Urban entertainment in family-friendly Wellington
A long weekend in the capital leaves the Falconer family longing to return. So many sights, so little time!
The last time I visited Wellington I was in my first trimester of pregnancy with my firstborn, Frankie Grace, and experiencing food aversions to the nth degree. I couldn’t eat anything bar crackers and chips. Five years later and I’m well pleased to be back, this time enjoying all the culinary delights found in our capital, and with my husband, Sean, and our two kids in tow.
Once you have children, holidays aren’t really holidays as such, especially if you have children who don’t stop moving ever! But family holidays are still a priority. They’re a chance to get away from the demands and distractions of home life, a time to connect with each other, to be fully present as parents and create memories together. This was our first city break as a family (we tend to frequent large open spaces where Frankie, aged four, and Cohen, who’s two, can spread their wings and fly), and we were impressed. Wellington caters surprisingly well for visitors with young kids. It’s a compact city that’s easily explored by foot, even little feet. And when little feet get tired, there’s a host of readily available public transport: trains, double-decker buses, cable cars, Uber scooters, the works. For some reason public transport really appeals to our children. I think the highlight of the day was the plane ride from Tauranga to Wellington, followed closely by their first ever taxi ride. We all laughed when Cohen told the taxi driver to “STOP!” because he didn’t have his seat belt on yet. Safety first, and rightly so!
TUI, TAKEHĒ AND TUATARA
After we checked into the Park Lane Hotel on Lambton Quay we rode the iconic cable car up to Kelburn and took a free shuttle to Zealandia, the world’s first fully fenced urban ecosanctuary. Zealandia’s extraordinary 500-year vision is to restore the land and waterways as closely as possible to their pre-human state. On arrival we watched a short film depicting the destruction of New Zealand’s native bush and wildlife which Zealandia seeks to reverse. From here we wandered through a small portion of the 225-hectare ecosanctuary spotting native wildlife, including tui, takahē, kaka and even the rare tuatara. Seeing tuatara, a prehistoric reptile and the last remaining creature to survive the dinosaur age, sunbathing in their natural habitat was an epic first for our whole family. We wandered (well, the kids ran!) along the bush tracks, keeping a keen ear out for birdsong. Seeing takahē in the grasslands was another highlight. Introduced mammals previously decimated these birds, so much so that they were thought to be extinct until Invercargill doctor Geoffrey Orbell, rediscovered the bird in Fiordland in 1948. Since then conservation efforts have seen the number rise to around 350 takahē today. What a privilege to see these rare birds, usually only found in remote areas of the South Island. We left Zealandia feeling inspired to take ownership for nurturing and preserving the natural wonder of Aotearoa.
MEAN MĀORI CUISINE
Next stop we took another free shuttle back to the city centre and had lunch at Karaka Café on the waterfront. Wellington unfolds onto the waterfront in glorious urban design that leaves other New Zealand cities wanting. Each afternoon we were drawn to the waterfront to ‘chillax’ at one of the eateries and soak up the vibe. Karaka offers a ‘mean-Māori-mean’ menu where you can experience traditional Māori cuisine with a modern twist, including hangi (house smoked fish, chicken and vegetables), ika mata (raw fish), and kai moana (sea food). After an active morning we enjoyed chilling out in front of the lagoon watching a waka ama tournament take place in front of us, all the while listening to local beats. Frankie and Cohen played in the shallows and chased seagulls away from our food (well trained!) while we supervised from the comfort of our bean bags.
After our 5.30am start that morning it was time to retire to our hotel to rest a little before venturing back out for dinner. The kids’ clothes and shoes were saturated from playing in the Karaka lagoon so I took advantage of the hotel’s complimentary laundry facilities, found on every floor, to do a quick wash.
We began day two (thanks to a local recommendation) with a visit to the Harbourside Markets next to Te Papa Tongarewa museum. A feast for the eye with row upon row of colourful fresh produce – the kids could barely keep their hands off the sweet stone fruit. We enjoyed a diverse breakfast, grazing from the multicultural food trucks and artisanal produce. Frankie and Cohen met a little kunekune pig who accompanied the oyster mushroom stall. Everywhere the little pig went, the kids were sure to follow, twisting and weaving through the crowds of the marketplace! The kids found their way back to the waterfront so we sat on the pier, snacking on the feast we’d just bought at the markets. A lush moment experiencing our vibrant capital.
