I will list here all the things we’ve done and seen throughout NZ’s North Island – except Auckland because Auckland has a whole different post here. This post will keep being updated as we travel around, so check it out often! It is not in any kind of special order.
New Zealand’s North Island for families with kids
Tongariro National Park – we spent 3 weeks there during autumn 2016. Lovely, quiet, to relax, really. It is a spot for winter sports if you like them. We stayed at this bach, which was perfect, with everything we needed.
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing: 19.4 km of walk through the Tongariro Mountain. Not an easy hike, so Angelo did it alone. It took him over 7 hours. He enjoyed it but came home really tired.
- Taranaki Falls Walk, a 2 hours return track, with loads of stairs, gorgeous views, and the most amazing waterfall: you can walk right behind it.
- To eat, and surf the Internet, we tried the Station Café (good food, but most importantly, fast internet), Macrocarpa Café (the food wasn’t exceptional, just OK and the internet did not work at all) and the Chateau Tongariro (expensive, OK food, really good dessert).
- Whakapapa Village: just beautiful, even if you don’t ski. Loads of walks and a great information center (+ free wifi).
Whanganui (or Wanganui) – we spent one afternoon there (April 2016) and we didn’t see anything besides the city on the way and the center and we LOVED it! It is a small city full of character, vintage buildings, parks, and farms, but it’s still big enough to have cinemas, malls, and loads of stuff to do. Oh, so gorgeous!
Taupo – we didn’t really spend a lot of time there, just went and spent the day a few times. It is a city with everything you might need but still has this small city character. Charming!
- Lake Taupo: Huge lake with beautiful views from anywhere around it. Alas, around it is a lot of food and entertainment options. I haven’t been there anytime near summer, so I haven’t really checked what the water’s like but I heard it is icy cold.
- Starlight Cinema: the only cinema in town, with 5 rooms only and an arcade (kind of outdated). It isn’t cheap as some of the cinemas in Auckland BUT it is a more comfortable. Had this funny smell (like a closet that’s been unused for a long time but was cleaned recently), but it wasn’t really bad or anything, just different. We’ve been there in April 2016.
- Playground: there is this very cool playground right beside the library. It has amazing plays and there is a giant chess set. Taupo Central (Tongariro Domain).
Wellington – we’ve been there a few times. We love it. One problem though is that it’s very windy. VERY windy. Bring on your windbreakers and enjoy.
- Wellington Airport: if you love J. R. Tolkien, you WILL love it. Gollum, a huge one, trolls, and Gandalf. That’s all I’m gonna say.
- Te Papa: the best museum ever! It is mostly interactive, there are areas designed for children on each part of the museum and it is HUGE! Last time we were there, we had to use up 2 days in there. Kids love it, we love it. Super educational, super fun, just perfect. And it is indoors, so no wind inside.
- Cuba Street: a pretty street in Central Wellington. It has everything you think about, even playgrounds. Really. There are also amazing photo opportunities. Worth the walk!
- Weta Cave: Oh, my! I can’t just tell you how much I loved this place. I am a nerd, judge me. I just adore Tolkien and this little museum/store has it all. It is very small, but I could spend hours there if my children weren’t more excited than me trying to touch everything we could never afford. There is a tour inside the studio where they show you how the films are made (or at least the effects they are specialized in) and it is awesome! Our kids were small when we went there (Coral was one and she slept through it all, in a sling). If you can, you must.
- Waterfront: you could visit one water-front and see it all, probably. But there are just so many playgrounds and cafes, markets. And it is so close to everything! Even if it is just to give your kids some time to run around, it is worth it. Grab a fish & chips and enjoy the sun (if it’s sunny, of course).
- Cable Car Museum: first of all, we took the cable car. It has 3 stations. In less than 5 minutes, from one end to the other. It was a bit disappointing. The museum is also quite small, but it is entertaining and it is covered. Great for a few hours on a rainy day.
