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35 Family Activities In New Zealand For Your Family Holiday
Fun family activities in New Zealand can be found throughout this beautiful country. New Zealand has heaps of great family things to do including 9 great walks. Plenty of amazing beaches including these 8 family friendly beaches in Wellington. The stunning scenery is straight from Lord of the Rings including Hobbiton and Rivendell. There’s also lots of adventurous activities like caving at Waitomo. Here’s 35 of the best family friendly activities in New Zealand, including several free things to do with your kids, great for budget friendly entertainment.
1. Queenstown Gondola (and luge)
Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand. From the top of Queenstown skyline gondola you will have amazing views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range. Your whole family will love the spectacular view. Take a picnic, or enjoy a meal or snack in the restaurant.
Kids will love the thrill of watching people hurl themselves off the bungee jump and swing as you ride the gondola. Alternatively head back via an adrenaline filled ride on the luge. There is a choice of tracks too, making this a great adventure activity for your family no matter what age your kids are.
2. Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland
Geothermal activity runs deep throughout New Zealand, but there is no better place than Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland to experience some of the most impressive geothermal sights. The neon yellow devils bath and fizzing champagne pools are two of the highlights. It’s easy to visit independently from Rotorua or Taupo. Arrive early to see lady Knox Geyser erupt, the show starts at 10.15am every day. A family visit is both educational and beautiful, just be prepared for the sulphurous smell!
3. Skytower Auckland
Panoramic 360 views of Auckland and the bay from the Skytower are pretty amazing. At 328m high it’s bound to impress your whole family. The 360 degree observation deck also has a glass panel in the floor so you can see the path below you. Those with vertigo may find it scary, but it’s a great kids activity to see who can brave walking on the glass. In addition its a brilliant place to watch the sunset. However a visit at anytime is pretty much guaranteed to give you great views and plenty of family fun. Watch thrill seekers do the sky jump (and join them if you’re brave enough).
4. Te Papa
Te Papa in Wellington is arguably New Zealand’s best museum and as free to visit. There are multiple exhibits ranging from wildlife, to space, to Earthquakes and New Zealand culture. Don’t miss the Gallipoli exhibition, about New Zealand’s tragic part of WWII. There is heaps for you to discover and learn. Kids of all ages will enjoy a visit, especially with the wide variety of interactive exhibits for them to discover.
5. Milford Sound Cruise
Milford Sound is one of New Zealand most iconic natural attractions. It is actually a fjord, with mountains rising steeply from the water. A Milford Sound cruise is a great way to see it and one of New Zealand’s popular family friendly activities. You may get to see fur seals, dolphins and if your lucky fjordland penguins too. It’s also possible to Kayak the fjord, a great adventure for older kids.
6. Maori Cultural Experience
Maori’s first arrived from Polynesia between 1250 and 1300 and today make up 15% of the population. Their culture is strong, with the Maori language being taught in schools. You’ve probably heard of the Haka, made infamous by the All Blacks rugby team. Originally a war dance, there is nothing quite like being confronted by Maoris as they perform this show of strength. Learn more about their traditions, food and culture in a fascinating performance. These can be found at various locations including Auckland, Rotorua, and Christchurch.
7. Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Glow worms are actually larvae of a fungus gnat. They make sticky threads to catch insects, and the blue glow they produce attracts their food. Waitomo is the best place to see them. There are multiple tour options from underground walk through tour, boat trip or adventurous Black Abyss tour which involves abseiling into the cave. I thought the Black Abyss tour was incredible, however it would only be suitable for teenagers.
Glow Worms can be seen throughout New Zealand however, including some free places such as the glow worm dell in Hokitika.
8. Cape Reinga Lighthouse
The most accessible northern most point of New Zealand is where the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean meet. There is a visible line in the water where the currents meet, a phenomenon which can only be seen in a few places throughout the world. With a picturesque lighthouse overlooking the meeting of seas, a visit here is sure to be dramatic. Enjoy a short stroll, photo opportunities and great panoramic views.
9. Moeraki Boulders
The Moeraki boulders are an interesting sight and visiting them is a great family activity. These 2 meter balls of rock on Koekohe beach were created naturally and preserved within the hills for thousands of years. They have been exposed due to sea erosion. Playing among the boulders on the beach is fun for all the family, and it’s completely free!
