Bay of Island boat tour
Captain Cook bay has a great hike up to an overlook point with views in all directions. This was reportedly the first place Captain Cook made landfall in New Zealand. There are known regions where dolphins often play and gorgeous islands, bays, and incredible hiking up and around rolling green hills. You can’t go wrong, your captain will have lots of ideas for you.
If you love history, a stop over in Wangamumu is a perfect blend of nature and history. This used to be a major whaling station and much of the equipment and operations are still available, in all ages of deterioration, for exploring and viewing. Then you can take an uphill hike to a majestic overlook of the region. There is no better way to appreciate your local area AND get to learn some history in that area than stopping in for a day.
The farthest north point on New Zealand is Cape Regina, with a lighthouse lending warning for vessels approaching from the north. This FREE activity is a rather long drive, but there’s a nice parking lot with bathroom facilities and good trails out to the lighthouse and point. It makes for a wonderful afternoon and if the weather is nice, you can see the tide lines meeting from the east and west sides of the island. Definitely worth the trip if it’s a clear day!
90 Mile Beach
This beach is a long, relatively firm beach that is designated as a highway!! While everyone is using metric, including New Zealand, I have no idea when and how it got it’s name, but it says it all, doesn’t it? There are a few approaches you can take, some more boggy than others. The northern most entrance has a great sand dune before you drop down onto the beach. If your family likes to get out and run and slide and play in nature, you may want to plan an entire afternoon just for these dunes!! Be cautious when driving on beach sand as you can get stuck! You may have to let some air out of your tires to get unstuck in a pinch. Also, do your car a favor and give it a nice fresh water wash, even the undercarriage, when you’re done. But this is a fun and special way to take in the beach with a front row seat!!! Again, my favorite, FREE!!!
The Abbey Caves are an awesome FREE attraction just north of downtown Whangarei. There are 3 caves to visit and plenty of road signs directing you there. There’s a nice trail that takes you down to them, that’s right, down, to the caves, so up on the return hike. But it’s not too steep, all ages are able to do it. The largest cave is the first one you come to. It’s well marked. You have to climb down some rocks into the cave, which little ones need help with, but it’s not treacherous. Once in the cave, you will need a flashlight or headlamp. Wear shoes that can get wet, you will have to walk in the water up the cave. The deepest spots are about up to your knees. Once you’ve gone a ways into the cave, turn off your lights. All of them. You will see the glowworms. It is sooo cool. The brighter they are, the hungrier they are. They make webs and lure in bugs to them with their lights, then eat the bugs. They are sensitive to lights, so please don’t shine your lights right at them.
The second and third caves are much smaller and more difficult to enter, but if you like climbing and exploring, totally worth going into. Great activity to pack a lunch, hike down, explore caves, picnic lunch, then walk back up to the vehicle. Plan about 2-3 hours for the activity.
This lovely falls is just north of town. Another FREE activity for the family. You can drive right up to the parking lot, which has restrooms and everything. There is a nice walk across the top of the falls, views from the far side, then you can follow the trail down to the bottom. Gorgeous pictures from the bridge at the bottom. Also a picnic table and garbage can at the bottom if you wish to pack a lunch. You can definitely swim in the lake at the bottom. If you are more ambitious, you can follow a great nature trail all the way from Whangarei Falls, through the Kauri Forest, past Mairs park, and into the town basin. It’s a mild to moderate hike, but may take a couple of hours and in a few places we did get lost. There is one point where you are dropped off in a neighborhood without a clear idea which way to go, but somehow we made it ourselves without a map since it was a spontaneous plan to walk it instead of drive it. Really a gorgeous nature hike!
Kauri Forest trail
This nice park has a boardwalk through the Kauri canopy forest with informational signs. There is a parking lot with bathrooms also. You can also follow the dirt trail from the parking lot to a great swimming hole where you can jump in off of the edge. This is great for the whole family and a very easy and educational walk. Again FREE!!
Whangarei Aquatic Center
The Whangarei Aquatic Center is a great place to hang out on a sunny or rainy day! It is located adjacent to the Whangarei marina in the town basin. It’s a huge pool with everything you could want and more!! There is a lap pool and a recreational pool. The recreational pool has a wave pool, check the days that they are doing it. It also has 2 huge waterslides open on certain days if they have the staffing for it. It also has a spray park and warmer kiddie pools. Not to mention the jacuzzi. If you bring a snack, they have an outdoor area to eat it in. They also have a little cafe if you want to buy food or drinks while you’re there. The locker rooms have showers, so especially if you’re camping, this is a huge perk. There is a huge parking lot, making it easy access. There is a fee for access, but families get a discount. Our family of 8 cost about $30 for entry. You can easily spend a few hours or more here.
