Where children should be seen and heard
Scavenger hunts in the hallways, epic kids' menus, animal experiences, waterslides, playgrounds, trusted babysitters and more. Cool and welcoming places for families to stay, from budget to luxurious and everything in between.
New Zealand has FIVE main centres. Well, how many Super Rugby teams are there?
All are well set-up with hotels, motels and what used to be called campgrounds but are now holiday parks, but we're focusing on places that are kid-friendly (aka child-proof).
At Auckland's Cordis kids are welcomed by Codi, the endangered red panda mascot (hey, we have endangered fauna too) with a goodie-pack. There are children's menus, kid-oriented high tea, family-friendly guide to Auckland, a scavenger hunt. Babysitters are available.
Kids go free at SkyCity's hotels in April with treats including Sky Tower rides, Sky Café ice-creams, kid-friendly menus, activity packs, movies and a kids' club exercise class. Check the website for the deals.
Hamilton long ago stopped being the town you passed through on the way to somewhere else. Having written that, it is a superb base for day trips – Waitomo Caves and Otorohanga Kiwi House (45min); Hobbiton and Raglan (1hr); Auckland, Rotorua, Bay of Plenty Riviera (90min).
While there are several new hotels in town, Hamilton City Holiday Park has 20 cabins, campervan, caravan and tent sites in a park setting just across the river from the CBD.
Wellington has also greeted several new hotels recently – the Novotel, Boulcott Suites, Quest on Johnston and Rydges are among those offering self-contained accommodation for families in the heart of the capital.
You'll have to leave the city for run-around space. Kiwi Holiday Park is a family-run, eco-friendly haven in 32ha of bush and riverbanks in Akatarawa Valley. As well as a play area and frisbee park, families can fish for trout, mountain bike, swim and take bush walks.
Something different around Christchurch: Silverstream Alpaca Stud has two luxury cottages overlooking the paddocks. Plenty of recreational options, including horseriding nearby, and a farm tour. (Spoiler alert: expect more alpacas/llamas in this article.)
To show kids what camping with Grandma and Grandad was like, Little River Campground on Banks Peninsula has rustic cabins, van and tent sites. They say, "The experience is more about the native habitat than the luxuries of some holiday park chain - they don't usually have scary slippery slides, giant swings or rivers and native bush reserve."
There's only one place in the country where you can stay next to a castle (unless a chateau counts). At Larnach Lodge or the Stables in Dunedin's Larnach Castle grounds, kids go free with a paying adult during school holidays. Dunedin Holiday Park at St Kilda Beach is a good budget option near Ocean Beach Railway, dinosaur-themed Marlow Park and the cool hot-saltwater pools.
Ultimate Kiwi holiday destinations, even if they've never featured in an Air Aotearoa safety video or a Rachel Hunter ice-cream ad.
Geysers are Rotorua's big attraction but there's way more to the lakeside city and surrounds. Aura Accommodation is all about fun, its geothermally heated pool keeping the kids entertained while you cook on the geothermal steambox.
All Seasons Holiday Park lets kids run wild in a park with 19 life-sized dinosaurs, a heated pool and spa, while Peppers on the Point is a boutique lodge where youngsters meet donkeys, miniature horses, sheep and chickens.
Leave modern connections behind at Treetops Lodge. Foot, bike or horseback trails criss-cross the 1100ha estate; take a 4WD safari, hike to waterfalls and glowworms, forage for ingredients to create a unique food experience.
For almost a century, Mt Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park has welcomed families, surf beach on its doorstep and Pilot Bay at its back door. Some families have stayed every summer for more than 50 years. Popular parks at Bowentown, Athenree, Pāpāmoa and more, too.
Families come to Lake Taupo Holiday Park for New Zealand's only thermally heated pool with swim-up cafe and bar (milkshakes for the kids). Youngsters swim through a waterfall or watch a big-screen movie while lolling in 36C water.
On the Mainland, The Hotel Nelson is a great city location; Tahuna Beach Holiday Park is camped on 20ha of seaside park, next to the fun park and golf course.
Queenstown is about way more than snow, jumping off things and apres-ski, with year-round family activities. Buzzy Frankton suburb is a good option with shops, eateries and activities. In town, Lakeview Holiday Park is only 100m from the CBD and 500m from Lake Whakatipu, playgrounds and toy library next-door.
Despite the Mainland cheese ads, 87 per cent of us live in cities and towns, a good reason to take the family into the rural sector on a break.
Ruapehu region in the Central North Island has family-friendly accommodation from award-winning hostels to a fairytale chateau.
YHA National Park has an 8m indoor climbing wall offering 55 different ascents; kids can also putter around the mini-golf course next door "with probably some of the best views in the world."
At Rocky Mountain Chalets, families relax in the spa pool or pop over to the Ohakune Carrot Adventure Park. Another of the best views in the world?
Kids can be kids at Ohakune Top 10 Holiday Park, with its kids' club, bouncy castle and other energy-sapping attractions. Bring the dog - it's pet-friendly.
Like something out of a Disney movie, the Chateau Tongariro Hotel may be the happiest kingdom of them all: in-house cinema showing free kids' movies, 24-hour room service for midnight feasts, babysitting… and there's some pretty impressive nature outside the front door.
Family-friendly, the Alps to Ocean route is New Zealand's longest continuous cycle trail from the Southern Alps near Aoraki Mt Cook to Ōamaru. Break your ride at Lake Ōhau Lodge to explore the countryside, fish, play tree golf or relax.
Just over the border from Waitaki District, the Mackenzie Country (its history is too colourful to call it a "district") has more options in the shadow of the same big hill.
Musterers Accommodation in Fairlie has farm animals, hot tubs, walking tracks and a converted woolshed full of cool collectables. Lake Tekapo Motels and Holiday Park has glamping tents, motels and Kiwi baches (cribs here, surely?).
In Twizel, Lake Ruataniwha Holiday Park has new, high-quality motels, cabins and tent sites on its 20ha site. Hire kayaks, standup paddleboards, water bikes or pedal boats at the lake.
From the mountains to Maniototo's wide-open spaces and big skies, where Mike and Beth Connell have developed Naseby Holiday Park for grassroots holidays. TV and digital devices are rejected for Dark Skies stargazing, gold-panning, biking, forest walks and swimming, dogsled riding. Brush up on your technique at curling, like bowls on ice, year-round; in winter head to the ice-skating rink and ice luge.
Steampunk City Oamaru should be on every kids' bug-the-parents list. Colonial Lodge Motel has spacious rooms, a playground and… llamas.
Swimming holes, flying foxes, bombing off the wharf… it wouldn't be a Kiwi beach holiday without them.
At Kauri Coast Top 10 Holiday Park north of Dargaville you get bonus night-time kiwi walks and majestic kauri. On the other side of Northland, enjoy the Bay of Islands from the water aboard a floating lodge, The Rock Adventure Cruise.
Coromandel is a choice spot and two spots to choose are the Hot Water Beach and Coromandel Top 10 Holiday Parks. At HWB, dig your own beach hot pool. When the tide comes in, head back to the playground, go-karts and fish'n chips. Across the peninsula, the hot water is in the pool. Burn off their energy with go-karts, shooting baskets, fishing off the wharf or around the BMX track.
Promised more alpacas! You find them at Cottages on St Andrews, Havelock North. Private cottages, a lodge sleeping up to 18, heated pool, playground and a farmyard with the approachable camelids, pigs, lambs and chickens.
Kennedy Park is an icon (if we still use that word) in Napier, made for families with a heated pool, pedal cars, adventure playground, games room and theatre.
In New Plymouth, the Devon Hotel's Marbles buffet allows kids to eat all they can; work it off by riding the Coastal Walkway to the cycle park's junior circuit with traffic lights and roundabouts. Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park has waterfront cabins; at Fitzroy Beach Holiday Park kids can run amok on the beach, burn energy on the jumping pillow or the free pool next door.
Te Wera Valley Campground (37km from Stratford) immerses kids in nature on the flying fox, mud run, glowworm hunts, archery range and water slide. Beside the famous black-sand beach, Ōakura Beach Holiday Park tempts budding skateboarders. Check out Ōpunake, Wai-iti Beach and Hawera holiday parks too.
Across Raukawa Moana, Lochmara Lodge in Queen Charlotte Sound is a gem: conservation projects, underwater observatory, nature walks, kakariki feeding, wildlife, art galleries and a sculpture trail. Think kayaks, hammocks, beach and decadent day spa. Punga Cove in Endeavour Inlet is a retreat with spa, land and water-based activities.
In Whale Town Kaikoura, Wacky Stays has a collection of eccentric accommodation – colonial wagon, house truck, yurt, railway carriage. And there's a llama trek! (Memo Editor: time for a "See NZ by Llama" feature?) For those who want a seaside holiday the way it used to be, don't go past Peketa Beach holiday park.
We'll end this road trip in Invercargill. Where better than Beach Road Holiday Park, close to Oreti Beach, where Burt Munro kick-started The World's Fastest Indian. Whitebait. Fish for trout. Horse trek. Walk native bush and listen to the birds.
Do that at the Forest & Bird Society's Tautuku Forest Cabins in the Catlins too, knowing your rent supports wildlife projects. You bring your own sleeping bags and clean the cabin and bathroom when you leave. How Kiwi is that?