On Saturday night, we arrived in Auckland after a 4-hour flight. It was a nice late-afternoon flight that would get us into Auckland at 9 pm local time. We checked into our hotel in the CBD with a view of the harbour. Our trip to New Zealand had just begun.
Trip to New Zealand: The first days in Auckland
Top of the boys’ list was a visit to Hobbiton, the set of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, deep in the NZ countryside. We booked tickets online and hired a car. Hobbiton was worth the drive if you’re a fan of the movies. You get a 2 hour guided tour of the outdoor set, which is pretty interesting, followed by a jug of cider in the Green Dragon Inn. The weather was glorious, so it felt like being in a little English village in the summer!
Back in Auckland, we met with some Kiwi friends. Then, the grown-ups went for a delicious meal at a restaurant overlooking the marina. What a full first day of our trip to New Zealand!
We spent the morning at the Museum of Auckland. It’s in a beautiful heritage building set in parkland; lots of space around it for the kids to run. A fantastic Maori cultural performance struck a chord with my younger son. He has been practising the dances and warrior movements ever since. In the meteorological section, a ‘volcano house’ simulates the experience of being in Auckland when a volcano erupts. Fun and also enjoyable, with lots of other volcano-related exhibits around it. We also enjoyed the War Museum, part of the Auckland Museum, telling the story of the country’s role in major wars.
After the museum, we explored the nearby Parnell area. We found a sweet bakery called Pukeko, and in another Parnell bakery, my son tried a cronut. He is a doughnut enthusiast and has been wanting to try a cronut forever. Verdict – delicious!
Back in the CBD, we visited the lovely old Smith & Caughey’s department store, their Easter display was impressive, and we also loved the Civic Theatre, an incredible restored 1920s picture palace. We were tired after all this walking, so we went to bed early. The second day of our trip to New Zealand was terrific!
I had been invited to have a tour of Seedling’s flagship store in Remuera, so I jumped at the chance! As well as a vast space to showcase Seedling’s impressive toy range, the store is also a party venue. When they arrive, children are welcomed into a massive room with dress-ups and a circus-style photo backdrop. Then it’s into the main party room with hanging banners specially designed to turn it from a knight’s palace into a flower garden, a space station… little guests get to do a Seedling activity and eat party food, and then of course play lots of party games. There is also a tea party room, gorgeously painted furniture, a cake decorating station, a mini milk bar and a coffee shop. I love this space and came away with many ideas for our next store. Seedling’s collection encourages kids to be active and creative and is genuinely inspiring.
After lunch, we caught a ferry across to Devonport. We stopped at Yoghurt Story for a treat. Aucklanders sure like their frozen yoghurt; there are yoghurt bars everywhere you look! We enjoyed the Yoghurt Story chain best as the décor is entertaining, with swing seats for kits, big retro machines serving out the yoghurt, and tonnes of lolly toppings!
We saw another beautiful old theatre in Devonport. I also found a great store run by a Swedish lady with exquisite homewares, authentic fur throws, and cute Scandi gifts. Another big day was over, and the sun shone for us all day!
We went for a slap-up breakfast in the Westmere area near the bay. We then walked down to Auckland Zoo, admiring the pretty houses and the fantastic views over the bay. We all loved Auckland Zoo; it is family-friendly and big enough to spend a few hours there, but not too huge. The animals looked very happy and well cared-for, and we loved the giraffes, the pigs, and the Kea birds best. The spider monkeys were very entertaining, jumping and playing in the trees with their babies on their backs, but the real star of the show was Pabu the red panda, born in the zoo. What a sweetie! I was impressed by the food at the zoo café; it was well-priced with lots of healthy salads and kids’ options. There was also a perfect children’s animal-themed play area, water taps, and interactive shows throughout the day.
After a swim at the pool in our hotel, we went for a pizza at That’s Amore in the CBD, a unique little café we’d discovered earlier in our trip. It’s a tiny place and not easy to find, but it’s a gem! I had planned an evening treat for everyone to mark our last night in Auckland, a visit to the theatre to see an acrobatic performance by the Canadian troupe Vague de Cirque. It was spectacular and pretty funny too. There seems to be a vibrant theatre and film scene in Auckland; I am jealous!
Our last morning in Auckland. We took a stroll around the Ponsonby area. Visited lots of little vintage clothing stores around the area. Also a fab children’s bookshop to stock up on reading matters for our journey to Wellington. I love the old milk bars around Auckland; they are everywhere! Ponsonby Road is full of character and we spent a whole morning exploring before stuffing ourselves on dips and boreks at an old-school Turkish café. Then we headed out to the airport for a one-hour flight to Wellington.
Trip to New Zealand: Heading to Wellington
Somehow between Auckland and Wellington, summer turned to winter. We arrived in the middle of a huge downpour and a freezing wind. We headed out for a walk around the city just to get our bearings. We ate yummy tacos and quesadillas in Cuba Mall at Viva Mexico café. That evening we stayed in the hotel and watched a family movie with room service.
In Wellington, we stayed at the Novotel, a fairly basic hotel but family-friendly. The food was surprisingly good, so we ate and snuggled up in our room; I love family movie nights! Of course, travelling with kids has its challenges. Still, it is also something that has brought us close together. We have a lot of fun family memories about pyjamas locked in hotel safes, blocked loos, terrible room service meals and strange encounters in hotel lifts!