10. Puzzling World
Puzzling world is fun for all the family. The usual attraction near Wanaka has several highlights, including a huge maze, rooms full of optical illusions, and the hall of faces, where you will be be watched wherever you stand. you can even visit some Roman style toilets during your trip!
Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies are timeless, and so is a visit to the Shire. LOTR and The Hobbit fans can’t miss one of New Zealand’s most famous attractions. The set was meticulously built and involved three months work. Discover which tree is fake, pose by hobbit holes, and enjoy a beer or soft drink at the green dragon pub. Hobbiton can only be visited on a tour, most depart from the i-site in Matamata. The guided tour is worthwhile though as you learn heaps about LOTR and The Hobbit movies.
12. Wellington Zoo
A visit to a zoo is always a great family friendly activity. After all, kids big and small love animals. Wellington Zoo is great because alongside lions and tigers you can see some native wildlife such as blue penguins and kiwi. Young children will love the petting area. There are also regular educational shows throughout the zoo such as penguin feeding time. A visit to the Zoo is definitely one of the best family activities in New Zealand for your family.
13. Maori Carvings
Sail, kayak or cruise to the Maori carvings on Lake Taupo. The main carving is of Ngātoroirangi, an ancestor of the carver, Matahi Brightwell. The carving shows a traditional Te Moko full face tattoo and stand 14m high. The longer you look the more you will notice, including carvings of native animals which are kaitiaki (guardians) and tupuna (ancestors) of the local Maori tribe. A visit is both impressive and educational, making it one of new Zealand’s best family activities.
14. Doubtful Sound Cruise
Doubtful Sound is the quieter, more peaceful brother to Milford Sound. To reach it you must cross Lake Manapouri by ferry, where you will see the Manapouri water power station. From there you will drive along New Zealand most expensive road to build, before cruising the stunning sound. As well as being surrounded by steep mountains rising from the fjord, you will have a chance to see fur desks, dolphins and fjordland penguins.
Zealandia in Wellington is a nature reserve for native animals. You will see plenty of native birds, including kiwi, Takahe, Kea and Kakapo. You might also see Tuatara, a 3 eyed lizard older than the dinosaurs. Most of the wildlife is found in the central area near the visitor centre, but there is also plenty of quiet walks in the native bush to explore. Kids will love learning about New Zealand’s wildlife and seeing rare and unusual creatures close up.
16. Steamboat Cruise on Lake Wakatipu
Take a steamboat cruise on Lake Wakatipu and enjoy stunning views of Queenstown and the Remarkable mountains. TSS Earnslaw is a historic 1912 Edwardian steam boat. During your cruise you will enjoy live piano music, visit the engine rooms and discover the ships history.
17. Ski Mount Ruapehu
Mount Ruapehu ski field is perfect for families, weather your are absolute beginners with toddlers or experts with teens. Happy valley is a fully self contained beginners area, complete with ski lift, cafe, toilets, and equipment hire. its easy to book lessons for skiing or snowboarding. Turoa Ski area is one of New Zealand’s largest, and has the longest vertical drop of 722m. The Ski fields are seasonal, usually operating from late June to October.
18. Penguins at Oamaru
Oamaru is the best place in New Zealand to see penguins in the wild. Waterfront road in Oamaru is the place to go for little blue penguins. They nest in holes in the Victorian buildings. Yellow eyed penguins can be seen at Busy beach scenic reserve, just south of Oamaru. It’s definitely one of the best places to see New Zealand’s native penguins for free, making it a budget friendly family activity.
Dusk is the best time to see them, when the penguins are return to their nests after a days fishing. Please be respectful, they are shy creatures and scare easily, don’t get between them and their nest and be quiet.
19. Explore Abel Tasman
Abel Tasman is a beautiful coastal region with pretty gold sand beaches, rugged cliffs, native bush, crystal blue sea and plenty of wildlife. The best way to explore Able Tasman is to pack a picnic and take the water taxi to a bay of your choice. There you can swim, sunbathe, and venture into the native bush. You can also do kayaking trips which is great for older kids. Hope to see shags (cormorants), oyster catchers, gulls and other marine life. There is even an elephant rock and split apple rock to discover. A vitst to Abel Tasman is one of the most popular things to do in New Zealand with kids.
