Keeping the kids entertained during the school holidays can be a challenge. To help, we've rounded up some of our top picks for great, family-friendly days out around the country.
Northland: Cultural Waitangi + Russell Town
Treat the family to an entertaining history lesson and impressive cultural performance at Waitangi Treaty Grounds, with free entry for kids under 18. The world’s largest ceremonial waka will wow the kids and it’s fun to pick your favourite carving in the impressive Marae. The Whare Waka café on-site is perfect for a refuel before the next step.
Drive into nearby Paihia and catch the local passenger ferry across to Russell, once known as the Hellhole of the Pacific in whaling days. Luckily, times have changed and you’ll find a charming town to explore.
Hunt out historic graves in Christ Church graveyard and have your photo taken in the stocks by the wharf. Take an ice cream from Delish down to the end of the pier where you’ll find plenty of hungry fish to help you finish off your wafer cone. If you want to stay for dinner, Hone’s Garden serves up scrumptious wood-fired pizzas.
Auckland: Domain + the Wintergardens + Auckland Museum + the Wintergarden Pavilion
An oldie but a goodie for the school holidays, there's so much to entertain in this area. Start at the Wintergardens – two beautiful display glasshouses with a courtyard in between, and a fernery off to the side for a bit of native bush action.
Outside the Wintergardens and down towards the duck pond is one of the best climbing trees around – large boughs crawl along the ground so big and little kids will be able to explore and climb.
The Wintergarden Pavilion has a kiosk with sandwiches and chips and ice cream, or you can have lunch in the fully licensed café. There is seating outside the kiosk where you can relax while kids look at the ducks or play on the grass.
Head up to the Auckland Museum after lunch, which is free for Aucklanders with proof of address. In the school holidays, there are always loads of special activities for the kids and it's always easy to spend a few hours at the museum.
Waikato: Mt Te Aroha + hot tub soak
For those with an older clan, a hike up Mt Te Aroha is a fantastic way to spend quality family time.
The summit track is three hours one way through native bush to the highest point on the Kaimāī Range. Here, you can enjoy 360-degree views across the Waikato and Bay of Plenty and you even see Mt Ruapehu, Ngāuruhoe and Taranaki on clear days. You’ll need to be feeling energetic though, as it gets steep at times.
Another option is to walk to the Whakapipi lookout (45 minutes one way) which is more achievable for the whole family.
Afterwards, choose a grassy picnic spot in the surrounds of Te Aroha Domain, then reward your hard work with a relaxing soak in Te Aroha Mineral Spas. They’re private rooms with wooden hot tubs and adjustable temperatures. Book in advance though, as spaces are limited. There are also swimming pools next to the spas if you prefer a cooler splash.
Bay of Plenty: TECT All Terrain Park + Adrenaline Forest + Pop over to Rotorua
The TECT All Terrain Park can be found on State Highway 36, which is the main road between Tauranga and Rotorua. Its home to the Adrenaline Forest, a thrilling multi-level aerial obstacle course that reaches up to 20 metres high. The staff are highly skilled, and the activities are great fun and totally safe.
There are tracks for walking, mountain biking, equestrian as well as family focussed motorcycle tracks, and there’s a dedicated off-leash dog exercise area at the park, too. The local pistol shooting club, clay bird shooters and deerstalkers are based at the park as well, but hunting in the park is not allowed. There’s very limited cell phone coverage in the area so keep that in mind if you venture out.
Since you’re already halfway there, drive on to Rotorua where you’ll find all the geothermal delights with hot springs, mud pools, geysers, as well as the most amazing mountain biking tracks and all sorts of action activities and family fun.
The Redwoods Treewalk, an elevated trail through Whakarewarewa Forest, is an awesome eco-walk. It’s an amazing experience for people of all ages, and as long as your child can walk, it’s manageable. It’s perfectly safe, and you don’t need training or a safety harness to give it a go.
Hawke's Bay: Te Mata Peak + Birdwoods Gallery
Further south, just outside Havelock North, head to the hills. Or rather, The Hill – as you climb the iconic 399m Te Mata Peak. If you’re feeling keen or if the kids need to burn off some energy, leave your car near the bottom park entrance and wend your way up through magnificent redwood forest, before popping out onto grassy ridges and seriously spectacular views near the summit.
Te Mata Park park is also a dog-friendly, off-lead area so the whole family can enjoy an outing. For those less inclined to exertion, you can drive right to the top of the peak. From the summit, 360-degree views take in the Ruahine and Kaweka Ranges, the Heretaunga Plains, and on a clear day, you can see as far as Mount Ruapehu. Don’t forget to bring your camera.
