With its spectacular scenic beauty and myriad of activities, New Zealand is a country that will keep all members of the family happy. The country has all the makings of a comfortable family vacation – moderate climate, spice-free local and international cuisine, easy transport, and family-friendly accommodation. Here is all of the information you need to plan a New Zealand family vacation.
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Why New Zealand is Perfect for Families
Where is New Zealand?
New Zealand is a remote island country located in the Oceania region, more than 4000 km southeast of Australia, its nearest neighbor. It is divided into two major islands – North Island and South Island.
The airports you can fly into are Auckland (AKL) on North Island and Christchurch (CHC) or Queenstown (ZQN) on South Island. Most people fly into the former two, but if you’re short on time, Queenstown makes for a great place to fly into as well.
There is lodging available close to the airport which is perfect if you arrive in the country at odd hours. It would otherwise be best to opt for a stay near the CBD (Central Business Hub) so that you can walk around to explore easily.
When is the best time to visit New Zealand?
New Zealand can be visited all year round. But each season has its pros and cons.
Summer (December to February) is the best time to visit for mild temperatures, bright sunny, and very long days. However, it is the peak tourist season and school holiday time. Accommodation is expensive and will require prior bookings (at least 3-4 months earlier). This is especially true in towns that are tourist hubs (like Queenstown) or have only a few places to stay (like Tekapo/Mt. Cook).
Winter (June to August) is a good time to visit if your family loves some snow fun. In this season, you’ll hardly find any tourists except at ski towns like Wanaka and Queenstown. Days are, however, quite short!
It will be best to take a New Zealand family vacation in the shoulder months of March and November when the weather is still good and there are fewer tourists.
How to travel around New Zealand with family
New Zealand has a good transportation system with the option of buses, trains, flights, and ferries.
The best way to get around the country is by car or campervan since New Zealand isn’t very big, only 1600 km long, and your driving license (as long as it is in English) works just fine. This gives you the freedom to stop wherever you want, and take as many breaks as your family requires for food and toilet stops.
The roads in New Zealand are well maintained and the country is strewn with quaint towns, picnic spots, and lookout points that make the drive an absolute pleasure. You can hire an SUV/ Campervan for a comfortable family trip, right from the airport when you land.
Or to save some bucks, rent one the day you are to leave the arrival city. In the meantime, you can use buses or Uber to get around. Uber is available in the following cities- Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown, and Dunedin.
However, know that New Zealand has driving on the left side of the road. So read the driving rules before driving in the country. Also, parking in major cities is difficult and your accommodation may not have free parking either. You’ll need to use paid parking in such a scenario.
Alternatively, you can also take bus tours and trains on certain routes. However, this would take a little more planning.
Basic facts about New Zealand
The official languages of New Zealand are Maori and English. English is spoken by over 95% of the population so you’ll get by without any problems. However, you’ll hear a few Maori words throughout your stay! Aotearoa (meaning New Zealand) and Kia Ora (meaning hello/cheers/thank you) are the major ones.
Being a British constitutional monarchy, New Zealand follows the metric system- liter, gram, meter, Celsius.
The currency used here is the New Zealand Dollar or NZD (1 USD= 1.37 NZD). All major credit cards with Visa and MasterCard are accepted. So, it’s the perfect way to make purchases. You can also use one of the many money exchanges in the cities to get NZD bills or even withdraw from ATMs (a bank fee will be levied). However, cash is rarely required.
Healthcare in New Zealand
New Zealand has an amazing healthcare system. So much so that, if you (a tourist) have an accident while in NZ, you will be covered for the resulting medical care by the Accident Compensation Corporation.
New Zealand mostly has private providers. If you have any prior health ailments, it will be better to base yourself in the cities than in small towns and villages that don’t have the desired facilities. However, the 24-hour Healthline (0800 611 116) offers health advice throughout NZ (free from local mobile phones or landlines). Interpreters are also available.
The price of healthcare is reasonable if you have a minor ailment requiring a general physician. If it’s anything more than that, the expenses add up quickly and you will have to pay upfront. It would be advisable to have travel insurance that covers medical costs so you don’t have to bear any exorbitant expenses out of your own pocket.
Packing for a family trip to New Zealand
Rain/Wind Jacket: The weather in New Zealand is notoriously fickle. It’ll be sunny one moment pouring the other. And it is always windy!
Down Jacket: You’ll be traversing a variety of landscapes here. Carry a light packable jacket for chilly weather. And layer up when visiting in the winter or hiking.
Swimsuit: With so many opportunities to jump in the water from beaches to thermal springs, you might like to carry two!
Comfortable Walking Shoes: There are a lot of scenic walks you’ll be tempted to do in New Zealand. Better have these to enjoy the walks fully!
Hiking Shoes: New Zealand has a plethora of hiking trails and they’re so beautiful. Carry these only if you’re thinking of hiking as a family!
Sunscreen: The ozone hole is above this country, so the sun is quite strong. Always have sunscreen on to prevent burns and protect the skin from UV rays. It would be advisable to carry SPF lip balm too!
Refillable Bottle: Tap water is drinkable in New Zealand. To avoid spending on water, carry a bottle per family member. Refill this at your accommodation every day!
Oh! and don’t forget to carry the driving license of those who intend to drive.
There is a list of items you cannot carry to New Zealand. Ensure you go through it and adhere to the rules.
Best activities in New Zealand for large family groups
There are so many fun things that families can do together in New Zealand.
Thermal Pools and Springs
New Zealand has several geothermal hot pools in which you relax your weary muscles. While all hot pools can be enjoyed by adults, kids will particularly enjoy Hot Water Beach in Coromandel (dig your own spa pool) and Parakai Springs in North island. In South Island, Hanmer Springs and Tekapo Springs will be best. These have water slides and other facilities to keep kids entertained.