20. Weta Workshop
Weta Workshop is famous for creating the special effects and props behind the scenes on the lord of the rings and the hobbit movies. It is a fascinating place to go on a tour, where you can learn all about the processes they use and details essential for their work. The talented team’s portfolio also includes Thunderbirds, Avatar, District 9, The adventures of TinTin, King King and the Chronicles of Narnia. A visit is sure to be a discovery of creativity. Let your kids imagination run wild.
21. West Coast Glaciers
Fox and Franz-Josef glaciers are both very beautiful and different to behold. Each can be reached via an approx 45 minute walk from the car park. Sadly you can’t go too close to the glacier faces; they are fenced off for safety reasons. Follow a winding rocky valley to the white and blue ice sheet slowly melting. If you are lucky you may see and hear a chunk of ice fall from the glacier. Keep an eye out for markers along the way which show how far the glacier has receded in the last 200 years.
For a closer experience splash out on a heli-hike and walk on the blue glacier, discovering its crack and crevices. Alternatively view them from above on a helicopter tour. If you are unlucky with the weather (The West Coast is one of New Zealand’s rainiest places) then head to the local hot pools and relax until you can go exploring.
22. Watch Wildlife at Kaikoura
Kaikoura has a beautiful rugged coastline that drops steeply into the sea, which means it attracts plenty of awesome wildlife. You can go whale watching, with a high chance of seeing them. It’s possible to swim with wild dolphins too, or stay on the boat if you prefer. You could also some species of Great Albatross, with wing spans of up to 3.5m.
23. Hot pools around taupo/rotarua
Enjoy a relaxing soak at one of several free hot pools in the Rotorua and Taupo thermal area. Most people will head to one or both places, making this a great family activity in New Zealand for your family.
Head to spa park in Taupo where you’ll find a lovely warm pool where Otumeheke stream joins the Waikatu river. It’s pretty easy to find, no doubt there will be others already enjoying a warm soak.
Kerosene creek is a short drive down a gravel road signposted between Rotorua and Taupo. Its a beautiful natural hot pool, and the waterfall could even be a back massage for you.
At wai-o -tapu thermal wonderland there is an excellent hot pool where two streams join. As one is cold and one is geothermal, you can easily adjust the temperature by choosing your whereabouts. The natural mud on the bank is full of natural minerals which are said to be great for the skin, so enjoy a face-mask while you soak if you choose.
24. 90 Mile Beach
The inaccurately named 90 mile beach is actually only 88 kilometers in length. It’s a long stretch of golden sandy beach and wind swept sand dunes. The sunsets are amazing, as is the surf. The quiet and pretty beach is also a public road. However its only really suitable for 4×4 vehicles. You can’t drive your rental car there either, but there are tours available which drive on the beach and usually visit Cape Reigna also. Enjoy the ride and keep your eyes open for fur seals, gulls and other local wildlife.
25. Larnach Castle
Larnach Castle near Dunedin is not actually a castle, but it’s the closest New Zealand has. Built in 1871 by William Larnach for his wife, the Gothic style of the grand stone house will impress you and your children. However if you have traveled a lot in Europe it will seem small in comparison to the buildings there. Even so, it is well worth a visit, as are the beautiful gardens with Alice in wonderland themed sculptures for your family to enjoy.
26. Pancake Rocks
Pancake rocks on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island are a unique sight to see. The rock formations look like lots of pancakes piled together. If possible go at high tide for the best views of blue holes and huge waves crashing and being the rocks. The free stop off is great during a Road Trip of the South Island. The short walk is pushchair and wheelchair friendly, so even the youngest of visitors can see the view. Head to the nearby cafe where you can eat pancakes at pancake rocks. There is likely to be Weka (native bird) lurking around too.
