Wherever you’re based in New Zealand for the school holidays, if you’ve got kids, we’ve got the inspiration you need to plan a great family day out.
1. Northland: Treetop adventure + subtropical gardens + kiwi-spotting
No day out with kids in Whangārei is complete without a trip to the excellent Adventure Forest. The treetop walkways are safe and fun for all ages and fitness levels, and can easily entertain everyone for a couple of hours.
Then, drive across town to replenish energy levels in the café at Whangārei Quarry Gardens before heading into the subtropical gardens for a gold coin donation. This little paradise was transformed from a disused quarry entirely by volunteers. With paths winding between unusual plants and trees, a lake and waterfall, it’s perfect territory for young explorers.
It’s not often you get to see our native bird, but Kiwi North offers you one of those rare chances, especially at feeding times. After kiwi-spotting, visit more feathered friends in the on-site Whangārei Native Bird Rescue Centre and there’s plenty more to see in the well-stocked museum and heritage park.
2. Christchurch: The Groynes
Not far from the airport, the Groynes is a recreational area named after the large concrete blocks that jut out into the Ōtukaikino Creek. The creek, which was cut off from the Waimakariri River during work in the 1930s, now forms several lakes and waterways through the park. It’s a great place for a family picnic.
On the weekends you can hire pedal boats, aqua bikes and canoes. Plus several times a year, the lakes are stocked with hundreds of salmon – and only kids are allowed to catch them!
3. Taupō: Skate Park + Spa Thermal Park + Botanical Gardens + indoor rock wall
Taupō’s skate park is a great place for kids to let off steam, whether they skate or scoot. Grab a coffee on the way so you can relax while they do all the work.
Just across the road is Spa Thermal Park, where it’s a leisurely walk down to the natural hot springs at Ōtumuheke Stream where the family can have a splash. The park has recently had an upgrade with new toilets and changing rooms.
Nearby, the Botanical Gardens has 35 hectares of dutifully cultivated native bush, flora and fauna. It is the perfect place for a picnic, particularly with some of the gorgeous viewpoints dotted around the reserve.
Once the troops are recharged, head to the indoor rock wall at the AC Baths, where the whole family can have a go at climbing up to 12 metres high
4. Nelson: Cable Bay and Cable Bay Adventure Park
One of Nelson’s best-kept secrets is that it’s home to the world’s largest flying fox – the 1.6-kilometre-long Skywire. To take a thrilling ride on this magnificent feat of engineering, whizzing above the tops of untouched native forest at speeds of up to 100km/h, head out to Cable Bay Adventure Park 15 minutes north of Nelson city.
Horse treks are popular here, too, as is quad biking. Challenge the family to a paintball fight or an archery lesson. The newest addition to this long-standing attraction is its Grade 5 downhill mountain bike trail and shuttle service. You can also hire bikes here, including e-bikes.
Afterwards, head to Cable Bay itself where the beach near Pepin Island is a great family swimming spot if it’s warm enough, with rock pools to explore if it’s not. Climb the hill near the campsite and café for a fabulous view.
5. Auckland: Bike to Māngere Bridge + Ambury Farm + Ōnehunga
Load the bikes in the car and park as close as you can get to the water on Alfred Street in Ōnehunga. Head towards the water until you get to the bike path, then turn right and follow it under the South Western Motorway until you reach the old Māngere Bridge, which is now pedestrian and cycles only. Cross here and then take Kiwi Esplanade right along the waterfront of Māngere Bridge suburb – it's a flat and easy ride with a park and other scenic spots along the way.
Your destination is Ambury Farm – a working farm run by Auckland City Council and it's a great experience for city kids to see a farm in action, with cows, chickens, horses, pigs and regular feeding and milking shows. The best thing about it is that it's completely free – just cycle in, lock up your bike and wander around.
Cycle back the way you came and, if you're hungry, head into Ōnehunga for lunch – Onehunga Café is a good bet or head to The Good Home Onehunga, a cosy gastropub in the beautiful old library building in Princes Street where kids are welcome.
6. Waikato: Village Café + Taitua Arboretum + The Girl on the Swing
The Village Café is a rustic delight in the heart of Whatawhata (15 minutes’ drive west of Hamilton on SH23). Its charming garden environment, large playground and friendly livestock neighbours give kids plenty to explore.
With tummies filled, head to Taitua Arboretum. This magical green space is made up of 20 hectares of mature native and exotic trees and shrubs with a network of trails, boardwalks and ponds to discover. It’s beautiful in every season and littlies love getting up close with the animals that roam the space.
For a special treat, cruise over to The Girl on the Swing in Hamilton’s Chartwell. The cupcakes here might just be the most outrageous you’ve seen. (But check the opening hours before you go).
