For a couple of small islands, New Zealand is jam-packed with such variety of terrain and outdoor activities. This makes it the perfect place to take kids! We’ve come up with a list of some of the best outdoor adventures to do in New Zealand with kids, and the best part? Most of these are FREE.
Go to the beach
There is no shortage of good beaches in New Zealand, that’s for sure. The west coast surf tends to be a little more wild, the east coast more mild. The Coromandel Peninsula has a lot of great beaches including Hot Water Beach where you can dig your very own hole at low tide, and it will fill up with hot water. Kids love doing this! Northland also has great beaches such as Paihia and Sullivan Beaches as does the East Coast of the North Island. The top of the South Island at Abel Tasman and Golden Bay also have excellent beaches. Grab a surf board, boogie board, skim board, go fishing, or just swim!
Bike a section of the New Zealand Cycle Trail
New Zealand has invested a ton of money into building excellent cycle trails for a variety of different skill levels, all over the country. Check out New Zealand Cycle Trail to get all kinds of ideas! We had a lot of fun on the Old Coach Road near Ohakune with our kids, plus it’s just beautiful!
Experience a farm stay
Farming has been the backbone of New Zealand ever since it was first colonized. Since there are 30 million sheep to 4.6 million people in the country, it’s definitely worth learning about while you’re in New Zealand. Milk and Honey Cottage located on the North Island is the BEST. It is seriously one of my favorite places in the world. In addition to being a real working farm, it is set in the beautiful hill country. It’s peaceful, yet invigorating at the same time. You can go on a farm tour, or a guided horse trek, wander down and check out the river or go on a hike on the farm. The kids love being able to see the farm animals up close too – chickens, working dogs, cats, horses, sheep, cattle. On our recent trip back to NZ, this was absolutely our kids highlight.
Go caving to find glow worms
These little worms typically live on the ceilings of caves, but are also all over New Zealand living in damp wet banks. They are about 1 cm long and the cool thing about them is when it is dark their rear ends light up blue. They look like the Milky Way when they are all lit up! There are many commercial caving tours that you can pay for in caves like Waitomo, but they tend to be expensive, especially for a family. Backpackers Guide New Zealand has a great list of caves that you can find glow worms for free and that are a little off-the-beaten-path though, such as Okupata Caves (for the adventurous) and the Kakahi, which we can personally vouch for.
Spend a night (or two) in a backcountry hut
New Zealand has an amazing backcountry hut network. There are about 1,000 huts spread out over the country which can all be reserved with Parks & Recreation. There are a number of huts that are a short hike from the trail head that are perfect for families to backpack to. Remember, in New Zealand there are no snakes, bears, scorpions, or charging elk or moose, so it’s pretty safe. Just be prepared for mountain weather that can change at the blink of an eye.
Find some hot springs
Thanks to the majority of the country sitting on the Pacific Rim of Fire, there is a fair amount of volcanic and thermal activity in New Zealand. Rotorua and Taupo are cities that are at the hub of some of this activity and both have free, natural places to soak. Try Kerosine Creek, Hot N Cold, Butchers Pool or Spa Park, all some of our favorites.
Go to a Maori Cultural Show
As soon as you land in New Zealand you will notice you can’t pronounce most names. The Maori indigenous culture is vibrant & unique here, and taking in a show in Rotorua such as Te Puia or Mitai is worth it.
Visit a Glacier
The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers on the West Coast of the South Island are unique because they terminate into temperate rain forest. You can hike a short distance to the terminal face, but if you want to spend the money, I recommend that you take a guided hike up onto the ice with a tour such as the Glacier Heli Hike.
Road trip across the South Island
Travelling from Christchurch to Greymouth through Arthur’s Pass allows you to get a feel for the topography of the Southern Alps of the South Island. It is beautiful and rugged landscape – just try and pick a sunny day if you can. And if you have time, explore Castle Hill, Cave Stream, and a short hike or two on the way. This will be a highlight of your time on the South Island.
Visit Tongariro National Park
Home to three active volcanoes, some epic landscapes and unique hiking opportunities is Tongariro National Park. You can also raft and ski in this park too. You might even recognize some scenes out of Lord of the Rings!!
About the Nanninga family:
Leanne is the CEO (Chief Exploration Officer) for her hubby and 5 kids. Together as a family, they love to get into the backcountry where mountains and rivers are their favorite places to be. Currently residing in the Canadian Rockies, New Zealand used to be their home base. Follow their shenanigans on Instagram or on their outdoor adventure blog, Born to Adventure where they share tips on getting outdoors with kids.