When filmmakers are looking for a fantasy landscape, New Zealand’s always top of the wish list.
Not only is the landscape diverse beyond imagining, the country’s compact and accessible, outdoorsy in all weathers and naturally designed for big adventures.
You could spend an entire family holiday on the amazing North Island beaches or hire a campervan and explore every national park, mountain range, marine reserve and colourful city. But, whichever way you ‘do’ New Zealand, it’s never short of phenomenal.
December to February is the New Zealand summer with temperatures between 20 and 32˚.
New Zealand has over 15,000km of coastline: from huge, sandy beaches in the far north of North Island to rugged shores trimming almost all round South Island.
Cinematic New Zealand’s mountain ranges, stunning glaciers, geysers, lakes, forests and enormous stretches of unspoiled wilderness are an amazingly accessible natural playground.
New Zealand’s fantastic for campervan holidays: not much larger than the UK, excellent roads and a countrywide network of campsites and parks on both North and South Island.
Auckland on North Island is New Zealand’s largest city and rated on the Mercer Scale as world’s third most liveable.
A variety of National Parks
New Zealand has 14 National Parks covering 30,000km². Tongarira on North Island is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Dramatic Otago Peninsula on South Island has the world’s only albatross breeding colony and a colony of rare Little Blue Penguins.
Roughly the size of England and Wales, South Island’s landscape is the mind’s eye New Zealand of staggeringly beautiful Alpine ridges, huge glaciers, fjords, dramatic coasts and vast, untamed national parks.
Christchurch is New Zealand’s third largest city. A good starting point for touring South Island’s east coast or as a base for whale watching at Kaikoura and step back in time days out at the pretty ‘French’ settlement of Akaroa.
Kaikoura’s famous for marine mammals and there are daily cruises year-round with almost guaranteed sightings of dolphins, fur seals and sperm whales, humpbacks, pilot whales and orcas.
Marlborough , north of Christchurch, is New Zealand wine country and South Island’s sunniest, most sheltered regions for walking and hiking, or sailing on Long Island-Kokomohua Marine Reserve.
Drive the Great West Road from Westport to Greymouth on South Island’s west coast. It’s 101km long and one of the world’s top 10 scenic journeys. The highlight’s Paparoa National Park and the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.
North west coast towns to visit include: Greymouth, Franz Josef Glacier, Hokitika, Westport and Haast – centre of the Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage area.
Central Queenstown is the town at the heart of South Island’s most visited region. Stay here for outdoor adventuring round: Mount Aspiring National Park; Milford Sound; Lake Wakatipu; Glenorchy; and Gibbston Valley.
With names like Oban, Dunedin and Invercargill, it’s easy to spot the origin of South Island’s 19th century settlers – particularly on the impressive south west coast. This is the area for penguins and albatross on the Otago Peninsula; dramatic Tunnel Beach; and the intriguing Moeraki Boulders.
Dunedin Central is a great Victorian city, perched on New Zealand’s wildest coast. Famous for gothic architecture and grand design it’s also a UNESCO Creative City of Literature and home to several of the country’s leading writers and poets.
The smaller of New Zealand’s two main islands, North is the administrative and political heart of the country. Flawless, sun-drenched beaches and great swathes of rich farmland, fascinating cities, ancient Maori culture and some of the most remarkable geothermal landscapes in the southern hemisphere.
The harbour city of Wellington is New Zealand’s capital and mecca for Lord of the Ring fans – Peter Jackson’s Weta Studios are here and ‘real’ Middle Earth begins in earnest in the magnificent surrounding countryside.
Visit the Taraniki region, midway between Auckland and Wellington, for: the enormous volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki; legendary surfing beaches; dynamic contemporary art; great shopping; lively summer festival; and the amazingly accessible grandeur of Egmont National Park.
The Bay of Plenty on North Island’s east coast is exactly as described: plentiful. This is where kiwifruit grows, the country’s loveliest beaches string along the coast and a marine volcano adds more than a hint of drama to seaside, surf schools and dolphin cruises.
Rated the world’s third most liveable city and the largest in New Zealand, northerly Auckland’s great fun for kids whether they’re up for outdoor adventuring, theme parks, amazing museums or ziplining, swimming and exploring round the Hauraki Gulf.
Rotorua is the heartland of ancient Maori culture and tradition. But it’s also the region for geysers and bubbling mud pools, brilliant adventure parks, hot springs. Wild good times mixed with enthralling heritage are the themes here and it’s one of North Island’s most exciting areas for family holidays.
What to do
Middle Earth Adventures, North and South Island
Fantasy expeditions range from the chance to Hobbit about for a few days to several weeks of full Lord of the Rings’ questing.
Fjordland National Park, South Island
Arguably the most impressive of New Zealand’s diverse and dramatic national parks, Fjordland is in the far south west of South Island.
Skyline Rotorua, North Island
Ziplining, luging, racing, sky-swinging or stargazing, Skyline’s wild adventure for all ages in Rotorua, just over an hour from Bay of Plenty.
Whitewater Rafting, North Island
Thrilling family rafting on the tallest commercially ridden waterfalls in New Zealand including Kaituna on the Okere River.
Adventure Forest, North Island
Within driving distance of Auckland, Adventure Forest takes what comes naturally to New Zealand and adds vast treetop walks, pulleys, lines, swings and wild family fun.
Whale Watching, South Island
Kiakoura, north of Christchurch, is the undisputed centre of whale and dolphin watching in New Zealand.
Sea Kayaking, South Island
Penguin colonies, fur seals and Pohatu Marine Reserve’s spectacular seascape make kayaking with local conservationists an unforgettable family adventure.
Egmont National Park, North Island
Centred around the perfect volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki, Egmont National Park is wonderful for walking and hiking in summer and winter skiing.
Museum of New Zealand, Wellington
Put aside at least an afternoon to explore this vast interactive museum which also has an innovative kid’s event programme throughout the year.
Weekend Treasure Quest, North Island
Built over a century ago, the town of Waihi is famous for gold, silver and fortune hunters. Today its unusual heritage makes a fascinating family weekend of discovery and beachy fun.
Educational value for kids
New Zealand’s world famous for glacier climbing. Fox Glacier and Franz Josef (west coast, South Island) are easily accessible for families, with or without guides.
Ride New Zealand’s only narrow-gauge railway in the Coromandel Forest and learn the fascinating story of Driving Creek
The Whale Station Experience on South Island is a fascinating in-depth exploration of the 19th century whaling industry and today’s conservation work.
Mount Hikurangi is at the heart of ancient Maori culture and guided treks and walks are fascinating for older kids.
Any one of New Zealand’s national parks is a learning experience with kids and almost all are easily accessible and have excellent visitor and outdoor activity centres.
Almost all public museums and art galleries in New Zealand are free of charge or have nominal ticket prices.
Take at least one eco-tour in New Zealand and discover how this remarkable country is protecting and conserving its natural heritage.
Getting about with kids in New Zealand
Visitors to New Zealand are always surprised by how easy it is to explore. Hire a campervan or car on either North or South Island and there are hundreds of itineraries and well-marked routes designed for touring. Public transport’s excellent and extensive in cities and North and South Island are connected by daily ferry services from Wellington or flights from Wellington to Christchurch. Be aware of fuel if you’re driving in more remote areas, filling stations are few and far between.