You don’t have to be a full-grown adrenaline junky to enjoy New Zealand. If your brood hasn’t quite hit parachuting age and you’re not keen on seeing the apple of your eye flung from a bungee cord, fear not. There are still plenty of action-packed, yet not death-defying adventures to be had in the region. Here, we’ve rounded up our favourite child-friendly things to do, including wildlife encounters, hiking and aquatic exploration. No need to bundle the brood into a camper van either. We’ve got you covered with family-friendly hotels that’ll mean a refreshing night’s sleep for all.
1 Go island hopping
Head just three hours north of Auckland (barely enough time for the youngsters to moan, ‘Are we there yet?’) and you’ll be rewarded with 144 islands in the appropriately named Bay of Islands. Hop on a day cruise, charter a yacht or hire sea kayaks and you’ll likely encounter penguins, dolphins, whales and gannets in the area. On land, there are walking tracks that loop past bubbling volcanic mud and geysers. Spend the night at either Eagles Nest in Russell or The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs near Matauri Bay. The former will help you organise your aquatic adventures and has a Porshe you can borrow (a bonus for the adults); the latter is set on a working farm, where littles can enjoy getting up close to farm animals.
2 Marvel at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
For a subterranean expedition, make your way to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, two-and-a-half hours south of Auckland. You’ll glide along the underground waterways of the Waitomo River through a grotto lit by millions of tiny glowworms. Bonus points to anyone in the family who can do a decent impersonation of Sir David Attenborough during this 45-minute boat ride through a twinkling galaxy.
3 Dive into Māori culture at the Te Papa Museum
In Wellington, carve out time to explore the Te Papa Museum and learn all about Māori culture from historic, artistic and modern perspectives. If you’re travelling with teens, book spots on an in-depth Māori Highlights Tour. For little ones, print out a Matariki activity book before your visit and have them hunt for treasures. The museum also has themed play, storytelling and singalongs for culturally-inclined kids.
4 Hike Abel Tasman
Start your South Island adventure with a day out in Abel Tasman National Park. Strap on boots of all sizes to explore the coastal forest walks and stretches of golden beach. Trails range from hour-long loops to multi-day hikes. The 3.4km loop track to Wainui Falls is over easy terrain and has a long swing bridge that little explorers will love. Budding entomologists can keep an eye out for giant Powelliphanta snails along the trail; they’re among the world’s largest.
5 Whale watch off Kaikoura
For aspiring marine biologists (and Moana superfans), the South Island’s Kaikoura Coast is pure gold. Whale watching tours regularly head out to sea for the chance to spot migrating humpback, pilot and blue whales, along with resident giant sperm whales. Keep your eyes open for furry seals and pods of dusky dolphins and orcas too. Although sightings aren’t guaranteed, typical tours spot the impressive mammals once or twice an hour. Whale Watch Kaikoura tours also include insight into Kaikoura’s hidden wildlife and the Māori legend of Paikea.
6 Take flight at Tekapo
Get a bird’s-eye view with a 50-minute scenic flight that leaves Lake Tekapo and soars over Mt Cook, Westland National Parks, a dozen major glaciers and the rain forests of the west coast (age limits may apply for little aviators). If heights aren’t your thing, you can still feel like you’re reaching the stars at Mt John Observatory, a gold-level stargazing spot in the world’s largest dark sky reserve.
7 Explore Lake Wanaka
Spend a day exploring Lake Wanaka or neighbouring Lake Hāwea. Young fans of A Wrinkle in Time may recognize the lakes as the utopian planet Uriel. Filming took place on the northern shores of Lake Hāwea, near the Hunter Valley Station (the exact spot is located between the Neck and Kidds Bush Reserve).
8 Kayak through the Milford Sounds
If you’re travelling with teens, explore the sounds by kayak. The local guides at Rosco’s Milford Kayaks lead small group tours – no prior experience necessary. The two-hour Milford Cruiser tour is ideal for novices and includes a paddle out to Lady Bowen Falls, the fiord’s tallest waterfall.
9 Hit the slopes in Queenstown
Snow bunnies of all ages can zip down the slopes of Queenstown’s Coronet Peak and the Remarkables; both family-friendly ski fields have lesson packages for toddlers to teens. The ski season in Queenstown runs from mid-June to early October.
Where to stay: After days full of excitement, you’ll need somewhere to unwind and recharge. Check out (and check in to) our favourite family-friendly hotels in New Zealand.
Featured image is Eagles Nest in Bay of Islands