How to have a family weekend in Wellington
From wildlife encounters to interactive museums and breakfast at an outdoor market, this will be two days your family will never forget
Finding a destination that will suit every member of your family can be tricky. The teenager who wants to shop? The child who is animal obsessed? The parents who need good quality coffee to get them through? We've got activities that everyone will enjoy.
Spend Saturday riding the Cable Car, visiting an eco-sanctuary that's home to rare native wildlife including tuatara and kiwi. After lunch, go visit some exotic animals on a Close Encounter at Wellington Zoo then take the family out for dinner to one of Wellington's family-friendly cafés and restaurants before sleeping soundly at your family-friendly hotel.
Wellington has a fantastic array of accommodation options including for families and groups - no matter what your size or special requirements. Check out our list of some of the best hotels for family groups that offer spacious rooms or are fully self-contained with special amenities and thoughtful touches that kids will love.
Sunday starts with breakfast at a market or brunch by the beach followed by a play at New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa. Go let off some steam with a play on the beach and an ice cream before discovering how imaginary worlds are brought to life at Wētā Workshop.
Check into your hotel and get your bearings of the city from the top of Mount Victoria (or Mt Vic as the locals call it). Enjoy the sweeping views from the top of the Mount Victoria Lookout before heading back down into town for dinner at one of Wellington's family-friendly eateries. Go for bao buns at Mr Go's, pasta at 1154 or pizza and burgers at Joe's Garage.
The kids (and the big kids at heart) will love riding on the historical bright red Wellington Cable Car. One of Wellington's most popular tourist attractions, the Wellington Cable Car runs from downtown Wellington to the picturesque suburb of Kelburn and Wellington Botanic Garden. Take in the panoramic views over the city and harbour from the Cable Car Lookout and if you have cable car enthusiasts in your whānau, check out the Cable Car Museum.
From the Wellington Cable Car Lookout, you can catch a free shuttle to Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, a world-first, fully-fenced predator-free ecosanctuary, the first of its kind in the world. Go for a guided walk around Zealandia with one of their knowledgeable hosts and find out more about their extraordinary 500-year vision to restore a Wellington valley’s forest and freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state. You’ll see and hear native birds like tūī, kākā and kereru and more.
Afterwards, go for lunch at Zealandia’s café Rātā which serves delicious food made with organic produce from their on-site vegetable garden – and they have a good kids’ menu. Rātā is dedicated to sustainability and composts and recycles café waste and use organic milk, free-range eggs, chicken and pork, and sustainably-sourced seafood.
Ride Zealandia’s free shuttle back into town and take a stroll along Cuba Street and everyone can find their favourite piece of Wellington street art. Check out Wellington's much-loved Bucket Fountain (play chicken to see who can stand in front of it for the longest without getting soaked!) on Cuba Street, the David Bowie mural on Ghuznee Street (parents, this is your time to explain who Ziggy Stardust was) and get a selfie with Solace in the Wind on the waterfront.
The whole family will have a blast at Wellington Zoo, the world's first carboNZero certified zoo. For a really special treat, book in for one of their Close Encounters which let you get quite literally up close and personal with some of the Zoo’s most special inhabitants. Close Encounters are available with the giraffes, lemurs, capybaras, cheetahs, meerkats or red pandas - you haven’t really lived until you’ve hand-fed grapes to a red panda walking across your lap.
Having the whole family with you doesn't mean you settle for a less-than-delicious meal. Wellington's packed with cafés and restaurants that are perfect for the whole whānau and feature such things as a decent kids' dinner menu, a decent wine list for the adults and staff who are sympathetic to the occasional mid-meal meltdown. Some of our favourites include burgers and shakes at Burger Liquor, bao buns at Mr Go's and the great kids (and adults) menu and activities at Southern Cross Garden Bar and Restaurant.
Set up each Sunday between Te Papa and the waterfront, the Harbourside Market is fun for the whole family. A fleet of food trucks serves something to suit every family member's taste: from smoothies to wood-fired pizza, dumplings, whitebait fritter sandwiches and much more. Watch as locals buy fish from the moored fishing boat makes for great entertainment, too.
If you miss the market, Wellington has a wonderful array of beach-side cafés that specialise in brunch. Think fluffy pancakes for the kids and strong flat whites for the adults!
Te Papa is just next door to the market and is a wonderful place to explore for the whole family. Known for its interactive and engaging approach, a visit to Te Papa will feel like playtime. Marvel at the larger-than-life figurines in the Gallipoli: the scale of our war exhibition and experience interactive exhibits at Te Taiao Nature including the much-loved Earthquake House and rare collection items like the colossal squid (te wheke nui).
Lyall Bay is a 15-minute drive from the city and is located close by to Wellington Airport and features a long sandy beach that's popular with surfers, swimmers and dog walkers. Go for a walk along the beach, build a sandcastle and maybe even a swim (the beach is patrolled by lifeguards during the summer months). Order some fish and chips or grab a picnic from Queen Sally's Diamond Deli to enjoy on the beach.
Take a look behind the scenes at a bit of movie-making magic with Weta Studio Tours and get your hands-on props from some of the world's most exciting films. Whether you're a Thunderbirds fan or not, the whole family will love the Miniatures Stage Tour: Thunderbirds Are Go - the teeny tiny miniatures are sure to bring out the child in everyone. And don't forget to get a family selfie with the huge troll statues outside before you leave.
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