Rachel Grunwell checks out fun activities for the school holidays, plus family-friendly things to note on the calendar for later in the year.

For thrills

Kids will smile with delight at Auckland's Rainbow's End. This park has 25 rides and attractions suitable for kids (and big-kid adults), including the Fortress of Fun in Kidz Kingdom and plenty of areas for the little ones. If you haven't been in a while, you might not have seen the Stratosfear ride. One of only four worldwide, it rotates 360-degrees high in the air and can freak 30 people out at a time - it's dubbed "seriously scary".

I took my family and before we knew it five hours had passed with us screaming, smiling, and wahooing. The 9-year-old and his dad, both with stomachs of steel, relished the roller coaster and Invader ride (a huge spinning disk that travels up and down an 80m track and gets as high as 15m). The younger kids most loved the Kidz Kingdom's magic bikes, the carousel and space shuttle ride. The entire family enjoyed things like the Log Flume and GoldRush rides, in which you hop in vessels and head on a train-like ride near water and through tunnels. During weekends, school and public holidays all rides run continuously.

A family pass (2 adults, 2 children) online is $178, but at the gate it's $186. Watch out for online deals.



Underwater fun

A real mermaid will swim into Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium. Bex Gibson, 24, works as an aquarist (fish keeper), but will wear a glittering green mermaid outfit, complete with tail, as part of the mermaid-inspired school holiday activity programme for all ages, running until July 20.

Visitors can see Bex at 10.30am and 1.30pm daily in the Shipwreck Discovery tank, swimming with some of her fish friends.

Bex the mermaid at Kelly Tarltons. Photo / Michael Craig

Also on offer around the aquarium are Disney's The Little Mermaid-themed activities, including a mermaid quiz trail and a mermaid grotto activity room, that features face-painting, mermaid crafts and books on the mythical creatures. Children can learn that some mermaids have powers like immortality, seeing the future, telepathy and hypnosis and they appear in the folklore of many cultures. Bex mentioned her love of mermaids at work and said she would love to be one - and before she knew it, she was.

Mermaids, of course, adore ocean creatures and one of Bex's favourite residents is 50-year-old stingray Phoebe, who loves to come up close during feeding times. Among the other stars here are an 80-year-old crayfish, the wobbegong shark from Australia with its incredible camouflaged body and glow-in-the-dark, dancing spiny sea dragons with their long snouts and long, pencil-thin bodies. Book online for cheaper tickets (it's $16 for a child's ticket online and $20 walk-up).


Wynyard Quarter workshops

Wharf Workshops for kids at Wynyard Quarter.

Wynyard Quarter has become a popular spot to take the family for great cafes, a playground, watching the fishing boats and superyachts and there's often entertainment.

Workshops are run every Sunday (11am-2pm) throughout the year for kids and then every day except Saturdays during the school holidays. The sessions are free and you can just drop by. A workshop topic on July 13 is "sensational plants" and a "come and play workshop" on July 14 will feature long ropes, skittles, basket balls, chalk and hula hoop fun.


Little cooks in the kitchen

MasterChef contestant Vanessa Baxter. Photo / Frances Oliver

Vanessa Baxter, a MasterChef finalist last year, is taking cooking classes for kids at Nosh Food Market's flagship store in Mt Eden from July 7-10. Kids will whip up everything from Asian-style dumplings to multi-layer cakes. The sessions are 9.30am-11am for kids aged 5-plus, or 2pm-4pm for 12-plus.


Where the wild things are

Children enjoying an Auckland Council library.

Many of Auckland's 55 libraries will be focusing on a Wild July School Holiday Programme theme.

Visit aucklandlibraries.govt.nz to find out what "wild" things are happening at your local library.

For example, among the many things on at the Avondale Library will be a story time session on wild animals on July 9 and 16 (10.30am-11am). It will feature wild action songs and stories for pre-schoolers and kids aged 5 and over can take part in a "create a wild child" digital session (11am-noon on July 18).

At Mt Albert Library kids can help decorate a giant taniwha (3pm-5pm, July 9) and on July 16 (4.30pm-5.30pm) children can create a wild potion or recipe together.

There's also animal mask-making and a wild-theme photo-booth between 4.30pm and 5.30pm on July 17.

Beyond the school holidays

For Lego fans

Plastic lego blocks.

A Lego Show is headed to Kohia Terrace School Hall in Epsom on July 27 from 10am-4pm that will feature trains, boats, Star Wars and space creations, plus kids can build their own masterpiece and bring it in for judging. Go to eventfinder.co.nz for tickets. No door sales.

Go on an adventure, any time

Rangitoto Adventurer from Fuller's Ferries.

Take the kids on a Fullers Ferry to Rangitoto Island and tell the youngsters about the environment of this 600-year-old volcano. The current ferry service stops at Islington Bay, where you'll board a tractor train to take you to the start of the walk.

The black and rugged lava landscape is incredible and there are also beautiful sandy coves and lots of beautiful native bush. It's a bit of an uphill climb (roughly about an hour walking to the top) but it's worth it for the 360-degree views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf islands.

Take a picnic lunch, water, binoculars and good walking shoes and teach the kids along the way about why this is a pest-free sanctuary for our native wildlife. The kids will love the roughly 25-minute ferry journey to the island and back too - and that might just be the highlight.

The Rangitoto Island ferry price is $29 adult, $14.50 child. Under-5s are free. A family price (2 adults/2 kids) is $72.50.


Dancing delight

A Christmas Carol by the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Children aged 7 and over can delight in the Vodafone Season of A Christmas Carol by the Royal New Zealand Ballet in Auckland this December.

This production is an adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic of the same name. Ebenezer Scrooge is visited one Christmas Eve by four ghosts - that is, dancers in elaborate, thrilling and even sometimes scary costumes. It is essentially a story about the power of joyfulness at Christmas in a Victorian setting.

Music for the production was created by celebrated film and television composer Carl Davis and includes familiar Christmas carols to sing along to.

The show will be at the Auckland ASB Theatre and Aotea Centre (featuring the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra) from December 3-7.

It will then move to Takapuna's Bruce Mason Centre from December 13-14. Ticket prices vary due to seating options. The show is also at other centres nationwide throughout November.