New Zealand's a dream for family travel: kid-centric activities, family-friendly accommodation, a moderate climate and very little danger. Unadventurous palates can always be accommodated and food servers are clued up on dietary requirements. Base yourself in a sizeable town for amenities galore and excursions within a short drive.

Best Regions for Kids

  • Rotorua & the Bay of Plenty

Wow, bubbling volcanic mud, stinky gas, gushing geysers and Māori haka performances! Rotorua is hard to beat from a kid's perspective. And around the Bay of Plenty coast are beaut beaches and plenty of fish and chip shops.

  • Wellington Region

You need a compact city if you're walking around with kids. Wellington fits the bill, with a brilliant museum, a ratchety cable car, lots of cheery cafes and fab Kapiti Coast beaches less than an hour away.

  • Queenstown & Wanaka

New Zealand's winter sports scene suits pro snowheads (and après-ski fans) but it's just as easy to enjoy with kids...actually, it's more fun. Cardrona has kid-friendly skiing, and there's Wanaka's Puzzling World for ski-free days.

  • Christchurch & Canterbury

Nature parks, row boats, the International Antarctic Centre and botanic gardens in the big city, and the amazing Banks Peninsula not far away (penguins, dolphins and pretty birds).

New Zealand for Kids

Fabulous wildlife parks, beaches, parks, snowy slopes and interactive museums proliferate across NZ. There are countless attractions and amenities designed specifically for kids but families needn't stick to playgrounds and holiday parks. Kid-appropriate adventures, from glaciers to white-water rafting, are everywhere...if parents are brave enough, that is.

Admission Fees & Discounts

Kids' and family rates are often available for accommodation, tours, attraction entry fees, and air, bus and train transport, with discounts up to as much as 50% off the adult rate. Note that the definition of ‘child’ can vary from under 12 to under 18 years; toddlers (under four years old) usually get free admission and transport.

Eating Out With Children

If you sidestep the flashier restaurants, children are generally welcome in NZ eateries. Cafes are kid-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. 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.

Breastfeeding & Nappy Changing

Most Kiwis are relaxed about public breastfeeding and nappy changing: wrestling with a nappy (diaper) in the open boot of a car is a common sight! Alternatively, most major towns have public rooms where parents can go to feed their baby or change a nappy. Infant formula and disposable nappies are widely available.

Babysitting

For babysitters who have been fully interviewed, have supplied child-care references and undergone a police check, try www.rockmybaby.co.nz (from $16 per hour). Alternatively look under ‘baby sitting’ in the Yellow Pages (www.yellow.co.nz).

Top Tips

  • Book accommodation far in advance: many motels and hotels have adjoining rooms that can be opened up to form large family suites, but they are snapped up fast, especially in peak season.
  • If you're planning to roam between locations, stock up on food in larger towns. There's much more choice, and prices in smaller food shops in remote locations can be sky high.
  • Plan stops in advance if you're travelling by road. Distances can feel long but fortunately NZ is rich in gorgeous lookouts, roadside waterfalls and many towns have prominent public toilets, hurrah!

Children Will Love...

Getting Active

Beaches

Wildlife Encounters

Culture with Kids

Food!

Active Kids

Queenstown Ice Arena Skate the rink, watch ice-hockey or hire frisbees for disc golf.

Family Adventures, Queenstown Kids as young as three can shoot the rapids on the Shotover River.

Coromandel Zipline Tours, Coromandel Peninsula Eight separate sections traversing the canopy of the Driving Creek Conservation Park.

Paddles & Saddles, Great Barrier Island Explore the island by bike, kayak or scooter.

Planning

For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children. Plan ahead by browsing Kidz Go! (www.kidzgo.co.nz) or pick up a free copy of its booklet from tourism info centres in Queenstown, Wanaka and Fiordland.

