New Zealand

Ultimate guide to things to do in New Zealand with kids

New Zealand is an adventure-packed destination for the whole family. With kid-centric activities in every city, it is no wonder why New Zealand is such a popular and thriving holiday destination for families.

Unique wildlife encounters, impressive natural landscapes, a wealth of traditional Maori culture and a utopia for adventure activities – families will be in awe of all that New Zealand has to offer.

New Zealand Highlights

Rotorua is full of geothermal hotspots like this one at Kuirau Park. Photo: Adian Hodge

The kids will love

Rotorua

Rotorua is bustling with family-oriented activities – explore the Redwoods Forest, Lake Okareka Boardwalk (suitable for strollers) and the natural hot springs of Kerosene Creek, take a Skyline Rotorua Gondola for spectacular views of the city, visit Waimangu Volcanic Valley and witness the impressive thermal activity – choose a walking trail or take a cruise across Lake Rotomahana, and experience Maori culture at the living Maori village, Whakarewarewa.

The tyre swing at Mount Vic is famous; try find it via Charles Plimmer Park, which is part of the Southern Walkway. Credit: WellingtonNZ.com

Wellington Region

Ride the rusty Wellington Cable Car, visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Wellington Museum for insights into the country’s Maori-rich culture (and great interactivity for kids); adventurous kids will love Adrenalin Forest, navigating tree-lined zigzag ropes, flying foxes and over 125 treetop challenges; take a day-trip to Staglands Wildlife Reserve, a beautiful nature reserve suitable for all ages to meet and learn about native animals.

Grab your helmet and enjoy some of Queenstown’s best cycling tracks. Credit: adam-bryce.com

Queenstown

With snow-sports galore in winter, water-sports in summer, and family-fun activities year-round, Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s most popular holiday destinations. With experienced instructors and ski slopes catering to all ages, children as young as three years old can learn to ski! Queenstown activities are not nearly limited to the ski slopes with water-sports – jetboating, paddle-boarding, kayaking – wildlife parks, horse-riding, mountain biking, gondola and luge riding, as well as ziplining, giant swings and bungy jumping for older kids.

Best time to travel

Autumn, March through May, with beautiful weather and the lowest crowds, is one of the best times to visit New Zealand. It is the perfect time for hiking and adventure sports, as well as having the lowest rates for airfares and accommodation. Spring, September to November, is the other shoulder period – a little warmer and still relatively quiet.

Winter, June through August, is the low season in most cities and is the perfect season to experience New Zealand’s renowned (and very family-friendly) snow-sports scene. While this is peak season for the ski-fields, it is the quietest time for travel in other parts of New Zealand, with great accommodation deals.

Summer, December through February, is high season. The weather and beaches are beautiful during this time of year, but do expect some exorbitant prices – particularly for family accommodations.

Things to do in New Zealand with…

Young children will love Wellington. Fun city experiences – riding the rickety cable car, world-class interactive museums and wildlife interactions at Staglands Wildlife Reserve will keep young kids entertained for days.

There are activities for older kids in all parts of New Zealand! From the skyline gondola tours in Rotorua, challenging treetop courses at Adrenalin Forest outside Wellington, to the ski-fields of adventure-packed Queenstown, kids will never be at a loss for activities throughout the whole trip!

Teenagers can relax at the natural hot springs around Rotorua and will be overwhelmed for choice at the variety of adventure and social activities in Queenstown. The most adventurous teens can opt for a bungy jump or ziplining experience!

Surrounded by mountains, northern Thailand holds an almost mystical appeal. In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, you’ll find heaps to see and do. The city is home to more than 300 fascinating temples and eye opening traditional practices, plus the fascinating Walking Street Markets, where teens can stock up on trinkets and cheap clothes. And while the pretty moated city offers rich history, culture and tradition, it is also home to some of Thailand’s most teen friendly resorts. It is also an excellent base for visiting the mountains and for exploring neighbouring forests, rice fields and national parks for bamboo rafting, white-water rafting and trekking.

Not too far from Chiang Mai is Chiang Rai, a culturally diverse region that is home to Thailand’s minority Hill Tribes. Here you’ll find a more traditional Thailand, and visiting families can even enjoy a homestay with a hill tribe family for the ultimate in cultural immersion.

Family time is sacred in the Hanson family. Picture: Supplied.

Getting around New Zealand

Car is the recommended way for getting around New Zealand. There are several rental companies to choose from, each with individual restrictions and deals. Local companies are often the cheaper option, beginning at around $30 per day, but with greater restrictions on destinations and distance. Other major rental companies offer one-way deals between major cities, sometimes with very low prices, or unlimited kilometre deals for between $40 to $80. 

Campervan hire is a fantastic way to get around New Zealand for larger families. There are over 250 campervan holiday campsites throughout New Zealand, ranging from free to $35 per adult (kids stay free at most). There are about 5 major rental companies which offer rates between $50 to $100 per day in winter and $110 to $210 in summer.

Bus travel is relatively efficient and very inexpensive. The two main bus companies, InterCity and Naked Bus have routes that cover most destinations on both North and South islands – with some fares as low as $1 in the low seasons or discounts on other fares for children. Several regional shuttle bus companies also operate between the smaller towns that these companies do not reach. www.tourism.net.nz/transport/bus-and-coach-services is a helpful site for these services.

Train routes operate between the major cities in New Zealand with company KiwiRail Scenic Journeys. Rail passes are available for unlimited travel on the company’s four routes for between $420 to $1300 for adults (with discounts for children). Information is available at www.kiwirailscenic.co.nz/scenic-rail-pass

Air Air New Zealand and Jetstar are the two main airlines in New Zealand with routes to the main tourist destinations on the North and South islands. Air New Zealand offers passes for multiple destinations ranging from $100 to $300.

The Rees Hotel is perfect for families looking for luxury in Queenstown, New Zealand. Credit: Aleney de Winter

More about New Zealand for families

Accommodation 

  • There are over 250 family-friendly holiday parks and campsites throughout New Zealand. Many have playgrounds and games rooms, as well as organised activities for kids. This is an ideal way to travel for families interested in hiring a campervan or camping.
  • Most hotels and motels are available with connecting rooms for families. It is advised to book accommodation well ahead of time for the best deals on family accommodations as there is a significant amount of family tourism across the country, particularly during the summer months.
  • Most B&Bs and hostels are adult-only and it is advised to always notify that you are travelling with children before booking.

What to pack

  • All regions of New Zealand are child-friendly and any baby and children essentials are able to be bought in-country.
  • New Zealand is known to experience ‘four seasons in a day’ at any time of the year. Layers and a variety of clothing are essential to accommodate for the, sometimes unpredictable, days and mostly chilly nights. 
  • Beach gear is a definite for summertime – the country is renowned for its idyllic sandy beaches, great for surfing. Ski and other winter sports gear are recommended, when visiting during winter, however most items are available for purchase and hire in the major cities and popular ski slopes.

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