New Zealand with Kids
A Family-Friendly Fly-Drive Itinerary

It’s a long old journey to the Land of the Long White Cloud, aka New Zealand. So what makes it special for families and is it worth it? It’s a resounding yes! But, planning and that all-important itinerary are everything when you’re racking up the milometer! Fortunately, as established family travel specialists, the team at Bushbaby are on hand to help! Here’s our take on a rip-roaring, rollicking fly-drive that sees you travelling north to south and offers the kind of teen-friendly adventure that will make those hours in the air a mere inconvenience.

Why opt for self-drive in New Zealand?

You can be in on the action! The country is a living film set; the backdrop to Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Wolverine, it has landscapes so vast and jaw-dropping that they deserve a round of applause! If you fly, you just can’t appreciate it all in the same way. It’s inexpensive – save your NZ dollars for a hair-raising, adrenaline-inducing jet-boat experience in Queenstown, or a more sedate, but no less memorable slap-up cultural meal and show in Rotarua. You can travel at your own pace and go where you please; allowing for loo stops, snack top ups and run-abouts as you travel through Middle Earth.

North Island Itinerary

It might be the smaller of the two Islands, but there’s a lot going for it! For a start, it’s home to about three quarters of the resident population and has 4 of New Zealand’s 7 International airports. If you’re looking to tap into New Zealand’s native Maori past, North Island is where it’s at; Te Papa Tongarewa (the national museum of New Zealand) in charming Wellington is well worth a visit as are the Waitangi Treaty grounds in the Bay of Islands.

Wanaka Tree

Where Should I Fly Into?

Fly into Auckland, a glittering, kid-friendly waterside city with a lovely waterfront and great open spaces, including some epic splash parks that are perfect for cooling off if it’s hot. For a real adrenaline kick, head up the Sky Tower for 360-degree views and some heady glass floors that will test your head for heights! Need some fresh air? How about a Skywalk around the pergola of the building, 192m up? Worried about falling? How about throwing yourself off the top? Base-jumping is an option – now that’s a pretty hard one to beat for the teen Insta post! Just make sure it’s covered on your travel insurance!

Where Next?

Head up to the Coromandel Peninsula, just a 2.5-hour drive from Auckland. and settle into your ‘hand-crafted’ spa pool just steps from the refreshing Pacific Ocean. Finish off with a relaxing kayak to the beautiful islands and beaches of Cathedral Cove or the surf is great! Beat that, Cornwall!

Time to Get Muddy

For more geothermal adventures, Rotorua is next on the list. Think bubbling volcanic mud, gushing geysers, original Maori haka performances and a rotten egg smell so bad you’ll all be giggling into your t-shirts.

Feel the Need for Speed?

Rotorua is also the birthplace of New Zealand’s famous Skyline Luge – 3 different routes whiz you through dramatic scenery and redwood forest before hopping onto the chairlift to do it all again! Or how about a go on the Sky Swing? Set 50m above the Skyline and reaching speeds of 150kph, the description ‘breath-taking’ is an understatement. You’re in control of the release but will you dare to make the drop? With alternative options of flying downhill in a giant inflatable ball, riding the rapids of the highest raftable waterfall in the world or ziplining though the treetops, finishing with a hair raising free-fall jump, we suspect there is enough to keep any age and stage blissfully happy here (or weeping with excited terror, depending on how you look at it).

Film Buff?

Hobbiton is a short distance away. The movie set just outside of Matamata brings the Shire to life in all its glory, with 39 hobbit-holes nestled amongst the beautiful rolling hills. Take a guided tour and finish up with a drink in the famous Green Dragon (booking essential!).

Go Underground for an Adventure with a Twist!

If you’re feeling daring, don’t miss the original Black Water Rafting trip in the Waitomo Caves; abseil into the darkness before weaving, climbing and jumping off gushing subterranean waterfalls. Round things off by floating down an underground river, through a backdrop of caves softly lit by thousands of glow worms. It’s an otherworldly wonderland adventure unlike any other.

Taupo Time

Heading further down the North Island, Lake Taupo is an obvious stop and you can easily stay for a few days. Haku Lodge is a favourite for us. On a lake that’s the size of Switzerland, there are endless activities and a glorious backdrop of snowy-peaked mountains. How about some exhilarating family rafting? Or step it up a notch and fling yourself around on the Jetboats over the Fuljames rapids where scenes from Yogi Bear and The Hobbit were filmed. There’s the Big Sky parasail, which will see you flying 1000ft above the lake. If you want to go higher, how about New Zealand’s #1 rated skydive – Taupo Tandem. Choose from 4 heights; imagine 75 seconds in free-fall and then enjoy the volcano-studded coast-to-coast views of the North Island – if you can open your eyes that is!

South Island Adventures

Heading to the South Island, coasts and vistas become a little wilder and even more vast. The Marlborough Region is said to produce some of the best wine in the world and with Dunedin the original home of Cadbury’s and Queenstown home to Fergburger, we think it has family food basics pretty well covered!

Where to Begin?

Take to the water on a sailing adventure in beautiful Abel Tasman National Park; spot dolphins, orcas and fur seals sunbathing on the rocks. Calm and sheltered, it’s one of the best kayaking spots for beginners. Hiking and walking trails abound, along with helicopter tours and camping.

More Water-Based Wildlife Adventures in Kaikoura

Giant sperm whales are year-round residents here. You’ll also spot dolphins, seals and, if you’re really lucky, the endangered Wandering Albatross. Or, get up close and personal and swim with the exclusive South Island Hector’s dolphin – the world’s rarest and smallest dolphins. Magical.

Glacier Encounters

How about kayaking to the foot of Mount Cook glacier before exploring the vast interior and hiking amongst its ice blue walls? You might even see the Southern Aurora Australis from here! For more glacier action head south via the wild and untamed west coast and explore the famous Franz Joseph or Fox Glacier. You can take a self-guided walk but the ultimate in James Bond-style adventure has to be the heli-hike to the top.

Illusion Confusion

Ready for something more low-key? Puzzling World in Wanaka is a must-do. Escape-room style mazes, hologram halls and the hall of following faces; where famous faces appear to turn and watch you from every angle. The perspective room is a mind-bender; the techniques used here to make people seem large or small were used in the making of The Lord of the Rings. It’s a unique and world-famous attraction; you’ll be questioning everything you see after a visit here.

The Grand Finale

It has to be Queenstown – the patriarch of adrenaline. Once a chilled mountain-side village, it’s become the adventure capital of the world. Stay at Heritage – a sumptuous European-style lodge on the outskirts. There isn’t much you can’t do here; from kid’s rafting, to Gondola rides, to bungy-jumping, to the white-knuckle Shotover Jet. However, the icing on the cake is the Shotover Canyon Swing – the world’s highest cliff-jump, followed by a 60m free-fall and then a leisurely (ha!) swing, 200m out over the stunning canyon…

You’ll be grateful for all those hours on the aeroplane just to recover… If you’d like help planning your New Zealand adventure, do call me on 0845 124 4455!

About the author

Our former South East Asia and Australasia Travel Specialist

Uluru Australia's Red Centre

Penelope Twine - Former Staff Member

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