Continue a little further out of Havelock North village (around 3km), and nestled in the countryside you’ll find Birdwoods, a gallery, cafe and sweetshop, guaranteed to make little eyes light up – and not just for the promise of confectionary. The cafe and eclectic homewares shop are housed together in a historic church hall, built in 1894 and relocated from Waipawa in Central Hawke’s Bay. The building has been given a facelift, with wide glass doors, opening on to an expansive lawn, swings and a large selection of garden sculptures. It’s an excessively pleasant spot to spend a sunny afternoon, sipping tea – or something stronger – and enjoying a homemade meal.
The old-fashioned sweetshop is next door in a tiny cottage. Grab a bowl and a glove and help yourself to an array of lollies that will satisfy even the sweetest of tooth.
Wellington: Animals, Animals, Animals
Besides Wellington Zoo and Zealandia (worthy of visits in their own right), one of the best days out in Wellington with animal-mad kids is Staglands in the Akatārawa Valley to the west of Upper Hutt, a kind of 25-acre theme park-cum-petting zoo-cum-wildlife sanctuary. Here you can handle bunnies and guineapigs and lambs, and you can feed the fowls, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, deer and even trout and eels. There are lots of birds about, many of them rare in the wild – the shy whio (blue duck) and the beautiful, regal kārearea (falcon) are two of note.
There are static displays of the area’s pioneering history (if the kids are playing up, there’s always the jail cell and the stocks), and running through the property is a stream, over which there is a rope swing, and beside which you can spend a sun-drenched hour having a picnic and even a swim (if you can put those hungry trout and eels out of your mind), serenaded all the while by chooks and peacocks.
Littlies will be thrilled by the free ride you can hitch on a tractor and trailer across the river.
When it’s the kids’ turn to be fed, there’s a great café on site. You’ll need to make sure they wash their hands – the level of grime they will have acquired will be proof of a good day out, as if the grins weren’t enough.
Nelson: The Great Taste Trail
Nelson is blessed with an abundance of producers of fine-tasting wares, from delectable wines, craft beers, berries, and apples, 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 great options to sample 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: Imagination Station + Margaret Mahy Playground
If you have a LEGO fan in your crew, you’ll make them very happy with a stop at this cool indoor LEGO playground. Even adults have been known to get sucked into the construction of a giant purple space station. It can get full, and so there is a way to guarantee a spot by booking on their website. The centre also runs classes on robotics and stop-motion animation. Class ages vary. Kids over eight can attend with or without an adult (making this a cheap, fun babysitting option for older kids).
Then, run off some steam outdoors at the nearby Margaret Mahy playground. Named for one of New Zealand’s most iconic children’s authors, the playground was one of the first projects completed under the city’s post-quake recovery plan. It’s been celebrated by local and visiting parents every day since. There’s plenty to keep the little ones busy – trampolines, slides, flying foxes, water cannons, splash pads.
There are coffee carts to keep adults fuelled plus a barbecue area if you want to turn your visit into a full-blown event. At dusk or after dark, the playground transforms into an even more exciting experience – great for an evening run-about.
Queenstown: Around the lake
Lake Wakatipu is the heart of Queenstown, offering activities for thrill-seekers of all ages.
Jet boats are the most popular when it comes to extreme fun – blasting, spinning, turning, and splashing around the lake. Some operators will take kids from age two (usually free aged two to four) if they fit into an infant life jacket, but it’s probably better suited for slightly older kids, as speeds get up to 95kph.
You could also opt for a more relaxing boat cruise on the iconic TSS Earnslaw Steamship or one of the big aqua bikes with their brightly coloured wheels.
Finish your on-water experience with an icecream or sweet treat at Queenstown’s famous Patagonia Chocolates parlour near the jetty, lunch at any number of restaurants – including the famous Fergburger (Tip: phone your order in first to skip the queues) – and visit the new multi-sensory Queenstown Beach playground, opened late in 2018.
Dunedin: Tunnel Beach + Otago Peninsula + St Clair salt water pool
You don’t have to travel far from Dunedin city for spectacular natural views. Fifteen minutes drive from the Octagon gets you to Tunnel Beach, with its grand arches carved by the sea and staircase down through the rock carved by hand by James Cargill for his family to access the beach in 1870.
Another half hour takes you out along the top of the Otago Peninsula, with amazing views dropping away on both sides, to Lovers Leap. This stunning vantage point is part of the Sandymount Track, which is about an hour round trip.
Back in the city, the playground at Marlow Park in St Kilda has been an iconic destination for generations and if it all gets a bit much you can wander along the beach to the coastal St Clair Salt Water Pool, open to the elements and for the summer season from October 1st.