Tired of Lockdown life? Kids driving you crazy? We've picked 16 Must-Do activities around New Zealand that families can look forward to after Lockdown. Start your travel planning now!
1. Whale Watching, Kaikōura
Just off the coast of Kaikōura the ocean floor drops to an astonishing depth of 3.5km, meaning it’s a place that attracts a wealth of deep-sea marine life. Hence, the whales: sperm whales, orca, blue whales and humpback whales. Hop on a boat to see one of these stupendous creatures come up for air before thumping back down again and you will never forget it. Whales are spectacular from above as well. You can charter just about anything at Kaikōura: the place is kitted out to get you up close, but not too close, to a big fella. A plane, or a chopper, means you’re likely to see the whole beast rather than just a tail, so it’s up to you which experience you’d prefer. A minor word of preparation: this is very much a weather-dependent exercise. Weather, like whales, can’t be dialled up to suit your timetable. Allow a few days in and around the area – it’s not hard, it’s an amazing part of the country – and book yourself in.
2. The Waterworks, Coromandel
A whole lot of Kiwi ‘number 8 wire’ thinking has gone into creating The Waterworks in Coromandel. 10 minutes from Coromandel Town on the inland 309 Road, The Waterworks is a testament to tinkering and backyard inventions, making it the quirkiest, most eco-friendly theme park you’re likely to come across. Discover an array of water-themed attractions, from duelling water cannons to boat races; a water-fuelled clock and music box, pedal-powered hoses and plenty of other opportunities to get wet. Kids will love the extensive playground where they can soar on the flying fox or the innovative flying bikes. Stay for a picnic in the gardens on a summer afternoon and bring your togs to do some bombs into the onsite swimming hole in the Waiau River.
3. Farewell Spit, Nelson
Did you know that Farewell Spit is the longest natural sandbar on the planet? It’s actually a sandbar but also a wetland, as it happens. The northern/seaward side is barren dunes, exposed and brutal. The south side faces Golden Bay and is more hospitable. The tide can go out kilometres, revealing huge areas of salt marsh and mud flats. But this unique environment is also a homeland for thousands of migratory waders from the Arctic tundra who turn up here seasonally. Bar-tailed godwits, curlews, whimbrels and turnstones also reside here. Take a four-wheel-drive tour (it’s the only way you can really get onto the spit) to get a full appreciation of the massive, 26km long beach.
4. Te Paki sand dunes, Northland
Right at the northern end of Ninety Mile Beach are some seriously steep and seriously fun sand dunes. You’ll need a sandboard for the adrenaline-pumping ride down, and you can rent one onsite. Te Paki is basically a 10km long by 1km wide coastal strip of 150m high sand dunes. It’s a steep climb, but no pain, no gain, right? And as you’d expect, the view from the top is amazing. For the less energetic, a roam around the dunes is an experience in itself. It’s a desert out there – otherworldly and outstanding.
5. Otago Peninsula wildlife, Dunedin
A short drive from Dunedin will take you to some of the most accessible wildlife in the South Island. At Taiaroa Head on the end of the Otago Peninsula is the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony. Between December to February, you can watch one parent swoop in and feed their young while the other parent keeps guard. There is a yellow-eyed penguin reserve out here too, where the species has been cared for, protected and encouraged back to some sort of decent existence. They are seriously shy and you must view them only from ‘hides,’ and a trip to Allans or Victory beaches should net you a view of sea lions, and you might even spot a sea elephant.
6. Canopy Tours, Rotorua
Whether you’re clipped to a zipline, bouncing across a swing bridge or strolling along a 50-metre-high walkway, you’ll get a whole new perspective on native bush in Rotorua. Canopy Tours takes you on a journey deep into – and high above – 500 hectares of pristine New Zealand forest. Soar above the canopy on 1200m of zipline; tackle the 75-metre swing bridge and meander along the suspended cliff walkway between treetop platforms as you gaze at a lush forest of ferns and ancient podocarps. In a unique mix of adrenaline and conservation, you can plunge and fly amongst the trees while appreciating the flourishing native fauna. Tūī, kererū, bellbirds, North Island robins and tomtits are all in abundance here, thanks to the extensive predator control and forest restoration.
7. Hamilton Gardens, Waikato
At Hamilton Gardens, the horticulturally inclined will be delighted that there are acres and acres and species upon species of plants; landscapers will revel in the far-sighted and enthralling design of the green spaces and kids will be content to run amongst it all. Bridges and paths weave amongst surroundings so splendid you will be convinced you are on a country estate rather than anywhere near a city. Melding with the splendour is a humorous touch of the almost irreverent: the gardens contain a botanical soup of a quirky Surrealist Garden, a Victorian flower garden and an Italian Renaissance garden, to name but a few, making this an educational, absorbing and continually surprising ramble.
8. Pūkaha Mount Bruce, Wairarapa
Here be kiwi, and while no one can ever guarantee you a sighting (hint: they’re nocturnal), if you’re going to see the national bird, this is probably the best place. Pūkaha also boasts a veritable laundry list of all that’s great in the native avian category: wild – yet quite gregarious – kākā, their relative the kākāpō (the world’s only flightless parrot), the rare stitchbird or hihi and the beautiful takahē. And if you prefer scales to feathers, the legendary tuatara are here as well. With all these species either vulnerable or endangered, this is a unique opportunity to see them all in one place.