Walking trail around the river/town basin
Around the town basin is a great walking trail. It’s circular, so you can start anywhere along it you’d like. It has a U-turn over the river at the end of the Whangarei Marina in the town basin, then extends up either side of the river, then across the bridge at the far side. There are exercise stations, benches, art work, and other points of interest along the route. It’s totally flat and easy for all ages and abilities. It’s well enough groomed that you can bring wheeled scooters, skates or other devices. Obviously this is a free activity and it can be done in 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on your pace. The trail also takes you through the town basin playground which has many great interactive toys that were unfamiliar to my kids.
Adjacent to the town basin park is the clock museum. It is great with all kinds of old and new mechanisms. A nice walk though technology with visual displays. If you have the time, it’s a nice visit!
Traditional train ride
Out of the town of Kawakawa, just south of Whangarei, there is a cute little traditional train station. It’s like walking into Thomas the Train with a turnstile, old steam engines and everything. For a small fee, you can ride the train to the other end of the track, maybe 30 minutes, have a little picnic, then return. As you have your picnic, they shift the engine onto another track and bring it to the other end of the train to pull you back home. While this may not be a thrill ride, it’s a cute way to see the countryside with kids.
Also in Kawakawa, these artistic restrooms are a stop worth going out of your way to see. Designed by the German artist Hundertwasser they incorporate colorful tiles, bottles, and fascinating lines and shapes into a very unique and functional restroom visit.
This is a big operation all about sheep farming. It’s a very entertaining and informative presentation about sheering sheep, using wool, and raising sheep. While it is a substantial cost for a large family, it’s a very professional, fun, interesting and educational outing. You can also just pay for a visit to their area, see some animals, learn about the wool industry, and take a 400 meter eco-walk and learn about the native habitat without a show for about half the price. If you are in the area for a few days, season’s passes are about the same as 2 days admission and you could space out your visits over a few days to take it all in.
$34.50 – Adult (14 years old+ )
$12.00 – Children (4 – 13 years old)
$69.00- Family Pass (2 Adults/2 Children)
FREE – 3 years and under
Kawiti Glow Worm Caves
If you’re looking for a guided tour through a cave which is informative, easy walking, and more affordable than the large caves near Rotorua, the Kawiti Caves are perfect. It is located about an hour south of Whangarei toward Aukland. This tour is run by a family, the boardwalk is nicely maintained, they provide the lights and a guide who gives you lots of information as you go. You cannot take photos inside the cave, so as to not disturb the glowworms, but you can buy postcards with photos. This is very family friendly, educational, and interesting!
Aukland has about 25% of all of New Zealand’s people (2 million of the 8 million). It’s a bustling and thriving city center. I’m sure there are all kinds of guides to all kinds of excellent places in this area. We are not big city people and did not stay long. There was one family friendly gem I’d like to share.
Aukalnd Aquatic centers
We were anchored just outside of Aukland to pick up a shipping crate. We like white sandy beaches, clean water and coral snorkeling, so this wasn’t our ‘vacation’ destination. Right across the street from where we anchored we stumbled across the Takapuna Aquatic Center. It was just what we needed!!! There is a kids wading pool with a climbing play structure, water spray park, heated to comfort and easy for all level of swimmers. There is also another large pool where they have a concrete island to jump from and diving boards. Then, if that’s not enough, there are a few jaccuzi temperature sitting pools. They have shade structures (that were nice in the rain too) over many areas of the pool so you don’t burn. Also locker rooms with showers and changing facilities. It wasn’t the highest end locker room I’ve seen, but the pools were awesome!! Best yet, it’s $7.50 for an adult and kids 16 and under are FREE!! So for an entire afternoon for me and 6 kids, we spent $7.50!! If you’re a supervising adult and not swimming, then it’s only $1, but I always swim! We brought in our own food and used the picnic tables to the south end of the swimming area. You can’t go wrong if you like to swim!!
