If you are lucky enough to visit New Zealand with your kids, there are many great activities and attractions for all. It would take a whole book to describe all the choices appealing to visitors and their children in this magical country. Let’s take a look at the southern part of the North Island and some of its options to give you an idea of what’s in store if you visit. We will focus on the Wellington and Wairarapa region in this article, spotlighting family-friendly fun and adventure. You are sure to find plenty of ideas for a memorable visit in these two regions.
A garden for all
Wellington is the starting point of the itinerary, and what better place to start than the vintage cable car ride up Mount Victoria to the Botanic Gardens. The price for a one way ride is reasonable: with adults paying 4 NZD/2.74 USD and children 5-15 only 2 NZD/1.37 USD.
Kids love the neon lighted tunnel on the way up the steep mountain tracks during this short ride. At the top, enjoy the sweeping views of the city and harbor before heading down the trail into the twenty-five hectares of Wellington’s Botanical Gardens. The gardens are free and in 2016, the Children’s Garden is expected to be open providing hands-on kid-themed activities. Watch as they hop through the planned Orchard Play Trail, or explore the “Muesli Mix” garden and see berries, nuts and grains that go into their muesli. Guided tours to the gardens are held every third Sunday and fourth Monday of the month and cost only 4 NZD/ 2.66 USD.
Another option is walking, driving or taking the number 20 (yellow) bus to the top of Mount Victoria then walking down to the Botanic Gardens. That is, if your little ones don’t mind a good downhill walk? The view from the top is magnificent on a clear day. Tui birds are common here and with luck you will see and hear them on your visit. Check with the i-Site visitor center on the corner of Victoria and Wakefield Streets in the center of downtown Wellington for different ways to see Mount Victoria and approximate walking time.
See our full list of recommended hotels near Wellington Cable Car (Lambton Quay Station) and also compare the prices with vacation rentals near Wellington Cable Car (Lambton Quay Station)
Visit the Lady Norwood Rose Gardens
Walk your way down into town passing through the Lady Norwood Rose Gardens, and Begonia House where the adults will love this grand collection of roses, begonias and other flora. Show your kids the joy of sniffing each type of rose to see if it holds a potent fragrance or just pretty colors. Continue your walk downhill towards town through the graveyard portion of the trail if you dare, before ending up at Thorndon, Wellington’s train station. What kid doesn’t like to see the trains?
Okay, older children might not want to see them but you can pop into the New World Market in the station and buy them a treat at this fancy new grocery store. The waterfront is just steps away from the train station to continue your walk, or head into the city center to find a lunch spot. Check out the BNZ Centre Food Court in the State Insurance Building at the corner of Lambton Quay and Willis Street. This food court will have something for just about everyone. Eat in or take out with everything from sushi to soup in this basement location in central Wellington.
Take a hike up to the lighthouse
For your next day, head eastward over the Rimutaka Hills toward the Wairarapa Valley and go south to Cape Palliser to walk amongst the fur seal colony. This scenic drive and walk will delight children of all ages. Be advised the road was under construction in November of 2015 and necessitated a twenty-five minute walk to get to the Cape Palliser Lighthouse. It should be passable in early 2016 according to locals I spoke with. Fur seals can be easily seen along this roadway’s coastline in several places. Use caution when approaching these wild animals because they can become aggressive. If your children are up to a climb, the stairs up to the lighthouse will reward you with a splendid view all the way to the Kaikoura Range on the South Island.
Wairarapa's most charming town
Head up north to another main attraction of the Wairarapa, (Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre) stopping off to see Greytown on the way. In Greytown, stop and visit Shoc Choc, a chocolate shop extraordinaire, with another location in Wellington. Here you get to sample many of their chocolate treats, hopefully after you have had lunch at The French Baker. Be sure and see the giant tree known as, ‘Samuel Oates Gum Tree’ from 1856, and read its interesting story. Also on Main Street is The White Swan Hotel. Take a look at this building that was originally constructed in 1905 as a railway shop in Lower Hutt, and in 2002 cut into six pieces then trucked to Greytown to become the White Swan. Part of it nearly slid off the truck and down the mountain, closing highway 2 for hours until it was coaxed back on the truck again.
Understand wildlife and play your part at Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre
About twenty minutes north of Masterton, the largest town in the Wairarapa, is Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre. They have become well known for breeding and re-introducing endangered native birds back into the wild. Your entry fee of 20 NZD/13.73 USD adults, and 6 NZD/4.11 USD for children 5-15 includes six daily talks and feedings, as well as entry into the nocturnal house where you will see the only white Kiwi in captivity.
There are several kilometers of forest trails to hike if you and the kids are in need of exercise. It’s easy to spend three or more hours at Mount Bruce visiting all the displays and attending the talks and feedings. The highlights are the eel feeding at 1:30 p.m., and the Kaka bird feeding at 3 p.m. At the eel feeding, watch in fascination as these huge eels, up to four feet long or more slither and splash about eating ‘eel food’ from long-handled spoons wielded by visitor volunteer’s. Volunteer feeders don waterproof hip-wader boots and go into the water to feed these snake-like fish that can live more than forty years.
Enjoy a bird show at the Kaka Circus
The Kaka Circus is the daily feeding of these native parrots of New Zealand. Enjoy as animated birds put on quite a show when their feeding time rolls around. They molest the food bucket carrying human all the way to the feeding area by landing on the bucket to steal food before it arrives at the circus. They land on people’s heads, and shoulders in the feeding frenzy that lasts only 5-10 minutes as tourist’s cameras click and shoot video footage of their antics.
Since you might be here for several hours, it’s good to know there is a cafe onsite as well as a picnic area if you want to bring lunch. The picnic area extends all the way down towards the creek in the shade of the trees providing a peaceful place for your lunch. With so much bird activity, you will notice bird droppings on the picnic tables so bring a cover of some sort if this bothers you.
Horseback riding in or by the water
Horseback riding is popular in New Zealand and what a better place to ride than a pristine beach looking out over the deep blue ocean under sunny cobalt skies! For the Wairarapa region, consider Heavenly Horse Treks offering rides from one hour up to two days. The terrain can be through river valleys, bush or on the beach. If you are in the Wellington area consider Coastal View Horse Treks (no website; phone 64-4-934-7793) where you can choose from a one hour ride or overnight trip along the scenic coastline east of the capital city near Lower Hutt. If you want to get into the water instead of just riding near it, try kayaking with the whole family. Ferg’s Kayaks in Wellington, offers kayak rentals, paddle board rentals, tours and even has a climbing wall. They offer instruction if your kids, or you need some kayaking education.
North, South or both islands
New Zealand is one of the safest, cleanest countries on the planet. By providing a myriad of activities both indoors and outdoors, it’s a hit with vacationers young and old. Whether you go to one or both main islands, you will find dozens of places to visit full of family fun. Most families should plan on spending two to four weeks to get the most out of a New Zealand vacation. With a bit of planning ahead, you and your family will craft a vacation memory that will last a lifetime in this wonderland down under.