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6 amazing, family-friendly experiences in New Zealand’s Central North Island

We love New Zealand – the people are friendly, the food is fantastic and it’s a super easy destination to travel with kids. The North Island is a great place to start, and when you venture outside Auckland you’ll be amazed by how many experiences there are for families.

First-time visitors to the North Island should definitely spend some time in the New Zealand capital city. Have a read of Things to do in Auckland with kids for inspiration and ideas. Then when you’re ready to head south on the North Island, here are 6 amazing, family-friendly experiences in New Zealand’s Central North Island.

1. Try family rafting on the Tongariro River

The “Family Floats” rafting experience is a thrilling adventure that the whole family can enjoy and participate in, even with children as young as five. Discover the pristine Tongariro River and see endangered animals, such as Whio (Blue Ducks), while being guided by a friendly, family-owned rafting company. Whether rain or shine, it’s incontestable for you to experience unparalleled fun throughout the year.

If you’re looking for adrenaline activities on the South Island instead, here are some ideas for where families can find Thrills and spills in Queenstown New Zealand

2. Take an Ernest Kemp Scenic Cruise 

Embark on a family-friendly adventure aboard the Ernest Kemp, a replica steamboat, for daily scenic cruises to the stunning Ngātoroirangi Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings. Enjoy a two-hour cruise on Lake Taupō, admiring the intricate carvings accessible only by water. Capture memorable moments up close, relax in comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, and indulge in some hot drinks and cookies. Little ones always get a turn at steering the vessel! 

Kids can take a turn at the wheel on an Ernest Kemp Cruise. Credit: supplied

If you’re thinking of exploring more of this family-friendly country, have a read of this: Things to do in New Zealand with kids

3. Check out McLaren Falls Park 

Discover McLaren Falls Park, a sprawling recreational haven for a family getaway, just a 20-minute drive from Bay of Plenty’s CBD. Spanning 190 hectares, this stunning park features picturesque lakes, lush trees, abundant wildlife and captivating waterfalls.

There’s plenty of space for kids to run at McLaren Falls Park. Credit: supplied

Don’t miss out on Marshalls Animal Park within its 35 acres if you go there with young children, offering a range of adorable animals to admire and interact with. Also, enjoy pony rides, picnics and feeding farmyard animals.

Explore Lake McLaren’s hidden glow worm canyon with Waimarino Kayak Tours, or take the family on a thrilling V8 Chevrolet trike tour of the park with V8 Trike Tours.

Family fun on the V8 Trike tour. Credit: supplied

Read more: The best cities for sport-mad kids

4. Older kids will love ZORB Rotorua

Unleash your inner thrill-seeker in the adrenaline-pumping epicentre of Rotorua, New Zealand! Prepare for an exclusive adventure found nowhere else but at ZORB. Brace yourself for unparalleled excitement as you roll inside gigantic, bouncy spheres, conquer daring flips, and navigate exhilarating obstacle courses. Don’t miss out on the most unforgettable fun, available only at the heart-pounding ZORB experience, located in the heart of tourism – Rotorua!

Zorbing down the hill. Credit: supplied

5. For nighttime fun, visit the Redwoods Nightlights

Immerse yourself in a captivating adventure amidst the natural wonderland in New Zealand. Marvel at the stunning birds-eye view of the forest during day and night walks. Spanning 700 meters, it features 28 bridges, 27 platforms and 34 lanterns, suspended 9-20 meters above the forest floor. In just 40 minutes, you and your families will be enchanted by this enthralling journey through a mesmerizing setting. This award-winning, eco-tourism walk is family-friendly and accessible for unaided walkers, with free purpose-built baby strollers.

Sparkling lights at night in the Redwoods. Credit: supplied

Looking for night-time adventures in New Zealand? Check out The best places to see the stars in NZ

6. Explore the HobbitonTM Movie Set

Waikato’s most popular attraction, HobbitonTM Movie Set, remains open every season, providing at least five tours a day, seven days a week. Visitors are invited to join a walking tour through the enchanting movie set as pictured in the trilogies,The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit before enjoying a brew inside by the fire at the Green Dragon Inn. Cosy up to the warm interiors of the mystical world of Hobbiton with friends and family this winter season.

Kids love the little houses at Hobbiton. Credit: Supplied

Why visit New Zealand’s North Island with kids?

There is so much to do on both islands in New Zealand for families. If you have limited time, it’s helpful to understand that the North and South Island are extremely different despite belonging to the same country. The pace and activities available on your family holiday will depend on which island you choose.

The North Island is best for families with younger kids, Lord of the Rings fans, and families looking for a beach getaway.

What you’ll find on the North Island is rolling farmland, enticing beaches lining the coast, and curious natural creations such as volcanoes and glowworm caves in the center.

Choose the North Island for your family holiday if:

  • Anyone in your family is a Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies fan
  • You have kids under 10 years and don’t want to spend too much time driving between experiences
  • Your children are too young for most adrenaline-inducing experiences, but still love adventure
  • Your family wants to relax on the beach and sample a few water sports

Here’s some more inspiration

14 things you didn’t know about NZ North Island ski

13 destinations from your kid’s favourite books

Things to do in Auckland with kids

10 places you need to see in NZ

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