A capital time in nine hours
Julie Haines and her daughter India attempt to cram the capital’s child-friendly attractions into a whirlwind nine hours of sightseeing . . .
My mission (not) impossible: explore Wellington in nine hours with a 9-year-old in tow. Luckily this city is compact and its attractions are mostly within walkable distance, allowing lots of adventures in one day.
At first glance they look like tuk tuks, but all you need to ride Crocodile Bikes are calf muscles and a great sense of fun. Located opposite Chaffers Marina, handily close to Te Papa, the Enormous Crocodile Company rents out 3 and 6 seater bikes, and they were hands down the highlight of our day. We initially set out towards the Queens Wharf Precinct, but felt a little nervous manoeuvring a giant Crocodile Bike through crowds milling around the Sunday market. So we turned and headed towards Oriental Bay, a little unsteadily at first, but soon finding our rhythm. It was a great decision. We passed colourful boat sheds, dodged ambling Sunday walkers, and admired the views across the harbour. Gradually the crowds thinned and even the grand bay-side residences disappeared, and we found ourselves stopping to watch a man reel in a little fish from the harbour . The sea sparkled and we felt as free as the seagulls squawking at us from lampposts. I felt sad to have to turn around and head back, but our rental time was nearly up and my complaining legs thanked me for it (the downside of riding with kids is that they don't necessarily pedal the whole time).
Having worked up an appetite on the bikes we headed to Martha's Pantry to don colourful hats and sample their specialty high tea. Lots of hotels in Wellington offer high tea but we chose Martha's Pantry because their savoury items are adapted for children. We contentedly munched our way through our own individual two-tiered trays of culinary delights. Those macarons were to die for.
There are a few tour options at Parliament but during school holidays there is also a special “Kids in the House” tour. This free tour takes in the banquet hall in the Beehive, the House of Representatives chamber, Legislative Council Chamber, Grand Hall, Maori Select Committee Room, and the Parliamentary library. Our guide was fantastic, explaining the processes followed by government and encouraging children to ask questions. The buildings alone are worth the visit, their elaborate walls and ceilings on a par with grand stately buildings you'd see in Europe.
It doesn't matter where we travel, as far as India is concerned the holiday is not a success unless we've sampled the local playgrounds. Frank Kitts is ideally located on the waterfront between Te Papa and the Wellington Museum. It's not a particularly big playground, but its main feature is a structure resembling a lighthouse and judging by the number of kids queueing for the two slides spouting from it, it's worth it.
Note: The main slide at Frank Kitts Park was removed last week after a number of unfortunate incidents in recent years where children were injured.
Most people visit Te Papa while in Wellington but we decided to try the less touristy Wellington Museum after reading rave reviews on social media. India was drawn to the stuffed lions from Wellington Zoo in the Attic. I was intrigued (and slightly horrified) by a display about human hair being used in wreaths to remember loved ones. There's a time machine, and a seriously cool presentation of Maori legends using a holographic storyteller.
The 612-metre funicular railway to Wellington Botanic Garden is just a couple of minutes' walk from Wellington Museum. Today's modern cable cars pass through a couple of tunnels with funky lighting effects, and finish next to the original 1902 winding house in Kelburn, now home to a museum where you can see two of the original grip cars and the old winding mechanism. We bought return cable car tickets, but you can just as easily walk back to the CBD through the 25-hectare botanic garden.
Of course, our main objective of visiting the botanic garden was to sample its playground (the flying fox and slides were big hits with India, while I loved watching and hearing kākā flying overhead). The garden is also home to Space Place planetarium at Carter Observatory which unfortunately we didn't have time to visit.
That was the downside of tackling Wellington in a nine-hour tourist marathon. Even though we squeezed in so much and had a total blast, there were still so many more attractions to sample, including Wellington Zoo, Zealandia ecosanctuary and a day trip to Matiu/Somes Island. Our next visit might have to be longer.
© Copyright Julie Haines 2021