1. Auckland City Tour: The Sky Tower and Auckland harbor- You’ll want to spend some time in Auckland city while in New Zealand. The sky tower is beautiful and has a rotating restaurant at the top. The elevators have glass bottoms and a glass front door so you see yourself going up several flights. This is not for the faint of heart. There are several park spaces surrounding the area and it is in one that we spent our Thanksgiving eating ice cream. At the harbor, you can go sailing or catch a boat ride to any of the smaller islands.
2. Waitomo glow worm cave– The glow worm cave is only one of the few glow worm caves on the whole world. A visit requires a tour deep underground in a dimly lit cave (bring a jacket). As you can imagine, the darkness is so you can see the glow worms better and appreciate the majesty of the caves. At the end of the tour you take a boat ride, about 15 minutes, to where the largest concentration of glow worms is in the cave. No flash photography is allowed because the light would destroy the glowworms. If your little one is very afraid of the dark, you’ll want to skip here because there are some really dark places at times. But, it’s worth it to go if you can. The cave is 2 ½ hours outside of Auckland and the tour is 45 minutes. Kids under 4 are free. Our girls thought seeing the glow worms lighting up the cave was pretty funny. Pictures are allowed just outside the cave.
3. Rangitoto Island– Rangitoto Island is only a short scenic ferry ride across the harbour from downtown Auckland. It is a great for a day trip to see this island, which is the largest volcano in the Auckland volcanic field. There are black lava caves where, according to the website, you can “bring a torch to explore them with the kids.” We didn’t do that part but we did visit the island and my youngest got a kick out of the ferry ride.
4. Rotorua– I could do an entire blog post on Rotorua! This town is amazing and there is so much to do. Rotorua is 3 hours from Auckland. Just so you know, the whole town smells like rotten eggs because of the sulphur in the air from all the geothermal activity in the area. We visited Whakarewarewa, the Living Maori Village and Skyline Rotorua, as well as the Red Wood Forest. Whakarewarewa teaches about the culture of the indigenous peoples of the island, the Maori.
You get to experience a Haka, the traditional war dance and you see how food is cooked over the steam from the geothermal pools in the village. Travel is about learning and visiting Wharakarena s a great way to learn about the culture of New Zealand.
We also visited Skyline Rotorua, an amusement area with lots of activities for kids, from the gondola to a luge ride. It’s a fun place and my girls wanted to stay all day.
Whakarewarewa Forest-Finally, if you want to see the Redwoods, the Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua are a sight to see. There are canopy trails you can take or you can just walk along the trails. My girls ran through the forest!
Where to stay: Hands down, the Arista of Rotorua Motel is the place to stay with children. The motel caters to families and has a pirate shop playground on the premises. There is a full kitchen and some of the bigger rooms have space for 7 people. A grocery store and fast food are nearby. The front desk keeps a library of kiddie movies for you to rent during your stay and there is a DVD in the room. I can’t say enough great things about this place. If you have kids, staying here is a no brainer.
5. Hobbiton– I know I know. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or just heard of the franchise, you’ll want to pay a visit to Hobbiton. The sign to Hobbiton welcomes visitors to the movie town. Call ahead for details on tours.
Side notes: We suggest staying in the Parnell area if you need a spacious hotel room. We recommend Quality Hotel Parnell. The rooms are reasonably priced at and include two bedrooms and a full kitchen. The hotel also has a restaurant (and they love kids there) and free parking. It’s also near Sal’s Pizza just in case your kids want some American-New York style pizza.
Rent a car! There is so much to see outside the city of Auckland that its best to rent a car to get there. There are tours to take you on day trips but why not get a car so you can roam the country in your own way?
If you’re ready to make that journey to the other side of the world, you won’t regret going to New Zealand. It’s an incredible place for families and very kid friendly!