Travelling with Children in New Zealand - Tips & Tricks


New Zealand is the perfect destination for a family holiday. Here are some handy tips from travelling Super Mom Suzie who has holidayed with her kids all over NZ. Suzie points out the best cultural and adventure activities, the best child friendly hot pools and a lot more. Complete with a selection of family holiday itineraries to help with your planning process. 

New Zealand Family Holidays

If you are looking to take the kids travelling, New Zealand is the perfect destination to keep all members of the family happy. From adrenaline packed activities to time out in some of the worlds most scenic spots, there is something for young and old alike.

How to get around

  • Car - From the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South, New Zealand is 1,600kms / 990mil long and the best way take it all in is from the the road. Cars are relatively cheap to rent and a great way to get around with your family giving you the freedom to stop whenever you want or when the kids get hungry or need a toilet stop!  The countryside is sprinkled with short walks, museums and things to see are you journey through Middle Earth. Plan your trip to break up the journey with places for them to run around and burn off energy and don’t forget to pack ample snacks to see them through to the next stop. Take a look at our Self Drive Family Holidays.
  • Coach - If you would prefer to relax and let someone else do the driving, think about escorted or coach tours so that you can keep your eye on the scenery instead of the road.
  • Air - Flights around New Zealand are inexpensive and excellent for travelling large chunks of the country to save time and narrow down the best bits you are keen to see. Nearly all flights within New Zealand are less than 2 hours so you do not have to suffer through long flights with kids in tow. You will also get to see some of the diverse landscapes from the air, so be sure to book a window seat and have your camera at the ready.
  • Train - Travelling by train is an easy way to wind yourself through some of the countries most dramatic scenery in the comfort of your carriage. Hailed as one of the great scenic railway experiences in the world, the Tranzalpine traverses the mighty Southern Alps of the South Island. The journey takes half a day from Christchurch to Greymouth which is just long enough to keep the kids entertained. 

South Island vs North Island

Both islands of New Zealand offer something different for families. The North Island has stunning beaches, bush, volcanoes and thermal activities unique to the country. You will also have the chance to delve into the fascinating Maori culture and discover everything from seeing a live haka (Maori war-dance) and to learning how to hongi (traditional Maori greeting).

Dominated by the Southern Alps which run down the spine, the South Island has impressive mountains, glaciers, lakes, plains, forests and fjords. The variety of landscapes is endless as well as the outdoor activities to match.

But We're Hungry Now!

What to eat

There are a host of eating options where the kids are welcome and food is fresh and tasty. There is a strong cafe culture in New Zealand and kids are more than welcome with most cafe’s having toys and menus for the little ones. Sometimes there is a dedicated space for them to play while you relax over a coffee. If you sidestep the upmarket restaurants, children are generally welcome. Cafes are very child-friendly, and you’ll see families getting in early for dinner in pub dining rooms. Most places can supply high chairs. Dedicated kids' menus are common, but selections are usually uninspiring (pizza, fish fingers, chicken nuggets etc). If a restaurant doesn’t have a kids' menu, find something on the regular menu and ask the kitchen to downsize it. It’s usually fine to bring toddler food in with you. If the sun is shining, hit the farmers markets and find a picnic spot.

Special Dietary Requirements: We are like everywhere else in the world so New Zealand's restaurants are decent at catering for gluten-free and dairy-free diners – one less thing to worry about if kids follow a special diet.

  • Takeaways - you must try kiwi fish and chips - always fresh and good quality. Best eaten at the beach, sampling some local Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Asian food - with it’s proximity to Asia, New Zealand has an abundance of cheap and authentic asian restaurants. Even small towns will have a requisite Indian and Chinese restaurant and you are also likely to find Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese or Korean food joints as well. Family friendly, they welcome children and are accommodating to their tastes if they want to hold the chilli.
  • Sushi is widely available which is healthy and popular for kids. It also is a good cheap option when on the road as it travels well. 
  • Hangi - A traditional Maori oven in the ground which meat and vegetables are cooked by heated rocks buried in a pit. The food is then sealed with earth and left for several hours to cook. This can be experienced at a Maori cultural show which includes a meal and performance.
  • Hokey Pokey ice cream - being a nation of cows and dairy, New Zealand makes delicious ice cream. Hokey Pokey is a classic kiwi flavour in which pieces of honeycomb candy is mixed in vanilla ice cream. Best tried on a hot day!

Cool Places to eat with Kids

  • Wellington: Mt Vic Chippery, Exceptional fish and (five kinds of!) chips.
  • West Coast: Sweet Alice's Fudge Kitchen, Hokitika Candies, ice cream and fudge.
  • Hawkes Bay: Hastings Farmers Market - Fill a basket and have a picnic.
  • Gisborne: Farmers Market Macadamia nuts, oranges, pastries...and all of it local.
  • Motueka: (Nelson Tasman District): Kiwifruit, Pick up a ripe bag at harvest time at the Sunday market.
  • Greytown: Schoc Chocolates, Otherworldly chocs in the Wairarapa.

Where to Stay

There are a range of accommodation options to suit all styles and all kinds of families.

  • Backpackers - cheap backpacker accommodation or hostels are throughout New Zealand that offer bunk style beds in shared dormitories. Many also have self contained units as well as family rooms where a family can all stay together. Most have shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. It pays to check with the backpackers to see if they will accommodate children. A great place to meet fellow globe-trotters and share stories on the cheap. However, if sleep for you and your children is a priority, it would pay to book a private room so that you are not woken up in the early hours by a room-mate snoring their head off.
  • Holiday parks - these are found in most towns and offer tent site, caravan or cabin style accommodation. . Also with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities, it is ideal if you want to self cater and especially with small children it is easy to accommodate their sleep and eat routines. Usually equipped with a playground, trampoline or special places for kids to play so that children can easily meet other kids to play with so everyone wins.
  • Airbnb or holiday house (called a Bach) are good options if you are going to base yourself in once place for a few days. All the comforts of home and you are able to self cater to keep the costs down.
  • Hotels and motels -  a good range of types are prices are available in most cities, however less options in smaller towns so it always pays to book in advance especially in the summer where accommodation at top tourist spots can be limited.

The best cultural things to do in NZ with kids

  • Te Papa - New Zealand’s national gallery in Wellington. Filled with kid friendly exhibitions, great cafes, plenty of history and an art gallery to explore. Read more about Te Papa
  • Rotorua Maori cultural tour - includes a Maori Hangi dinner, cultural performance as well as learning about the history and culture of Maori people. 
  • Waitangi - Bay of Islands - Where the Maori signed the treaty of Waitangi with the British Government marking the birthplace of modern New Zealand. Beautiful grounds and an interesting historical tour is a must see for all visitors to this part of the world.
  • Go to a farm show - experience the new Zealand farm way of life. Performances, tours and animal petting are all part of the package. Go to Agrodome in Rotorua or head out to Walter Peak Station from Queenstown.
  • Auckland Museum: A great Museum, see a glowing volcano and a 25m waka taua (war canoe) bugs, giant birds and meet the tuatara (pint-sized dinosaurs).
  • Hobbiton in Matamata:  Tours of the hobbit holes and a drink in the Green Dragon Inn.
  • Canterbury Museum: Christchurch. A mummy, dinosaur bones and a cool Discovery Centre.
  • Puke Ariki Museum New Plymouth: A mighty big shark plus Māori exhibits, super volcanoes and more.
  • Shantytown, Greymouth: All aboard a steam train for gold-panning in a recreated Gold-Rush Town.
  • New Zealand Rugby Museum: Palmerston North Hands-on fun for mini–All Blacks.
  • Museum Of Transport & Technology: MOTAT, Auckland Trains, plane and other transport marvels to goggle at.
South Island New Zealand Vacation

The best adventure activities that the kids will love

  • Hobitton tour - visit Hobitton where the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was filmed. Take a tour around the Shire - a must see for kids. 
  • Skiing - if you are travelling in Winter, head down to Queenstown for some excellent skiing at the two skifields surrounding the town. 
  • Waitomo Caves - experience these amazing Glow Worm Caves either with a walking tour or black water rafting for those more adventurous types.
  • Rotorua biking - great bike trails from toddlers to advanced mountain biking through a beautiful redwood forest. If biking is not your thing there are also plenty of walks or horse-riding to choose from. 
  • Zipline - Ecozip Adventures Waiheke Island will get the blood pumping with their 200m / 218yd ziplines. 