Some springs can only be observed from a distance. Wai-o-tapu pools in Rotorua are a must-see with their vivid colors. However, it requires a bit of a walk (1.35 km) to see the main pools. Longer walks also exist if you’re interested in seeing the park in its entirety!
A trip to Hobbiton – home of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit Trilogy – is a great outing for the young and old. Here you will tour the movie set and even have a drink at the Green Dragon Inn. Even those who haven’t seen the movies find the place fascinating. Children under 8 are free, but you’ll still need a ticket for them!
See tiny bioluminescent creatures that light up dark caves’ ceilings like the starry sky – a magical setting that is unique to this part of the world! Waitomo Glowworm Caves in North Island are the most popular and accessible. You can either do a 45-min boat ride or a 1.5-hour walk at Ruakuri cave which is fully wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Whale watching in Kaikoura
Kaikoura is the perfect place to spot some of New Zealand’s amazing wildlife. There’s a high concentration of seal colonies which can be viewed on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walk. Whale and dolphin watching can be done by boat (keep a seasickness remedy ready) or plane.
Skyline Gondola and Luge
The Rotorua and Queenstown gondolas take you up a hill where you’ll witness breathtaking panoramic views. These hills have a restaurant bar, Stratosfare, where the adults can have a drink while the younger ones hop on and ride a luge down the winding mountain slope.
Adventurous family members can try other activities like paragliding and bungee jumping. Staying late for dinner is also a good idea as you’ll get an awesome view of the stars. Telescopes are available!
Milford Sound Cruise
A cruise in Milford Sound offers an uninterrupted view of towering glacier-carved cliffs, glistening fjords, cascading waterfalls, diverse wildlife and lush greenery. Adults will love the scenery and the wildlife (fur seals, dolphins and penguins) and children especially will enjoy getting soaked by a waterfall.
Stargazing in Tekapo/Mt.Cook
Tekapo and Mt. Cook are located in the Mackenzie region which is an International Dark Sky Reserve. Stargaze on your own or take a tour to Mt. John observatory. Here you’ll observe the brilliant night sky and learn all about it. The entire family will be awe-struck.
Here is a comprehensive list of fantastic things to see and do in New Zealand.
Family-friendly restaurants in New Zealand
Kids are mostly welcomed in restaurants and devoted children’s menus are standard. Some restaurants to try are:
Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar (Rotorua and Queenstown): This restaurant is perched on a hill. Dine here for the view, have a drink and relish New Zealand’s award-winning cuisine.
Lord of the Fries: Tasty hotdogs, burgers, nuggets and fries that are actually vegetables in disguise. Best to get the children eating veggies!
One Red Dog: A family-friendly pizza and pasta waterfront restaurant that has a special kid’s menu too!
Read for the best things to eat in New Zealand and where to eat them.
Where to stay in New Zealand with a large family group
- Airbnb or holiday homes (called a Bach)- Vacation rentals are available throughout New Zealand. They are perfect for families because they have all the comforts of a home along with a kitchen – so you can cook our own meals per your family’s dietary requirements and even keep your costs down!
Learn more ways to save money on a New Zealand holiday.
- Hotels and motels – A good range of these are available in most cities. It is advisable to book them in advance as family rooms are usually limited.
- Holiday parks – If you’re traveling by campervan or want to save some money but also have all facilities, opt for holiday parks when visiting towns and villages. They offer tent sites, caravan parking and cabins. These usually have shared bathroom and kitchen facilities, however. The best bit is that they often have a playground and other facilities for kids.
Suggested New Zealand family-friendly itineraries
If you’re in New Zealand for a week it would be best to travel around only one island to keep the itinerary relatively relaxed.
North Island Itinerary
- Arrive in Auckland – Rest to recover from jetlag and walk around Victoria and Brito Street.
- Transfer to Coromandel Coast or Bay of Island to hit the beaches.
- If you opt for Coromandel, see Cathedral cove and Hot Water Beach. If you opt for Bay of Islands, see the Hole in the Rock and go dolphin watching.
- Transfer to Rotorua visiting Hobbiton on the way. Soak in Polynesian Spa (hot springs) in the evening.
- Explore Rotorua – Wai-o-Tapu Geothermal park and Skyline + Luge
- Explore Rotorua – Redwoods Treetop Walk, Zorbing and Maori Show with Hangi Feast
- Drive back to Auckland via Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Hamilton Town
- Board a flight home
South Island Itinerary
- Arrive in Christchurch
- Day Trip to Kaikoura for whale watching and seeing seals
- Day Trip to Hanmer Springs
- Transfer to Tekapo/Mt. Cook Village. See Church of the Good Shepherd and spend time by the lake or drive to Mt. Cook Village to see the highest mountain in New Zealand. Stargaze at night by yourself or at Mt. John Observatory.
- Transfer to Queenstown. Take the gondola up to bobs peak. Eat, drink, try the luge, adventure activities.
- Transfer to Te Anau with a detour to quaint Arrowtown for a meal. Tour the Te Anau Glowworms Caves or enjoy a stroll by the lake.
- Visit Milford Sound and return to Queenstown. Walk around the town.
- Board a flight home
In case you’re looking to stay for longer and cover both islands, read our 18-day New Zealand itinerary.
About the authors: Trisha and Modi from TryWanderingMore.Com are an Indian travel blogger and photographer duo. They help mid-budget travelers plan their vacations by providing in-depth information on destinations around the world. You can find them wherever there is scrumptious food and on Instagram.
If you’re looking for additional destinations that offer adventure, try our Costa Rica travel guide for families or Peru with a multigenerational group.