When to Go

New Zealand is a winner during summer (December to February), but summer is peak season and school-holiday time. Accommodation will be pricey and will require booking far ahead, especially for family-sized rooms. A better bet may be the shoulder months of March, April (sidestepping Easter) and November, when the weather is still good and there’s less pressure on the tourism sector. Winter (June to August) is better again – chances are you’ll have the whole place to yourselves! Except for the ski fields, of course, most of which are fully geared towards family snow-fun.

Accommodation

Many motels and holiday parks have playgrounds, games rooms and kids' DVDs, and often fenced swimming pools, trampolines and acres of grass (many have laundry facilities, too). Cots and high chairs aren’t always available at budget and midrange accommodation, but top-end hotels supply them and some provide child-minding services. The bach (a basic holiday home) is a good-value option, while farmstays can be highly entertaining with the menagerie of animals on-site.

Many B&Bs promote themselves as blissfully kid-free, and most hostels focus on the backpacker demographic. But there are plenty of hostels (including YHA) that do allow kids.

What to Pack

  • Lots of layers New Zealand’s weather can be fickle, even in summer. Pack beach gear for summer trips, but throw in a few thermal long-sleeve tops and jackets.
  • Sunhats, sunscreen and sunglasses Sunglasses for all, even in winter.
  • Food containers Farmers markets, beaches...NZ is primo picnic territory.
  • Insect repellent Itchy sandfly bites make grumpy children.

Getting Around

If your kids are little, check that your car-hire company can supply the right-sized car seat for your child, and that the seat will be properly fitted. Some companies legally require you to fit car seats yourself.

Most public transport – buses, trains, ferries etc – caters for young passengers, with discounted fares and a helping hand getting your stroller/nappy bag/shopping aboard.

Consider hiring a campervan for the whole trip. These formidable beasts are everywhere in NZ, kitted out with beds, kitchens, even toilets and TVs. Hire companies proliferate in major centres, with reasonable rates once you consider the savings on accommodation (and goodbye unpacking, repacking and leaving teddy in a hotel room).

Useful Websites

  • Lonely Planet Kids (www.lonelyplanetkids.com) Loads of activities and great family-travel blog content.
  • LetsGoKids (http://letsgokids.co.nz) Download the NZ edition for family travel inspiration and money-saving vouchers.
  • Kidspot (www.kidspot.co.nz) The 'Family Fun' section has suggestions for child-friendly activities, road trips and more.

Keeping Costs Down

  • Accommodation

Campsites, holiday parks and kid-friendly motels are all great options for family travel on the cheap with shared kitchens to cook in. Coastal campsites are often located near beaches and may offer other free outdoor activities. Motels sometimes include a kitchenette.

  • Sightseeing

Most museums, galleries, entertainment parks, wildlife sanctuaries and similar attractions offer kids' concessions and/or family tickets that let the whole tribe in for less.

  • Eating

Most midrange restaurants and pubs will offer a kids' menu, with choices, portions and prices adapted to the needs of younger diners. When the weather's good, hit farmers' markets for an al fresco picnic, where kids don't need to sit still.

  • Transport

Urban transport networks all offer discounts to children and students; infants usually travelling for free. When weather, terrain and your plans allow, consider kitting the family out with rental bikes to take advantage of NZ's fantastic cycling infrastructure, or the flat topography of cities like Christchurch.

Region by Region

Auckland Region

New Zealand’s largest city is naturally chock-full of family diversions: beaches, including decent surf on the west coast; the wonderful Auckland Zoo; Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium; and entertaining kids' shows at Whoa! Studios.

Bay of Islands & Northland

When you're not out sailing with the family, history is brought to life here at the Waitangi Treaty Ground, Kerikeri Mission Station, and the excellent local museums in Matakohe, Dargaville, Waipu and Mangawhai.

Waikato & the Coromandel Peninsula

This verdant region offers kayaking around Hahei and Raglan, the Hobbiton film set, biking on the Hauraki Rail Trail and the glowworm-lit depths of the Waitomo Caves.

