Wellington's best outdoor activities for families
Wellington musician Samuel Scott shares his favourite ways to entertain his family with outdoor adventures around Wellington
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.
Red Rocks/Pariwhero on the South Coast
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 the 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.
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.
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.
Wellington 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 closest Wellington mates. It is not a bad way to experience the city at all.
A day at Capital E is the ultimate dream for the kids. Capital E provides a safe and fun environment for children to let their minds run wild and free in a creative and interactive space. The amazing team at Capital E provide educational, exciting and creative activities and workshops for your little one's at their PlayHQ.
At the intersection of creativity and play, Capital E’s high-quality, inclusive activities continue to inspire and provide a world of possibilities for Kiwi kids. They operate Educational Experiences including TV production, classroom experiences in the Media Lab – and they even run the National Theatre for Children, memorable and immersive shows specifically created for children.