10 family-friendly holiday destinations on your doorstep

You don’t need your passport to treat the family to a great holiday. Explore these family-friendly destinations that are waiting to be discovered, right here in Aotearoa.

Destination #1: Auckland

AucklandNew Zealand’s biggest city has some great attractions for families and regularly hosts world-class concerts and sporting events. Situated between two harbours and built on 48 volcanoes, there’s plenty of activities. Swim at the beach, explore the harbour on a ferry ride, walk up a volcano or enjoy the open spaces, bush walks and museum at the Auckland Domain.

Highlights:

  • Sky Tower – Head up to the top for a fantastic view and test your nerves on the glass floor.
  • Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s – Go on an underwater adventure! Learn about the creatures that inhabit our waters and travel through a penguin colony.
  • Auckland Zoo – With over 1000 animals, Auckland Zoo is New Zealand’s largest home of wildlife and is just five minutes from central Auckland.
  • Wynyard Quarter – A hub of activity for families with restaurants, play spaces, markets and something new to discover at every turn.
  • Rangitoto Island – Discover Auckland’s youngest volcano! Take the 4WD roadtrain through lava crops and pohutukawa forest and learn about the island’s fiery past. A short walk takes you up to the summit for spectacular 360-degree views back to the city.

Destination #2: Hamilton

HamiltonHamilton is fabulously placed as a hub for exploring further afield. Within an hour’s drive through farmland you can visit Hobbiton™ Movie Set, Waitomo Caves, the coastal town of Raglan, and more. Hamilton itself has great shopping, a zoo, museums and an abundance of parks and playgrounds. The mighty Waikato River winds its way through the city and offers walking paths and river cruises.

Highlights

  • Hamilton Gardens – An amazing array of themed gardens, making a great place to explore as you never know what’s coming round the corner (including a destination playground!).
  • Waikato Museum | Te Whare Taonga o Waikato – Check out the fun interactive exhibitions designed specifically for children, as well as a range of touring exhibitions.
  • Hobbiton™ Movie Set – Experience Middle-earth movie magic with a guided tour – a must for movie buffs.
  • Waitomo Caves – An underground wonderland of stalactites, stalagmites, caverns and glow-worms.
  • Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari – A great place to get up close and personal with native birdlife and tuatara in their natural habitats.

Destination #3: Rotorua

RotoruaYou will be amazed at how much there is to see and do in Rotorua!

New Zealand’s geothermal wonderland is well suited as a holiday destination, that your family will want to return to over and over again with lots of fun activities, stunning geothermal walks, cultural experiences, thrill-seeking adventures, and family-friendly events.

Highlights:

  • Rainbow Springs – An action-packed, fun-filled, day out for the whole family with animal encounters, the Big Splash ride and an exciting Bird Show.
  • Skyline – Take the gondola for a great view on the way up … and the luge for a great thrill on the way down!
  • aMAZEme – Find your way around the huge maze and try out the fun activities for kids big and small.
  • Redwoods Treewalk – Discover Rotorua’s peaceful, ecological hideaway! Traverse 23 suspension bridges among the majestic 115-year-old trees of the Redwood Forest. Gradually climb to up to 12 metres above the forest floor to get a bird’s eye view.
  • For more fun things to do, places to stay and eat, visit our Rotorua family holiday page.

Destination #4: Taupō

TaupoOnce a huge volcano, Taupō is defined by the mountains of Tongariro National Park, the rivers of Tongariro and Waikato and Lake Taupō in the centre of it all with activities galore around the whole region. Take a cruise, sailing trip, swim, kayak or SUP on the lake, try your luck fishing for trout or rafting the Tongariro River, or walk or bike along the award-winning Great Lake Walkway or Tongariro River Trail. There’s plenty on offer for families year-round including mountain biking, walking, thermal hot pools, geothermal walkways, mini golf, the National Trout Centre or try to land a hole in one on the lake pontoon. And it’s just 1hr 15 minutes to Whakapapa Ski Area on Mt Ruapehu.

Highlights:

  • Huka Falls – A visit to Taupō isn’t complete without a stop at Huka Falls. Watch the power of water as it funnels through a gorge narrowing to form the thundering 11-metre high waterfall. Access is by a short walking track or get up close on a jetboat or river cruise.
  • Huka Prawn Park – This unique attraction features an activity loop for some fun family challenges, then try your hand at fishing for the freshest prawns ever!
  • Craters of the Moon – This geothermal walkway through steaming vents and bubbling craters is like another world!
  • Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs – Family-favourite thermal hot pools with slides and an interactive warm water playground, private pools and spa treatments.