9. Wānaka Waterfall Climb, Southern Lakes
You don’t need to be an expert to take on the world’s highest waterfall climb. At Wildwire Wanaka you’ll climb via ferrata – which literally means ‘iron path’ in Italian – alongside Wānaka’s Twin Falls to experience dizzying heights and remarkable views. Traverse a network of rungs, plank bridges and foot pegs as you climb the rocky gully; cross in front of the tumbling waterfall on a one-centimetre-thick cable. You’ll be blown away by the mountain views, stretching across to Lake Wānaka as you climb higher. Stop for a picnic along the way at the hidden plunge pools. There are several climbing options to choose from – all of them safe and suitable for people with no climbing experience at all.
10. Goblin Forest, Taranaki
There be goblins, apparently. Well, not exactly... but when you enter the Goblin Forest, you’ll be so bewildered by the beauty that you may even begin to have visions. There are a series of stunning tracks and trails around the sides of the wonderfully symmetrical Mount Taranaki including the family-friendly Kāmahi Loop track. Just 15km from Stratford, the walk, depending on your preferences, can also take in Dawsons Falls and Wilkies Pool. But really, the feature here is the peculiar permutations of the native kāmahi tree. In the lush rainforest the kāmahi have often begun life by simply growing on the stumps and logs of other trees. The trees twist up, ferns provide an eerie gossamer layer to the whole thing, and hanging moss and other greenery adds to the magical experience.
11. Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
Strolling along the famous Wellington waterfront, it’s a short maritime meander from the CBD to Te Papa Tongarewa, our modern history centre. Te Papa delivers, amongst other things, a truly inspiring and interactive look at New Zealand’s history and culture. If you didn’t know what a Busy Bee or a corrugated iron Holden Kingswood were, you will once you’ve left. There is a large Māori collection, which complements that at the Auckland War Memorial Museum a full-scale marae, and other regularly-changing exhibitions. In fact, you could do days here considering there is three rugby fields’ worth of dedicated exhibition space.
12. Te Mata Peak, Hawke’s Bay
On a clear day you can see the whole of Hawke’s Bay from the top of Te Mata Peak. That alone is worth the climb. Standing 399 metres above the Heretaunga Plains, Te Mata Peak is both a striking geographic feature and an important part of Hawke’s Bay’s Māori and European history. From the summit trig you can survey the shining stretch of sea reaching up to Māhia Peninsula in the north; across a flat, fertile grid of orchards, vineyards and farms to the rugged Ruahine and Kaweka Ranges and south, to a glimpse of Mount Ruapehu. Te Mata Park, which encompasses 99 hectares of craggy farmland and pockets of remarkable redwood forest is popular for walkers and mountain bikers, with many well-graded tracks and trails. But the road goes all the way to the summit, so the views truly are accessible to all.
13. Dig This, Invercargill
In Invercargill, you can try your hand at operating seriously heavy machinery, with no special licence required. Owned and operated by Transport World, a hub of automotive attractions in Invercargill (all well worth a visit in their own right) you’ll find Dig This – New Zealand’s only heavy equipment playground. Drive a bulldozer, operate an excavator, shift huge piles of gravel using enormously powerful machinery and even have a go at crushing a car. With expert tuition on hand, the activities at Dig This are suitable for the whole family. Dig This Invercargill is a chance to do something unique and exhilarating; something you never dreamed you would do. You really can get down and dirty in Invercargill.
14. Limestone Creek Glowworms, Manawatū
Venture off the beaten track in northern Manawatū to discover the soaring caves at Limestone Creek Reserve. Just north of Āpiti you’ll find Limestone Creek, home to a spectacular cave system set in lush native bush. Follow the path into a gully to see towering walls covered in thick moss, wild ferns and orchids. These stunning caves are also home to glowworms that can sometimes be seen during the day but are best viewed in the evening or at dusk. As the full 600m adventure will take you through the spectacular caves with running streams, you’ll need sturdy, ideally waterproof footwear or your feet will get wet and a torch, if you’re visiting at night.
15. Ōrakei Kōrako, Taupō
The name Ōrakei Kōrako means something along the lines of ‘painted place’ in Māori and it’s easy to see why. A virtually pristine geothermal valley, set on Lake Ohakuri just outside Taupō, Ōrakei Kōrako is a volcanic world of geysers, bubbling mud, naturally heated caves and even hotter springs. The landscape is a riot of almost improbable colours, stained by the minerals in the hot water, bubbling up from deep underground. There are more active geysers here than in any other geothermal field in New Zealand, along with snorting fumaroles, fizzing springs and entertainingly obscene mud pools. A short bush walk leads to Ruatapu cave, where you can descend into the warm earth and admire the mirror-calm surface of a subterranean pool. Ōrakei Kōrako also has one of the largest silica terraces left in the world, since the Pink and White Terraces were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.
16. Ōpārara Arches, West Coast
Experience limestone arches, caves, a whisky-coloured river and lush rainforest in the Kahurangi National Park on the West Coast. Just north of Karamea, the Ōpārara Arches can be found near the world famous Heaphy Track. The result of millions of years of weather and water sculpting limestone, the arches are a soaring cave system akin to an outdoor cathedral. Impressive, to say the least, the area is also home to the Honeycomb Hill Caves which boasts over 70 different entrances and over 13 kilometres of galleries to explore. Most of the area is covered in mixed podocarp forest and beech, with a forest floor carpeted in dense mosses and ferns. Be aware: this ancient landscape is fragile. Treat it with respect.