One of my good friends recently traveled to New Zealand with her husband and 4 year old son. They had such an epic trip that I begged them to write a guest post about New Zealand with kids for Marcie in Mommyland. Lucky for all of us, they agreed! Here is their 16 day New Zealand itinerary for families. I also added some information about fun things to do in New Zealand with kids. Enjoy! May contain affiliate links.
New Zealand with Kids
Guest post by Traci Wong
“How about New Zealand? It’s only a 3-hour time difference before daylight savings begins?” My husband threw this out there after we discovered Costa Rica requires extra vaccinations that I didn’t want to subject our then 3 year old to.
So, we started researching the best places to visit in New Zealand in March and my husband came up with a detailed itinerary. A couple months later, we were on our way!
New Zealand Family Itinerary for 16 Days
Sixteen days really is not enough time. It was my husband’s third time to New Zealand, so I wanted him to do some things he hadn’t done before. Sadly, we canceled the one thing he really wanted to do – cruise Milford Sound – due to the worst weather of our trip.
Our original itinerary had us in Queenstown for 3 days and then 3 days traveling to see the fjords, but we ended up staying in Queenstown 3 more days than planned. In each destination, we adjusted on the fly to accommodate our son and weather.
Day 1: Auckland
After 23 hours of traveling, we arrived in Auckland at 7 am and walked around the waterfront and downtown Auckland. Our main objective of our first day in New Zealand was to find good food and a grocery store!
We ended up at a little cafe close to our hotel and had some delicious food. My son and I made a pact before departing Seattle to “try” foods we wouldn’t normally eat. So I had a poached egg! It was delish on the toast, fried tomato and bacon.
Then, we found a Chinese bakery where I bought red bean bread for breakfast and chocolate cream buns for treats. Umm, red bean bread…why haven’t I had this before? It’s yummy Chinese bread with a swirl of red bean in it.
My son enjoyed watching the boats go in and out on the waterfront. He really loved the fire rescue truck we came across while walking, too.
By now, our room was ready and we all needed a nap. When we got up we walked back to the neighborhood where we had breakfast (we drove earlier not knowing where we were going at the time) and headed for a Thai restaurant with great reviews.
We were seated and I saw the price of phad Thai was $27 and told my husband we should find somewhere else. Seriously, $27 for phad Thai? We had passed 4 other Asian restaurants and went with a Japanese place that had “average” reviews. The food was so good and priced in a normal range.
Day 2: Auckland
After a quick ferry ride, we walked a bit in Devonport to see the shops and then headed to Mt Victoria. Which is a very large hill we “hiked” up to get a 360 view of Auckland and the harbor. Coming back down we took the road.
FERRY TO DEVONPORT
Devonport is one of Auckland’s oldest suburbs and it’s located across the harbor at the southern point of the North Shore. The ferry ride is about 12 minutes long. Once you are in Devonport, you’ll be able to see the skyline from the top of a volcanic cone!
Some kid-friendly activities in Devonport include:
Visiting the Historic Village: Dating back to the mid-14th century, this village is one of the earliest Maori (native New Zealander) settlements. There’s a commemorative stone memorial there. It was then settled in the 1840s by European merchants who realized it was a great spot to see ships arriving in Auckland harbor.
Exploring North Head: Kids will have fun running around the military tunnels, bunkers and gun emplacements here. For extra fun, bring along a flashlight.
Walking around Victoria Road: This main street is home to bookshops, cafes, restaurants, and other shops.
Playing at the beach: Cheltenham Beach is about a 20 minute walk from the ferry terminal and kids can swim in the calm water. There’s also Devonport Beach and Torpedo Bay which are closes to the ferry terminal.
If you’d like to do a bus tour of Devonport, try this 24 Hour Hop On Hop Off Pass that includes the Devonport Ferry. Plus, kids 4 and under ride free!
DRIVE TO PIHA BEACH
Piha Beach is about a 50 minute drive West from Auckland. It’s a lovely black sand surfing beach on the rugged coast.
If your family is interested in learning how to surf in New Zealand, there are several companies that provide surfing lessons. The waves can be rough, so it’s not a great beach for little ones to play in the water. And there aren’t very many amenities. But, the scenery is stunning!
If you don’t have a car, this Piha Beach Day Trip with Shuttle might be a good option.
Day 3: Rotorua
GLENBROOK VINTAGE RAILWAY
Touted as New Zealand’s premier steam train experience, the Glenbrook Vintage Railway lived up to the hype! We were already planning on visiting because our preschooler loves trains.
In our New Zealand with kids research, we discovered that Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends would be there during our dates. It was only an additional $5 to add this event to our tickets, so we did!
The scenic train ride is 75 minutes long including a stop at the station for guests to learn more about restoration projects and see various equipment.
While you are at Glenbrook Vintage Railway, be sure to take a ride on a Jigger. This motor trolley is one of the vehicles workers used to get to their work sites. There is also a Hand Jigger where kids can help power this vehicle to move on the tracks.
