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Wellington's best outdoor activities for families

By Samuel 29 Mar 2019 • 2 Comments

It’s easy to view Wellington as primarily a city of food and culture, but you’d be doing a disservice to what is one of the most picturesque capital cities on earth. The hills (I say hills, but baby mountain ranges really) rise up out of the embarrassingly lovely harbour which even has dolphins and whales popping in to say, "hi".  

There is a myriad of bush walks, rugged beaches, lush sandy beaches, and yeah, hill tops that just need to be scaled. The trick with Wellington is knowing where to go on what type of day. Even more important if you're dragging a bunch of kids around with you.


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Avalon Park in Lower Hutt

The children are revolting and we’ve run out of ideas afternoon: Avalon Park

Sometimes as an adult making the right choices for your children is actually self care. When your children can’t handle any more contemporary art gallery nonsense and they’re teetering on the verge of a DEFCON 5 meltdown then a giant oversize playground where you can comfortably lose sight of each other is the perfect choice. Grabbing a coffee from one of the fine Petone eateries and heading further north into the Hutt Valley's wilds of suburbia will lead you to Avalon Park. It’s way over the top. Some kind of council meeting gone mad has resulted in a bonkers children’s paradise. 

Take your pre-purchased bourgeois coffee and slink to the perimeter as your children disappear into the tunnels and swings, flying foxes and climbing frames, miniature trains and BMX tracks. Take a moment to focus on yourself, your breathing, your inner sense of well being. How are you? Are you okay? Acknowledge your feelings, ignore your children, luxuriate in the single origin, fair trade locally roasted double latte and just be.

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The cool but crisp big time hill climb: Mt. Kaukau
Photo credit: Jay French

The cool but crisp big time hill climb: Mt Kaukau

This is a family favourite for me, but certainly not an easy outing. Mt Kaukau is Wellington’s highest point and the views are seemingly endless. It’s a difficult enough walk that you will feel immensely smug upon reaching the summit (bring a snack and water with you, you’ll have earned it) but not so hard that if your annoying 4-year-old refuses to walk another step that you can’t carry them some of the way.

It really is the perfect activity for a clear, crisp late winter afternoon. A lot of locals have never been up there and the views are like nothing else so take lots of photos and lord it over everyone you meet. Perfect for those I’m-better-than-you Instagram posts that make life worth living.

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Red Rocks on the South Coast
Photo credit: Jay French

A grey sky meander through the grey seals of the (actually grey) Red Rocks

Wellington's South Coast puts up with a lot. It’s battered and buffeted by the blistering southerlies that bluster their way up from the Antarctic seas. It’s a mystical, stunning place that is as majestic and wonderful in the worst weather as it is in the best. A walk around Red Rocks from May to October can put you face to face with a fur seal. Face to face is probably about 50 feet too close, so take that last sentence figuratively.

The South Coast is also home to the Island Bay Marine Education Centre (a low-fi but charming and well thought out little spot) the Victoria University Coastal Ecology Lab (a high-tech research centre with occasional open days) and of course, this being Wellington, some truly excellent cafes from Beach House & Kiosk at rugged remote end to the iconic Maranui in Lyall Bay. If you find yourself in Wellington on a truly horrible day a hot coffee from a warm cafe is the perfect way to watch the southerly storms come rolling in.

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Zealandia ecosanctuary

Whether Zealandia or Zoo, the Zeds have it

Wellington Zoo isn’t the biggest on earth but it is one of the best. The enclosures have come a long way from its Victorian origins and is a thoughtful, conservation and experience focused family day out. It pains me to admit it, but the Australian 'Neighbours' enclosure is really the most fun, as your kids get to play amongst the free roaming kangaroos and the adults have uncomfortable face-to-face (literally this time) conversations with proud and nosey emus. Occasionally the bring dingoes out for a walk, they are very cute and surprisingly friendly for wild beasties.

If you’d rather a dose of New Zealand wildlife then you couldn’t do better anywhere in the country than Zealandia. Not just a tourist spot but a genuine wildlife sanctuary Zealandia boasts a density of birdlife that gives you some idea what New Zealand may have been like before all of us dumb humans got here. From tuatara (New Zealand's little prehistoric lizard wonder), to takahe (previously thought to be extinct for many years), Zealandia also has wonderful bush walks that connect you with the soul of New Zealand without really having to leave the city. The kaka (New Zealand parrot) feeding stations are a sight to behold. I cannot recommend this place enough and bizarrely I enjoying it even more in a light drizzle, squelching through the bush in gumboots and a raincoat.  

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Scorching Bay on Miramar Peninsula

Wellington on a (really) good day - Oriental Parade, Scorching Bay and Miramar Peninsula

Oriental Bay isn’t just a vaguely racist name – it’s also a lovely golden beach. In the height of summer it can get pretty rammed, but it's close-to-the-city location and abundance of gelato spots make it thoroughly worth the crowds. A great place to watch the boats on the harbour, have a swim and eat your fish ’n’ chips.

My favourite beach though (everyone’s favourite to be fair), is further around the harbour – Scorching Bay on the Miramar Peninsula. Peter Jackson lives there so it must be good right? You might even spot him floating in the clear blue ocean (nah, I don’t think you will, but one can but dream). Both Oriental and Scorching Bay offer golden sand, good cafés, large playgrounds and gentle seas.

The whole Miramar peninsula is full of great leisurely walks from Massey Memorial to the Attaturk memorial and historic Māori Pa sites above Tarakena Bay. But my favourite walk is from Seatoun Beach over the hill, above the heads of Wellington Harbour.  From there you can see Pencarrow Lighthouse (coincidentally another excellent outdoor spot if your into a family cycling jaunt from Eastbourne) and explore some of the many World War II gun and lookout emplacements that dot the Wellington hill tops.

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Gardens Magic at the Wellington Botanic Garden

The summery evening Wellington special at Botanic Garden

Wellington Botanic Garden is old-worldy and charming. Take the Cable Car up there, go look at the Henry Moore sculpture, control yourself and don’t feed the ducks, literally stop and smell the roses in the rose garden. But if you want to really act like a Wellingtonian, get there on a nice summers evening in January to watch a band at the Sound Shell during the Gardens Magic free concert series each January.

As the sun sets the surrounding gardens light up, you'll find yourself in the most Wellington of experiences. Food, nature... probably (let's be honest) a light breeze and if you pick a good night – a free gig from a great band with a few thousand of your closet Wellington mates. It is not a bad way to experience the city at all.

Add your comment

  • Steph on 14 May 2019

    Kaitoke camp ground it’s the best
    I live in upperhutt but it’s like your a world away
    And it gets busier every year

  • Patricia Evers on 11 May 2019

    in agreement with all, plus Makara Beach could be included in WLG outdoor acivities too: swim, fish, dive, walk, views!, and cafe all after a delightful short country drive from Karori to Johnstonville or visa versa.

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