Next up we visited Te Papa Tongarewa museum, a must for anyone visiting Wellington. Spread over six floors in a dynamic building, Te Papa offers an educational, interactive and welcoming experience for curious kids who love tactile learning. At Te Taiao Nature we were greeted by two large moa skeletons, replicas of actual bones discovered in NZ. Our kids stood in awe of these giant native birds that once roamed our land. We also took a trip down the rabbit hole and explored Wonderland, an exhibition celebrating Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice in Wonderland. Ducking through tiny doors, climbing up giant chairs and enjoying an interactive tea party, we were enthralled by the engaging exhibition. If I was doing mum-life in Wellington, Te Papa museum would be a regular rainy-day excursion. In fact, I’m already mentally planning another trip to Wellington, just so I can see the exhibitions we didn’t have time to visit.
In search of our next culinary experience, we wandered off the beaten track up Hannah’s Laneway (named after the old Hannah’s shoe factory), a grungy alleyway dubbed the ‘tastiest laneway in Wellington’. We weren’t disappointed. We popped into Fix & Fogg, where the kids loved tasting the array of peanut butters. We all fell in love with their latest creation – chocolate hazelnut butter – pure goodness on a tasting stick. I confess that I once had a Nutella addiction, until it didn’t agree with my body and I had to quit. I finally have a replacement, one with 40% less sugar and containing no nasty palm oil. Oh, how I do love Kiwi ingenuity! “More please, more please” bleated Frankie and Cohen, so on we moved! After a lovely lunch at the Leeds Street Bakery, our trip hit a crescendo when we entered the Wellington Chocolate Factory. Amidst walls covered in psychedelic murals, we witnessed the chocolate-making process from bean to bar. The beans are ethically sourced and slowly fermented to preserve the natural flavour. The kids were in awe of the large cacao bean grinders, spinning round and round and grinding the beans to a silky-smooth texture. I felt proud that the city I’d previously adored in the ’90s for its music scene and grungy café culture has added to its repertoire and is leading the way in fair-trade, ethical and organic brands.
BACK TO THE WATERFRONT
With full bellies we were in need of a siesta and were drawn back to the waterfront to find a comfy spot at the Mac’s Brewery. We lazed in the sun for an hour, enjoying a beer while the kids played giant Connect Four. Again, this city caters so well to children.
Having recharged our batteries, hiring Crock bikes seemed like a novel thing to do and also meant our two children would be somewhat contained and safe for 90 minutes. We discovered a number of kids’ playgrounds while exploring the waterfront and even found one situated right next to a golden sand beach on Oriental Parade. The saying is true: “You simply can’t beat Wellington on a beautiful day!”
We wrapped the day up with an early dinner on Cuba Street at a pastaria called 1154 which has just been named in the top 100 NZ restaurants by Cuisine Magazine. We joined a communal table of diners and were greeted by down-to-earth staff who immediately told us the most kid-friendly options on the menu, and offered to serve plain pasta for fussy eaters. We had barely sat down before they’d brought the kids colouring pencils and paper. Frankie and Cohen sat like angels, colouring in and eating all their pasta and greens (just how you imagine – and hope – kids will behave before you actually have children and discover most mealtimes are a circus act!).We enjoyed organic wine and fresh pasta in peace – a win-win. Then home to bed feeling like we’d nailed it as parents.
URBAN HUT CLUB
After two days exploring the city, we ventured up the Kapiti Coast in pursuit of the Urban Hut Club, part of the NZ Festival of Arts. Artists Niko and Kemi have created six mini urban huts in the hopes it will inspire families to get off the beaten track and explore nature. We met Niko and her daughter, Ria, at the first location and followed clues to find the first hut. It didn’t take long for the children to become friends, running through the bush and discovering a centipede, or as Cohen called it, “a worm with lots and lots and lots of legs!” Before moving on, Frankie wrote her name in the journal hidden in a cubby hole under the hut floor.
Next we visited Nga Manu nature reserve where we had a chance to feed two kiwi (Dot and Awhina), who were sleepy but awake nonetheless. The most frightful part of the weekend was feeding the eels. Frankie and Cohen were super brave, holding food on a stick while the eels slithered on top of one another, competing for food. An urban city, enveloped by nature, our family had a blast. My husband, Sean, was particularly chuffed he could find a bush run within five minutes from our hotel.
Our visit to Wellington left us with a strong sense of pride in our nation. The capital also filled me with a sense of tiaki – a desire to preserve and protect our beautiful Aotearoa for future generations. And we left the capital with content children, a bucketful of wonderful memories and a mum and dad who were ready to go back to work for a holiday. Mission accomplished!
Shout outs to:
▪️ WellingtonNZ for organising an epic family tour. Plan yours at www.wellingtonnz.com.
▪️ Nature Baby for the kids’ cute threads.
▪️ Park Lane Hotel for your superb hospitality.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 49 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW