The school holidays are here (again). To help ward off the dreaded chorus of boredom, we've pulled together some ideas for keeping kids around the country amused.
1. Stars and icecreams in Auckland
Head to the Stardome Observatory Planetarium in Cornwall Park for all things astronomy. The observatory always has brilliant kids' shows and activities set up.
The observatory is set in One Tree Hill Domain so it's easy to spend a whole day in the area. Play in the excellent kids' playground next to the observatory, walk to the summit of One Tree Hill or have a picnic in any one of a number of lovely settings. Either way, you can be sure to watch sheep graze bang in the middle of the city.
Go to kid-friendly Cornwall Park Café for lunch and a deconstructed hot chocolate, or grab an icecream from The Cornwall Park Creamery attached to the bistro at the top of the park to eat as you stroll.
Alternatively, you can head down the road to beloved Ollies – a classic icecream parlour with an excellent selection of burgers, sundaes and shakes on the Royal Oak roundabout – the kids will love the range.
2. Animals and waterfalls in Tauranga
A must-do day trip for the family near Tauranga is a visit to McLaren Falls Park. It can be found at a 20-minute drive from the city, into the Kaimāīs towards the Waikato. 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. You can spot them on either side of the track.
No less than 35 acres of McLaren Falls Park is home to Marshalls Animal Park and this is an attraction not to miss if you’re in the area with young children. 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 to get close-up and personal with, and you can watch the 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 cafe here as well.
3. Hills and sweets in Hawke's Bay
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 your camera.
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Continue a little further out of Havelock North village (around 3km), and nestled in the countryside you’ll find Birdwoods, a gallery, cafe and sweet shop, 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 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.
4. Bounce, ride and eat in Palmerston North
You can literally spend a full day in Palmy’s CBD within a one-kilometre radius from The Square, discovering an eclectic mix of fun and food.
Hop to Cloud 9 Trampoline Park, complete with a full-size Olympic trampoline, climbing wall and ninja assault course. With good coffee and nibbles for you to re-energise (while the kids burn off theirs), it’s a happy place for all.
For those keen on wheels, head to Railway Land Reserve Skate Park, where the cool kids hang, flip and jam for hours on end.
From here, you’re just a few minutes’ walk to Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History. There’s lots of free fun to be had, including Weekend Discovery time as well as a secret passageway to a treehouse and ‘Ahi’ the bearded dragon at the Kids TM exhibition. With the New Zealand Rugby Museum on the second floor, this is also a great outing on rainy days.
Just along The Square is locally-owned and family-friendly Pompeii Pizza. While waiting for your glorious, gourmet pizzas, they'll even provide complimentary dough that the kids can knead while your order is prepared.
Before bedtime, visit the iconic Clocktower on The Square. The colourful light display is guaranteed to invoke ‘oohs and ahhs’ from the kids. The best part is that they’ll actually want their photos taken there, so you won’t need to beg them to say cheese.
5. Take to the sea in Wellington
It often gets taken for granted as a commuter service, but the East By West Ferry operation is a great way to experience Wellington and one of its greatest assets: the harbour.
One of the most popular excursions for Wellingtonians has always been across the harbour to Days Bay. It’s a gorgeous beach on a summer’s day, and Williams Park behind it offers a place for picnics, for kicking, hitting or throwing a ball around and for licking an icecream from the Pavilion Café. You can use Days Bay as a setting-off 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) or hired them from the Days Bay Boatshed, then you and older kids 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, and the perfect way to round it all off is with a pizza at One Red Dog, a short distance from where the ferry docks.
6. Meet native wildlife in Christchurch
Founded by the Willis family more than four decades ago, Willowbank, a New Zealand-themed wildlife park is still owned and operated by the family.
See kiwi, kea, tuatara, tākahe and other native icons as well as introduced and exotic breeds. Native species conservation is one of the park’s goals.
Kids will get a thrill from animals eating right out of their hands. For parents, it’s a great way to kill two or three hours.
7. Murals, beaches and pools in Dunedin
In recent years the city has amassed an impressive collection of vibrant street art murals. Grab a map to show you around, or you can organise a guided tour.
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You don’t have to travel far 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.