It looks like Glenbrook Vintage Railway offers several kid-friendly events throughout the year, so check out their website to stay up to date.
DRIVE TO ROTORUA
Rotorua is almost a 3 hour drive from Auckland. It’s a great place for families because it’s filled with lakes, forests and geothermal wonders. We had just enough time to walk around the lake when we arrived in Rotorua.
Day 4: Rotorua & Auckland
We checked out of our hotel before 8am so we could get to Waiotapu, a geothermal park, before it opened. My husband wanted to avoid hordes of tour buses and beat the crowds that would block all the best photos.
WAIOTAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND
Open every day of the year (including holidays) Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland an awesome place to see New Zealand’s most colorful and unique geothermal elements created by thousands of years of volcanic activity.
This is where you’ll find New Zealand’s largest mud pool, which used to be a mud volcano! And the champagne pool, Artist’s Palette, Devil’s Bath, and Primrose Terrace.
But, the main attraction is the Lady Knox Geyser. Water shoots up 65 feet high at 10:15 am every single day. Be sure to bring your camera!
The Waiotapu geothermal park is a must. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before, and if you go, know that the Lady Knox Geyser goes off at 10am every day.
Insider tip: You need to go to Waiotapu and buy your tickets for the park (includes Geyser) before you drive over to the Lady Knox Geyser. To get a decent seat for the geyser, head over about 930am.
After the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, we headed to The Redwoods & Whakarewarewa Forest. This is one of the free things to do in New Zealand with kids. It’s a beautiful place to walk around, ride bikes, or go horseback riding.
Families with older kids can pick up a worksheet from the The Redwoods Gift Shop & Visitor Centre. This is a fun way for kids to learn while they explore Whakarewarewa Forest. You can also download them to a tablet or phone.
While you are there, head over to the Redwoods Treewalk Rotorua. Here, you’ll find 21 suspension bridges connecting 22 Californian coastal redwoods. It’s a fantastic way to see Whakarewarewa Forest from above!
Then, we drove back to Auckland.
Another option is to explore a Maori Village and see the Blue Lake.
Day 5: Dunedin
FLY TO DUNEDIN
We said goodbye to Auckland and flew to Dunedin, which is on the South Island. It’s also the place to find the world’s rarest penguins.
ROYAL ALBATROSS CENTRE
One of the coolest things we did was see the penguins at the Royal Albatross Centre. You can get a Dunedin Little Blue Penguin Viewing Tour every evening at dusk.
This is when the penguins come ashore and head to their nests. You will walk around the viewing platform (which holds 100 people max) and interactive walkway. The guides will also show you Korora, the world’s smallest penguin.
You can also opt for a 3.5 hours fully guided Little Blue Penguin Tiki Tour. Money raised from either tour is reinvested in to the wildlife reserve to assist with the preservation and protection of Pilots Beach and its Little Blue Penguin colony.
If you’d like to make this a whole day tour, check out this Dunedin and Otago Peninsula Full-Day Nature Tour.
Day 6: Dunedin
TAIERI GORGE RAILWAY
Like I said earlier, we have a 4 year old who loves trains. This Taieri Gorge train ride took us through some of New Zealand’s most iconic scenery.
We also went through tunnels, bridges and viaducts. The train slowed down at certain scenic points so we could take photos. And there are open air platforms.
We spent the rest of the day hanging out at the beach. Dunedin has some of the best beaches and coastal scenery in New Zealand. Here’s a link to some of their popular Dunedin beach spots.
Day 7: Dunedin
Dunedin is mostly known for their galleries and fashion. They also have a lot of vintage shops and unique jewelry. But, keep in mind that the prices of just about everything is more expensive in New Zealand than it is in the U.S.
After a week of trekking around New Zealand, my family was ready to lay low.
Day 8: Dunedin
This morning, we walked down to the Cadbury factory. But, we decided to skip the tour and moved on to the Otago Settlers Museum which featured lots of vehicles for h to explore. Plus, it was free!
OTAGO SETTLERS MUSEUM
The Otago Settlers Museum is one of New Zealand’s newest and most innovative museum experiences.
It’s all about the first Dunedin settlers to the latest people to have called Dunedin their home. You can bring a stroller, there are changing tables, as well as parenting rooms available.
Dunedin is really charming and they have some big changes underway. The settler’s museum had models of what they have planned for the waterfront in the next decade. Hopefully we’ll be back one day to see it!
If you’re looking for a half day tour that includes the Otago Settlers Museum, this one is only 4 hours long.
Day 9: Queenstown
DRIVE TO QUEENSTOWN
The drive from Dunedin to Queenstown is about 3.5 hours and is lovely. We say lots of sheep, cows, birds, mountains and water.
While most of the roads in New Zealand were very twisty (I took Dramamine) this route only have a few places that were windy. These areas have warning signs about the upcoming bends.
