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New Zealand with Kids: Our Ultimate Guide for Fun Holidays

ELISABETH EASTHER and her son Theo shares some New Zealand family holiday insights for a perfect family holiday!

suited up to go jet boating at huka falls - a New Zealand family holiday
Suited up to go jet boating at Huka Falls

New Zealand. Until recently its main claim to fame regarding visitor safety was an absence of spiders, snakes and crocs, but now it is also being acclaimed worldwide for its success in eradicating COVID-19. And with talk of Australians soon being able to visit as part of a ‘Trans-Tasman bubble’, now is the time to plan a trip. Whether you want to explore 15,000km of pristine coastline, experience unique wildlife, from kiwi to kea, or experience the beloved New Zealand Cycle Trail, you’re bound to find a holiday here you and your kids will love.

Auckland, the City of Sails

enjoy the view from waiheke island with ecozip adventures suited up to go jet boating at huka falls - a New Zealand family holiday
Enjoy the view from Waiheke Island with EcoZip Adventures

The most densely populated city in the country, home to a not-especially whopping 1.6 million people, this harbourside haven is also known as the City of Sails, and is where you’ll find the landscape studded with 53 volcanic cones. For active kids, the islands of the Hauraki Gulf are an inspiring drawcard. Start with Waiheke, just 40 minutes from downtown by ferry, where you can soar over native forest on a zipline or try archery, skeet shooting or a segway tour.

Discover New Zealand’s islands

Neighbouring Rangitoto, the country’s youngest island, exploded onto the scene around 600 years ago and a clamber to the crater’s peak is always a thrill. Alternatively, 75 minutes by ferry, also from downtown, visit the pest-free paradise of Tiritiri Matangi. An island abundant with native bush, this open sanctuary is home to a wealth of wildlife including kiwi, penguins and the rare and inquisitive takahe bird, like a giant iridescent rainbow chicken. If time is on your side, take a trip to the Gulf’s largest and most remote island, because Aotea/Great Barrier is a revelation. Off-grid and comfortably rugged, the island is a Dark Sky Sanctuary and stargazing tours are out of this world. Or for a bird’s eye view of Auckland’s charms, take a short – and not too pricey – scenic flight with Auckland Seaplanes. Or stay down at sea level and enjoy one of a range of tours with Auckland Sea Kayaks, an extra special way to see the sea.

Northland: New Zealand's northernmost region

explore the bay of islands in northland. suited up to go jet boating at huka falls - a great New Zealand family holiday
Explore the Bay of Islands in Northland. Image: Shaun Jeffers-Paroa Bay Winery

Northland is a region that brims with Maori and European history and, from the earliest Polynesian explorers through to whalers, sealers and missionaries, they all left their mark. Whether you set up camp in the pretty seaside township of Russell, around 230km north of Auckland, or the more modern Bay of Islands village of Paihia, there’s plenty to see and do. Enjoy golden beaches and birdlife, including one of the country’s only residential populations of kiwi. Parasailing is a literal highlight, and to view the Bay of Islands while being towed above a boat is simultaneously serene and thrilling. Dolphins are resident around these waters, so a wildlife cruise to discover some of the bay’s 144 islands is a must.

Lots of adventures for the whole family

For the more adventurous, enter the underwater world and discover scuba diving at one of the two scuttled wrecks residing in the warm waters of the Bay of Islands, HMNZ Canterbury in Deep Water Cove or the Rainbow Warrior in Matauri Bay. Gain insight into Maori history at The Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the cultural show and museum have won many awards. If you’re a family of cyclists, tackle some or all of Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail. It’s 87km from end to end, from Opua on the East Coast to Horeke on the West Coast, and there are plenty of places to rent bikes, ebikes and tagalongs. Stay overnight along the way and immerse yourself in rural New Zealand – and yes, your luggage can be Sherpa-ed.

Don’t miss Hokianga Harbour, night tours and the unique museums

Be sure too, to make it over to the west coast’s Hokianga Harbour. Discover the mystical Wairere boulders in Horeke or take a Jet Ski tour, choose between fishing or a cultural tour with Lenny of Awesome Adventures. Follow up with a visit to the towering kauri tree Tane Mahuta on the Kauri Coast Highway – night tours are especially memorable. Kids also love the museums around this region, with exhibits beautifully pitched to visitors of all ages, from the Matakohe Kauri Museum, Dargaville Museum and Kaikohe Pioneer Village where you’ll discover everything from steam trains, fossils and maritime wonders.