- Zealandia: it is a park that holds native species from NZ. It is like NZ was before the colonization. Big park, so many birds, and reptiles! My kids loved it. I confess I was so tired I was barely seeing anything but my kids LOVED it. Joao had a great time finding out birds he had only seen in books, seeing them flying, hearing their sounds. We couldn’t find any tuatara, but it was still fun. They have this little inside area with a mini museum (the size of the Cable Car Museum) that was also really fun. And the cafe…. Ah, how I loved the heating, the warm tea, and the couch….
Northland – we spent 2 weeks traveling through Northland in a campervan. We saw a lot very quickly, not even close to the slow travel we like to do. Still, awesome!
- Mangonui Fish Shop: the best fish & chips in NZ. It was pretty good, you could taste the freshness.
- Cape Reinga: the farther northern spot in NZ, it is very pretty. It is just a lighthouse, the junction of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Oh man, is it pretty!
- 90 Miles Beach: you can look left and right and all you see is the beach. We spend just one hour there and it was chilly so we did not get to enjoy all it has to offer, but still worth the drive, the wind, the chill. Amazing place to run around and be a child again.
- Waipoua Forest: this is where you can find the amazing Tane Mahuta, the largest kauri tree known to stand today. It is quite impressive, really. There is a walk (5 minutes from the car park) and you can not get close enough to it because it might damage the roots of the tree. We also visited the Four Sisters, which are 4 kauri trees growing really close together (a little walk – 20 minutes or so). Beautiful place, peaceful and calm.
- Ka Iwi Lakes: great lakes for swimming. They are cold but clear, calm and empty. Oh, I could live there.
- Tutukaka: it is said to be one of the best snorkeling spots in NZ. We didn’t get to see it because we had a few problems with the camping we had booked so we had to leave early. Such a pity.
- Te Paki: sand dunes. Just sand dunes. Huge sand dunes. So. Much. Fun!!!!!! Just be careful and leave electronics in the car because sand has a way into them….
- Waiomio Caves: small but amazing cave. It is beautiful, it has glow worms and it is cheaper than Waitomo. You need to walk through it, and it is 30-40 minutes walk in the dark, with a few lanterns. It has stairs, so everyone must walk. Coral was little and couldn’t walk yet. She slept the whole time.
- Cable Bay: a pink sand beach. It is not piiiink pink but it is a salmon color and is gorgeous.
Pukehina Beach – we spent a week at the Pukehina Beach in November 2014. My foot was broken, the weather was not the greatest, but it was still so beautiful! The owner said you could see whales and dolphins sometimes, but we didn’t spot anything. The waves were pretty strong and my kids got a bit scared. There were many playgrounds around. It is this amazing setting, with farms to one side and the beach on the other.
Rotorua – we spent a week in Rotorua in August 2016. It’s a sulfur-smelling city, but pretty cool. We had lots of fun there, despite the smell.
- The Buried Village of Wairoa – a pretty cool indoor-outdoor museum about the Village of Te Wairoa, that ended up buried when Mount Tarawera erupted.
- Te Puia – a thermal village, a beautiful one, with the Pohutu Geyser.
- Sulphur Point – a free walkway passing through many smelly and bubbling pools – from mud pools to colorful hot water pools.
- The Redwoods – free and awesome (and not smelly) forest! Loved it!
- Lake Tarawera – It’s a big lake. Pretty cool to see it after seeing the Buried Village.
- Blue and Green Lakes – Two lakes, one beside the other – one blue and one green.
- Hobbiton: this is probably the only reason to visit Matamata. Do you need more? It is a 2-3 hours drive from Auckland and the tour takes 1-1.5 hour only. It is guided, so a group comes in, the guide talks about the place, takes you to the places they want to show, give you 5 minutes each time to take photos. Still…. awesome!!! It is incredible, you know, to see the work people put on building such a beautiful place, full of details, that’s gonna be on screen for 1 minute. It is a must for Tolkien/movie lovers.