New Zealand is finally open to travellers again and we can’t wait to visit! We spoke with Clarke Gayford, partner to New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, on why families should visit the country and his top places to visit.
Kia ora! With the school holidays inching closer and travel almost back to pre-pandemic times, you’re probably wondering where to take your family. Well, how about New Zealand? It might be small on the world map, but this country has so much to offer. “During Covid, we’ve locked down New Zealand, tidied it up, and made it even friendlier for children and families,” Clarke explains.
“Tourism is such an important part of New Zealand. We get excited when people come in. We can show them all the things that we like about our place. You’ll find folks who are just delighted to welcome visitors again!”
When asked when is the best time to visit New Zealand, Clarke only has one word to say: “Tomorrow!” So what are you waiting for? Grab that passport, pack your bags, and get ready to visit the Kiwis!
Top places to visit in New Zealand with the kids (as recommended by Clarke Gayford)
Clarke likens New Zealand to those “choose your own adventure” books. “When you get there, you decide where you want to go and how you want to engage with it.” Here’s a list of places he recommends visiting when you’re in the country.
1. Pay the residents of the Auckland Zoo a visit
One of the safest family-friendly attractions to visit in New Zealand is the Auckland Zoo, home to over 1,400 animals. This not-for-profit organisation is the active leader in wildlife research, conservation work, and innovative zoo design. It has won many national and international awards and will celebrate its 100th anniversary this December.
2. Toro mai Te Papa, the container of treasures
A good family day out includes popping by a museum or two for us. Head to Wellington and make a trip to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the country’s national museum. Te Papa Tongarewa translates to “the container of treasures”; however, it’s commonly known as Te Papa, which is Maori for “the treasure box”. This interactive museum features six storeys housing many exhibitions and collections. Fun fact: it’s said that the museum is among the safer places to seek refuge in a major earthquake.
“I take my daughter there all the time. The exhibitions change frequently, and there’s a kids section with colouring activities,” Clarke shares.
3. Explore Kaikōura’s great outdoors
Looking for a destination that lets you do just about anything in the great outdoors? Clarke suggests Kaikōura, the northernmost distinct within the Canterbury region. You can watch whales, swim with dolphins, go quad biking on a working beef and sheep farm, and more. Don’t forget to enjoy the myriad seafood cuisines while you’re here!
4. Go on the rides at Rainbow’s End
A trip overseas is never complete without a visit to a theme park. Rainbow’s End is New Zealand’s largest theme park, featuring over 20 rides and attractions. Children aged eight and below can skip over to Kidz Kingdom, located within the park. It’s fully covered, AKA perfect for all types of weather, and has 11 rides and attractions. The theme park also has night rides and twilight rides.
5. Spend time at this spectacular geothermal attraction
Here’s a unique experience Clarke recommends having in your travel itinerary. Orakei Korako, also known as the Hidden Valley, is a geothermal park with the most active geysers in New Zealand. There are also hot springs, bubbling mud pools, a geothermal cave, and some of the largest silica terraces in the world. Lonely Planet has dubbed this place “the best thermal area left in New Zealand”. If you’re planning to visit, be prepared to spend at least two hours here.
6. Take part in exciting adventures at Waitomo
Have you heard of The Glowworm Caves? It’s said to be one of the country’s best natural attractions. Take a boat ride through the glowworm grotto, where you’ll be able to marvel at thousands of glowworms lighting up the cave above. Don’t forget to check out the Cathedral, the tallest chamber in the cave.
After getting acquainted with the glowworms, take on another underground experience. Clarke suggests black water rafting, which he promises to be the most fun you’ll have in the dark. What can you expect from this? Floating through the caves, rafting in tubes through underground rapids, and jumping off waterfalls! This activity is more suitable for kiddos aged 12 years and above.
“If you really want to give your kids a good adventure, I highly recommend these two activities!”
7. Ski like a local in the Christchurch-Canterbury region
Skiing enthusiasts, this one is for you! Clarke dares you to take on the wide-open slopes in the Christchurch-Canterbury region, featuring sweeping plains and mountain peaks. Choose from Mt Hutt, with its spectacular terrain that suits all skiing abilities, or Mount Dobson, for its all-day sunshine. Thrillseekers can opt to go heliskiing.
8. Get your adrenaline rush on the Skyline Luge
Yes, we already have this in Sentosa, but you cannot give the original Skyline Luge a miss when you’re in New Zealand. “We are the home of Luges!” Clarke proudly claims. This attraction is only accessible via a gondola, where you can enjoy spectacular 220-degree panoramic views before getting your adrenaline fix. You can take on two tracks: the blue track, which has a gentle gradient and easy bends, and the green track, which is steeper with banked corners, tunnels, dips, and cuttings. We say just tackle both!
9. Enjoy a refreshing retreat at Polynesian Spa
How does a day at a luxury spa sound? Polynesian Spa is a natural mineral bathing and luxury spa retreat that’ll leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. The spa, located on the tranquil shores of Lake Rotorua, features 28 mineral pools that are fed from two natural springs. You can enjoy various health and wellness treatments, from Aix spa therapies and body wraps to massages and facials. Begone, tired muscles, aches, and pains!
10. Head to the beach and admire the sea lions
Clarke often goes to the beach with his daughter (it’s her favourite place to visit!); he recommends hitting up Surat Bay, a quiet and peaceful sandy spot home to plenty of wildlife. You can easily find the huge New Zealand sea lions just lying on the sand here. While you may be tempted to get up close, experts advise keeping your distance – at least 10 metres! – from them. Some trivia for you: Surat Bay was initially known as Forsyth’s Bay. It was renamed after the sailing ship “Surat”, which shipwrecked there on New Year’s Day in 1874.
11. Feed stingrays at Tatapouri Bay
This should be at the top of your list of things to do in New Zealand for fans of marine life. Dive Tatapouri’s reef ecology trip lets you get up close with the various marine species, such as crayfish, octopus, and conger eel. The highlight of this trip is the opportunity to interact with and feed the stingrays. This is Clarke’s favourite thing to do because “you’re connected to nature, and it’s a great, rugged, proper New Zealand experience”. Plus, Tatapouri Bay’s located in his hometown!
12. Admire the mysterious Moeraki Boulders
If you’re planning a road trip around New Zealand’s South Island, make a stopover at Koekohe Beach to admire the Moeraki Boulders. These mysteriously spherical stones (“they look like giant round cannonballs all over the beach”) weigh several tonnes and can go up to two metres high. According to Maori legend, these boulders washed ashore after a voyaging canoe wrecked upon landing in New Zealand hundreds of years ago.
And there you have it, Clarke’s top family-friendly spots to visit in New Zealand. There’s definitely something for everyone!