Enough screen time already. According to research, spending time outdoors is about more than getting fresh air — it supports children's learning, including their ability to make decisions and inhibit impulses, and builds their confidence and self-esteem.
If you're trying to get your kids away from their devices, here are 12 of the best—and easiest—ways to get your city kids back into nature.
1. Horse around on the beach in Northland
In the queue at the grocery store. On the drive to school. At the back of the classroom. It's enough to make you think they belong in a barnyard. If you've had enough your kids horsing around literally everywhere they shouldn't be, take them to the one place they should be.
Located just north of Waipū on Bream Bay is where you'll find Tuidale Stables, which offers 90-minute guided horseback riding adventures. It's only $65 per person, but each experience is entirely private for groups of up to five, ensuring that the experience is the right pace for your child's skill level. For smaller children, pony rides are also available, which introduce them to equine animals in a safe environment.
2. Find forest magic in Hanmer Springs
There's no shortage of kid-friendly tramping trails in New Zealand. But while that might sound enticing in principle, in practice it can play out a little differently, particularly if you have an unhappy camper in your group. Sometimes, the key to keeping kids happy on hikes is to make them forget they're walking at all—which is exactly what we suspect will happen on Hanmer Spring's Forest Amble to Fairy Springs Door Walk.
This 30-minute trail is the ultimate game of "I Spy". You can challenge your kids to be the first to spot all the creatures along the way, including a friendly giant, abseiling possums, a dog, an orangutan, and countless colourful sprite-sized doorways. Also in the area is the Dog Stream Track—a more challenging three-hour return tramp to a 41-metre waterfall—which is bound to appeal to older kids and teenagers (even if only for its Instagrammable qualities).
3. Stargaze the night away outside Dunedin
While adults are already bemoaning the shortening days, there are some benefits to the change of seasons—namely that kids no longer have to stay up well past their bedtimes to see our celestial skies.
You've got your pick of Dark Sky Sanctuaries to take the family to—but budding astronomers and fans of Sir Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy will love the Otago Peninsula best. Why? Because this is one of the few spots where you have a chance to see the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights. Pack a picnic and head to dark south-facing beaches, such as St. Clair's Second Beach, Sandfly Bay or Hoopers Inlet. Or sign-up for a four-hour guided experience with Horizon Tours ($540 for a family of four, including a light dinner and hot drinks), where you can look at points of significance through a telescope. From April until September, tours start at 6pm.
4. Kayak without paddles in Kaikōura
Swap out the paddles for pedals, and you've got a fun watersport that's suitable for all ages. The only tour of its kind in New Zealand, Seal Kayak Kaikōura uses Hobie Mirage Oasis tandem pedal kayaks (think paddleboats, but kayak-shaped) for its three-hour wildlife watching tours.
Suitable for ages 3and up, you're guaranteed sightings of the area's population of playful fur seals, but you also have a chance of spotting other marine life that the coastline is known for, including Hector's dolphins and whales. Tours start at $69 for children 7 to 12, and $105 for ages 13 and up.
5. Experience a family adventure on the Shotover River
In New Zealand's adventure capital, getting kids outdoors should be a no-brainer with all the activities on offer. Yet, it can feel easier said than done when you factor in age and weight restrictions for many of the area's more adventurous packages. Enter Family Adventures. As its name implies, this white-water rafting company caters to multi-generational groups, and is the only company in Queenstown licensed to carry children under 13 on the Shotover River.
Its five-hour tour ($120 children; $199 adults) sneaks in history lessons among the fun, much like you might hide zucchini in chocolate cake. You'll start at Skippers township, a mining settlement in the backcountry, before gearing up and getting the water. The float itself is mainly scenic, with a few bursts of adrenaline courtesy of grade one and two rapids and cliff jumps, making this truly an all-ages excursion.
6. Enjoy a Māori cultural experience on water
One of the most beautiful places to get amongst it is along the golden-fringed beaches of Abel Tasman National Park—and Waka Abel Tasman's tour to Toka Ngāwha (Split Apple Rock) might be one of the best ways to do it. This two-hour tour is less an adventure activity and more of a cultural experience on water, and it's so fun you'll barely even notice you're paddling.
