Introducing our three kid critics
Charlie is seven. He’s clever and full of energy and a fast learner. He’s also analytical, which gave us someone in the group who could spot the flaws and the short cuts.
Ana is a 12-year-old with an extraordinary intellect. She’s observant and discerning and smart. This is the only way to explain how she was able to beat me twice at the giant Connect Four game in Te Papa’s Discovery Centre.
Theo is my six-year-old son. His special abilities include being able to speak non-stop from the second he wakes up until shortly after he goes to sleep. He moves in the same way a hummingbird does and can focus on any given task for almost as long as it takes to tell him what the task is. He is the ultimate test of whether a place can keep a child entertained.
When deciding on family activities these are the important considerations parents take into account:
Weather. Let’s be honest, we love this city but there’s not a single person in history who ever came here for the climate. With 122 wet days a year, weather is the basis of almost every decision and what to do with the kids is no exception. For most of us, heavy rain or strong wind mean a lot of the free or low-cost options are suddenly out. Which brings us to important consideration number two:
Expense. Kids love movies, but to get three of them in, then spring for popcorn, ice-creams, different drink options and parking, will mean taking a second job or setting up a Ponzi scheme to cover it. And when you get in there one of them will need to go to the toilet, they’ll fight over who wanted which drink and chocolate dip will drip funky patterns onto formerly clean clothes. There we have important consideration number three:
Hassle. There are some places that actively encourage parental participation and others that are more ‘free-range’. Maybe you’re just in the mood to sit and have a coffee and keep a casual eye on the carnage with a mind to picking up the pieces afterwards.
Important considerations your children take into account:
Fun. And that’s it. Nothing else matters, except possibly how long it will take to get to wherever the fun is happening (are we there yet, ARE WE THERE YET?).
Criteria decided, I should point out that what follows is by no means a complete guide. It is simply a smattering of ideas that might keep the kids occupied with relatively little drain on their inheritance. Think of this as a smorgasbord of child-friendly dishes, some of them large and fulfilling, a few small and delicious, and the occasional little surprise with a fragrant jus.
In forming the opinions delivered herein the research has been extensive and exhaustive. By which I mean that my mate Ben and I took his two kids and one of mine to a handful of places one recent weekend to get a handle on which of the aforementioned ‘important considerations’ were met and to what degree.
Without wanting to beat the smorgasbord analogy to death, let’s pick out some of the morsels you might not have noticed before we take on that big, juicy, obvious dish in the middle. We can all see it, and don’t panic – we’ll come to it soon enough. But first a whetting of the proverbial appetite.
Dry days in Wellington city are easy: Waitangi Park for scooting and skating and shooting hoops, or the playground at Freyberg Beach. If you’re on the other side of the boatshed, grab a Gelissimo Gelato and watch helicopters come and go, or hire a paddle boat at $40 (three people in the boat for an hour) and look back at Wellington from the water.
Now, put them in the car and head south through Brooklyn, along Happy Valley and into Carlucci Land (281 Happy Valley Road, carlucciland.co.nz).
Carl Gifford is an artist with a vision and an enormous chunk of land upon which he has installed a mini-golf course crowded with sculptures and original contraptions that help get the ball from one green to the next. To confine your visit just to mini golf is doing a disservice to the hundreds, maybe thousands, of stone and rusted-steel artworks on display all the way up the hill, but there’s no doubt that on the day we visited the golf was the main attraction. Even in a brisk southerly with rain threatening it was busy.
Given the amount of time it takes to complete the course, and the fact that there’s so much else to see, you have to say that the $12 per adult and $7 for children is money well spent. There was universal approval from the adults and children alike, though Theo’s favourite aspect of it was that, “We all took turns!” What that says about his home life, I’m not sure. Here’s an idea: pack a picnic lunch, pay your way in and head up into the trees to enjoy the ham and cheese sandwiches before you tee off.
