Ultimate guide to things to do in Wellington with kids
New Zealand’s pretty capital, Wellington, is a great destination for family getaways. The scenic city wraps itself around the picturesque Wellington Harbour and is overlooked by lush mountains that are bona fied movie stars, having doubled as Hobbiton and other locations in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.
The city’s incredible interactive and educational museums include the innovative national museum and art gallery, Te Papa. And the Wellington Museum has been voted amongst the best in the world with amazing, interactive exhibits that kids will love.
Take a ride on the historic Wellington Tram between Lambton Quay and Kelburn. Hire skates, bikes, or simply troll along the vibrant waterfront where you’ll find awesome playgrounds, cafes and inspiring artworks. Jump in the water to paddle around the inner harbor by kayak, SUP or pedal boat.
Get up close with exotic animals at Wellington Zoo, see some of New Zealand’s most unique native wildlife at Zelanadia or head to Staglands Wildlife Reserve to feed and pat farm animals.
If you feel like a dip head to Oriental Bay, a safe swimming beach that is ideal for families, the small but perfectly formed Scorching Bay or popular surfing spot, Lyall Bay beach. If you’ve a hankering for some mountain air, get out of the city to trek one of Rimutaka Forest Park’s well-trodden hiking routes. And at Upper Hutt, you’ll find a series of easy riverside trails as well as excellent fishing and mountain biking.
Top things to do in Wellington
Wellington has a fantastic range of family activities for every age and every budget. Here are ten of the best.
- Ride the vintage tram in Bendigo.
- Take a free walking tour to uncover the history and heritage of Ballarat
- Meet the prehistoric tuatara lizards at Zealandia.
- Cuddle the farmyard critters at Staglands Wildlife Reserve.
- Get up close to the exotic beasts at Wellington Zoo.
- Take the eight-metre vertical drop at H²O Xtream.
- Surf the waves at Lyall Bay.
- Visit the national museum, Te Papa.
- Unleash your inner hobbit on the Weta Studio Tour.
- Get interactive at the Wellington Museum.
- Take a hike in Rimutaka Forest Park.
- Go on a guided tour of Middle Earth.
Things to do in Wellington with…
Little ones will love Wellington’s 50 plus public playgrounds. Located on the scenic waterfront, popular Frank Kitts Park offers swings, climbing frames, exciting slides, ride-ons and climbers. The Botanic Gardens is ideal for toddlers with swings, climbing frames, a rocktopus and flying fox, as well as changing tables for little ones. Or take the kids back in time to the 1920s at the Loco Miniature Railway and Gardens with its steam locomotives, play area, trampoline and veggie patch.
Putt around Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf, a wheelchair and stroller accessible 18-hole pirate themed golf course the kids will love. Or send them off to the circus at The Circus Hub who offer pre-school classes designed to help develop coordination, balance, spatial awareness and musicality with all the fun and imagination of the circus.
And if the weather isn’t so great, head to Te Papa’s Storyplace for its interactive storytime and play area designed especially for children under 5 years.
Animal loving kids are spoilt for choice in Wellington. Wellington Zoo is nestled in the city’s green town belt and is home to more than 500 native and exotic endangered animals and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to get face to fur with red pandas, lions, meerkats, cheetah, giraffes.
At Zealandia, set on a picturesque reservoir just 5 minutes’ drive from central Wellington, you’ll find some of New Zealand’s most unique creatures including the prehistoric tuatara lizards and the kaka parrot. Staglands Wildlife Reserve is another great spot for kids with loads of cute farm animals to feed, pet and cuddle, as well as native birds and fish. Or head to Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre to meet some of New Zealand’s most endangered wildlife including gorgeous Manukura, a rare pure white kiwi and the conservation centre’s most famous resident.
Wellywood, as Wellington is affectionately known, is the heart of New Zealand’s film industry and an absolute mecca for movie buffs.
Not to be missed is a guided tour of Middle Earth with one of the tour companies specialising in the many locations around Wellington that were featured in both the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series of movies. From Mount Victoria, which doubled as Hobbiton Woods, to the Hutt Valley, the real-life location of the Great River Anduin and the Gondorian fortress of Isengar, there are around 25 key locations for wannabe hobbits to explore.
