Space Place at the Carter Observatory.
High on the hill overlooking Wellington was the city’s first observatory – the Carter Observatory. These days there is a space themed centre and planetarium that is great for kids. Z is really into learning about the planets at the moment and loved it here.
Entry to Space Place is free and although not big there is a decent amount of things to see/read. It would probably work better for older kids but the layout and design got Z interested. There was a small mockup of an ISS capsule you could “control” through space that Z played on for ages. I liked seeing the original telescope in the observatory.
The best bit was the show at the planetarium, which went for 45 minutes. You’ll need to buy tickets for these but Z and I liked it.
It may not be worth a visit in and of itself if you’re not going to the planetarium but if you’re in the gardens I’d stop and check it out.
When the weather is nice and sunny, strolling along the waterfront around the harbour seems like one of the places to visit in Wellington. On our second day the sun was out and so was everybody. Walking by the water was lovely and the views are quite nice.
As we were walking along we came across Frank Kitts Park. A large grassy area with an awesome playground and wonderful views to boot. I had to drag Z away to get to our next thing.
If you’re at a loss for things to do in Wellington with kids then start here – if the weather is good. Lots of other fun activities in Wellington, like the Wellington Museum or Te Papa are only a short walk away.
Wellington is an easy city to navigate. The city centre is compact and easily walkable. Footpaths/sidewalks (whatever you want to call them) are nice, wide and smooth – good for a pram/stroller if you’re using one. Things are not too far away from each other.
If your accommodation is central then walking may be all you need to do – many Wellington attractions and activities will be close by. Aside from Zealandia and the Weta Workshops I don’t think we needed to walk more than 15 minutes to get anywhere.
We didn’t use much public transport but there were always buses about. There’s trains, too, if you’re staying somewhere to the north of the city centre. Both bus and train services are run by Metlink and their website is easy to use and very helpful.
Ticket wise, we paid as we got on the bus. Provided you’re not using large notes change wasn’t an issue. This made catching buses easy – barely any planning required. If you can make the effort of buying daily or weekly tickets, or a card that stores credit (the Snapper card is the main one available) then the cost goes down.
There’s a regular bus to the airport (the number 91) which is nice.
Being a capital city, Wellington has a range of accommodation options. This includes your international chain four and five star options. However, while there is a range of options, the hotels themselves may not be that big and if there’s a major event on in Wellington you may struggle to get a room,
Our visit coincided with a Bledisloe Cup match in Wellington and we found only one reasonably priced option around the city centre. And by reasonable, it was the only accommodation available for less than $220 a night for a private room.
Thankfully, we found a great place to stay in The Setup at Manners. Although the room had virtually no natural light (the only window faced onto an internal atrium) and got some noise from the street (we were on the second floor) the room was clean and comfortable. The bed was great, the bathroom and shower were good quality and the room was a decent size. The staff were friendly and helpful.
Best of all was the kitchenette. Not only did it have a fridge and microwave, but a toaster and two hotplates, a sink and a good range of cooking equipment and utensils, It was probably the best kitchenette I’ve seen in a hotel room or serviced apartment.
Z loved Wellington. We hadn’t even left and he was planning return trips with his siblings. I built our itinerary around things I thought he’d like and as a result he really got a kick out of the “cool” things to do in Wellington (as he put it) that we got to do.
Making the trip nice and four year old focused was easy as there are a lot of thing to see in Wellington and the list of things to do in Wellington for kids is long enough to comfortably fill in a few days to a week (depending on your pace).
As for me, I liked Wellington. It was relaxed, easy to get around, picturesque and had plenty to do. Indeed, when planning this trip it wasn’t so much a case of “how many things to do in Wellington with kids could there be?” as trying to figure what to leave out given how long we were there. I wish I had more time to spend.
Thanks to all of the places in Wellington that don’t charge admission there’s a wide range of things to do in Wellington for free. Combined with the close proximity of many of these places and you could easily make a list of activities to do in Wellington for most budgets and time frames.
For families, if there is something you must do in Wellington then in my opinion it’s to take the cable car and explore what’s at the top – at least if the weather is good. Older kids and adults can get a rare insight into film production at the Weta Workshops and is also worth serious consideration. The national museum and the Wellington museum should also be considered for a spot on any places to see in Wellington shortlist.
Hopefully this article has helped you with ideas of what to see in Wellington, New Zealand. There are a lot of family activities in Wellington. There is also a lot of great free stuff to do in Wellington, too.
We enjoyed our visit there and we look forward to going back with the whole family sometime soon for a big New Zealand road trip. If you are thinking about a road trip, here’s a great guide to New Zealand road trips.
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