The ultimate family holiday experiences in New Zealand

Add these kid-friendly activities to your itinerary to have an action-packed family adventure across New Zealand's North and South Islands.

Two children zip-lining above the water on Waiheke Island
  • Lindy Alexander
  • March 2020

With geysers and glaciers and hot water beaches(!), New Zealand has so much natural wonder to offer family holidaymakers. But there’s also fun stuff to do that is educational.

Go zip-lining on Waiheke Island

EcoZip Adventures, which run one of the country’s most spectacular zip-lining experiences, is located high on a hill on Waiheke Island, a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland. Dual cables mean parents and kids can zoom side-by-side over the lush forest canopy, reaching speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour. The three-hour EcoZip Experience also includes a guided nature walk on which you’ll wander among towering trees while being told stories of Māori legends.

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Soak in warm water at Coromandel Peninsula

How many sand castles have you made that have hot water running through them? None? Then grab a bucket and spade and tap into the natural warm waters at Hot Water Beach, a couple of hours’ drive south of Auckland. While adults may want to dig a natural hot pool to soak in, kids love the novelty of the clear, warm water bubbling up through the holes they create.

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A group of children building sandcastles at Hot Water Beach in New Zealand
The kids will love building sandcastles at Hot Water Beach.

Explore the Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley

If you’ve ever wanted a family nature experience that feels like something out of The Princess Bride, look no further than Te Puia’s gurgling mud pools, tranquil hot springs and seven geysers venting in the Rotorua region. Explore the valley by day, but as the sun sets, grab a mug of hot chocolate and watch the illuminated Pohutu Geyser erupt, sending water as high as 30 metres.

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Visit the International Antarctic Centre

Kids need to chill out? Then head to Christchurch’s International Antarctic Centre, an immersive experience that shows you just what it’s like in the South Pole. Battle an Antarctic storm at the indoor storm room or snuggle up to a lively husky, the intelligent and robust dogs known for pulling sleds for scientific and exploratory teams.

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A mother and daughter dressed in red coats at the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch
You can actually explore the Antarctic right here in Christchurch!

See the stars at Mount John Observatory

As the sun dips below the Southern Alps, the first stars begin to appear. The University of Canterbury’s Mount John Observatory near Lake Tekapo is one of the world’s best destinations for stargazing, with plenty of options for younger children. The Twilight Experience allows kids to see the southern skies through powerful optical telescopes, while older ones can ponder the heavens from a purpose-built crater or the summit of Mount John.

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Walk on glaciers at Franz Josef

It’s not every day that you get to walk on a glacier but on the Franz Josef Glacier, on the west coast of the South Island, you not only get to see it from a viewing platform, you can strap on crampons and venture on to the creaking ice to see the glittering caves and rock-encrusted surface up close. It is easy to understand how this river of ice has imperceptibly but surely retreated and advanced over time with this view.

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A girl hiking through Franz Josef ice glacier
There's not many other places on the planet where you can walk on a glacier.

Learn about conservation at Zealandia

Step back in time with Zealandia, a 225-hectare urban eco-sanctuary in Wellington that shows what the picturesque reservoir and valley was like before human arrival. Offering a rare opportunity to see vulnerable native birds and reptiles such as tīeke, hihi, little spotted kiwi and tuatara (below) in the wild, it’s a groundbreaking conservation project that has reintroduced 18 species of native wildlife.

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Challenge your brain at Puzzling World

Smartypants, prepare to meet your match at Puzzling World, a huge fun park in Wanaka that is home to the world’s first 3D maze, illusion rooms and bizarre buildings located just north of this lakeside resort town. You’ll shrink and grow in the forced perspective room, change the way you see the world in the hologram hall and stretch your creativity trying to solve mind-bending puzzles and mazes.

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