For more information and other locaitons: https://www.aucklandleisure.co.nz/locations/
You can have a two hour bus tour of the Hobbit movie set in the gorgeous rural New Zealand rolling green hill countryside. The bus will depart every 30 minutes and take you to the set where a host will walk you through the set, give you insights related to the movie and filming, and show you props used. It’s a gentle walk appropriate for all ages. You end in the infamous Green Dragon Inn where you will be served an ale to conclude your Middle Earth tour. A bus then picks you up and returns you to your initial boarding site.
$79.00 – Adult 17 Yrs+ (tour only) Price valid on tours departing before 31 March 2018. Tours departing after 1 April 2018: $84.00
$39.50. – Youth 9-16yrs (tour only) Price valid on tours departing before 31 March 2018. Tours departing after 1 April 2018: $42.00
FREE – Child (0-8 Yrs) with full paying adult- Must have a ticket allocated.
For more information see: http://www.hobbitontours.com/en/
Is 60 hectares of geothermal pools and home to the Pohutu geyser that erupts many times per day. It can be an all in one stop as it also boasts Maori performances, live kiwis, boiling mud pools and an ecotour of the native bush. It is home to the Maori Arts and Crafts institute that works to preserve the Maori culture through it’s carving and weaving skills. The day pass and experience is $70 and the evening cultural experience is $125, so it’s relatively pricey, but it ticks many of the must see in New Zealand boxes, so if you are limited on time, this is a great immersive experience!
Mitai Maori Village
This is a cultural immersion where they present to you their culture and history through dance, art, carvings and weaponry. You will see their native setting, native dress, while they paddle a traditional canoe. You will also have an opportunity to see glow worms, some of the only ones in Rotorua area. Starting at $22.50. http://mitai.co.nz
Waitomo is a village best known for it’s extensive underground cave system!! They host thousands of glowworms! Ruakuri Cave has waterfalls, stalagmites and stalactites. Some of these caves are so vast that you can raft in them, take a boat tour, or zip-line right into them! You are looking at about $100 and up per person and depending on the level of adventure and fitness required for the tour, different minimum ages are required. To learn more, consider checking out: Adventure Cave Tours at: https://www.waitomocaves.com/visitor-information-i-site/caving/adventure-cave-tours-dry-caves/. But there are other cave tours too, do your research, sure to be something you’ll remember! For FREE cave experiences (without rafting and zip-lining, but with glowworms, check out Abbey Caves under the Whangarei region.
Central Park in Rotorua downtown with many geothermal features and bubbling mud pools. There are also free public warm pools if you’d like as well as playground equipment and great walking trails, and gorgeous landscaping. If you aren’t up for paying the cost of the Te Puia experience, this public park is a great place to visit to get the sense and experience of being in a geothermal region. For the Maori history, even though not staged or professionally performed, many Maori live in the area and are proud of their culture and heritage. Befriend someone and start asking questions! They will likely not have the traditional dress and carving and weaving available for presentation though, but you will hear a current account of life as a Maori. Would be fun to have both insights if you have the time and money!
Great Barrier Island
Kauri tree suspension bridge hike
Hiking from the shoreline of Port Fitzroy, this approximately 30 minute loop hike takes you to a suspension bridge and into the canopy of a kauri tree! If you enter the loop by going left, you walk through pastures and open land. It’s a more gentle slope up. Then you visit the tree, and can take a different path back to the water and town. The return track is through a more forested jungle wilderness along a river bed, but well maintained.
Windy Canyon hike
Windy Canyon is a great hike, moderate in nature, with spectacular views. The trail is well marked and well maintained with great overlook views and awesome rock formations. There is some up and down and some stairs, but nothing too steep. If you would like to continue on, you can take Palmers Track to the summit of Mt Hobson (Hirakimata). FREE stop and great place to get out and stretch your legs if you rent a car for a day to see the island. There is a picnic table near the parking lot and restroom facilities.
Mahuki Island, nesting bobbie birds
This island is a gorgeous, tall island off of the Great Barrier Island. There are many bobbie and frigate birds nesting on the plateau of this island. After hiking up to the nesting site, there are spectacular views and you can see all stages of infant to adolescent birds. You can see where they learn to fly and set sail off the tall cliff walls also and how they are relatively safe from predators up here.
This is a cute little town in a very protected bay. There is a wonderful campground right along the delta of the river to the ocean bay. From here, there is all kinds of hiking. You can see old whaling stations and logging areas depending on how much hiking you are up for.