The Great Lake Taupō region

theo and elisabeth skiing at whakapapa - suited up to go jet boating at huka falls - a New Zealand family holiday
Theo and Elisabeth skiing at Whakapapa

When you enter the centre of the North Island you’ll discover more reminders of New Zealand’s volcanic past. Lake Taupō was formed by a super-volcanic eruption over 26,000 years ago, and it’s so vast you could fit Singapore inside it. One of the best ways to get to know the lake is by joining an expedition with Chris Jolly Outdoors, whether you try trout fishing, or simply go sightseeing. It’s an impressive body of water and the towering Maori rock carvings at Mine Bay are breathtaking.

Enjoy the snow at Whakapapa with your loved ones

If you’re visiting for skiing or snowboarding, be sure to head up to Whakapapa Ski Field at the top of the Bruce Rd, where all gear can be hired and lessons arranged. Although if you want to enjoy snow less energetically, travel aboard the new Sky Waka and ride above snow, lava flows and waterfalls, before arriving at cosy Knoll Ridge Chalet. At 1.8km, this is the longest gondola ride in New Zealand, providing access to the mountain’s highest viewing platforms and dining venues.

elisabeth and theo showing off their catch at taupo - suited up to go jet boating at huka falls - a New Zealand family holiday
Elisabeth and Theo showing off their catch at Taupo

Discover the fantastic surroundings of Taupō; your kids are gonna love it!

Back down at the Waikato River, find perennial kid faves including Huka Prawn Park, where you can catch your own lunch, and Huka Jet Boat, where you can release some adrenaline. Hot pools are also top-notch in this thermal wonderland. DeBretts is delightfully magical, with slides and pools lit up ethereally at night or, if you’re staying at Lake Taupō Holiday Resort, you can make the most of their giant lagoon pool, illuminated grotto, swim-up bar and in-pool movies. Huka Falls is another spectacular attraction and we always make time to marvel at the water being released from Aratiatia Dam. With three viewing platforms, the dam opens three to four times a day (Google for viewing times) whereupon 90,000 litres of water per second gushes through the magnificent narrow gorge. Seriously amazing, we once went three times in a single day. Cycling in this region is also well worth seeking out, with lake and river trails ranging from Grades 1-3. But if you’d rather ride something furry, book a trek with Korohe Horse Treks in Turangi where horse novices and qualified equestrians can saddle up and explore.

Queenstown and Central Otago

queenstown is popular with aussies. image destination queenstown
Queenstown is popular with Aussies. Image: Destination Queenstown

Picturesque Queenstown on the South Island provides rich pickings for family holidays. Walk to the top of Bob’s Peak or, if you’d rather, ride the gondola up – at the top, you’ll find luging on offer. Follow up with a hearty lunch at The Stratosphere Restaurant and Bar. We also love cruising across Lake Wakatipu aboard the historic coal-fired steamship, the TSS Earnslaw, with optional extras like farm tours and horse treks over the other side of the lake. Outside of Queenstown, skiing and snowboarding up Coronet Peak, The Remarkables or Mt Dobson is always a treat. Explore further afield and into Central Otago where dog sledding with Real Dog Adventures outside Ranfurly (around 170km from Queenstown) is an exhilarating adventure, or you can simply meet the impressive hounds in their kennels.

How about curling?

You’ll find that quirky Scottish sport in nearby Naseby, along with ice-skating and ice luging. If petrol’s your perfume of preference, try some of many race car related activities at Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell, from go-karts or a round of hot laps with a genuine racing car driver at the wheel. There’s cycling here too, whether you roll merrily along the acclaimed Otago Central Rail Trail, the Clutha Gold or Roxburgh Gorge Cycle Trails. You can even give gold panning a go at Goldfield’s Mining Centre outside Cromwell – who knows, perhaps you’ll find the nugget everybody dreams of, then you can go on holiday forever!

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