Destination #5: Hawke’s Bay

HastingsThe Hawke’s Bay cities of Napier and Hastings offer a great destination for a family break. The Art Deco architecture gives the area a unique look and adds to the holiday vibe. Napier’s picturesque Marine Parade is perfect for a stroll – take a walk out above the waves on the viewing platform. Nearby Waimarama Beach is a laidback Kiwi summer spot and Splash Planet is the summer’s hot spot.

Highlights:

  • Marine Parade – The centre of Napier’s attractions – mini golf, a massive skate park, hot pools, beautiful gardens to explore and pathways to walk, cycle or scoot along.
  • Te Mata Peak – For an extraordinary view, head up to the top of Te Mata Peak near Hastings.
  • National Aquarium of New Zealand – Discover amazing sea life, see the world-famously naughty penguins, and enjoy the entertaining reef talk from an underwater diver.
  • Hawke’s Bay Trails – Hire bikes for the whole family to explore Hawke’s Bay via the 200km of flat, easy riding cycle trails, where your next stop is never too far away.
  • Splash Planet – A huge summer attraction with pools, a river run, slides, playgrounds, mini golf, jeeps, bumper boats and more!

Destination #6: Wellington

WellingtonThe coolest little capital in the world has a surprising amount of activities for families. Get your walking shoes on and explore the stunning waterfront where there’s always something happening, spend up in the bustling shopping centre, or head into the hills (yes, there’s a lot of them!) to the beautiful natural attractions. As the locals say, you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.

Highlights:

  • Te Papa – The Museum of New Zealand is great for kids – and it’s educational! Discover what makes New Zealand unique with plenty of hands-on activities and regularly changing world-class exhibits.
  • Cable Car – This iconic transportation is well worth the short ride (don’t miss the tunnel light displays) up to the Botanic Gardens.
  • Waterfront – Explore where the locals hang out with great views, sculptures, bridges, a playground, and even a sandy beach within the city. Hire bikes, rollerblades, kayaks or paddleboards to get around.
  • Wellington Zoo and Zealandia – The zoo features over 100 species from around the world while Zealandia is a haven for native wildlife including native birds and tuatara.
  • Capital E – Ignite your children’s creative spark through digital workshops, live performances, events and hands-on fun. Free indoor drop in space for play, exploration and fun. For the little ones there’s a free playground with interactive elements, climbing frames, ride-ons, and more.
  • For more, visit our Wellington family holiday page.

Destination #7: Nelson

NelsonReputed to be the sunshine capital of New Zealand, Nelson at the top of the South Island is a favourite getaway spot for families who flock to the fantastic beaches and surrounding national parks for their summer holidays. Head to Montgomery Square for weekend markets or take the walk up to the ‘Centre of New Zealand’ for stunning views.

Highlights

  • Tahunanui Beach & Fun Park (commonly known as Tahuna Beach) – Considered to be one of the best beaches in New Zealand and the place to be in summer! It’s also home to a range of family activities. Try your hand at paddle boarding or explore the family activities at the fun park including hydro slide, bumper boats, mini golf, and outdoor trampoline park. There’s also Natureland, a small zoo and wildlife conservation centre with native species, meerkats, monkeys, farmyard friends and more.
  • Founders Heritage Park – Step back in time and explore Nelson’s heritage amongst character buildings. Take a ride on the train, explore the gardens and relax at the cafe.
  • Family Friendly Cycling – You’ll find plenty of family friendly rides to enjoy in the Nelson Tasman region with bike hire available in the city. The Great Taste cycling trail takes a leisurely tour of Nelson City or Tasman’s most beautiful coastal and inland areas. Connect to the Mapua Ferry to enjoy an ice cream, amazing fish & chips or jump off the Mapua Wharf to cool down.
  • Three National Parks – In less than 90 minutes from Nelson city you can explore the extraordinary Nelson Lakes, Kahurangi National Park, or the famous Kaiteriteri beach and the Abel Tasman National Park.  Spend the day soaking in the golden sands, turquoise blue waters and luscious green forests by foot, boat, kayak or air.

Destination #8: Christchurch

Situated within sight of the Southern Alps and on the edge of the Canterbury Plains, Christchurch is well and truly open for business! Take a stroll around Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens, pack a picnic, and explore Canterbury Museum. Punting on the Avon River is a must! How about a cruise on Akaroa Harbour, a trip on the Christchurch Gondola, or a city tour on a heritage tram?

