New Zealand travel: some of the best school holiday activities around Aotearoa

Christchurch Adventure Park is a great choice for family fun during the school holidays. Photo / ChristchurchNZ

Ewan McDonald looks at some of the best ways to keep boredom at bay this spring school break.

It’s that time of year – to be exact, one of those four or five times of year – when one branch of the family says “I’m bored” and another thinks “I am broke”.

With our usual combination of common sense and community service, we’re here to help. Here are five best places to spend spring school break and five more you should consider. Some experiences will mean digging into your wallet, but these also have free or nearly free treats.

1 Tāmaki Makaurau – and not just for foreigners. Even if you live in the Big Smoke, there’s always bound to be a corner you haven’t visited, an experience you haven’t tried. Big ticket items such as the Sky Tower with its new All Blacks Experience and Wētā Workshop attractions; Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s; day trips to Rangitoto, Waiheke or the zoo, with over 1000 creatures of land, sky and water (more profitable if you co-op grandparents for some of them).

Young visitors are captivated by the aquatic creatures on display in Auckland's most famous aquarium.  Photo/Sea Life Kelly Tarlton Aquarium
Young visitors are captivated by the aquatic creatures on display in Auckland’s most famous aquarium. Photo/Sea Life Kelly Tarlton Aquarium

Auckland is full of little pleasures: a ferry ride around the harbour, climbing one of the 48 volcanoes, bush trails in the Waitākere or Hunua ranges. How about a day in Wynyard Quarter with its Silo Park playground, the restaurants of North Harbor or the fish market? On the outskirts, Snowplanet, Rainbow’s End and the west coast beaches are longtime favourites.

Our choice : More entertaining than any Marvel superhero movie is the Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes exhibition at the Auckland Museum.

2 Rotorua. – It was created as our first vacation destination, then someone came along and added all the geothermal wonders to make it even more exciting. Again, you can tailor the location to suit your budget and interests.

Unfortunately, some attractions have not survived the past two years. But Geyser City is still one of the best places to take the family, with its hillside gondola and toboggan run; the massive aMAZEme puzzle, kayak the lakes, swim in hot pools, jet boat to Mokoia Island, and ride the world famous mountain bike trails.

Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua is a winner for vacation activities.  Photo / Supplied.
Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua is a winner for vacation activities. Photo / Supplied.

Our choice : Redwoods Treewalk, the skypath of 23 suspension bridges climbing 12m above the forest floor into giant 115-year-old trees. It’s even better at night.

3 Taupo. Giant volcano under the beautiful lake, mountains on all sides, Tongariro and Waikato rivers flowing through spectacular countryside. Cruise, sail, swim, kayak or SUP on the lake; raft the Tongariro, walk or cycle the lake and riverside trails. The National Trout Center organizes school holiday courses to teach children how to fly fish; anyone can pick up shrimp at Huka Prawn Park. Breathtaking factors at Huka Falls and the Craters of the Moon geothermal walkway.

Our choice : Taupō DeBretts Hot Springs with hydro slides, hot water play area, private pools and spa.

4 wellingtons. Here we have Te Papa, showing what makes Aotearoa and Kiwis unique, and the wondrous Zealandia Sanctuary, gradually returning a suburb to the bush and wildlife of the Gondwanaland era. Capital E is a free walk-in space for play, exploration and fun from toddlers to teens who want to try their hand at the creative arts.

Our choices : This beautiful waterfront, where you walk, eat, snorkel, enjoy markets, sculptures, rent bikes, skates, kayaks and paddle boards. Apparently, Te Whanganui-a-Tara even has a Wētā workshop.

    The Kākā are just a few of the inhabitants of Zealandia in Wellington.  Photo / Wellington NZ
The Kākā are just a few of the inhabitants of Zealandia in Wellington. Photo / Wellington NZ

5 Otautahi. You can, of course, take a stroll through Hagley Park, take a punt ride on the Avon and cruise Akaroa Harbor – but there are plenty of new thrills. No 1 for families has to be super cool Margaret Mahy Playground; No 2, Christchurch Adventure Park to zipline through the Port Hills, survey the rebuilt city from the chairlift, or hire bikes and ride the Pump Track, designed by kids for kids. The International Antarctic Centre, Canterbury and Air Force Museums are worth a visit, as is Orana Wildlife Park, our only open-air zoo with gorillas and orangs -utans, lions and giraffes. Ultra-modern Tūranga is less a library than a digital play space.

Our choices : Rutherford’s Den, the college clock rooms where our Nobel laureate studied, brought to life with multi-sensory exhibits and hands-on experiences; He Puna Taimoana, New Brighton’s sparkling new pool complex.


North land. It might be a little early to dip your toes in the water, but there’s plenty to see and do in Te Tai Tokerau. Head to Hokianga and soak up history at Manea Footprints of Kupe; hike through the Waipoua Forest to Tāne Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere; cross the coast to Paihia and cruise the Hole in the Rock, spot dolphins or visit historic sites at Russell, Kerikeri, Waitangi Treaty Grounds and ATV Park. Don’t miss Whangārei’s magnificent Hundertwasser Art Center either.

Hamilton. Chris Finlayson may think it’s “Dullsville”, but Hamilton is a fabulous base for exploring the Waikato and surrounding areas. The river city has a beautiful zoo, parks and playgrounds, great biking and walking trails, an excellent interactive museum and sensational Hamilton Gardens. Seaside Raglan, Waitomo Caves, Otorohanga Kiwi and Hobbiton are all within an hour’s drive. Further south, our choice – the unforgettable Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari and our birds, tuatara and insects.

Taranaki. There’s more to Taranaki than New Plymouth, although the town has plenty to offer families – the Len Lye Centre; the Puke Ariki museum where children can get lost for hours; the pleasures of the sea and the Coastal Walkway. Outside the city, take a hike – or just a short walk – on the maunga. The province specializes in quirky attractions like an Elvis sanctuary, toy and doll exhibits; our choice is the fascinating Tawhiti Museum in Hāwera.

Wanganui. The River City has a great adventure playground on the shore of Kōwhai Park, the quirky Durie Hill Elevator inside the hill (currently occupied by singer-songwriter/railroad crackpot Anthonie Tonnon), and places to burn energy like the Splash Centre, Springvale Pump Track and river kayaking. Multi-day trips are an unforgettable experience for slightly older families.

Dunedin. Ōtepoti mixes history, adventure and… let’s call them “edu-tainment” activities. On the outskirts of Dunedin there’s old-fashioned life at Larnach Castle and wildlife along the Otago Peninsula, as well as the hot saltwater pools of St Clair. The Toitū Otago Settlers Museum is a captivating interactive slice of life and times past; The Tūhura Science Center is a hands-on experience. Go on a street art hunt, break out of the escape rooms in the old jail or, to really tire them out, race them up Baldwin St. Maybe not…

There's a lot to see at the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum.  Photo / Jodie Gibson
There’s a lot to see at the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. Photo / Jodie Gibson

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