When travelling with children its important to find the best New Zealand kid friendly tours and activities. But before you book any of these, take a moment to consider some key points. Think about what adventures and activities really interest your children What kind of adventure can they comfortably cope with and enjoy? With a lot of New Zealand’s adventure tours, you will need to know the weight and height of your child before bookings can be made. The reasons for this are entirely due to New Zealand health and safety regulations. Tour operators have set standards and restrictions which they must strictly abide by.
Our top 10 New Zealand kid friendly tours…
1 – Sea kayaking either Coromandels or Abel Tasman
There is something magical about gliding over calm waters in total silence. With just the occasional drip of the paddles being the only sound, the silence is golden. Having a close encounter with penguins, seals or even dolphins, is an added highlight. For children, the memory of this experience will last a lifetime. And it is so character building. There are a number of kayaking operators catering for family groups with children.
Kayaking operator samples: Cathedral Cove Kayaking + R&R Kayaks Abel Tasman
Children minimum age: 5 years (Cathedral Cove). 12 years (R&R Kayaks).
Other suggestions: recommend to start with a 3 hours trip for smaller children. Private tours can also be arranged.
2 – Ruakuri Glowworm Cave Waitomo or Te Anau Caves
Exploring underground is yet another adventure for both children and parents. Especially when thousands of sparkling glowworms are involved! There are a number of options where families can experience this. We have found that the Ruakuri Glowworm Caves is perfect for families as the the maximum group size is 18. This tour takes about 2 hours. The caves are very accessible, so even infants can join in. The Te Anau Cave tour requires a return boat ride across Lake Te Anau and is a lovely trip. The overall Te Anau Caving tour will take about 2.5 hours. Often this is done later in the day when travellers have arrive. There are also evening tours. This tour is a perfect fit for on-the-go families!
Caving operator samples: Ruakuri Cave + Te Anau Caves
Children minimum age: From infants upwards; 2-4 years free of charge (for both cave options).
Other suggestions: If travelling between Auckland and Rotorua, do the Ruakuri Caves.
3 – Hobbiton Village
Most children and even some parents, love the movie-set world for the Lord of the Ring and Hobbiton films. These locations are actually the last remaining structures created by Sir Peter Jackson. Since the first movie ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ was released in 2001 it have been a huge tourism boost for New Zealand. It’s worth noting here that there are at least 23 filming sites But Hobbiton is by far from being the most famous. Families love the more personalised ‘Hairy Feed Tours‘ near Waitomo. These tours are on a much smaller scale with one group only at any given time. Some family travellers may be able to add this to their schedule. But for most LOTR fans, Hobbiton Village near Matamata is a ‘must see’. The ‘Evening Banquet’ held here will cater for children over 9 years.
Operator details: Hobbiton Movie Set Tours
Children age: Child (0-8 years). Children are FREE but must have a ticket allocated prior to arrival. They need to be accompanied by a full paying adult.
Other suggestions: The Hobbiton tour can also be done ex Rotorua with transfer provided. Self-drive is also possible (50 min one-way)
4 – Rotorua Canopy Tours
Rotorua is a great place for families – there is so much to do and see. Rather than moving too much around between locations, we recommend that you base your family in the area. Apart from the famous thermal highlights, we think the Rotorua Canopy Tours should be one of the classics for every traveller. With this tour, you’ll get a combination of adventure, the outdoors and education! With the use of safety harnesses you and your family will soar like eagles over giant New Zealand native trees. You’ll also get to learn about pest eradication (e.g. stouts, rats, possums). The Canopy Tours eradication project has done wonders for the area. Native bird life is returning to its former glory!
Operator details: Rotorua Canopy Tours
Children minimum age: from 6+ years.
Other details: the operator provides a complementary hotel transfer in Rotorua.
5 – Penguin Encounter Dunedin
Many parts of New Zealand are protected national, maritime and forest parks. Once in a while you will come across private nature conservation projects usually started by locals. In this case, Elm Wildlife Tours operate on a privately owned sheep farm in the Otago Peninsula. It’s a perfect place to see the natures treasures and humans working in sweet harmony. You’ll be collected in Dunedin City (where most families stay). Then you’ll be taken out to discover the rare Yellow-Eyed Penguins in their natural habitat. These birds have their nests on the cliffs and walk in the early morning hours into the sea for fishing. In the evening (before sunset) they will return. This is an excellent time to see these gorgeous little guys close up. Seeing these rare creatures is Nature’s best for children and parents!
Operator details: Elm Wildlife Tours, Dunedin
Children minimum age: from 5+ years. Due to the length of the trip it is not suitable for for children any younger than 5 years.
Other information: the trip takes about 6 hours and starts in the afternoon. So do have a hearty lunch beforehand.