27. White Kiwi at Pukaha National Wildlife Centre
The Wairarapa is home to Manukura, the white Kiwi. Famous worldwide for being the first white kiwi to be born in 100 years, that we know of. Manukura is not an albino, but a naturally white kiwi. Sadly it means a life of captivity, as it would easily be seen by predators if it were released. However it’s an amazing living specimen of new Zealand’s most famous bird. The wildlife center is also home to other natives, such as the Tuatara Lizard and cheeky Kaka. You can also explore native bush on one of several walks here. Choose a guided tour where a ranger will explain more about New Zealand’s native wildlife and the important work of Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Center.
28. Hot Water Beach
Take a spade an dig yourselves your very own private hot pool at hot water beach in the Coromandel. Check the tide times and visit with 2 hours either side of low tide to enjoy the thermal warmth. Simply stroll along the sand until you feel a warm patch, and start digging using either your own idea hired spade. It’s great fun, and after a brief dig you will have your very own hot pool on the beach!
Its a perfect family activity; your kids will tire themselves out digging and then you can relax while they play! Just be wary of strong currents if you wish to swim in the sea, and only swim between the flags.
Rivendell Lord of the Rings movie location near Wellington is a great place to visit. As well as a short walk around the film location there is a pretty river which you can swim in, a picnic area. There is several walks in these native bush to, including one that is pushchair and wheelchair friendly.
30. Otago Rail Trail
The central Otago Rail Trail is 152km of disused rail lines that now make a fabulous bike ride. You can hire bikes and helmets easily, and chose just a short section, or do the whole route if you are really keen. You can see remnants of the gold rush alongside train stations, tunnel and viaducts, set in stunning scenery. This is a popular family activity in New Zealand and one of the best things to do in the South Island.
31. Kauri Trees
Tane Mahuta ‘Lord of the Forest’ is New Zealand’s biggest and possibly most visited Kauri Tree, and is found in Waipou forest in Northland. These giants can live for up to 2000 years with trunk diameters of 20 meters. Sadly most of the largest Kauri trees were used to build Waka (canoes) by Maoris, so only a few ancient trees remain. A visit to one of the oldest and most magnificent of these tree still standing is a great thing to do in New Zealand.
32. Wildlife at Stewart Island
Stewart Island is one of the best places in New Zealand to see wild Kiwi. As it’s the last stop before reaching the Antarctic, it’s a bit of a trek getting there. It can be reached by ferry or plane, although I recommend the plane if you are prone to seasickness. It’s well worth a visit though, with wild Kiwi searching for food at night and occasionally in the day. Friendly locals, a peaceful setting, and trip to Ulva Island nature reserve with plenty of native wildlife to discover. Stewart island is off the beaten track and not visited by many, but everyone who goes there enjoyed their experience in New Zealand’s third Island.
33. Stargaze at Mount Cook
Mount Cook is a black sky reserve, meaning there very little light pollution, giving you an excellent chance to the milky way and the stars of the southern hemisphere, weather permitting. It’s certainly one of the best place to see the stars including the milky way and southern cross, which features on New Zealand’s flag. Book a stargazing tour through the hermitage Hotel or visit the Planetarium at the Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Center for a fun family activity.
34. Punting, Christchurch
Punting is a popular past time in both Oxford and Cambridge, in the UK. But did you know you can punt on the river Avon in Christchurch? Its even a year round activity as in winter they provide blankets and hot water bottles to keep you warm. Enjoy floating sedately through the scenic parts of Christchurch while discovering more about its history and culture. Your journey begins at the historic boat shed and you can sit and relax while you enjoy the seeing the sights from the river. it’s a fun thing to do in New Zealand with kids, as they will love the novelty of punting. Additionally they will learn about the History of Punting and Christchurch from the friendly local guide.
35. Wellington Cable Car
Wellington Cable Car and museum transports you from central Wellington shopping to the top of the Botanical Gardens. At the top you can enjoy fantastic views. The cable car museum is well worth a visit too, check out the slanted seats outside the old cable car, the slant is so they were level seats for passenger traveling up and down Wellingtons steep hill. If your kids love trains they will enjoy a ride on this slice of cultural heritage. it’s especially great for your children, who will be excited at traveling via a tram.
I think these 35 activities are great for most families, whether you have babies, older teens, or any age in between. Comment and tell me which New Zealand family activity you loved best! Do you have an activity to add to the list?