As I watchedmy mother-in-law disappear over the handlebars of her mountain bike and down the bank of the river Arrow, I knew Christmas was in danger of being cancelled.
Two hours later we would still be discussing her miraculous escape from harm at the end of the trail with a glass of Waitiri Creek wine but, at the time, it was no laughing matter.
Choosing the right activity can quite literally be the make or break of any family holiday.
Particularly when there is a gap of 50 (or more) years between oldest to youngest, finding something to do that will neither bore nor maim any party member is a tough call. Shared adventures and time invested in activities are the things that endure and bind us as families, so time taken deciding what shared activity to do is equally well spent.
Whether you're after family travel inspiration or a general survival guide, here are some of our favourite family holiday activities around New Zealand.
KiwiRail's scenic journeys are a national treasure. As a family activity they're a great prospect. Though I'd recommended you stock up on games to keep younger riders occupied. Even with the best will in the world and the most stunning carriage-side scenery rolling past, it's hard to keep a game of "eye-spy" running the whole 12 hours of The Northern Explorer.
The Forgotten World Railway is another great option. If the appeal of a rail journey is the chance to get a closer look at the countryside, it doesn't get much closer than this. The 150km of reclaimed railway between Stratford and Taumarunui are now traversable by converted golf buggy. With itineraries ranging from 5 hours to multiple days, having your own wheels gives you the freedom to explore the sights from Taranaki to Whangamomona at your own pace.
The electric bike is the great two-wheeled equaliser. The killer of hills and booster of speed and perceived ability means e-bikes are now everywhere. It doesn't matter who is on them, you'll find electrically boosted cyclists racing up mountain trails or along urban cycle paths, at pace.
"We see people using e-bikes to provide support where people are feeling a bit concerned about keeping up as well as tag-a-long kids' bikes," says Geoff Gabites of Cycle Journeys New Zealand. His company runs bike hire and shuttle drop-offs for groups across the South Island and says he regularly sees three-generations of cyclists zipping along without a problem.
It still helps if you choose the right trail. The West Coast Wilderness Trail is a favourite with family groups. Running from Greymouth to Hokitika, it visits some of the South Island's most rugged terrain on one of the smoothest cycle tracks.
By waka and sail
No matter where you are in New Zealand there's adventure on your doorstep. Even in the urban hubs of Wellington or Auckland you're never more than a 25-minute ferry ride away from pristine native bush and predator-free islands. In Auckland, Fullers 360 runs daily ferries to Rangitoto and Rotoroa island, recently elected the most scenic spot in the Hauraki. Likewise, in Wellington Matiu/Somes island is an epic spot for a day-trip with East by West Ferries.
However, if you're looking to tire out younger members of the trip or just up for an adventure, most islands are also reachable by sea kayak. "Browns Island is somewhere most people never go," says Scott Burridge of Fergs Kayaks. His company runs guided day-trips out of Auckland and Wellington harbours. While Burridge advises longer trips are for ages 16+, he says it's a really special way to reach the islands and meet family members off the ferry – hopefully with the remainder of the sandwiches. If you've got longer to spend, Rangitoto and Rotoroa islands offer accommodation options for overnight.
By river with rod
From what I can remember, most of my early summer holidays were spent on a river bank asking my grandad: "when does this get fun?" For anyone with an angler in the family, you may still be asking the same question.
Fortunately, Tongariro River Rafting in Taupo may have found an answer. Their angling adventure is at turns white-water rafting and at others guided fishing on the most famous trout river in New Zealand. You can choose to either spend a day or try overnight fishing, navigating parts of the river only reachable by boat. It's a memorable trip for anglers and complete amateurs alike. Running from December 1 to May 31 each year. Suitable for ages 10 and up, children go free with paying adults.