Taking the family on holiday together calls for careful planning — and that's before New Zealand's occasionally unpredictable weather kicks in. Here are our suggestions for whānau fun in the spring sun — and showers — to get the family out and about after lockdown.
Aaah, family holidays – or as we're now given to call them, "multi-generational vacations". They can be all about reconnecting with your brood and making lasting memories, be it grandparents, parents and kids or some combination of aunts, uncles and cousins of any age, as it was in our family's case.
There is a key word to ensure this does not become a one-way trip to Dante's circles of hell. It's the answer to keeping younger children entertained, teens from their screens, grown-ups relaxed and seniors not feeling they're free babysitters. That word is: planning.
We've scoured the motu to find the best short-break destinations for multi-generational holidays. And because this is the land of four seasons in one day, we've recommendations for sunny and wet weather activities that suit kids, parents and grandparents, or the sisters and the cousins and the aunts.
And just in case you've done that museum or this tour, we've added some options – labelled Plan B – for a number of destinations.
Every Kiwi family should visit "the birthplace of the nation" (disclaimer: other regions may disagree) and fortunately the Bay of Islands has plenty of activities for the family from cruises to walking tracks.
They may call it the Winterless North but if you should strike a rainy day, head for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Grandparents will enjoy the history and museums, parents the cultural performances and tours and kids the wide-open lawn and eels in the pond during breaks in the weather and interactive exhibits.
On a sunny day, the Hole in the Rock cruise is a must-do. Kids can keep watch for marine wildlife, parents and grandparents can enjoy the commentary and views, and the whole family will love the stop-off at Otehei Bay. Pack togs and a picnic and take the late ferry back after checking out the beaches and tracks.
Get out on the water in the City of Sails, too. A day cruise with Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari allows the whole family to spot the Hauraki Gulf's rare marine life.
On a wet day you'd go a long way – at least 640km – to find a better storehouse of treasures than Auckland War Memorial Museum. Its Sea Monsters Exhibition (running until October 25) will enthral all with tales of how dinosaurs ruled the land and giant marine turtles hunted in the depths; 180 million years knocked off in one afternoon.
No need to keep searching for a Heart of Gold: you'll find it two hours drive south of Auckland (closer from Hamilton or Tauranga) at Waihi, the historical mining town with gorgeous beaches, the Hauraki Rail Trail and Karangahake Gorge.
When the weather is great, head out to Waihi Beach and take the track to Orokawa Bay, an easy 45-minute walk through bush and over a headland to a beautiful, isolated flat beach. Plan B: Spend the day cycling from Waihi into the Karangahake Gorge (lots to explore there) and back, or ride the Goldfields Train to Waikino and cycle/walk from there.
For an indoor day, taste pioneer life in the Gold Discovery Centre's ghost theatre, a hands-on experience of rattling drills and blowing up rock. Plan B: Spend the afternoon at Laughing Pottery, learning to throw clay and making something take home (bookings essential).
Often overlooked, Hamilton's Hamilton Zoo is home to over 600 native and exotic animals and boasts the country's largest free-flight aviary dedicated to native birds and plants. Talk with the animals during the free Meet the Keeper sessions or go behind the bars on a Face2Face animal encounter.
Plan B: head south of the city to Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, the largest ecological 'island' on mainland Aotearoa and a haven for wildlife and plants such as kiwi, kokako, tuatara, weta and more; or west to Middle-earth at the Hobbiton Movie Set; or, closer to Hamilton, a farm tour of Cornerstone Alpacas at Gordonton.
On a damp day, Waikato Museum – Te Whare Taonga o Waikato on the city's riverbank hosts exhibitions, events and programmes telling stories from a regional and global perspective. Highlights include the majestic war waka Te Winika, hands-on science galleries for children and a rich blend of artworks.
Our Plan B is to head south to the rightly world-famous Waitomo Caves and myriad activities from gentle boat rides under twinkling glowworms, walking tours or blood-pumping adventures like blackwater rafting and abseiling.
Disclosure: I'm biased because my family, uncles, aunts and cousins spent most of our school and Christmas breaks here, but Rotorua is quite likely the country's best family holiday destination. Show me a centre that's better set up with all-budget accommodation, activities and eateries.
Amid giant trees just outside the CBD, Redwoods Treewalk is a perfect multi-generational activity, accommodating everyone who can walk unaided along 700m of bridges and paths slung from 9m to 20m up in the forest canopy. Even the smallest: they have free baby strollers with mounted capsules. Enchanting by day or night. Plan B: Mountain-biking (e-bikes available) the amazing 140km network of trails nearby.
On rainy days, the National Kiwi Hatchery Aotearoa, 3D Trick Art Gallery and Motion Entertainment work for all ages. The hatchery is informative and fun, 3D Trick Art Gallery is wacky, and Motion Entertainment offers video games, 10-pin bowling, mini-golf and more inside a giant complex.
Trivia test: what's our most visited natural attraction? I'd have said Pohutu geyser but apparently it's the endless torrent of Huka Falls in Taupo, an easy stroll from a carpark to the viewing platforms. The Huka Falls River Cruise is a family-friendly vessel that'll take you right to the foot of the falls.
On a moist morning, Mind Junction will keep most of the generations gaming with its giant maze (questions and answers hidden inside), Kiwiana-themed mini-golf, shooting simulators, electronic music, holograms, Lego, remote-controlled boats… while the adults kick back with a latte.
Back on the bikes, the Hawke's Bay trails boast more than 200km of flat, easy-riding limestone trails throughout the region. The easy Water Ride takes cyclists along the Westshore coast and Ahuriri Lagoon; children as young as 5 can ride this route.
On a rainy day, the Faraday Centre – Hawke's Bay's Museum of Technology - is where history comes alive. Rather than read and look at artefacts, the centre encourages visitors to touch, hold items, pull levers and discover how things worked in days gone by.
Close to the Central North Island's three mountains, Whakapapa Village has more than winter sports to enjoy. On a sunny day, take the pram and wheelchair-friendly Sky Waka, New Zealand's longest gondola ride, on a 1.8km journey above Tongariro National Park.
Blow away rainy-day blues with decadent High Tea at Chateau Tongariro. Dress up and delight in traditional scones, dainty finger sandwiches, sweet treats with gourmet teas and barista coffee (vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options available).
To the west coast and New Plymouth and its wonderful central-city Pukekura Park. Opened in 1876, it includes two lakes, a much-loved children's playground, fernery and display houses, fountains and waterfalls as well as the iconic cricket ground. On a beaut day, kids can feed the ducks and explore the main lake by rowboat.
For a Plan B, pull on a lifejacket and head to sea in Chaddy's Charters' old British lifeboat, cruising around the rocky Sugar Loaf Islands, spotting basking seals and hearing tales of local Māori, Pakeha settlers and whalers.
Plans C, D and beyond: Hollard Gardens, just out of Stratford, formal gardens planted with native and exotic foliage, a home garden dedicated to growing food, berry farm and children's playground; or Stoney Oaks Wildlife Park, just out of Inglewood, to pet an alpaca, rub a pig's tummy, cuddle rabbits or brush the Highland heifer Mackenzie. Nearby, Little Liberty Creamery churns award-winning plant-based ice cream.
When the mist over Taranaki Maunga becomes something more liquid, embrace some wholesome family rivalry with 10-pin bowling, blacklight mini-putt, arcade games or laser tag at Bowlarama, the city's all-ages, go-to indoor entertainment centre for decades.
Plan B is more culturally inclined: visit Puke Ariki, the architecturally designed building on the foreshore combines a museum, library, research centre and i-SITE.
Plans C, D and beyond: Tawhiti Museum and Traders & Whalers is an acclaimed private museum in Hawera using lifesize exhibits and scale models to present Taranaki's heritage; Inglewood's Maketawa Museum has an impressive collection of vintage John Deere machinery and tractors; and FunHo! Toys, hand-made in the same town from 1935-1982, are preserved in a small museum that boasts a meticulously crafted slot-car track, sandpit and interactive displays.
Don't ask this writer about Wellington's weather: I've endured the Wahine storm and, on my last two visits, the 2016 earthquake and the July floods. Remembering that short-lived slogan, "You can't beat Wellington on a good day," I'll suggest that on a sunny day you should wander the waterfront, duck into the excellent city museum, take in public sculptures and the Writers Walk and admire hardy locals testing the Taranaki Wharf Diving Platform. Stroll to Oriental Bay for an ice cream.
Every Kiwi family should visit the treasure-house of the nation: Te Papa has some things for everyone. Kids will love the interactive Te Taiao Nature exhibition; more mature family members may confront the ill-fated campaign at the Gallipoli: The scale of our war exhibition; all can explore the national art collection.
Across Raukawa Moana to Marlborough, renowned for sauvignon blanc wines, where the Vines Village embraces host responsibility with a wine cellar, cafe and boutique stores set in 4ha of lakeside gardens, vineyard, picnic and casual dining, and a family-friendly playground.
Plan B has to be the unique Mail Boat Cruise, still delivering mail, food and supplies to people living in remote locations in the Marlborough Sounds.
Wet-weather winner? Fly into Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. Its Knights of the Sky exhibition centres around Sir Peter Jackson's collection of Great War aircraft and artefacts, brought to life by WingNut Films and Weta Workshop; Dangerous Skies features World War II stories and aircraft from the British Isles to Germany, Russia and Pacific jungles.
On a sunny day in Nelson Tasman, we'll paddle. Waka Abel Tasman is suitable for children 2+ (they have little paddles) and grandparents don't have to provide power if they aren't (or say they aren't) able to. Visit Toka Ngāwha (Split Apple Rock), hear stories of tupuna, learn some Te Reo – and experience the family unit working together to guide the waka along the coast.
Plans B: aboard Abel Tasman Eco Tours, learn about the national park ecosystem, see fur seal and native birds, stop off on glorious golden beaches, passing islands, forests, rivers and seas; the Farewell Spit eco-bus tour explores the wildlife sanctuary with seals, fossils, gannets, wading birds and dunes; at Brook Waimarama Sanctuary, the 45-minute loop track is suitable for all ages and abilities (including prams and wheelchairs).
Locals will tell you it never rains but if it pours, Nelson's Classic Car Museum has more than 150 classic, vintage and veteran cars from 100 years of motoring. Plan B, tour Pic's Peanut Butter World, where kids can hop on a peanut butter-making bicycle to crush their own.
For Cantabrians, Hanmer Springs has long been synonymous with family holidays with its 22 outdoor thermal pools and four aquatic slides. Down the road is Hanmer Springs Animal Park, a quirky farm where families can interact with water buffalo, emus, donkeys and wallabies.
Plan B is for those wanting to get their legs or heart pumping: Hanmer Adventures offers family-friendly mountain biking to explore the forest and quad-cycle "rockets" to cruise the village, quad biking and archery for older kids.
Some places have all the luck. Twizel had an unpromising start to life as a hydro-worker town; 60 years on, it's one of the South Island's most popular holiday destinations, thanks to five nearby alpine lakes, dark skies stargazing, cycle trails, fishing, walking trails, and the fact that it's just a 45-minute drive to Aoraki Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo.
For our sunny day outing, we're off to High Country Salmon, a working fish farm where you can feed or catch the salmon, or chill at the floating café. On a wet day, Twizel Bookshop & Hydro Cafe claims to be New Zealand's smallest bookshop, in a tiny room inside a cafe honouring the town's hydro-heritage. A short story and Remembrance of Times Past in one volume, then.
Lake Tekapo has its own attractions. Raining: depending on the time of day or year, Tekapo Springs has ice skating, waterslide, snowtubing, bouncy obstacle course, an aqua-play area, hot pools, licensed cafe, day spa, sauna and stargazing tours at night.
Shining: Air Safaris' Grand Traverse flight takes you above two World Heritage Parks and 200km of Aotearoa's breathtaking scenery from Aoraki Mt Cook to the West Coast.
There's no bylaw that says you have to go up a mountain or jump off it in Queenstown. Family fun in the sunshine might mean a Ziptrek tour, gliding through the trees on Gondola Hill; a bike ride through alpine scenery or exploring Kiwi Birdlife Park, an excellent 2ha sanctuary with native birds, tuatara and more.
On a damper day, go indoor rock-climbing at Basecamp Adventures; bounce on super-tramps at Site Trampoline; swim, soak or hydroslide at Alpine Aqualand; head to the Ice Arena for skating or bumper cars or skydive indoors at iFly.
What about taking the family back in time – 55 million years or so – to visit the "alien eggs", the Moeraki boulders on a sandy beach between Oamaru and Dunedin. While there, it'd be a crime to bypass Fleur's Place, one of the country's best fish restaurant-cafe-bars at the old jetty on the waterfront.
If the weather's not ideal, hit Steampunk HQ in Ōamaru, an interactive museum that features retro-futuristic art, engineering, and The Portal—the gateway to other dimensions both real and imagined.
Plan B (or several): the Clay Cliffs in Ōmārama are 20 million-year-old rocks, pinnacles and ravines that form an eerie lunar landscape; nearby, The Wrinkly Rams brings high-country culture to life at New Zealand's only merino sheep shearing show; or soak up mountain views at Hot Tubs Ōmārama, a private, eco-friendly spa filled with fresh mountain water.
On a day when the weather can't make up its mind, of which we have more than a few in this country, hightail it to Elephant Rocks, gargantuan natural wonders of weathered limestone on a private farm near Duntroon. A couple of generations may recognise the area as Aslan's Camp from the 2005 film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When the weather packs in, Vanished World in Duntroon gives kids a hands-on experience with archaeology.
It boasts the country's lowest rainfall but that doesn't mean it never rains in Central Otago.
Alexandra is the region's heart with spectacular walking or cycling trails and mountain biking tracks that take you through beautiful country – many on old goldmining trails. The town also has a top-class BMX track and bike park.
Base yourself here for a family day's cycling on the Otago Central Rail Trail – there are several day ride options including the flat section between Clyde and Alexandra, or through tunnels and across viaducts between Auripo and Clyde. Hire pedal or e-bikes depending on each participant's level of energy.
If it pours, duck into the cosy and Clyde Cinema, followed by pizza at Paulina's next door.
In Cromwell, take the obligatory family selfie at the giant fruit sculpture on the edge of town, then head into the Heritage Precinct and cycle the 38km return trip to the floating café, Coffee Afloat, on the new Lake Dunstan Cycle Trail.
On a wet day, park the bikes and check out Highlands Motorsport Park – buckle up for an exhilarating ride in a Porsche GT3, tour the National Motorsport Museum or challenge the family on the Go Kart Track.
Dunedin excels in attractions that work around its… um, occasionally unreliable climate. Otago Peninsula's wildlife, from the albatross colony to penguins, seals and larger marine life spring to mind, and you can easily fill in a sunny day with those, Larnach Castle and St Clair's saltwater pools, or a harbour cruise.
Inclemently, Otago Museum's Tuhura science centre has over 45 hands-on interactives including a giant DNA-inspired helical slide, a three-tier tropical butterfly enclosure and a multi-screen, laser-activated Beautiful Science gallery. More traditional exhibits include Animal Attic, a throwback to days when taxidermy was in vogue.
Plans B, C: Animal Arc at Mosgiel is a new petting zoo with rescue animals including llama, deer, goats, horses, rabbits, emu, donkeys and moredd; Wal's Fun Land is an easy place to spend a day with its living hedge maze, mini-golf and mini-train; walk city streets to count off the 50 quirky pieces of street art; or race up Baldwin St, restored to glory as the world's steepest street. An early evening adventure: a 15-minute walk through native bush in suburban Leith Valley will bring you to the Nicholls Creek glow worms.
Indoors, Dunedin has two family-friendly rockfaces, Clip'n'Climb (including Leap trampolines) and the degrees of difficulty harder Resistance Climbing; the ice stadium has year-round sessions for all ages to wobble, stumble or glide around the rink – new ice-bumper cars are especially fun; and Toitu Otago Settlers Museum's interactive activities allow kids to climb aboard a vintage tram or trolleybus, wander around a replica sailing-ship cabin and dress up in period costume.
We've reached the Deepest South: Invercargill, where you could spend a weekend exploring the city or pushing on to Bluff or the Catlins.
For those sunny days take the 30-minute drive to Bluff for another obligatory selfie, this time with the famous AA road sign, and a leisurely walk along the Foveaux Walkway. In town, the hi-vis spot is Dig This, New Zealand's first heavy equipment playground, nine ridiculous options for every little or big kid who's thrilled at their first sight of a big yellow digger.
On rainy days, even if you're not mechanically minded, Bill Richardson's Transport World is the world's private collection of its type. Or types - over 300 vehicles, the wearable arts collection and children's play zone. A couple of blocks away, Splash Palace water park has three new hydro slides ranging from 70m to the 100m raft ride.
Plan the holiday and enjoy time together – and by the end of your break, you may still be talking to one another.
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz