“… every person, when he or she is young, dreams of finding some enchanted place, of beautiful mountains and breathtaking coastline and clear lakes and amazing wildlife, and most people give up on it because they never get to New Zealand.”
~ US President Bill Clinton, Auckland, 1999.
There are many reasons to visit the beautiful cities of Napier and Wellington. As a family, we are always looking for places to travel to that provide lots of opportunities to explore and learn about the country we are visiting. One of our goals for this year was to find places where we could create a home base for a week or more. There were many reasons for this. First of all, we wanted to make sure we were not always moving, unpacking and packing, rushing from place to place. We knew this would be hard on all of us. Secondly, we wanted a chance to really dive deeper into the community. This would allow us the opportunity to really get to know the area. Staying for longer periods of time also provides more chances of stumbling upon an event or activity unique to the area, like the time we were in Montepulciano and were able to attend a medieval festival.
Napier and near-by Wellington were the perfect places for our family to set up camp for two weeks. Here are our family’s top 5 reasons to visit Napier and Wellington.
Napier: The Art Deco Capital of the World
Driving into Napier, we weren’t sure what to expect. We had loved Hamilton so much, we didn’t know how Napier would be able to compare. Luckily, Napier had the perfect blend of cool activities and unique sights.
Napier’s major claim to fame is it’s
Discovering the History of Napier and Wellington
Napier had been a bustling town prior to 1931. However, it has the unfortunate luck of being built extremely close to a major fault line. In 1931, disaster struck and Napier was leveled by a major earthquake. The Napier Museum had a wonderful exhibit detailing life before and after the earthquake. With so much of the town damaged, rebuilding Napier was going to be a major undertaking. With some forethought to the future of Napier, the city rebuilding group decided to focus the rebuilding efforts around an Art Deco theme. Bringing in Designers from around the world to help with planning, a vibrant city that brings the 1930’s to life was born. It has now become a major destination for tourists and cruise ships. There were a number of cruise ships that passed through the city while we were there.
The kids enjoyed the museum which had activities for them to do as they explored the building, including a little scavenger hunt. The museum was just the right size for them. By the time we were done viewing the museum, we felt like we had easily seen everything. The museum was also free, which was very nice.
The New Zealand National Museum, or Te Papa in Wellington, in contrast, was huge. The first exhibit we went to was the Gallipoli exhibit. Gallipoli is very important to New Zealanders and Australians being the major conflict of the First World War where huge numbers of New Zealanders lost their lives. It was an attempt to capture a significant stronghold in Turkey, which would open up another front for the Allies to attack Germany. They did not succeed and eventually had to withdraw but not before losing 44,000 Allied troops. Much like our Passchendaele or Vimy Ridge, Gallipoli is very meaningful to New Zealanders. The exhibit was amazingly detailed and very interactive. The kids thoughtfully looked through the various exhibits and came out with a very good understanding of not only Gallipoli but also of the War itself. It was nice to add another aspect to their understanding of WWI, having been to Flander’s Fields and a few other WWI sites in Belgium. The exhibit also had amazingly life-like statues of a few of the soldiers and other
The rest of the museum passed by like a blur after the Gallipoli exhibit. There were a number of exhibits and displays about the Maori people. Siena and Liam drew a lot of comparisons with the treatment of the First People’s populations in Canada, which was very interesting. Liam also enjoyed the display on invasive species. Each species was hidden in a common object and he had to find the insect, snake or other species. We all enjoyed wandering around the beautifully built and engaging museum learning all about New Zealand.
Museums can sometimes be hit or miss with children, but both the New Zealand National Museum and the Napier Museum were significant in helping us to understand New Zealand history and culture. Both museums had interactive and informative exhibits that the children enjoyed viewing and both museums were located in fun, trendy locations.
Enjoying Craft Beer and Visiting Wineries
Napier is an
We had a hard time choosing from all the choices around Napier. Ultimately, we decided to take a chance on some of the recommendations we read about in the Lonely Planet guide. We started at the Mission Estate Winery, which is the oldest winery in New Zealand. Set on a beautiful hillside property, the old house was the perfect location to start our tour! The kids loved exploring the gardens and area around the house. From there, we went along to the Church Road Winery. This was a very different style of
On another day, we went out to visit an organic winery called, Moana Park winery. We enjoyed the difference in taste as the wine had no
The last couple of wineries we visited were very different from each other in style and size. Clearview Estate Winery was a smaller winery with delicious wine. We also enjoyed this winery because there was a great little playground for the kids to play on! In contrast, Elephant Hills Winery reminded us more of the wineries in California and the Okanagan. It was bigger, more polished and slightly less welcoming to families because of this. It was probably our least favorite of the wineries.
