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12 things to do in New Zealand with kids

With the exciting announcement of the trans-Tasman bubble, it’s a great time so start planning a family holiday across the ditch. Whether you’re seeking active adventures, cultural encounters or eco experiences, PIPPA STRICKLAND shares some ideas to get you started.

1. Shamarra Alpacas

a boy with fendi the alpaca at shamarra alpacas in new zealand
A boy with Fendi the alpaca at Shamarra Alpacas in New Zealand

Just a stone’s throw across the water from Akaroa on the South Island is this spectacularly positioned farm, which is home to more than 170 photogenic alpacas. With several awards under their belt, the alpacas produce a gorgeous natural fibre that’s transformed into clothing, blankets and accessories (all of which are available for purchase onsite). Join a guided tour to learn about the quirky nature of alpacas and interact with the farm’s friendly herd during feeding time, while enjoying the superb views across the Akaroa Harbour.

shamarra-alpacas.co.nz

2. Weta Workshop

weta workshop in wellington, new zealand
Weta Workshop in Wellington

Movie buffs shouldn’t miss a visit to the Weta Workshop, which offers immersive tours through its creative spaces in Wellington and Auckland. It all started with busloads of Lord of the Rings fans wanting to see what went on behind the scenes, and has evolved into an experience like no other. You’ll learn how to make movie effects and get up close to authentic props while discovering how the imaginary worlds of horror, fantasy and sci-fi are brought to life on the big screen. If that’s not enough, the kids can pick up tools for their own creative filmmaking journeys at the Weta Cave retail store.

wetanz.com

3. TSS Earnslaw and Walter Peak Farm Tour

a family waving at the tss earnslaw in queenstown, new zealand
A family waving at the TSS Earnslaw in Queenstown

Framed by snow-capped peaks, Queenstown is a popular South Island destination. One of the best ways to experience it is aboard the century-old TSS Earnslaw steamship, which offers scenic cruises along the reflective waters of Lake Wakatipu. Kids will love seeing the giant steam engines at work and enjoying the alpine scenery from the bridge, with food and drinks available at the Promenade Café. You can opt for just the cruise or combine it with a visit to the picturesque Walter Peak High Country Farm to experience the rural lifestyle of New Zealanders first-hand.

realjourneys.co.nz

4. Central Otago Rail Trail

a family cycling the central otago rail trail in new zealand. image tourism central otago hayden parsons
A family cycling the Central Otago Rail Trail . Image: Tourism Central Otago - Hayden Parsons

If you’re a family of cyclists, why not follow part (or all) of the Central Otago Rail Trail, which was the first of its kind in the country when it opened in 2000. It follows the former Otago Central railway line for 152km, between Middlemarch and Clyde, with a gentle gradient that makes it ideal for kids. You’ll experience rural landscapes that aren’t easily accessible by other means, and learn about the fascinating history of what was once considered one of the world’s greatest train trips.

otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz

5. Zealandia

little spotted kiwi at zealandia night tour, new zealand. image jo moore
Little Spotted Kiwi at ZEALANDIA Night Tour. Image: Jo Moore

As the world’s first completely fenced eco-sanctuary in an urban area, Zealandia is a landmark wildlife park in the heart of Wellington. It protects around 225ha of native forest that provides habitat for more than 40 rare wildlife species, many of which can be spotted on self-guided or guided walking tours. Keep an eye out for New Zealand kaka and colourful tui birds as you explore the trails by day, together with tuatara reptiles, which are so ancient they originated in the Triassic period. After dark, you can join one of the Kids’ Night Walks to experience the magical display of glow worms and see flightless kiwis fossicking for food.

visitzealandia.com

6. International Antarctic Centre

the international antarctic centre in auckland, new zealand
The International Antarctic Centre in Auckland

Ever wanted to experience life in Antarctica (without having to head across the Drake Passage)? You can do just that at the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch. After being buffeted by -18°C winds in the Storm Dome, you can jump aboard their amphibious vehicle, Hägglund, to experience driving across the ice. Watch as the adorable little blue penguins are fed, and immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes of Antarctica in the 4D Theatre. There’s also an interactive Antarctic Gallery where you can see what life is like at Scott Base and try on extreme cold weather clothing.

iceberg.co.nz

7. Skiing and snowboarding

a snowboard lesson at coronet peak, new zealand
A snowboard lesson at Coronet Peak

For Aussie families, New Zealand is a very popular destination for skiing and snowboarding, with wide, open runs that are ideal for beginner and intermediate snow bunnies. There are plenty of resorts to choose from, many of which have dedicated kids’ programs and/or child-minding services, as well as self-catering apartments right on their doorstep.

