By Mel Fernandez

Photo credit: Ayla Montecio

WELLINGTON – This is positively the go-to place for a short break. It is further afield than Hamilton, Tauranga and Rotorua, so you feel like you’ve gone away on a holiday and not just settled for a short side trip close to Auckland. And for city dwellers Wellington offers great CBD attractions, plus a host of exciting distractions all within close range.

We try to fly. But in order to take advantage of the $35 one-way cheap fares we really needed to plan ahead. As a family of four we found that the train journey turned out to be expensive and tediously slow for kids. And the buffet menu in the coaches is not very inspiring for such a long journey.

Then there’s always the monotonously long drive to Wellington. We found that the changing scenery and other breaks along the way can lose their appeal when you’ve been down that road a couple of times.

Shortly after an hour we landed at Wellington Airport, picked up our rental car (great online deals if you have a discount voucher) and headed straight to a good hotel (heavily discounted if you booked on Wotif, Expedia and the like).

When first-timers to the windy city gaze out of their hotel windows at the heavily built up, sprawling city centre, things may not look that promising. But if you happen to catch sight of the Beehive (the Parliament Building) tucked away in the midst of the concrete jungle then you will realise that one has to dig deeper to uncover the gems waiting to be discovered in our capital city.

A must do for the kids on this trip was the world famous 45-minute guided tour of the Weta Cave Workshop. A bunch of excited LOTR fans were patiently waiting in front of Weta Cave on the Miramar Peninsula, Wellington (located about 20 minutes away from the city centre).

There were three Filipino families among the group (no surprises there). As we got on the tour bus one family stayed behind. According to Juan (not his real name) his brother’s family have been on this tour a couple of times, in fact every time relatives from the old country visit, this is a go-to place.

Needless to say we LOTR film fans were blown away by being given this chance to learn the secrets behind film making on Miramar Peninsula. Satiated, we headed back to our hotel for a lie-down to let the WETA experience soak in.

Then it’s off to Lower Hutt town centre for an early dinner at Wellington’s one and only Filipino café hidden away in an arcade located along the main street.

To stretch your legs after a meal I would suggest that you pop over to the Petone beachfront about 10 minutes away from Lower Hutt. Dessert and a latte was called for at one of the ubiquitous cafes and then we had an early night.

The next day we had a full program. The kids were looking forward to a session at the quaint Carlucci Land mini-golf park at 281 Happy Valley Road, Owhiro Bay. It was exhilarating swinging golf clubs around after our less strenuous exertions the previous day.

The kids decided that we should take in Wellington Zoo, as it was fairly close to the golf park. True, this zoo pales in comparison to the one in Auckland, but the kids loved it just the same. After the zoo trip the kids wanted to return to Carlucci Land for another session … till late into the evening as it happened. I must admit that it was such fun.

That evening we went to check out the restaurants and cafes along Cuba Street – the culinary heart of Wellington. Nearly every eatery was chocka; you had to wait for seating. Note to self: not a good idea to come to Cuba Street during the weekend. After dinner the kids were worn out and slept soundly.

We chose a slower pace the next day as we had an evening flight. What better attraction to go to than Te Papa Museum, right in the heart of the city. Fortunately there’s always a spectacular exhibition happening at the Museum. We got to take in ‘Gallipoli – The Scale of our War’. It was an eye opener and a few teardrops fell while viewing this depiction of a bloody war in NZ history.

That ended our sojourn in windy Welly. Although we had our fill we could not get through all the attractions that the city had to offer on the trip. So we will return.