The Baithouse Aquarium, Taonga (Treasure) on Wellington’s South Coast

Wellington’s South Coast is an authentic treasure map, drawn across a spectacular landscape.  It is the sort of place that takes your breath away, whether you are a skeptical landlubber or a seafaring adventurer.  From the Easter Island Moai in Lyall Bay, to DOC’s visitor center at Red Rocks, the coastline calls to be explored in both peaceful and rambunctious tones.

The treasure itself, like any self-respecting booty, is hidden, locked away in a chest that is modest and small.  This treasure chest takes the form of an old yellow bait house on the rocky shores East of the beach at Island Bay.

And every Sunday, it is unlocked by Julian Hodge, the manager, and Wellington’s own Urashima Tarō, a man who was given a strongbox by the goddess of the sea, in return for a lifetime lost in her kingdom.  In the Japanese legend, however, the chest contains the man’s old age, while this chest contains the city’s very youth.


Even after studying marine biology for over seven years, I still feel like a kid every time I peer into the touch tank to see the huge diversity of life that comes right from the fringes of our shore.

The experience recalls Wellington’s legendary beauty and character, for unlike other sterile aquariums, the Bait House Aquarium is a tribute to Kiwi charm.  Indeed, it lures the local and international visitor to become a part of the culture and biodiversity of the Southern Sea.


The aquarium is child friendly, and toddlers stand up on overturned colored bins marked with the octopus logo to get their first glimpse and feel of an echinoderm (sea star, sea cucumber, or sea urchin) or of a wandering Anemone or Duck Billed Limpet.


Adults tend to be most impressed by the intelligent Octopus, masters of camouflage and predation, and by the giant crabs from the bottom of Cook Straight and the huge crayfish that they have only seen in their diving dreams.


Some animals, such as the big crayfish and the larger gropers, have been part of the aquarium for decades, where others are fresh arrivals from Julian’s most recent collecting trip or straight from the bounty of a fisherman’s net.


During feeding time is perhaps most exciting time to visit, and the audience often watches on tiptoe as the big fish and the octopus snatch up mollusks and crustaceans from the tops of their tanks.


For those whose appetites are only wetted, and I am referring to you human visitors, the education center also has expertly guided snorkeling tours through the Taputeranga Marine Reserve.  In this recovering marine environment, beginners and advanced underwater explorers alike are initiated into a world where exciting finds are commonplace and animals behave as they would before man came to hunt and fish them.


Along the world-class snorkel trail we will look out for octopus, sea horses, rays and sea stars, and teach you about the intimacies and symbioses of the sub tidal ecosystem.


I have heard some local visitors say that they have lived in Wellington their whole lives and regret having never before stopped into the Bait House, and others, who are only visiting the city, exclaim how thankful they are that they did not miss out on Wellington’s number one attraction.


as the poet baba dioum said “people conserve only what we love, love only what we understand, and understand only what we are taught.” Join us this spring and summer on a learning adventure along the south coast, and let us share with you Wellington’s best-guarded secret.