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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?).

20140126_135455Cri­ter­ia 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,

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, 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, 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.

20140126_161815There’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, 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,

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, 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.


Steve Joll

Steve works as part of the breakfast show on wellington's The Breeze radio station. In past lives he's been a sports journalist for ONE News, a presenter on iconic children's show What Now and one heck of a forecourt attendant. He has three kids: a talkative son (Theo), aged six, and twin daughters (Margaux and Lila), aged three. He adores them and yet is counting down the days until they leave home. It seems a long way off.

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