Or visit the Weta Workshop to uncover all the magic behind the movies on a unique behind-the-scenes look at the props, weapons, armour and vehicles crafted for The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, District 9, King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia.
From mountain biking, kayaking and quad biking to surfing the waves of Lyall Bay, snorkelling for paua and wreck diving, adventure enthusiasts will find plenty to get their hearts pumping in Wellington.
At Adrenalin Forest traverse seven tree top courses that will have you zooming as high as 32-metres into and over the forest canopy via a network of challenging bridges, nets, swings and flying foxes.
Enjoy the high-octane fun of indoor go kart racing at Daytona Raceway in their super speedy, state-of-the-art go karts, or go into battle with your friends and family on Daytona Paintball’s challenging indoor combat course.
Take the plunge down the eight-metre vertical drop of Xtream Speed, or slide through a massive 66 metres of pitch black darkness at H²O Xtream where you can ride, splash and slide your way along the three hydro slides.
Best time to visit Wellington as a family
Though Wellington is a lovey place to visit all year around, its overall climate tends to be on the mild side, with temps rarely topping more than 25 degrees Celsius. The best time for visiting Wellington is from November through to April when the weather is at its most comfortably warm. But book ahead to nab the best family-friendly accommodation and campsites.
You will need to beware of Wellington’s wind whatever time of year. So windy that the wind turbine that overlooks the city regularly sets world records, its exposed location on the Cook Straight funnels wind from the ocean to the city whatever the season, though spring sees winds at their peak and generally the winds are moderate enough to not be an issue.
In June and August, things get a lot chillier and layers will be required. However, it’s the best time of year to bag a bargain.
Family-friendly places to eat in Wellington
Brimming with amazing restaurants, cool cafes, colourful markets and laneways serving up incredible produce grown by local producers, the city of Wellington is a great place for foodies. Families are spoilt for choice with kid-friendly cafes and a choice of international cuisines.
Given its harbourside location, fresh seafood is a specialty with local favourites including fish and chips and whitebait easy to find and a must to try. Head to the Wellington Trawling Sea Market for the freshest seafood cooked fresh on the spot the way you like it. If you’re prepared to queue, the Mt Vic Chippery is another local favourite.
There are many food markets including the Wellington Night Market on Friday and Saturday nights, the Wellington Underground Market on Saturdays, and City Market and The Harbourside Market on the waterfront for fresh produce and local artisanal creations.
Things to do for free in Wellington
- Wellington is a great city to explore for those on a budget with loads of free activities for all ages. At the national museum, Te Papa, there’s a free permanent collection which will have visitors enthralled. Kids will especially love the earthquake simulator and the colossal giant squid with its soccer ball sized eyes. At Wellington Museum, which ranks among the world’s best, there are interactive exhibits showcasing the culture and tradition of the city.
- Weta Cave offers free access to a mini-museum for a behind-the-scenes documentary and displays of high-end sculptures, prop replicas, art prints and apparel designed by Weta artists. However, the Weta Studio Tour, where props from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are on exhibit, does come at a cost.
- Outside, soak up the sensational views from Mount Victoria Lookout and Te Ahumairangi Hill Lookout. Or download the free Welly Walks iPhone App to explore the Wellington waterfront and its playgrounds.
The best annual events for families in Wellington
February/March – New Zealand Festival
New Zealand’s leading arts festival celebrates the world of art, performance and music.
March – CubaDupa
A two-day festival of food, music and community on Wellington’s hippest street.
September – Artsplash
This festival for young people brings together primary and intermediate school students to celebrate dance, music and visual art.
September – Spring Festival
This annual festival of flowers at Wellington Botanic Garden includes guided walks, workshops and a kids’ day out.
October -HighLight: Carnival of Lights
Riddiford Garden will be transformed into a family friendly wonderland of immersive displays, live performances and interactive light during this four-day carnival of lights.
October/November – Kāpiti Arts Trail
The Kāpiti Arts Trail sees more than 100 artists showcase works across a range of artistic mediums.
November – Wellington Sky Show
Head to Wellington harbor for this spectacular annual fireworks display.
December to March – Summer City
A massive festival with 100 free music and fun events under the stars.
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