Ok, I’ll be honest; Wellington is not in the top 10 prettiest cities we have visited. It does have notable buildings befitting a historic capital city and lots of beautiful art deco architecture. Still, sometime in the 1980s, many bad planning decisions were made, and it is hard to see all the beauty now unless you really look for it.
On Friday morning, there was a brief hiatus from the rain. Hence, we returned to Cuba Mall and the area around it, checking out the vintage and handmade shops, loving all the little pop-up coffee shops and cafés, and admiring New Zealand designers.
Wellington is small enough to get around on foot, so you can see every part of the city and discover the unique vibe, from the upmarket harbour area to the more down-at-heel theatre district with strip clubs and old cinemas.
Around lunchtime, the rain started to fall again. Hence, we caught a taxi over to Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, in a modern building on the waterfront. Our taxi driver was so friendly and gave us lots of tips. Te Papa was AWESOME! We spent 4 hours there. The museum is architecturally excellent, built right into the bay so that you feel connected with the environment. There are many interactive elements for kids, but it manages to be educational also. We explored the Environment section and took a simulated submarine voyage down to the bottom of the ocean to see the ‘black smoke’ underwater volcanoes. We also spent ages in the cultural history section, learning about how New Zealanders have lived over the years, significant events like the Rainbow Warrior, political activism, immigration and childhood.
The boys did not get bored at all, but there was a well-placed children’s section next to the history exhibits where you could take a break if you were travelling with younger kids. We ate at an excellent Malaysian restaurant for dinner and then returned to the hotel exhausted.
More rain, so we couldn’t go out on a boat or on foot, so we headed back to Te Papa again, where sunshine arrived in the form of a Caribbean community day. The boys made tin drums and danced much to the Steel Pans band who had travelled from Auckland. The museum visitors got into it, and I met a lovely lady called Rachel from the band who was English like me but now lives in NZ. When the band had finished playing, there was a workshop, and my youngest son proved to be a natural at the big bass drums, so much so that the band wanted him to join! We had lunch at the café, which was really impressive – kids could fill a bag with five items for just $7.50. This included marmite sandwiches, muesli bars, carrot sticks with hummus, tiny teddies, jelly, etc. Fantastic.
After lunch, we returned to the History section as I was keen to visit Golden Days. I think I already mentioned that there is a vintage-loving vibe in Wellington; this is the only museum I’ve seen that has an exhibit where you get to sit in a vintage armchair or garden chair and watch an antique shop come to life around you!! Seriously this was brilliant; the idea is that you are locked in an old store overnight, and the shop objects each tell stories displayed on a cinema screen – around themes like love, vacations, disasters, sport etc. I love museums and have visited some very odd ones (e.g. the parasite museum in Tokyo and the alcohol museum in Stockholm), but this was a pretty unique experience for me!!
We were on our way to the Wellington City & Sea Museum, which has apparently been voted among the world’s top 50 museums. It is just a small museum with three levels, but it gives a perfect idea of Wellington’s history as a city on the sea. The most left an impression on us was an exhibition about a ferry disaster in Wellington harbour in 1968, where over 50 people died. There was an incredibly poignant documentary showing objects from the fatal crossing. I wouldn’t recommend it for young kids, but it is well worth seeing.
After the museums, we walked across the harbour to the theatre district, where we ate a hearty meal and drank some excellent Waiheke wine.
As this was our last night in Wellington, we’d booked a show, this time screening of the classic film The Third Man at the restored Embassy Theatre. This building is stunning, from the tiles in the toilets to the sweeping staircase and the great auditorium! One of the good things about your kids getting older is that you aren’t restricted to little kids’ movies; we all loved the film. We treated ourselves to some lolly bags. From huge dusty milk bottles to pineapple lumps, chocolate fish, and jelly aeroplanes, Kiwis love their lollies, and so do we! After the movie, we snuck down through the tunnels underneath the auditorium into the basement of the Embassy, where there was a jazz band with a girl singer playing, just to listen for a few minutes.
Last day of our trip. Our flight was not until 3.40 pm, but this was a good thing because it meant we had time to visit the Weta Cave, which was only ten minutes from Wellington airport in Miramar. Weta is the workshop producing the award-winning digital film effects for which NZ has become world-famous and the base for Peter Jackson’s film company.
The Weta Cave had a shop with ‘collectibles’ hand-painted by the same artists who work on the films, but this didn’t really appeal to me. I did, however, love the 45-minute behind-the-scenes tour of the workshop. This is a popular Wellington attraction, and the tour guides are all employees from the studio; the boys loved trying on the prosthetics, fake chain mail and beards, and the tour gave a real insight into how movies come to life. We had a blast, which was a great way to end our trip. So off we went to the airport for a nice Qantas flight back to Melbourne and a drive home to Ballarat, where our pets gave us their usual over-the-top so-thrilled-to-see-us big welcome. It’s good to be home!
This was our first trip to New Zealand, and we concentrated on the main cities on the North Island. We hope to go back to explore the South Island and visit the scenic areas of the North Island. Still, we will revisit Auckland and Wellington, as both cities charmed us differently. We came back feeling very inspired and content! I recommend both cities for family-friendly holidays or a more grown-up romantic break.