Going Kiwi With Kids
New Zealand offers fun for the whole family
Posted on March 1, 2018
“Do we have to leave? I really want to stay here with Cooee,” pleaded the youngest in our family as we loaded the car for the drive to Christchurch Airport. And with this, all of her nine-year-old self turned around and walked back to the lamb she’d been petting and bottle feeding while we were guests at Karetu Downs Farmstay, an hour north of the city.
Travel with three generations can be tricky, but for this trip I’d hedged my bet by picking the most family-friendly country in the world. I felt sure that New Zealand’s animals, adventure activities, and kid-centric culture would make it easy for all of us to have a good time.
I hadn’t specifically planned to stay on a farm on our last night in the country. It just worked out that way, and proved to be the perfect grand finale to our holiday. Karetu Downs is a 4,500-acre hill property inhabited by 8,000 sheep, a herd of cattle, dogs, cats, ducks, and chickens — oh, and kind hosts Bruce and Karen Forrester. Bruce sheared a sheep and showed us around, and Karen introduced our granddaughter Quinn to her pet lamb. After dinner, we all sat in the garden and swapped stories. karetudowns.co.nz
One of the highlights on the country’s West Coast was flying up Franz Josef Glacier and taking in the bird’s eye view of Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook. Initially, Miss Quinn wasn’t too sure about this helicopter excursion, but a potential boycott was averted when the pilot put her in the sweet spot on the seat next to him. At the top, a family snowball melee ensued against the backdrop of the majestic peaks.
North of Franz Josef at Harihari, we visited a dairy farm and watched jovial Jock Nolan working with his herd. His 200 cows make twice daily trips to a spotlessly clean barn where each produces about five gallons of milk a day. While the machines worked, Nolan gave us a quick overview of Kiwi dairy farming, and afterward he let the youngest amongst us pet and feed some of his “girls.” farwestfarmtours.nz
Adventures for All Ages
New Zealand is famous for hiking trails that lead “trampers” to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. These trails (or “tracks,” as they are known Down Under) include options for families with kids ranging from kindergarten to college. A plethora of hikes — 20 minutes up to several hours — are signposted all over the country. However, it’s the good range of multi-day options that sets NZ apart from other destinations. Tongiriro Northern Circuit crosses a volcano in the North Island, Milford Track is renowned for beautiful sights, and the Routeburn offers distant views in many directions.
For our part, we chose the Abel Tasman Coast Track at the top of the South Island because it offers the option of walking, kayaking, or cruising various sections. As it happened, we all hiked the first day, and we walked with Quinn the second day while her parents kayaked. We all beach hopped by cruise boat on the last day. Accommodation was in very comfortable beachfront lodges. abeltasman.co.nz
Another fun family activity is swimming with dolphins off the Kaikoura Coast on the South Island. In fact, the dolphins almost always ignore the adults and choose to play with the kids. In addition, there are ample opportunities throughout the country for older kids to sail, raft, jetboat, and bungee jump.
Hobbiton & Bubbling Mud Pools
If your kids loved the blockbuster Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, then you’ll want to head to Mata Mata, two hours south of Auckland. Here, at Hobbiton, you can explore Middle Earth as viewed in the Peter Jackson films. The movie set is spread over 12 acres and includes 44 authentic Hobbit Holes.
In Rotorua, about an hour from Hobbiton, bubbling mud pools and exploding geysers look like the stuff of movie sets, but they’re natural features of this active geothermal region. At Whakarewarewa, one of the most popular sites, there is also a traditional Maori village that provides a good introduction to New Zealand’s native people.
Our family didn’t have time to tour Hobbiton or the Rotorua region on our recent trip, but I think it’s only a matter of time until we do. A certain nine-year-old assures me that Cooee is missing her. Elizabeth Hansen
New Zealand family travel tips
Active families will feel right at home in the attractive (and spotlessly clean) motels that abound throughout the country. Most of these include kitchenettes, which make it easy to whip up a quick breakfast before heading out for the day, and many have playgrounds and pools. Holiday parks, which offer a variety of lodging options, are another good alternative.
Consider carrying picnic ingredients and stopping in some of New Zealand’s many stunning places to enjoy a midday meal and stretch your legs.
There’s no shortage of regular rental cars, but book early for family-size vehicles.
Air New Zealand’s Skycouch seats are designed to accommodate families.
Hobbiton: Photo courtesy of Sara Orme, Tourism New Zealand All other photography courtesy of ADAMS / HANSEN STOCK PHOTOS