7. Hawke’s Bay: MTG + Wardini Bookshop + Mister D’s
Napier city’s MTG (Museum Theatre Gallery) is a one-stop shop for cultural edification. Home to the simultaneously sobering and fascinating earthquake exhibition, as well as other regularly changing exhibits, the MTG will keep kids amused – particularly if you send them on a scavenger hunt. Pick up a clipboard from the front desk and race to find the hidden details of artworks and curios around the museum. There’s a prize for every completed sheet.
While you’re in town, check out Wardini Books just around the corner on Hastings Street. With one of the best selections of children’s and young adult’s books in New Zealand, Wardini is a gem of a bookstore. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see a magic show from owner, author and resident magician Gareth Ward.
Finish your Napier city visit with a famous Mister D doughnut. Freshly cooked to order, a D doughnut is guaranteed to delight. The hardest part is choosing what to inject it with – chocolate, jam or custard, or maybe just go for one of each…
8. Wellington: Ferry nice indeed
The East By West Ferry is a great way to experience one of Wellington’s greatest assets: the harbour. The most popular excursion for Wellingtonians has always been across the harbour to Days Bay. It’s a gorgeous beach on a sunny day, and Williams Park behind it offers a place for picnics, throwing a ball around and enjoying an ice cream from the Pavilion Café.
You can use Days Bay as starting point for excursions into the wider area – the very popular Butterfly Creek walk sets off from nearby, and if you’ve brought bikes over on the ferry (which you can do at no charge), then you can peddle around the corner to Eastbourne, or tackle the easy, lovely ride beyond to Pencarrow Head with its historic lighthouse and truly formidable set of stairs. If all this sounds like too much landlubbing, you can (weather permitting) just stay aboard the ferry for the round trip of the harbour.
9. Bay of Plenty: McLaren Falls Park + Marshalls Animal Park
McLaren Falls Park is found at a 20-minute drive from Tauranga, into the Kaimāī Ranges. It’s a huge recreational area, 190 hectares in fact, with beautiful lakes, trees, plenty of wildlife and lots of waterfalls. The biggest drawcard here is the waterfall track, where you can see glowworms if the time is right.
No less than 35 acres of McLaren Falls Park is home to Marshalls Animal Park. It’s reasonably priced, with family passes available, and there’s a huge range of animals to admire and interact with. Children can go on pony rides, and feed and play with the farmyard animals. There are deer, kunekune pigs, goats, emus, alpacas, turtles, rabbits and even eels. Make sure to check out the Texas Longhorns and giant African ostriches, too. To add to the fun, you’ll find a flying fox, playground, a café here as well.
10. Manawatū: Tawa Loop Walk + The Herb Farm + Tōtara Reserve
The Tawa Loop walk at Te Āpiti-Manawatū Gorge is a must-do for families. Aside from the scenery and greenery, the flourishing birdlife and the mighty Whatonga sculpture at the top, this 4km loop track is well-maintained and just the right distance for kids to enjoy.
Next, head to Ashhurst to fuel up at The Herb Farm Café, which serves beautiful meals in gorgeous surrounds. There are 14 themed gardens to explore where sightings of fairies, gnomes and elves are a common occurrence.
Carry on along the Manawatū Scenic Route and explore the Tōtara Reserve in Pōhāngina Valley. Home to five-star wētā hotels, there are also walking tracks, swimming holes, a campground and an adventure playground, so it may be a bit hard to get the kids to leave. If you’re organised, bring a picnic and spend the afternoon savouring this sweet spot.
11. Coromandel: Bullswool Farm + Waikino Train
Feed the friendly llamas, ducks, goats and more at the Bullswool Farm in the Karangahake Gorge. There’s a big play paddock for kids to run, jump and generally race around. On the bush walk, you’ll learn about and likely see native birds. Pack a picnic.
From here, get back on SH2, and head to the Goldfields Railway station in Waihī. All aboard this delightful historic train to chug your way gently back to Waikino. Replenish yourself with scones or a toastie at the café inside Waikino Station. If you fancy stretching your legs before returning to Waihī, there are walks and historic mining sites in the gorge. Do check the timetable before you go; it varies a lot depending on the season.
12. Queenstown: Kiwi Birdlife Park
Queenstown is not just about thrills and speed. Learning about our native wildlife can also be an engaging family day out. The Kiwi Birdlife Park is a five-acre wildlife sanctuary, home to native animals including kiwi.
Time your visit to take in one of the two 30-minute Conservation Shows each day, where the keepers will thrill kids with an entertaining live show in the outdoor theatre featuring free-flying birds and a prehistoric Tuatara. There are also opportunities to see the kiwi being fed. End your visit at the Honey Bee Centre to see a hive of activity and take home the local honey.