6 – Farm Visit near Queenstown
Visiting a real ‘working farm’ is on most family travellers holiday itinerary. There are a couple of good options n the South Island. However there are also private farm-stays around the North Island. And lets not forget the entertaining ‘farm show’ places like Agrodome in Rotorua. Of course, the most authentic farm tour is is always on a ‘real farm’. A fine example of this is Five Rivers near Lumsden in the Southland region. Many families will opt for a 3-4 hour trip to Walter Peak Station. But if you want something really special, with access to a private high country station, Private Discovery Tours in Queenstown is recommended. Whatever option you choose, a farm tour is a opportunity to see New Zealand’s ‘backbone’ industry at work.
Operator details: Five Rivers Farm Retreat – Walter Peak Farm Tour – Private Discovery Tours
Children minimum age: no age restriction.
Other information: if you’re family is staying at a farm-stay, do try and plan for a 2-night stay – a farm tour is often included. And there’s no better treat than to have dinner with the hosts.
7 – Jet boating Dart or Matukituki River
Jet boating is considered a famous New Zealand invention born in the 1950’s by local man (Sir) Bill Hamilton in the 1950’s. Farmers and fisherman had difficulty accessing shallow rivers and traditional propeller engines were no good. In today’s world, jet boats are mainly use for recreational purpose and transport. Note, the ‘Shotover Jet’ is a more ‘fast and furious’ event. The Dart and Matukituki Rivers are famous for its local jet boating tours, and a far more in-depth experience. Nevertheless, there are options throughout New Zealand for families to enjoy. View this blog on jet boating options.
Operator details: Wanaka River Journeys – Dart River Safari
Children minimum age: 5 years. Please note that kids need to be at least 100 cm tall.
Other information: both include a short nature walks, which reinforces the idea of jet boating, as a transport vehicle into remote places.
8 – Milford Track Guided Walk & Fjord Cruise
New Zealand has 30 national and forest parks covering more than 50,000 square kilometres of untouched nature. Therefore we have plenty of local walks suitable even for very small children. Sometimes a 15 min stroll to a waterfall along the Haast River is enough to excite the youngsters. It will certainly bring nature closer. A more serious hike up the Routeburn Track will give you the true essence of New Zealand’s beautiful outdoors. When it comes to walks and hikes, the Milford Guided Walk is a ‘classic’. It’s totally suited to families seeking adventure and raw natural beauty. Normally a 4 day, 53.5 kms hike, can also be done from Milford Sound as a day walk with a local guide. It’s the much shorter version and very easy. You’ll get lots of photo stops, plus an understanding of the local environment and its history. A cruise in the fjord is also part of this trip, which starts in the village of Te Anau.
Operator details: Trips & Tramps, Te Anau
Children minimum age: 5 years. Children & infants below that age can participate on request.
Other information: this tour will take about 10 hours starting and finishing from Te Anau.
9 – Helicopter flight onto glacier
What would New Zealand without helicopters!? Due to our type of landscape and the remote places we need to access, a helicopter ride is a true ‘game changer’. In a matter of minutes, your family can escape modern civilization and be immersed in pure New Zealand nature. There are really too many helicopter rides to mention, but if your family had to choose, the glacier area would be the most likely one. As most glaciers have retreated in the last 10 years, a helicopter ride is sometimes the only way to get onto a glacier. You can go for a straight flight with 5 minute landing or go for the more involved heli-hiking option.
Operator details: Fox Glacier Guides (for Heli-hiking) – Helicopter Line (for flights)
Children minimum age: 9 years for heli hiking. No age limited for standard flights.
Other information: Infants (under 4 years and under 15kgs) are required to sit on a parent’s knee.
10 – Dolphin Swim Akaroa or Whale Watch Kaikoura
After all the hikes, flying and zipping through the forest, lets move on to sea adventures! New Zealand is surrounded by water – lots of it. In these waters, some of the most wonderful maritime creatures thrive – such as the Whales off the coast of Kaikoura. Joining this aquatic playground are the very rare Hectors dolphins – the small ones with the rounded back fin. If sea conditions are right, the Whale Watch Kaikoura and the Dolphin Swim Akaroa are breathtaking nature experiences your family will cherish forever. There are plenty of other maritime tours such as the thrilling Albatross Encounter, but unless you have plenty of time, you won’t cover them all. Actually, the time factor is the greatest challenge when travelling New Zealand. What to do and perhaps more importantly, what not to do!
Operator details: Whale Watch Kaikoura – Black Cat Dolphin Swim, Akaroa
Children minimum age: 3 years for Whale Watch. 8 years for Dolphin Swim (both subject to sea conditions).
Other information: Sea water temperature in Akaroa ranges from 8c (52f) in the winter to 17c (67f) in the summer.
Also worth a mention is the Kiwi Bird Nighthouse (Otorohanga or Franz Josef) and the Wanaka Maze – both can be done at short notice. We hope this information will provide your family with a helpful overview on New Zealand’s diversity as a child-friendly destination. Just remember, when family parties travel during the peak summer season, we highly recommend that you pre-plan and pre-book nature activities and tours. Planning and booking well ahead of time, will ensure you don’t miss out on something truly exceptional!
Happy Travelling with New Zealand kid friendly tours & activities!