Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, offers so much for families. From cultural activities to nature to incredible views, Wellington can keep you busy for days on end.
Because we were travelling to see family for Christmas and therefore needed to be in Palmerston North by Christmas Eve, we were faced with a dilemma. Do we cut Wellington from our itinerary entirely to give ourselves more time, or do we try to squeeze it in? In true A Winter Escape fashion, we opted for the latter. No regrets!
So while we absolutely recommend giving yourselves a few days in this stunning city, here’s what we recommend if you only have one day.
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Where to stay in Wellington
We stayed at the James Cook Grand Chancellor hotel (click through to read our James Cook Grand Chancellor review). This was an excellent location on the Terrace, as the back of the hotel had an entrance to a little laneway that led onto Lambton Quay.
Very close by is the DoubleTree by Hilton and the Intercontinental – I didn’t get a chance to explore these other than peering in the lobby, but both looked lovely. That said, for one night, location should be your main priority, and all three properties are in the perfect location.
After breakfast, find the little laneway off Lambton Quay that leads to the Cable Car. You can’t miss it – it has a big sign on the street with a model cable car attached.
There are a couple of stops along the way – while we were all tourists on Christmas Eve, commuters do actually use the Cable Car every day!
It’s a short ride but with an incredible view.
At the top of the hill is a beautiful lookout, as well as a perfumery and the Cable Top Eatery – a gorgeous place to stop for breakfast/brunch.
Cable Car tickets cost $11NZD return for adults and $5.50NZD for children. A family pass for two adults and up to three children costs $26NZD return. The Cable Car departs every ten minutes.
Wellington Botanic Gardens and Space Place
The Wellington Botanic Gardens are really quite spectacular, and there are several spots to take in more of that incredible view over the harbour.
A highlight for us was the Observatory – this has been converted into an interactive family activity called Space Place. The kids loved going on space missions and launching rockets. For me, the highlight was how they had set up the astronomical timeline of the Universe parallel to the Maori creation story – this was very powerful and moving.
Don’t miss the gift shop – I found some absolutely mind-blowing children’s books in there. In particular, How My Koro Became A Star by Brianne Te Paa had me in tears.
Where do we even start with Te Papa?! Te Papa is the national museum of New Zealand. Here, you will come away with not only a deeper understanding of Aoteoroa New Zealand, but also a wonderful appreciation of its cultures, history, geology, and ecology. We learned so much here in just a couple of hours.
What I really love most about Te Papa is the obvious effort that has gone into making the exhibits interactive. I’m sure we’ve all walked around a museum or art gallery with kids and heard proclomations of boredom from them – there is zero chance of that happening at Te Papa!
Entry to Te Papa is free.
Lunch at Mac’s Brew Bar
Right on the Taranaki Street wharf outside Te Papa is Mac’s Brew Bar, a cool brewery with a view right over the harbour. We loved having lunch here while watching kids practice their manu (a stylised dive-bomb) from the diving platform on the wharf.
There are lots of beer options to choose from, and great pub-fare meals for both adults and children. Staff were really welcoming of the kids.
Mount Victoria Lookout
After lunch, a perfect way to finish up in Wellington is to drive up to Mount Victoria Lookout. The drive takes approximately 10 minutes from the city centre.
Here, you’ll find 360-degree views over the whole city, and it really is spectacular (particularly on a clear day). There are also some magnificent hiking and running trails around Mount Victoria if you have a bit more time and want to keep fit.
Entrance to the lookout and car parking are both free.
Weather in Wellington
We were apprehensive as we drove into town around 7pm – it was pouring with rain. However, Wellington absolutely turned up the sunshine the next morning. Add to that a complete absence of wind! The day was about 23 degrees Celcius.
We were lucky – Wellington is notorious for both wind and rain, so you do need to prepare accordingly. That means a waterproof jacket, layers to keep you warm, and an umbrella (though be careful not to be blown away in the wind).
We travelled in Summer – in Winter, expect daily highs of 10-12 degrees Celcius.
So if you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, please make sure you fit Wellington in, even if it’s only for one day. We hope you love Wellington as much as we do!
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