At this time of the year many New Zealand families would be jetting off on their much-anticipated holiday to Hawaii, Fiji, the Gold Coast, Bali or California for some sun and overseas adventure. Obviously, our arch-enemy Covid-19 has put paid to many of those plans, but it's also done something magical, by turning our attention to what's right on our doorstep. Sometimes we're so dazzled by the promises of foreign shores we don't think about exploring what's here, just under our noses.
If your family is making 2020 the year they get to know New Zealand, here are some great suggestions - only a fraction of the fun our country has to offer. Please make sure you check websites and social media before planning any of these trips as regulations and conditions are changing weekly in these unusual times.
If you're missing the Pacific Islands at this time of year, you'll be surprised at just how beautiful the beaches in the north of our own country are. Crystal-clear water and white sands characterise so many of Northland's beauty spots, such as Matai Bay (consistently named as one of New Zealand's top beaches). Head to the Hokianga for the untouched New Zealand experience - frolic on the golden sand dunes, wander through Waipoua forest to see Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere, our most majestic kauri, or even take a jetski safari on the Harbour with Awesome Adventures Hokianga (what Lenny doesn't know about this area is not worth knowing). For larger-scale tourist-based activity head to the other coast to Pahia and cruise through the Hole in the Rock, spot dolphins or visit historic Russell (Okiato was the site of our country's first capital). Mountain bikers will love Waitangi Mountain Bike Park and of course there's the famous Treaty Grounds and fascinating museum - a must-visit for New Zealanders of all ages.
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The City of Sails has plenty to occupy families. On a sunny day, explore the Viaduct Harbour and North Wharf (the playground will keep them occupied for ages and you can all refuel at the Auckland Fish Markets afterwards, where you'll find a wide range of international cuisine and a great outdoor bar). Auckland Zoo, the Sky Tower, Snowplanet and Rainbow's End are always popular with families, as are the black sands of the wild West coast beaches (Bethells, Piha, Muriwai); make sure you stop at Hallertau for a craft brew or any of the West Auckland wineries - where there's always plenty of space for kids to be kids - on the way home. If the weather isn't playing ball, the Auckland Museum provides hours of fun and the Auckland Art Gallery often has something kids will enjoy – it's a great space. If your family loves icecream, experience it like never before at Giapo - an Auckland institution - and if you want to get on to that gorgeous sparkling harbour, Waiheke Island is the perfect day trip. Those beaches are pretty hard to beat.
Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake)
Just 15 minutes from the centre of Rotorua, this is the perfect place for families to base themselves to explore this region. There's a Top 10 Holiday Park right on the lake and you can rent their kayaks for a gentle paddle off these beautiful shores. Toddle round the lake for some exercise, and take a dip if the weather permits (it's like bathwater in summer). From here, it's easy to access all Rotorua's superb family fun, such as the Redwoods Treewalk on platforms through the trees (even better at night!); the kayak trip across Lake Rotoiti to the spectacular Manupirua Springs Hot Pools; recently opened Secret Spot Hot Tubs; Canopy Tours zipline experience; Jetboating to fascinating Mokoia Island; taking an Ogo ride (large inflatable ball) downhill - plus of course all the geothermal attractions that make this part of the country so popular. If you're there on a Thursday night, don't miss the night markets and definitely check out Scope Cafe for the best home-baking in town. The Blind Finch do excellent burgers (and great gins) and although it's not flash, or revolutionary, stopping for icecream at Lady Jane's has been an essential part of any holiday to the area for more years than we'd care to remember.
One of the prettiest parts of the North Island, this is where half of Auckland disappears to in the summer. And it's no surprise with its endless opportunities for diving, fishing, kayaking and relaxing or walking on stunning beaches. The trail down to the famously photographed rock arch at Cathedral Cove is great for families, as is the experience of digging a little pool on Hot Water beach and creating your own geothermal spa. Older kids will enjoy the Coromandel Coastal walkway and if you have younger ones, don't miss Driving Creek, New Zealand's only narrow-gauge mountain railway. There are ziplining experiences here too, for those too old for trains. Hahei Holiday resort is a great place for families to stay with a huge range of options from camping to beachfront villas - as is Coromandel Top 10 Holiday Park.
Waitomo (and South Waikato)
If you envisage Waitomo as just the one glow worm cave you took Aunty Rita to when she came on holiday from the UK, think again. While the original tourist cave is still as magical as ever, there are so many other ways to enjoy many different caves (hardly surprising since there are more than 300 limestone calcified cathedrals of varying sizes and shapes running labyrinth-style under the region). Ziplining in a cave is a brilliant experience for older kids and the little ones will go mad for Troll Cave shenanigans. Te Tiro BnB is a hidden gem with cute family cottages and killer views, a gorgeous glamping setup, its own glow worm grotto and magnificent clear-sky star-spotting opportunities. Half an hour's drive from Waitomo is the majestic Mangapohue Natural Bridge and the thunderous Marokopa Falls - neither should be missed.
For more New Zealand travel ideas, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew