Get a treat from Duck Island ice cream. © Camilla Rutherford

Boredom Busters: 9 fun family outings around New Zealand


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Looking for school holiday activities the whole family can enjoy? We've picked nine great days out around New Zealand for the young and young at heart.

Auckland: cycle from coast to coast

A great adventure for bigger kids or littlies who can ride in a bike seat, The Coast to Coast is a mapped walk that takes you across the Auckland isthmus – New Zealand's narrowest strip of land. The walk is 16km and takes about 4-5 hours on foot with plenty of stops at the interesting sights on the way. Of course, cycling is much faster, but we recommend allowing a full day. 

The route includes a mix of main roads, suburban streets and parks providing a variety of vistas. Feel free to modify as you go, choosing whether or not to climb volcanoes or explore the shops of various suburbs. While you may be cursing some of the many hills along the way, you'll also be grateful for the excellent views they provide. Lunch can be a picnic in the domain, up Mount Eden, in Cornwall Park or up One Tree Hill.

Short detours will take you to Mount Eden shops or into Newmarket if you need to stop for refreshments, though there are many options along the main route too – the kiosk in the domain, the cafes in Cornwall Park and of course the shops of Onehunga. And do take the detour through the lovely Jellicoe Park in Onehunga. 

This is a big but excellent day, that all Aucklanders should do. 

Bay of Plenty: trails and treetops

Find TECT All Terrain Park on State Highway 36 – the main road between Tauranga and Rotorua. It's home to the Adrenalin Forest, a thrilling multi-level aerial obstacle course that reaches up to 20 metres high. There are also tracks for walking, mountain biking and horse riding, as well as family-focussed motorcycle tracks, and there’s a dedicated off-leash dog exercise area at the park, too. 

Since you’re already halfway there, continue on to Rotorua where you’ll find all the geothermal delights with hot springs, mud pools, geysers and all sorts of action activities and family fun. 

The Redwoods Treewalk, an elevated trail through Whakarewarewa Forest, is an amazing experience for people of all ages, and as long as your child can walk, it’s manageable. It’s perfectly safe, and here you don’t need any training or safety harnesses to give it a go. 

Waikato: markets, bikes and ice cream 

Delight your senses with a stroll through the open-air Tamahere Country Market which runs from 8.30am – 1pm on the third Saturday of each month. It’s a bustling, popular event made up of 110 sites selling all sorts of local produce and products. 

Once you’ve snapped up your local treasures, continue towards Cambridge and stop in at the Avantidrome. There’s a fun bike skills park catering to all ages, set up as a mini roading system with traffic lights and stop signs. You can take your own bikes, trikes or scooters or hire bikes there for adults and kids over the age of 6. Entry is free.

From here, pop into Hamilton for award-winning Duck Island Ice Cream in either Hamilton East or Riverbank Lane in the CBD. Choose from all sorts of crazy and delicious flavours like roasted white chocolate and miso, cinnamon smoked apple pie or fairy bread. 

The Coromandel: wheels and cheese 

The Hauraki Rail Trail runs through paddocks behind The Cheese Barn at Matātoki. It’s about 12 kilometres from Thames, so park there or in Kōpū and hit the track. The trail is Grade One, meaning it’s a gentle, mostly flat ride. Have a coffee and try the cheeses while the kids feed the bunnies and alpacas.

Then cycle through the fields and back to Thames, where you’ll have earned fish and chips at The Wharf. Order at the fish shop and they’re brought to you crisp and piping hot in the café next door. 

Historic Shortland Wharf overlooks the mangroves as the Kauaeranga River spills into the Firth of Thames. If the kids still have energy to burn, there’s a playground and new skate park just down the road on Queen Street.

Wellington: explore the Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens features both native and exotic plantings, and the seasonal flower displays – especially the massed plantings of tulips in the spring – are breathtaking. The Begonia House has a child-pleasing goldfish pond, and next door there’s the Picnic Café for hot chocolates. 

A short walk away is The Dell, a sheltered lawn that is a favourite spot for school picnics and which regularly hosts outdoor concerts. Kids gravitate to the duck pond: best get there reasonably early before the residents have had their fill: torpid ducks that spurn the treats thrown by children are inclined to disappoint. Though please note that bread is bad for ducks: defrosted frozen peas or rolled oats are a better choice. A short walk up a steep-ish hill there is an excellent playground, with a flying fox and some of the best swings in Wellington. 

For slightly older and more inquiring minds, Space Place at the Carter Observatory offers stimulating displays on all things relating to space and the business of studying it. And nearby, there is the Wellington Cable Car Museum, which occupies the original winding house for the Cable Car – naturally a highlight for children of all ages, and a great way to finish off a ramble through the gardens.

Nelson: tackle the Great Taste Trail

Nelson is blessed with an abundance of producers of fine-tasting wares, from delectable wines, craft beers, and fresh produce, to gourmet-style potato crisps, artisanal chocolate and world-famous peanut butter. The Great Taste Trail – a 174-kilometre cycle route – takes in a number of options sampling the region’s fare and is easily tackled in sections. 

A great start is at peaceful waterfront village Māpua, with its waterfront restaurants and where Hamish’s Ice Creams have long been popular, as has the Smokehouse’s fish and chips. More recently these have been joined by the Golden Bear Brewery, and a number of other tempting cafés. 

From here, take the ferry across to Rabbit Island, with its forests and golden sand beaches, following the path to Richmond, where there is access on the southern route to a number of vineyards and berry growers, or take the northern route towards Nelson, stopping off at the new premises of Pic’s Peanut Butter World – a Willy Wonka-Style factory where free tours are popular and kids can make their own spread.  

Christchurch: discover Canterbury Museum

A moa cave, an old-fashioned bicycle and an antarctic skidoo are just a few of the exhibits that kids love to climb around on at the Canterbury Museum. There’s a chance to travel back in time to an early Christchurch Street and explore the age of dinosaurs and insects. Perfect for a rainy day or after a good run around the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Entry to the museum is free. Entry to the kid’s Discovery zone is $2 per person and has lots of hands-on learning for little ones.

Queenstown: snow magic

With two ski fields at Queenstown’s doorstep and a further two towards Wānaka, winter holidays in this part of the country are a must-do. 

At Coronet Peak (20 minutes from downtown Queenstown), kids aged three to five can spend a morning or day with professional instructors in a dedicated outdoor area at Skiwiland including food, gear and care by early childhood certified instructors.  

If skiing/boarding is not your thing, Coronet has a toboggan course, a pass to ride the chairlift up and back down again without having to ski or snowboard, and night skiing – the best in the Southern Hemisphere. You don’t need to ski to enjoy the large deck, braziers, marshmallows on sticks and free bands and DJs – both local and international – who perform up the mountain as the sun goes down. It’s not unusual to see the kids flossing around the deck after a session making snow angels.   

Dunedin: indoor arts and culture 

For a city of its size, Dunedin is over-endowed with world-class museums, spanning natural science, social history and fine arts. At Otago Museum the Animal Attic – in all its Victorian museum glory – hosts the extensive taxidermy collection, including their very own Rat King. The newly built science discovery centre Tuhura holds hours of wonder and includes the three-storey Tropical Forest where you can wander through humidity and hundreds of exotic butterflies. 

Toitū Otago Settlers Museum uses interactive displays and portrait galleries to introduce mana whenua and colonial settlers; showcases a range of vintage vehicles, from steam trains to trolley buses; and the first computer in the city, a monster built for Cadbury’s in 1963. 

It's a short walk from there to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, a thing of beauty itself through its reuse of an old department store building. 

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