Taranaki & Whanganui

Beaches are the draw here, with no crowds, endless piles of driftwood and good surf for the older kids. Taranaki's Surf Hwy 45, Whanganui’s beaches and New Plymouth’s wild Back Beach spring to mind.

Taupo & the Ruapehu Region

Adventures here don't go to Queenstown extremes but still provide plenty of thrills. Lake Taupō offers swimming and parasailing, the Spa Park has free thermal pools, and Middle Earth fans will love Mt Ngauruhoe, aka Mt Doom.

Rotorua & Bay of Plenty

There's great family accommodation at the likes of Arista, and enough sulphur scents, boiling mud and colourful features to enliven the longest stint at a geothermal field. Kids can also brave Tutea Falls and splash across to the glowworm caves at Lake Okareka on stand-up paddle boards (SUPs).

East Coast

Head around East Cape for an earthy, authentic, no-frills driving tour with the kids. Empty beaches; dune-side holiday parks; fish and chips at the pub; Māori dudes with full-face tā moko … it’s one of the last really untouristed places on the North Island.

Wellington Region

Wellington itself is small enough to feel like a kids’ compact wonderland. Museums and activities here are great for kids – Te Papa, Zealandia and the Cable Car, especially – and there are plenty of cheap places to eat.

Christchurch & Canterbury

Urban and rural attractions alike lure families to this region, from Christchurch’s magical Margaret Mahy Family Playground to the Orana Wildlife Park, boating on the Avon River and horse trekking in the Mackenzie Country.

Dunedin & Otago

All kids will love the Otago Peninsula for wildlife, including penguins, fur seals, sea lions, albatross and whales. Elsewhere, there’s the Central Otago Rail Trail, the steampunk playground that is Ōamaru and winter sports in Naseby.

Fiordland & Southland

This region is all about outdoor activities, from the all-ages splendour of Milford Sound to active farm holidays at Slope Point and the Te Anau Glowworm Caves. Mechanically minded kids will love Invercargill for its two motor museums and the chance to operate huge diggers at Dig This.

Queenstown & Wanaka

Queenstown, the epicentre of skiing, bungy and general thrill-seeking in New Zealand, may be too extreme for some kids, but at Wānaka the over-nines can test their mettle on the much calmer via ferrata by Wild Wire.

West Coast

While the wild West Coast is less populated and accessible than most parts of NZ, kids will love the recreated gold rush-era Shantytown, family-friendly rafting and the chance to net crayfish at the National Kiwi Centre.

Nelson & Marlborough

More than just wineries and wilderness walks, this region offers plenty for families, including Nelson’s Tahunanui Beach, kayaking tours in Abel Tasman National Park, and fishing and a petting zoo at the Anatoki Salmon hatchery.

Good to Know

Look out for the c icon for family-friendly suggestions throughout this guide.

Babies and Toddlers Attitudes to public breastfeeding are pretty enlightened throughout New Zealand, while infant formula, nappies and other essentials are readily available in supermarkets, pharmacies and smaller groceries.

Dining Out The golden rule is ‘be considerate’: kids are welcome in most eating establishments, but their behaviour is your responsibility, and fine-dining patrons will expect to enjoy an adults-only environment. Generally, licensed establishments such as pubs welcome well-behaved kids, but not after dinner time.

Prams and Pushchairs New Zealand’s cities are well-paved, well-lit and easy to negotiate for parents pushing prams and pushchairs.

Seat Belts Everyone must wear seat belts while in moving vehicles, with appropriately anchored chairs and capsules mandated by law for the very youngest.

Public Transport Kids’ discounts of different kinds exist for all mass-transit systems in New Zealand. Infants travel free.

Hire Vehicles If your kids are little, check that your car-hire company can supply the right-sized car seat for your child, and that the seat will be properly fitted. Some companies legally require you to fit car seats yourself. Consider hiring a campervan. These formidable beasts are everywhere in NZ, kitted out with beds, kitchens, and even toilets and TVs.