Family Traveller reader and mother of two, Caroline Hickman, runs through her top ten family adventures in New Zealand.
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Having lived in New Zealand for ten years, revisiting as a family was an experience we’ll treasure forever. Boasting magnificent mountains, clean air and incomparable outdoor lifestyle, we were rather reluctant to get on the plane back home again. Here are ten fantastic family adventures we highly recommend for an unforgettable family holiday.
Thanks to its unique position right over hot, bubbling, underground springs, Hot Water Beach has become a Kiwi location with a cult-like status, attracting thousands of tourists and locals every year. Once there, grab a spade from one of the huts and start digging, because for two magical hours, either side of low tide, it’s possible to create your own personal hot pool in the sand. The hot water is just below the area of sand near the rocks at the end of the beach and filters up to the surface as you dig. This is a delight for little ones and makes for an exciting treasure hunt as you search for a spot with just the right temperature.
From mystical pools of bubbling mud to geysers bursting from the earth’s core, Rotorua is home to a fascinating assemblage of geothermal wonders, evidence of which can be smelt in the sulphur emitted into the air. Te Puia is also considered the cultural centre of the Maoris, New Zealand's indigenous population. Visitors have the chance to discover everything about their heritage, culture and traditions, as well as finding out interesting facts about their day-to-day lives (some still use the boiling water that rises from the ground for cooking!). We even managed to pick up a few words from the Maori language and, by the time we left, we genuinely felt like part of the Whanau (family).
For an adrenaline-inducing afternoon, hop on a jet boat and ride across the shallow river channels in the mountain valleys of Rakaia Gorge. While we were inevitably hanging on tight as the driver made a series of twists and turns across the beautiful rivers, there was also plenty of quiet time spent admiring the towering limestone cliffs and vast, blue skies. If the idea of a white-knuckle jet boat trip has you running for cover, then the gorge can still be admired atop the 19th-century bridge stretching across the width of the water.
Truly mind-blowing views of the southern skies are a must-see on a trip to New Zealand and nothing beats a mesmerising stargazing adventure in the Mount Cook National Park. With very little light pollution, the views of the Southern Cross and the Milky Way were out of this world and the looks on little faces as the entire universe stretched out overhead were ones of pure wonder. Take a trip to the Mount John Observatory for the chance to see even more through their incredible telescope.
While we decided to leave the big, white-water rapids lower down the canyon to the adrenaline seekers, there was plenty of excitement left for us upstream. We were expertly driven by 4WD vehicle down the canyon’s winding single track road deep into gold-mining country. We were fitted out with wetsuits and then jumped in the rafts for a day of fun bumping through small rapids, leaping off rocks, paddling and swimming along the way. It was true outdoor freedom and a proper Kiwi adventure!
There was so much to enjoy and explore in Queenstown but there’s one activity that stood out above the rest - the Skyline Luge. We travelled up the mountain by gondola (you can walk if you like) and sat in one of the purpose-built carts to whizz down the purpose-built track. After a warm-up on the gentle route, it was time to try the slightly steeper and more adventurous track with its heart-dropping dips and crazy corners. The carts were easy for everyone to operate and my little one was more than happy to go down with me.
New Zealand has a network of well-equipped and beautifully located mountain huts with million-dollar views. If you have the type of family that is willing to throw on a backpack and spend a few hours walking, then your efforts will be greatly rewarded. We walked for around four hours with plenty of stops along the way and spent an evening in the wilderness. Unplugged and far away from anything, we cooked our dinner on a gas stove, slept to the sound of pure silence and woke up early in the morning to the sound of birdsong. Mount Aspiring National Park has multiple huts to choose from with various walking distances involved.
The nocturnal and highly elusive kiwi - New Zealand's national bird - can still be heard in the dark of night in areas along the West Coast, so we ventured out with a local guide who knew the best places to look for them. They are bigger than you might think, coming in at around the size of a chicken. Along the way, the children were over the moon to discover glo-worms lighting up the paths and hear the cute call of the tiny native Morepork owl.
Walk with giants! Just south of Hokitika on the West Coast, you can walk along a purpose-built steel platform 20 metres above the ground, among a canopy of ancient Rimu and Kamahi trees. If you want to see even further, venture up the 40-metre-high tower for views out the coast and inland to the snow-capped Southern Alps.
We cruised across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown on a vintage steamship over to Walter Peak station, a working high-country sheep station. They have around 18,000 Merino and Perendale sheep and about 800 cows. On board the ship we spent most of the journey in the noisy engine room, marvelling at sight of the crew in full swing. Once at the farm there was plenty to discover, with working sheep dogs showcasing their skills, sheep shearing demonstrations and, of course, an obligatory afternoon tea.
Caroline lives in a friendly village in Northamptonshire with her husband and two tiny yet adventurous daughters. Before children she travelled far and wide, living in Uganda, hiking in India and exploring Brazil and beyond. Having lived in New Zealand for ten years, she was delighted to go back recently and revisit with her family and their sights are now firmly set on Canada for the next big adventure.
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