Get up close with native falcons in Rotorua. © RotoruaNZ

Family fun: 11 Kiwi Gems to keep the kids happy this summer

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From native falcons to water parks, epic playgrounds, go-carts and movie-making magic, we've rounded up 11 Kiwi Gems around New Zealand that will delight the kids this summer.

1.Whoa! Studios, Auckland

Combine a live theatre experience, a film studio, an excellent restaurant and possibly the best playground in New Zealand and you’ve got a recipe for a great family day out. 

Whoa! Studios in the Auckland suburb of Henderson is a multi-faceted family extravaganza designed to surprise and delight.

The Whoa! Studios Urban Playground is unlike any other play experience in New Zealand.

With a rocket ship, pirate cove and a centrepiece of the country’s only hand-crafted crochet climbing net that took Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi Macadam two years to complete, it’s a compelling destination for kids of all ages. 

Alongside the playground, pantomime-style puppet performances are held live in the on-site theatre each weekend, with a cast of family-friendly puppets created by the talented teams behind some of New Zealand’s best-known film and television productions. 

2. Glowworm Cave Tour, Te Anau

Take a scenic cruise on Fiordland’s Lake Te Anau to discover an underground wonderland.

On the western shore of the lake is a 12,000-year-old cave system, complete with a subterranean river and a display of glowworms that light up the darkness.

The Māori name for glowworms is titiwai, which means ‘light reflected in water,’ and this is exactly what happens in Te Anau as you glide through the glowworm grotto in a small boat. 

Pass under the cave’s huge rock overhang to see the swirling shapes of the limestone rock transformed by relentless water, listen to the roar of an underground waterfall, and learn about the fascinating geology and unique flora of the area. 

3. Hampton Downs, Waikato

Unleash your inner racer on the track at Hampton Downs. 

Challenge the kids to the fastest lap time on either the 530-metre or the new 830-metre Go Kart circuits at the Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in North Waikato. 

With fast, responsive karts, you’ll fly around the outdoor circuit, designed to challenge your driving skills with straights, hills and snaking bends.

4. Lost Gypsy, Southland

A caravan serving coffee, art and automata are all part of the curious collection at Southland’s Lost Gypsy. 

The brainchild of local artist and tinkerer Blair Somerville, The Lost Gypsy explores the craft of automata – weird and wonderful contraptions that have been lovingly crafted out of everyday objects. 

Hard to explain, automata is best described as things that used to be something else, made into something new that you can interact with. 

Think wind up mechanical toys, crafty mechanisms, gears, kinetics and electronics with moving parts. 

The works at The Lost Gypsy range in size and complexity – from small metal mechanical sea mammals, to large interactive exhibits dotted through the garden. 

5. Driving Creek, Coromandel

At Driving Creek on The Coromandel Peninsula, you can choose between chugging through native forest on New Zealand’s only narrow-gauge mountain railway or zooming above it via zipline. 

The railway at Driving Creek is also New Zealand’s steepest. With an average gradient of 1-in-24, (one vertical metre for every 24 metres of length), the small trains climb 115m to the quirky EyeFull Tower viewing area which sits 167m above sea level. 

Driving Creek is set amongst native kauri and rimu forest that has been painstakingly cultivated over the decades from farmland to resemble what it would have been like in pre-European times. 

To further immerse yourself in this remarkable regenerating environment, ride the train to the start of the Coromandel Zipline, where you can fly on eight separate ziplines spanning gullies, streams and taking in the native forest from above.   

6. Mountain Carting, Cardrona

Wānaka’s Cardrona Alpine Resort offers a range of adventurous activities to suit all seasons. 

Famous for its winter skiing, Cardrona has wide open basins and the largest terrain park in the Southern Hemisphere. But, when the seasons warm up and snow becomes dirt, Cardrona’s slopes are converted to an alpine adventure playground. 

Have a go at mountain carting – New Zealand’s only three-wheeled, gravity-fuelled go karts that tear down three custom-built trails and take in stunning mountain views. 

For a more sedate experience, catch the McDougall’s Chondola – an enclosed gondola cabin – up the mountain for sightseeing and a snack.  

7. Splash Planet, Hastings

A never-ending river, a water-fuelled pirate fortress and a tangle of twisting slides can all be found at New Zealand’s only water theme park. 

Splash Planet in Hastings is a popular spot in the hot Hawke’s Bay summers, with bountiful opportunities to get wet. 

The park’s first incarnation was as Fantasyland back in 1968, but the sprawling 6.5-hectare site has been re-imagined as a mecca for watery fun. 

Shoot down the hydro slides and water rides; splash on the bumper boats and relax on the lazy river. There’s plenty to do if you’d rather keep dry too, with go-karts, mini golf, kayaks and kid-friendly jeeps to drive. Pack a picnic, book a barbecue spot and stay for the day. 

8. Wairau Lagoons, Blenheim

Following the shoreline of the Wairau Lagoons, take a flat, family-friendly walk to spot seabirds and a shipwreck. 

Alongside Blenheim’s Wairau Lagoons walkway you’ll find the rusting remains of the SS Waverley – a shipwreck that is used for flood control and also target practice for the army. 

Choose from an easy short walk or a full three-hour circuit of the coastal wetlands at the mouth of the Wairau River. 

The Wairau Lagoons were formed over 6,500 years behind an eight-kilometre boulder bank, and the area is significant for its many Māori archaeological sites. Many of the moa skeletons found in museums around the world originated from the boulder bank here. 

9. Weta Workshop, Wellington

Weta Workshop is world-famous, but in Wellington, you can have your own hands-on experience of cinematic craft. 

From a 45-minute excursion to a full-day tour, at Weta, you can immerse yourself in the world of movie-making. 

Get up close to props and models used in the Lord of the Rings films, watch visual effects artists at work or visit one of the real, miniature television shooting stages used in Thunderbirds are Go. 

You’ll be surprised by how much of Weta Workshop’s magic comes from re-purposing everyday items to create crafty genius. 

At Weta’s Miramar workshops, you can also have a DIY experience, creating your own chainmaille, makeup effects, or learning the basics of sculpting. 

10. West Coast Treetop Walk, Hokitika

Climb the Hokitika Tower – one of the tallest human-made structures on the South Island’s West Coast. 

From the 40m-high circular platform on the West Coast Treetop Walk, the views are breathtaking and even the giant podocarps, some up to 600 years old, seem small.

Drink in the panoramic sweep across acres of native beech forest, the jagged stretch of the Southern Alps, and, off to the west, Lake Māhinapua.

Out on the cantilevered Māhinapua Springboard, you’re at arms reach of the forest canopy, surrounded by ancient rimu, tōtara, kahikatea and miro.

The wide, steel paths of the Treetop Walk are also suitable for buggies and wheelchairs, meaning that everyone can enjoy being up above the rainforest canopy. 

11.Wingsapan, National Bird of Prey Centre, Rotorua

At Wingspan, New Zealand’s National Bird of Prey Centre, you can get up close to our native falcons, or kārearea. 

Wingspan, on the outskirts of Rotorua was established in 2002 as a conservation initiative to help protect these remarkable native birds. 

Kārearea are rarer than kiwi, with only around 4,000 remaining in the wild.

When they’re temporarily in captivity at Wingspan, kārearea quickly forget how to hunt properly so the falconers keep their skills fresh with daily lure training sessions for when they’re released back into the wild.

Having recently moved sites, the new Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre is still under construction, but three days a week visitors are welcome to experience the new development, learn about Wingspan’s extensive conservation programmes and witness the falcons’ in-flight training.


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