Auckland is a treasure trove for a family looking for active but inexpensive outings, say Te Atatu Peninsula residents Jemma Nissen and Andrew Schollum, who have a 10-year-old son, Aldous, and daughter, Jean, aged 4.
The couple say that doing things with their children has given them a better appreciation of what the city and surrounds have to offer.
A key to their different take on the city was the decision to reduce reliance on their car.
Mr Schollum rides a motorcycle to work in the city, and as a family they have taken to cycling. Their son walks to school. Ms Nissen, who works from home on creative video projects, started a community group, Bike Te Atatu, which now has 140 residents taking to the streets and paths on the peninsula.
"We often ride round to friends or the shops," she says. "Jean has a chair on the back of my bike when I go to town about a kilometre away. We try to ride when we can. My husband took the children by bike to Henderson Mall to watch the Guardians of the Galaxy children's movie. It's easy using the Twin Streams cycle- and walk-way. Coming home in the dark was an adventure for the 10-year-old.
"Some months ago, we rode our bikes to a party in a warehouse in the industrial area off Rosebank Rd. We used the cycleway alongside the Northwestern Motorway. Biking makes getting anywhere more fun. I'm not a cyclist but the peninsula is so suited to using a bike for transport to the kindergarten and shops. We feel we should be doing it if we can."
Ms Nissen says that of the cities she has lived in, Auckland offers more inexpensive family fun.
"With kids, I think you appreciate the city more; more of its elements come into play. We do something different every weekend so we use the city more, the parks, natural stuff."
The family caught a ferry to Devonport to explore North Head and the beaches.
They also use the central city more since the revamping of the Auckland Art Gallery and downtown streets, and Britomart is a lure for the novelty of a train ride to Newmarket and back.
"We try to turn everything into an adventure," Ms Nissen says. "You have to get more inventive to keep the kids away from the shops. You have to plan more and make it magic."
She says Aucklanders need more free activities, judging by large crowds at events such as the Franklin Rd Christmas Lights in the City and the Chinese Lantern Festival in Albert Park. She prefers local suburban events such as Kite Day on the peninsula reserve.
Her favourite wilderness retreats include the freshwater lake at Bethells Beach (Te Henga) on the west coast, and Whatipu, on the northern side of the Manukau Harbour entrance.
During a recent trip to Whatipu for a picnic and play on the beach, Andrew, a keen tramper, set off to walk up the coast to Karekare Beach. "I drove round the Waitakere Ranges to meet him," Ms Nissen says. "We had pizza on the beach five hours later."
In summer, the family use a kayak to explore Henderson Creek and the bays of Waitemata Harbour, sometimes paddling to Pt Chevalier Beach for a swim and picnic.