While there are not as many craft breweries as there are wineries, we still found a couple that
The Brave Brewery was located in Hastings and reminded us a lot of the Fieldhouse Brewery located in Abbotsford. This one had a more urban feel to it but the beer and food were very good. We had the chicken wings and discovered that chicken wings in New Zealand are very different than the ones in North America. When you order chicken wings in New Zealand, you get the whole wing, not just pieces! They were still very tasty. Gods Own Brewery was our favorite craft brewery, though. Despite the pretentious sounding name (actually more of a nickname describing the beauty of New Zealand), the brewery was anything but. Located way out in the countryside, the brewery had converted a couple of old trailers into a bar. Surrounding the trailers, was a playground and a sitting area consisting of an old safari tent and various clusters of patio
Geeking Out At Weta Workshop
No trip to Wellington is complete without a stop to Weta Workshop. Wellington is the center of the movie industry on the North Island and Weta Workshop is one of the most important residents.
Weta Workshop designs and builds many of the props, structures and digital scenes used in movies today. However, Weta gets most of their fame and attention from their contributions to the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, which were all filmed in New Zealand. With huge numbers of tourists clambering to see anything related to these movies, Weta opened up their studios for tours of the facilities.
Arriving at Weta Workshop, we were immediately greeted by the three cave trolls from the first Hobbit movie. They were standing outside within the trees glaring at the tourists as they flocked around the statutes to take pictures. Of course, we had to take some pictures with the trolls as well. When our tour was toured, we were taken into the back area of the studio. On the tour, we got to view and play with a number of the props from various movies. The kids loved being able to touch the props from the movies. They even got to carry a sword for the whole entire tour! The tour was a lot of fun for all of us. It was fun learning about the process used to create movie magic, seeing many of the famous props from the movies (my favorites were the armour created for Sauron and the armour made for King Theoden) and hearing the behind the scenes stories. The Weta Workshop was definitely a highlight!
The Gardens and Harbour of Wellington
With our hotel right in the middle of the downtown, we were able to walk easily to a number of interesting Wellington sights. The harbourfront has seen lots of rejuvenation over recent years and it was fun to see all the unique buildings, shops, and little additions. It was quite trendy and there were lots of people hanging around enjoying the fun atmosphere. One of the more unique sights we saw was the diving apparatus set up right in the middle of the boardwalk. A big hole was cut out of the boardwalk and a wide range of people were diving into the harbour water. A large effort must have been made to make sure the harbour water was clean, as I would not usually want to swim along the edge of a major city. However, lots of young people were climbing the apparatus and jumping off. It looked like a lot of fun, and I’m not even a swimmer!
Strangely enough, the best part of the botanical gardens in Wellington are not the gardens. It’s the funicular, the only funicular in New Zealand. The cable car transports you to the gardens, at the top of Wellington, in style! Built in 1898, the funicular continues to carry passengers up to the top of Wellington with fantastic views along the way. The fun part was going through the tunnels. The kids were surprised to see the tunnels light up with a light show!
Ending at the top of the cliff, you are quickly surrounded by the gardens which encompass a vast amount of land. One of the areas the kids enjoyed was the Discovery Gardens, where kids could learn all about gardening, common gardening plants and use natural materials to build their own tent. The kids liked that part the best, though there was a lot of negotiating happening. The result was….well, let’s just say that we won’t depend on the kids for our accommodations. However, they had a lot of fun in the garden. From there we just wandered along the pastoral pathways, enjoying the beautiful day and winsome gardens.
While Napier and Wellington hold many other top attractions to visit, these were our top 5 reasons to visit Napier and Wellington. We would love to come back to enjoy more of the wineries and experience the Art Deco festival in Napier and spend more time exploring more of the trendy neighbourhoods of Wellington. New Zealand has so much to offer and Christchurch beckons us!