Okay, so beaches and parks and mini golf are fine in the fine, but what about when it’s not?
Ferg’s (6 Queens Wharf, fergskayaks.co.nz) has a rock-climbing wall that can chew up an hour and is a lot of fun, though, again, if you’re talking about you and a couple of kids plus harness hire and parking, then plan for upwards of $50. On the other side of the TSB Arena is our very own, internationally recognized Museum of City and Sea (Bond Store, Jervois Quay, museumswellington.org.nz/museum-of-wellington-city-and-sea). About this time last year, The Times newspaper in London ranked it as number 41 in its list of the world’s top 50 museums. No small honour. The word ‘museum’ has a way of making kids roll their eyes and gag, but if you can get them in the door they’ll love it.
Park the car in town, head into Kirks and find the candy counter. Take the sweets to the street and cross the road to the cable car. Theo called this the roller coaster all the way up and then down again, but didn’t seem disappointed by the lack of rolling and plummeting and screaming. In fact, post-trip he called this the coolest part of the day. A return ticket for the family on the cable car is $17.
There’s a gentle bounce as you dock at the new terminal on Upland Road (which, at the time of writing, still had that ‘new terminal’ smell). From there the Cable Car Museum (1 Upland Road, wellingtoncablecar.co.nz) is free and fun and will keep them occupied for at least 30 minutes. Or if that doesn’t spark immediate interest, it’s a surprisingly short walk up to the Carter Observatory (Botanic Garden, Kelburn, carterobservatory.org).
Confession: we took the kids in between planetarium shows and I felt that without that the prices for entry ($18.50 for adults, $8 for kids) were steep. Make sure you check ahead and go when there’s a show on – educational and spectacular. That said, all three kids absolutely loved the exhibitions and had a blast.
One of our favourite wet-day time-wasters is going to the library. My kids love trying to read on their own or having stories read to them, and Theo is more than a little impressed with himself for having a library card. He treats it like a magical credit card: “I just show them the card and I can take heaps of books home.”
And here it is. The big one we’ve been waiting for: Te Papa (55 Cable Street, tepapa.govt.nz). I’m sure you hate me for suggesting it, but the fact is that on a wet day this is about the best option anywhere. It’s easy, it’s low-cost and it’ll keep them going for hours. Heading into the imposing waterfront building, Ana was excited. “I love Te Papa,” she said. She’s a regular visitor and became our guide.
If you’ve never been, the best advice I can give you is this: ask for directions. As large as it seems on the outside, inside Te Papa is much, much bigger. They have people in blue shirts and red shirts, which I assume is some sort of Star Trek-inspired ranking system, and they can direct you to the best places to see. The handy-dandy hosts will lead you past the giant squid and into NatureSpace, and then up to the fourth floor and the Discovery Centre among other places, but here’s a heads-up on a couple of gems that they might forget to point out:
First, Theo was determined to brave the Earthquake House, which he duly did (with appropriate parental supervision). Afterwards he described it as “So cool,” and “So scary”, and as soon as the shaking had stopped he wanted to go straight back in.
Here’s one that’s not even on the map, though the key to finding it is that you walk across a map of New Zealand (OurSpace). From there, turn right into The Wall. Described as an interactive canvas, this place alone could have kept all three of our junior testers occupied for an entire afternoon. Between us, Ben and I can barely find our way around a mobile phone, so it was left to Ana to show us the most awesome device: you can take a photo of yourself, get it onto the wall, and then manipulate it with animation, cover it in graffiti, make it huge and other cool tricks.
A blue-shirted man told us at the outset that Te Papa is the number one wet weather attraction in Wellington and it’s easy to see why. “We’re swamped when it rains,” were his words. Inundated, I’m sure, and with good reason.
A note: there’s a cost for parking but no more here than anywhere else in the city, and if you want coffee and a snack then make sure there’s money on the Eftpos card. Other than that, you can have a perfectly entertaining day for nix.