We have a beautiful summer upon us. The school and kindy holidays are very long. Here’s your crowd-sourced by real parents guide to Wellington with little ones.
Every parent with toddlers needs to know about the Capital E creative play space. One mum says: “We love it because it changes regularly but it’s familiar enough for my toddler.” Capital E is great because you can get bottomless coffee and your child can’t escape and it’s totally free. It’s completely safe – your child can’t stab you with plastic craft scissors. They have kids on hand to help out little ones. The space is wheelchair and buggy friendly.
Aotea Lagoon in Porirua is awesome for picnics and ice cream and train rides ($2.50). If that wasn’t enough it also has a free splash pad due to open any day now. The park is wheelchair and buggy friendly. There’s a huge playground built to appeal to everyone from adventurous tweens and maybe even teens to little ones. But really, the splash pad is going to be the huge appeal to everyone – I mean, they’re going to have a six metre high water bucket dumper called the supersplash. We are going to live there this summer.
Te Papa is great of course, every parent in Wellington is grateful to Te Papa as most of us are there every second weekend but don’t miss the little but mighty Wellington Museum. It’s also free. One mum says: “My kids like sitting in the rowboat and watching the Wreck of the Diddley video over and over. They’re seven and nearly twelve, but we’ve sat in that rowboat with tiny toddlers too.” Mine (five and two) love the flying saucers in The Attic and store fronts from Wellington’s waterfront in the late 1800s. Younger children might want to avoid the Wahine memorial room. In there they play a beautiful short film by New Zealand Gaylene Preston about the tragedy but it’s pretty graphic.
After you’ve been to Wellington Museum you can head along the waterfront which is bookmarked by three great parks. As one mum says: “In sunny weather,in terms of value money I don’t think anything beats kiddy cone gelatos at Whairepo Lagoon after a play on the lighthouse slide at Frank Kitts Park. Sometimes you get free stingrays to watch.” There’s also Waitangi Park which has a skate park for older kids and a sand and water park for little ones. You can continue walking to Oriental Bay Park where they can have a safe swim at Oriental Bay followed by maybe another gelato! Parking is free along Oriental Bay but can be hard to find.
Shorland Park is a tired old park but the kids sure love it. Especially the giant slide. There are free BBQs and a bit of shade, but room to bring a sun cover if needed. It’s right on the lovely and safe Island Bay beach where children can have a swim to cool off after racing around. The toddler playrgound is fenced.
You can also walk around the bay and check out the amazing sea life in the incredible Taputeranga Marine Reserve. My children have found crabs, star fish, all kids of anemone, and even a seal. Locals are very protective of this beautiful place and they make great guides, only too happy to help little ones looking at sea creatures – especially at the little Island Bay Marine Education Centre. It’s small there, and only open on Sundays – but it makes up for its size with enthusiasm. There are touch ponds and my kids love the octopus. The Beach House is a great place to stop for coffee, so is Empire Cinema – sporadically there’s a caravan open by the park selling ice blocks and coffee. Dogs are welcome on Island Bay beach but not on the bay where there might be seals and penguins.
Head to Williams Park in Days Bay, where you can have pizza under a tree and the kids can run around on the field and there’s a few little bikes and scooters. If you position yourself in the middle of the park you have a good minute or two running before you need to worry your kid is near the road. There are good toilets, the beach, a cafe, ducks and lots of trees for shade. You can jump from the wharf for a swim to cool off. The ferry there and back from Wellington Harbour are expensive for a family; your other options are driving (there’s free parking) or buses, which are reasonably priced.
Look for treasure on Seatoun Beach. One mum says: “If you look closely among the stones there are small shells and pieces of coloured glass that shine like jewels. Magic.” There’s also a relatively new park by the much older Wahine Memorial Garden that includes a propeller and anchor salvaged from the ship. Leave your dogs at home as there are penguins at Moa Point.
Wellington City Council has a list of all their playgrounds, you can look at them on a map and there’s info about facilities too. One mum had the great idea of making it her mission one summer for her and her kids to visit a different park (or more) each day!
Wainuiomata Summer pool was universally loved by mums. Says one: “It’s the pool of our childhoods with hot concrete, different pools, slightly terrifying outdoor hydroslide, great people, fenced off area for toddlers, picnic area and it’s really cheap!” Another insisted they don’t mind if you wander in with a giant picnic and said there’s plenty of shade and shade to hide from the sun. Another said “It’s a grand way to waste several hours”.
Raumati Marine Gardens at Raumati Beach are another firm favourite. One mother said: “I love taking the kids to Raumati Marine Gardens. They have the most epic miniature railway, which my youngest is obsessed with. It has a water park, which they both love, and a good pathway for scooting plus some cool playground elements. It is right beside the beach and the climate in Raumati is so much nicer than Wellington.” The splash pad is free and it’s really impressive and there’s some great cafes nearby.
Harcourt Park in Upper Hutt has play grounds for younger and older kids as well as a toddler pool with splash pad. They have a sound shell with summer concerts. Best of all – It’s free! Says one mum: “The water is bizarrely warm and yet not gross. It’s a great way to kill time and energy in this atypically warm summer. It suits any walking babies to young primary-schoolers. It’s surrounded by great playgrounds, and grassy tree shaded areas for a picnic if your child can sit still for more than 20 seconds”.
Kaitoke Regional Park in Upper Hutt is $6 per night for adults and $3 for kids. It’s a campground spread out over a huge area so you just go and pick whatever spot you want. Shares one mum: “The river is beautiful and you can go on lots of bush walks, some of The Lord of the Rings was filmed there. There’s epic scenery. You can build and light your own fire so you feel really quite rugged but it’s only a 40 minute drive home if weather turns crappy or you need more creature comforts. No need to book either. A big thumbs up from me. And you can take dogs!”
Rock pooling at Point Howard Beach was pitched by one mum. “Go at low tide. It’s free. Loads of critters to see and a gentle sloping sandy bottomed bay to paddle in. No shade though so best for late afternoon or earlier morning fun”.
Join other sun lovers at Percy Scenic Reserve in Lower Hutt. It’s free, there are lots of walks, there’s a waterfall, duck pond and a weta cave. Also in Lower Hutt, Benedict’s Cafe in Maungaraki was recommended by a mum because it has a “pimped out” kids area. “Admission is… the price of a cup of coffee? And they don’t mind if your kid shrieks.”
Avalon Park in Lower Hutt is amazing. It has a huge (and I mean huge) adventure playground and a bike and scooter road way complete with stop signs and roundabout. The whole park is six hectares and you can easily spend a day there – there are picnic tables and free BBQs. There’s shade by the park and it has some great water activities, including a lovely little toddler stream, for children in the playground. There’s stuff for older kids too – a confidence course, twin flying fox and rock climbing walls. It’s relatively new, having opened in 2016, and it caters for all ages. It’s not fenced though. Dogs can’t come into the playground. There is playground equipment for children with disabilities.
Waikanae Pool was described as “outdoor glory for all the family!” by one mum. She said it has a baby pool, under eight pool, big pool, water slide, trees, grass, bbqs to hire… Best of all, it’s council owned so pretty cheap. If you’re in Waikanae there’s plenty to do. One mum says: “Nga Manu Bird Reserve in Waikanae has a family pass offer at the moment. But check if trains are running; if so, it’s a fab ride and there are buses from the train to the beach.”