Since it's hosted aboard a super stable double-hulled waka, kids 2 and up are welcome. The smallest ones in your group will be handed a toddler-sized paddle so they can feel involved, while older kids will love blowing the pūtātara or conch shell horn. (Don't worry; it plays out more like a cute scene from Moana than from Lord of the Flies.) A family package for four is available for $270.
7. Get zippy with it at Coromandel Town
Driving Creek Railway—a privately owned railway built by potter Barry Brickell outside Coromandel Town—has long been celebrated as one of the country's most peculiar and popular attractions. But it was the late 2019 addition of CoroZip, a ziplining adventure through the native bush, that helped solidify this as a destination worth revisiting time and time again.
The attraction (family passes are $377) doesn't boast as many runs as some of the North Island's other zipline parks, but that can be a good thing for kids aged 6 and up who are uncertain or scared. Yet, the eight ziplines it does have won't disappoint those with a need for speed. Best of all, it includes an 18-minute ride on the railway that started it all.
8. Swim with dolphins in the Bay of Plenty
The Bay of Plenty's waters are a year-round playground for marine life including common dolphins, but the opportunity to swim with them is one you'll only get with a certified tour operator.
With tours departing from Tauranga Bridge Marina, Dolphin Seafaris has about a 95 per cent success rate of finding dolphins during the summer months, and an 85 per cent chance of swimming with them. After donning a wetsuit and snorkel mask, you'll enter the water, where you'll hang on to a swim bar at the back of the boat and watch the dolphins swim around you. The only requirements? Water confidence, some snorkelling skills, and children should be at least 7 years of age. A family of four costs $379.
9. Have a picnic at the Pukekura Park
Getting outside doesn't have to mean nonstop adventures—or even breaking the bank. A day at Pukekura Park in New Plymouth proves that sometimes the best things in life are free.
Covering 52 hectares in the heart of the city, Pukekura is more than just botanical gardens—in addition to its lakes, waterfalls and fernery (a favourite for its caves), there's a large children's playground with a flying fox. But the piece de resistance is its free-to-enter Brooklands Zoo, which is home to Bolivian squirrel monkeys, capuchins, reptiles, birds and farm animals. The zoo is open daily from 9.30am to 4pm.
10. Go fishing in the Mackenzie Country
We get it: At its heart, fishing is about learning patience and appreciation for time in the outdoors. Unfortunately, not all children are inclined to spend hours with their lure in the water, just waiting for the telltale pull at the end of their line.
If you've got one of these kids, High Country Salmon's "Catch-A-Fish" experience just outside Twizel might be the answer. You don't need any gear or experience and there is no age limit—and since it's a fish farm, there's no way the big one will get away. Simply book your time, then prepare to reel in a two to three-kilogram salmon ($30 per kg), which staff will then clean for you. And maybe, if you're lucky, your kids will also catch something else—a newfound respect for the sport.
11. Reach such great heights aboard the Sky Waka
Little legs make it indisputably more difficult to tackle longer tramps that offer some of the most rewarding views. That's why Mt. Ruapehu's new Sky Waka is such a welcome addition to the mountain. The most technologically advanced gondola in the country, its floor-to-ceiling windows offer 360-degree views of waterfalls, ancient lava flows, and the neighbouring peaks of Ngāuruhoe and Tongariro.
The Sky Waka delivers families to 2020 metres above sea level, a good starting point to tackle walks from 15 minutes to nearly three hours in length — all at altitudes that would be hard for young children to reach otherwise. It's open daily from 10am until 4pm for sightseeing until the start of May, with family passes available for just $99.
12. Catch the wind in Christchurch
Have your children caught on to the America's Cup fever that's swept the nation this autumn? You don't have to have friends in high places or own a maxi yacht to give them a taste of the power of the wind and how to harness it.
At Christchurch's Velocity Karts, kids 8 and up can captain their own Blokart. These sailboats on wheels were invented in NZ and are just as weird as bungee jumping and Zorbing, but just as much fun. And yes, the team at Velocity Karts can coordinate your own regatta, so you can vie for the Blokart Cup. It's an affordable activity for the entire family—those younger than eight can jump in a tandem cart—with rates starting at $30 for 30 minutes.