Cardrona is one of the most visited resorts in the country and features three bowls spread across 400ha of terrain. It offers ski lessons for under 5s and programs for kids up to 14 years of age, as well as a Ski Kindy for toddlers as young as three months.

Closer to Queenstown you’ll find Coronet Peak, which offers sweeping views across Lake Wakatipu. You can ski from as early as 8am until 9pm (on select days) and the on-site Skiwiland offers daily kids programs led by fully qualified staff.

riding the chairlift at cardrona alpine resort, new zealand
Riding the chairlift at Cardrona Alpine Resort

On the south-eastern shore of Lake Wakatipu is The Remarkables, which features three bowls, wide learner slopes and plenty of off-piste skiing. Aside from its four existing chairlifts, the resort has opened the Sugar Bowl chairlift, which adds an extra 2.5km of trails.

Located just 25 minutes’ drive from the heart of Wanaka, Treble Cone is the largest ski area on the South Island and boasts stunning views of the Southern Alps. It features the longest vertical rise in the region and uncrowded trails, plus a learner area directly adjacent to its base lodge and cafe.

Consistently voted New Zealand’s best ski resort, Mt Hutt offers 385ha of skiable terrain to the west of the Canterbury Plains. As well as the highest chairlift on the South Island, it has two conveyor lifts on its learners’ slopes, and kids 7 and under can ski for free.

On the North Island is the country’s largest ski resort, Whakapa, which lies within the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Tongariro National Park. Combined with the neighbouring ski resort of Tūroa, it has 1,050ha of terrain, with both accessible on a single lift pass. The Happy Valley and Alpine Meadow areas are both ideal for families and children taking their first ski steps.

8. Hobbiton Movie Set

visiting hobbiton is a magical experience in new zealand. image sara orme
Visiting Hobbiton is a magical experience. Image: Sara Orme

Step into the world of Middle-Earth in the heart of Waikato on the North Island on a guided tour through the Shire. Serving as Hobbiton in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, you’ll discover why the director, Sir Peter Jackson, decided to transform these lush pastures into his movie set. See some of the most famous locations that appeared on the big screen, including the Hobbit Holes and the Mill, and learn how this fantasy world was brought to life. You’ll end your adventure at the famous Green Dragon Inn with a well-earned Hobbit Southfarthing drink.

hobbitontours.com

9. Outdoor adventures

a family fishing in wanaka. image miles holden
A family fishing in Wanaka. Image: Miles Holden

Blessed with magnificent landscapes and a national love of the great outdoors, New Zealand is an adventure paradise. You can go kayaking in glorious Abel Tasman National Park, fish for trout in the Tongariro River or stretch your legs along one of the countless hiking trails. If that’s not enough, there’s also white water rafting, jet boating and spelunking in the spellbinding Waitomo Caves.

1O. Tamaki Maori Village

see a cultural performance at tamaki maori village, new zealand
See a cultural performance at Tamaki Maori Village

Voted as one of the top 10 tourist attractions in the world, the Tamaki Māori Village is an essential stop on any North Island itinerary. Located 15km south of Rotorua, this recreated traditional village takes you on a journey back in time to experience what life was like in Aotearoa before Europeans arrived. After a Whakatau ceremony on arrival, you’ll learn how to make Māori dishes and enjoy a hangi feast before being treated to live performances and storytelling.

tamakimaorivillage.co.nz

11. Waiheke Island

a family preparing to go ziplining on waiheke island
A family preparing to go ziplining on Waiheke Island

Ringed by beautiful stretches of sand and blanketed in vineyards, Waiheke Island is just a 40-minute ferry ride away from Auckland. You can spend lazy days at the beach, fly through the forest by zipline or embark on a heli-horse trek to experience the island from above and below. There are plenty of cafes, art galleries and shops to explore in Oneroa Village, which also hosts a Sunday market with live music and local goods available for purchase.

tourismwaiheke.co.nz

12. Hot springs

a hot spring in rotorua bay of plenty
A hot spring in Rotorua, Bay of Plenty

Thanks to its volcanic and geothermal activity, New Zealand has no shortage of hot springs where you can marvel at the wonders of Mother Nature or enjoy a well-earned soak. Hit the waterslides of the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools (New Zealand’s largest) or take advantage of the family-friendly pools in the Bay of Plenty region.

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