Wellington… with kids

It’s a little late, this travel piece on Wellington.  I came home from New Zealand to an avalanche of real work (and when you are talking snow, work piling up in your own business is about the only place you want an avalanche) and am only now just raising my head above the parapet.  

But I wanted to tell you about Wellington because it is gorgeous.  I absolutely loved it and highly recommend it as a city break.  It’s only three hours out of Sydney, after all.  Even with kids in tow (or especially with kids in tow) there is a lot to do in this quaint town (yes, I know I shouldn’t call New Zealand’s capital city quaint, but it just is… friendly, local, lovely, and surrounded by mountains of deep green folds that bring to mind Hobbiton – no surprise where home town boy Peter Jackson got his inspiration from.)

So, if you are in Wellington with kids, here are our top things to do with them  

Number one on the list has got to be Te Papa.  It’s a gorgeous, kid friendly museum in an airy and spacious building – sort of a cross between the Powerhouse Museum, Questacon and the Natural History Museum.  But the focus is on interactivity and on kids learning through playing.   Here our kids learned about earthquakes and deep sea animals, pushed buttons and twirled knobs, found a cave and played the bongoes.  It was a great way to get out of the wind and the rain – which is a pretty big feature of this part of the world.  Oh, and it is free! Bonus. 

IMG_4741 IMG_4750

For number two, we nominate the Botanical Gardens.  We did an orienteering adventure, arming the two small people with maps and letting them set the trail.  Along the way we stopped at a fabulous park, complete with flying fox and a very cool carving of “Gandolf” in an old tree stump.  There are artworks dotted around the place, which make for a great treasure hunt and lots of “off-piste” trails through the bush to make it interesting.   The Picnic Cafe serves fabulous food (allergy friendly too, which is always nice in our lives!)

IMG_4808 IMG_4798

Number three.  Wellington has a cable car and you must travel in it!  It is gorgeous to look at and fun to ride in.  Even as an adult.  You can catch it up from the city and get a wonderful panoramic view of Wellington once you get to the top.  From here, you can meander back down through the Botanical Gardens, or if it is late in the day, you can do a night time visit to the planetarium at the Carter Observatory, which is also on our list of top things to do when in Wellington with kids. 

View from the cable car in Wellington IMG_4730 

We visited the observatory on our first night in Wellington, which happened to be so clear we got a wonderful view of Saturn, rings and all, through a very old, very original telescope.  The Planetarium was fun too and educational, even if a little sore on the neck.  And the observatory museum itself is stunning.  I especially enjoyed how the Maori cosmology is interwoven through the exhibition.  It gives you a whole unique perspective on the night sky and some beautiful history to boot.  This was probably my favourite place we visited on our trip.


Finally, a trip to Wellington is not complete without a visit to the Weta Cave Workshop.  Smaller than expected, but a treasure trove of special effects and near-to-life characters, including the Trolls from The Hobbit and a tall and very blue Na’vi from Avatar. Unfortunately, you can’t actually get to see these amazing artists at work (too much behind the scenes secrecy perhaps), but the guides are people who also work on creating the special effects, so you get a good deal of insiders knowledge.  It’s not cheap, but even the seven year old loved it (and once the nine year old had ascertained the Trolls were not real, she got into it too).  

IMG_4812 IMG_4813

My favourite reason for being in Wellington, however, was catching up with very old and very dear friends.   When you are part of the scatterlings, it gives you great opportunity to visit your fellow Africans wherever the wind has taken them.  Not that you need an excuse to travel – of course not – but sometimes you need a direction to travel towards, a place to travel in.  I am not sure I would have got to Wellington without those friends, but now I know we will be back soon for a summer version of New Zealand, complete with camper van! 






Sort of skiing in Middle Earth

I have a friend who describes skiing as akin to being chased around an ice-box by a particularly ruthless burglar who steals all your money and bashes you black and blue. Two days in and wallet appreciably lighter, it is hard to find fault with this description. Certainly, as I wince my way down the icy pathway to the car, calves and thighs on fire, shins rubbing painfully against the tough plastic of my ski boots, I am prone to a little misery. Everything aches. Everything requires effort, even just getting home. And, to top it all off, it’s bloody cold.

But then, I pause for a moment to readjust the skis dangling precariously over my shoulder and happen to glance up, and the view takes my breath away. Despite the wind that has buffeted us senseless on the mountaintop, the day is clear, and beneath the blue sky, snow covered mountains stretch to the horizon. There is a black run piste below me, virginal white and thick with powder, and in the distance, in the valley nestled between dramatic and spectacular peaks, I can see Lake Wanaka as still and blue as a glacier.

All through our trip to the South Island of New Zealand I have been unable to stop referring to Lord of the Rings. I think it might be driving my husband balmy. But yes, I can see Legolas running though the yellowing grass on the bluff of a windswept hill. Today, as we battled blustery winds that gusted over the summit in showers of sparkling snow, I felt at one with Gandolf and the Fellowship, battling their way up a mountain that would give them no respite. We are well and truly in Middle Earth and should Aragorn appear, my family would probably lose me to swooning.

There is snow galore here, and more experienced snow boarders and skiers than I walk around with dazzling smiles on their sun kissed faces.

But it is not the depth of the powder, nor hurtling down the mountain at breakneck pace, that makes skiing a worthwhile holiday for me. Instead, it is the opportunity to be amongst beauty so spectacular it is almost unreal. To see the snow-white mountain peaks that soar above the vast tranquil expanse of Lake Wanaka glow pink in the morning light. To smell the warmth of wood fires on the crisp breath of winter in a ski village. To make a snowman with your children or to pretend to be outraged by a sneaky snowball thrown in your direction. This is what going on skiing holidays is about for me. Beauty, family and a treasure trove of memories that will last long after the aches and pains have subsided.