Highlights:

  • The International Antarctic Centre – Chill out and experience the wonder and magic of Antarctica! Ride the Hagglund all terrain course, awesome 4D movies and rides plus see the little blue penguins.
  • Margaret Mahy Family Playground – A playground that caters for all ages and has some of the coolest playground equipment around.
  • Orana Wildlife Park – New Zealand’s only open range zoo – hand-feed the giraffe, see NZ’s only gorillas and orang-utans, travel through the Lion Habitat, pat friendly farmyard animals, see kiwi, tuatara and more.
  • The Air Force Musem of New Zealand – On the site of the former Wigram Air Force Base, there’s plenty to keep the kids busy and the whole family engaged with over 30 historic aircraft to view, interactive exhibitions and a flight simulator.
  • Christchurch Adventure Park – Zipline through the Port Hills, take in the city views from the chairlift, or hire a bike and experience the Pump Track – designed by kids for kids!

Destination #9: Queenstown

QueenstownNew Zealand’s adventure capital is brimming with fantastic activities for the whole family. In fact, you will never be without something to do! Lake Wakatipu is at the heart of many activities – take a paddlesteamer cruise, swim, take a lakeside walk, and see the diving ducks in the underwater observatory. The road to Glenorchy is the most scenic drive in the country and there is beauty all around. Queenstown is home to many short walks and day walks, and the Queenstown Trail offers 122km of trails to explore on foot or by bike.

Highlights:

  • Thrill-seeking – Speed down the Shotover River in a jet boat, bungy jump, jet-ski, take a helicopter flight – you name it, Queenstown has it!
  • Skyline Gondola – Travel up, up and up for the most spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu, visit the jelly bean shop, then luge or mountain bike down again.
  • Wanaka – Just an hour’s drive away, Wanaka is a beautiful place to visit and Puzzling World is great fun for the kids, big and small.
  • Winter fun – Coronet Peak and The Remarkables are Queenstown’s winter playgrounds for skiing and snowboarding.

Destination #10: Dunedin

DunedinDunedin makes an excellent family holiday destination, with just the right mix of fascinating heritage attractions, outdoor adventures and edutainment activities to keep things interesting. From the compact and colourful city centre to the fascinating wilds of the Otago Peninsula (including penguins, albatross and seals), adventures of all kinds await.

Highlights:

  • Larnarch Castle – New Zealand’s only castle is situated amongst beautiful gardens and from the top you can get spectacular views of Otago Harbour. Play croquet and quoits on the lawn and find the hidden Alice in Wonderland secrets.
  • Beaches – St Kilda and St Clair are amongst the most popular beaches in the area and the latter features an outdoor hot salt water pool.
  • Toitu Otago Settlers Museum – Prepare to get lost in the past for hours at this absorbing and interactive museum of Otago life.
  • Baldwin Street – Officially the world’s steepest residential street, this unique attraction is well worth the visit, especially if you’re keen on the walk to the top!
  • Tūhura Southern Community Trust Science Centre – Over 45 hands-on interactives, including a giant DNA-inspired helical slide, and a three-tier tropical butterfly enclosure. Science centre admission tickets also provides access to the multi-screen, laser-activated, Beautiful Science gallery. Combine the science centre experience with a planetarium show with a special Tūhura combo deal.

Why drive when you can fly?

No one wants to spend hours stuck in a car trying to get from A to B, especially when there’s kids involved (with “are we there yet?” on repeat!). Ditch the car and choose to fly and you will be at your destination in no time, ready to explore. Flying also makes a great adventure for the kids! Then just use public transport or hire a car when you arrive for a hassle-free holiday (and no long drive home).

Air New Zealand flies to 20 destinations around the country, from Kerikeri in the north, to Invercargill in the south. To find out more, visit www.airnz.co.nz.

This article was written by Julie Scanlon, Editor for Kidspot NZ, for Air New Zealand.

3 Comments

  1. Bevik1971 03/09/2018 at 9:29 am

    I really want to visit the hawkes Bay, my partner was born in Napier and I really want to look around his old home town and take our 5 year old to see where her Daddy was raised 🙂 I live in Dunedin and I think it is awesome, there is so much to do here

  2. SarahBlair 31/08/2018 at 9:02 pm

    That’s a fantastic list!! I have been to almost all of the North Island destinations and now that I am living in Southland I am really excited to explore the South Island! Thanks for the amazing ideas!!!

  3. kymmage 30/08/2018 at 7:27 pm

    Oh what a cool list! We quote often have a holiday in Auckland as the Waikato is our staycation destination. But I’d love to take the kids to Wellington or the South Island at some point. I’m a little scared of flying, but I need to get over that if we are going to explore properly!

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