The best spots to have a cocktail with kids

  • At the top of a hill- Rotorua and Queenstown have gondolas that will take you up on high to check out the view whilst sipping a cocktail. Go early for a family meal at sundown.
  • Any beach on the west coast on a fine day to watch the sun slip over the horizon. Bring your own craft beer or local wine.
  • Sky Tower - Auckland city. Spectacular views across Auckland city with a variety of eating options for families. 
Hot Water Beach

The best hotpool experiences for families

  • AC baths Taupo - run by the local council these pools are large open pools, heated by thermal acitivity and a very reasonably priced for a family. Slides, swings and a hydro slide will keep the kids entertained which you bliss out in the warm water. 
  • Hanmer Springs - The whole small resort town, nestled in the mountains is based around the thermal activity. Excellent facilities including a dedicated kids water park and adults only thermal hot pools. Something for everyone winter or summer.
  • Polynesian Spa Rotorua - Thermal baths in the most geothermal active part of New Zealand. 
  • Queenstown - after a day of skiing or biking, slip yourself into these luxurious Onsens to relieve those tired muscles. Private pools rented by the hour with magnificent mountain views. 
  • Hot Water Beach - rent yourself a spade and head down around low tide to dig your own personal hole in the sand which will fill with hot water to luxuriate in. Great activity to do with kids and you will meet other kids and families doing the same at Hot Water Beach


Best Shopping experiences for kids

Now that you have bought some really cool stuff to take home for yourself, it is time to pick up something special for the kids. These spots will have you and the little ones sorted.


  • Fairy Shop, Auckland. Princesses, fairies, pirates and cowboys are all welcome at this shop which is jam packed in all sorts of imaginative stuff for the kids. There is a cafe where you can get a decent coffee while the kids shop. Friday is face painting day and story time starts at 11.00am. You may even get to meet a real life fairy.

  • Auckland Zoo Shop - even if you are not checking out the animals at the wonderful Auckland Zoo, the huge gift shop is worth a visit. Crammed with all sorts of animal themed toys, clothing and books with a special emphasis on unique New Zealand birds and critters.

  • The Remarkable Sweet Shop, Arrowtown - step into this old fashioned sweet shop where you will encounter all your childhood sweet treats and delicious freshly made fudge. A sweet delight for both parents and kids.

  • Grey and Wild, Auckland - here is a store that will the best fashion foot forward for kids from tots to teens focussing on New Zealand designed kids fashion. They also have shoes, interiors, toys and gift ideas.

  • The Children’s Bookshop Wellington - This extensive children’s bookshop you will find a wide range of New Zealand books for all children. There is a children’s storytime hosted by Pink Dog on Friday morning.  You can also check out The Children’s Room in Dunedin, a children's book store attached to to Otago University Bookshop.


  • Things that sting - fortunately, you will not find any dangerous critters here such as snakes or spiders (unlike our Aussie neighbours), however it pays to pack insect spray for mosquito and sandflies that reside in many parts of New Zealand. An afterbite cream is also advisable in case the kids get bitten and will stop the temptation to scratch their bites.
  • Sun - the sun in New Zealand is fierce any time of the year and always travel with sun-cream, hat and sunglasses. Particularly in the summer, kids (especially babies) will need a high protection sunscreen (50+) and to be keep out of the direct sun in the middle of the day if possible. Sun -cream is available everywhere, local shops, petrol stations, supermarkets so you won’t have to search far to find it.
  • Surf - with 15,000kms / 9,300 mi of coastline, there are hundreds of beaches and you are never too far from the sea. Be careful when swimming, especially with the kids as there are often strong currents and dangerous surf that kids need to be closely watched at all times. Popular beaches have life-guards in summer - always swim between the yellow and red flags so that if you do get in trouble, help is close by. Follow signs and warnings at beaches and if not a strong swimmer, be sensible and keep safe. If in doubt, ask a local for advice about whether it is safe to swim or not - they usually know!
  • Driving - Kiwis drive on the left-hand side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side of the car which is the opposite to the US and most of Europe. Stay on the left side of the road if driving. Most rental cars will have a reminder sticker to keep to the left in the car to keep you reminded of where you should be driving.
  • Seatbelts - it is illegal in New Zealand for all passengers, not to mention unwise, to not wear your seatbelt. Remember to always buckle up you and your children every time that you get into the car.
  • Petrol stations - if you are self driving, you will often travel long distances between towns which can take a couple of hours. It is important to make sure that you have enough petrol in the car to make it to the next town as well as water, nappies and snacks in case hunger kicks while on the road.
  • Weather - ‘Four Seasons on one day”is a common saying in New Zealand, meaning that you can experience, hot / cold, dry and wet all within a 24 hour period and sometimes an hour,  so be prepared for all weather types. Carry a rain-jacket and extra layers in case the weather does change.
  • All children travelling in cars by law must have approved safety restraints. For babies under 2 it is recommeded that the baby is in a rear facing car
    seat. Until a child is
    148 cm tall or is 11 years old it is recommended that they use a booster seat.  If you are renting a car, make sure that you ask for a child’s car seat if you need one as usually this can be supplied by your car rental company. For more information see the following link:


Suzie Thorp
: 13 Aug 2018 (Last updated: 28 Sep 2022)

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