We arrived at our hotel before the room was ready so we took a short walk into town. Lake Wakatipu is spectacular and I love how happy my son gets with the sight of water. I checked out some shops while my husband and son watched the boats.
We walked along the water to get to a park where my son burned some energy and I chatted with a Brazilian expat about how the fjords will be in the rain. People are really friendly, especially when they know you are from pretty far away.
Day 10: Queenstown
Skyline Queenstown is an easy 5 minute walk from central Queenstown. Here, you can take a gondola ride up to the top of Bob’s Peak to see a stunning view of Coronet Peak, the Remarkables, and Queenstown.
The gondola ride is short and fast. The view from the top is definitely worth the price of the ride. We walked around and took lots of photos. My son got to see paraponting, bungee jumping and luging up close.
At this point, my son was ready for a snack. We nabbed a table with a view and relaxed with fries, chocolate muffin and a milkshake. My husband headed back out for more photos while we relaxed.
After, we walked along the lake. Something cool we saw were neatly stacked rocks. After a bit of research, it sounds like they are just something visitors do to leave their mark. And local artists have started doing rock balancing.
If you come back at night, you can do a gonola ride and stargazing experience!
Day 11: Queenstown
We did a day trip to a farm to watch sheep shearing.
SPIRIT OF QUEENSTOWN LAKE CRUISE & FARM EXCURSION
This Mt. Nicholas farm experience includes a ride on the Spirit of Queenstown across Lake Wakatipu. The cruise portion of the day was smooth and the views were, of course, gorgeous.
First stop on the farm was a ride to the top of the hill for photos. We saw lots of cows a couple horses and a few sheep along the way.
Back down at the farm the baby sheep, Lucky who was 4.5 months old followed us around like a puppy. He gave lots of nuzzles. Then, we saw a quick shearing demo, (it was not the most flattering view of the sheep,) and quick tutorial on the differences in wool.
Next, we took a walk to the sheep where we saw pigs and Lady (the sheep from the shearing demo) broke out of her pen to join us on the walk!
The dog (we can’t remember his name) is trained by sight. If orders were called out but she can’t see you, they were ignored. But as soon as she saw the order being given, she raced off. It was cool watching her work and heard the sheep.
My son got to feed Lucky, Lady, and the horse pellets. And since he was the youngest by far (at 4 years old,) he also had the honor of bottle feeding Lucky.
Day 12: Queenstown
FISHING IN QUEENSTOWN
My family enjoys fishing in Washington State, so we were curious about fishing in New Zealand. Queenstown has a lot of fly fishing opportunities. There are lots of local fishing shops that can rent you gear and give you the inside scoop where to go.
My 4 year old got to wet his line, but he didn’t catch anything.
I found this guided fishing tour in Queenstown, if you want to join an organized group.
Then, we enjoyed exploring some of the parks along the lake. My son threw a ton of sticks and rocks into the lake so the “fish could see them.” Even the rocks here were gorgeous!
Day 13: Wanaka & Queenstown
DRIVE TO WANAKA
The drive to Wanaka from Queenstown is about an hour long. It goes over a mountain with lots of switchbacks and spectacular views.
Once we got to Wanaka, we headed to Puzzling World, the wonderful world of weirdness. It kind of made me sick, even though I had Dramamine in me. There is a room built at a 15 degree angle. There were some cool illusions which we tried to capture on video.
This is where we discovered that my 4 year old has limitless patience with trying to solve a puzzle. He spent 90 minutes trying and didn’t want to leave until I bought the puzzle for him. Once he took a nap, I worked on solving it myself!
Day 14: Queenstown
LAKE CRUISE ON TSS EARNSLAW
If you have a kid as obsessed with boats and trains as we do, a train and boat excursion are a must. My son fell in love with TSS Earnslaw (an old steamboat in Queenstown) so we added on an afternoon cruise on our last day there.
The ship has its own mini museum on board and you can watch them shovel the coal that makes the ship go. It was a splurge but well worth it since it made him so happy!
Day 15: Auckland
FLY TO AUCKLAND
We flew back to Auckland for one last day to explore before flying home to Seattle.
While this is a nightlife hub, we went during the day to play at the beach.
Day 16: Auckland
We spent our last day in Auckland at the Museum of Transportation and Technology, or MOTAT. My preschooler loved all the old fire engines and tractors. They have interactive exhibits for the whole family.
If your kids like airplanes, they have an Aviation Display Wing. And they even have a model railway! Definitely a fun way to end our New Zealand adventure!
I’m typically ready to go home after 10 days on the road and my son asks for his big green house after 5 days. Neither of us were ready to come home from New Zealand and he constantly asks, “When can we go back?”
New Zealand is a wonderful place to go and explore with a preschooler, especially since most things are free for kids under 5! Now that we know our son can do long flights, I can’t wait to start planning our next overseas adventure!
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