This is a public library, visitor’s center and museum. It is a great place to start your visit to the New Plymouth/Taranaki region. Best yet, it’s free. You can check out books and a great children’s hang out place, get information at the visitor’s center, and look at relics from the region to familiarize yourself with their past and present. They have extensive shell collections, stuffed kiwis, and other great physical collections from their region. Top it off with a fun game! They have an owl, Ruru, who has hidden clues throughout Puke Ariki. You can pick up a trail brochure from the host’s desk and follow the clues to learn new things.
Mount Taranaki (Egmont National Park)
This is the center piece of the Taranaki region. Mount Tarankai is a towering volcanic mountain, often covered in snow, that defines this region. It is majestic to look at from all angles and there are many hikes to be done at and around it.
New Plymouth Coastal Walkway
This new and beautiful walkway is a great open space, mild hills, and follows along the coast. There is a beautifully designed bridge along the walkway. Many people use this, so it can be crowded, faster people may want to pass you, and they like you to be on your side of the lane, so if it’s busy, you may need to keep kids a little organized. But if it’s not too busy, it’s a gorgeous walk and it can be used for bikes, scooters, or any mode of walking transportation.
Known for it’s botanical gardens, this 128 acre park in Central New Plymouth boasts With a diverse range of landscapes, the park features bush walks, formal gardens, lakes, children’s play areas, a sports area and a Tea House. The park is FREE to visit and is also adjacent to the zoo and an aquarium.
Port Taranaki Walkway
This is a nice walkway that ends at Port Taranaki where you can walk out onto the wharf, check out the boats in the harbor, and look out to sea. Beautiful way to get out and see the area.
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery / Len Lye Centre (New Plymouth)
Probably the most interesting thing about this museum is the architecture!! It’s fascinating! There are rotating exhibits inside and it is being retrofitted for earthquakes, so check with the Gallery before planning to tour it. But if nothing else, plan to walk past it on a pass through town!
Book a Bach
This is a New Zealand version of Air BnB. Many people in New Zealand have little mother in law suites behind their houses that they rent out. This site also has houses available for rent. You can get a house for the same price or less than hotel rooms often. And you will have a fully stocked kitchen and maybe a backyard too, and if you’re really lucky laundry facility. Do check what you are getting, the houses are not in the same condition as the US. Often there is no climate control, minimal insulation, and the houses are older. But they can be a great local option and make travel nicer and more affordable for families traveling.
Due to the significant amount of farming community in New Zealand, you can find some awesome farm stays in order to have an immersive local experience combined with your accommodations!
Buy, sell, trade items
This is the Craigslist of New Zealand. You can get the app on your phone and a local account. You’re supposed to have a local address, but with a local phone number, give them your email address, let them know you’re staying awhile, and they’ll get you set up with an account. It’s easy to use and you can get a feel for the prices and values of things. It’s a great way to find ‘cheap runner’ cars for sale or anything else you may want.
Or opportunity shops are thrift stores. Find the larger ones, like the Hospice Shop and the Salvation Army shops. The smaller ones seemed to have limited variety and higher prices. You can find nice deals if you didn’t pack many clothes or warm enough clothes or need to pick up some camping gear.
“Cheap Runner” cars
Many vehicles in New Zealand are high mileage cars that have often hit rock bottom prices. A very popular car is the Odyssey which seats 7 with a good trunk and can be found in 4WD. There are also some great little campers and vans. Many people go to New Zealand, purchase a vehicle, tour it around, then sell it again, so there’s a great used car market. Vehicles require a WOF (Warranty of Fitness) every 6 months, so basics are usually in working order. Remember if you purchase a vehicle, you will also be responsible for getting a WOF certificate and maintaining the basics. Be aware that most people do not carry car insurance, unlike in the US. To take a car on the ferry between north and south island costs something like $300, so be aware if you are planning to travel both islands.
There are many services also for rental cars and campers if you prefer not taking the time to find a car to purchase and having a vehicle to unload when you leave, not to mention the WOF and other considerations. It certainly depends on your length of stay, traveling distances, budget, and accommodation plans.
Driving times are longer than anticipated if you’re from the states. Roads are typically single lane and windy, sometimes with hills. Speed limits looked more like suggestions (or sometimes challenges) than actual limits – sometimes they seemed way to fast for the road, sometimes ridiculously slow. Be sure to use some of your own judgement also.
We used our T-mobile international plan from the states and found internet to be very reliable. There are dark areas, but all urban areas seemed to have good coverage. It is easy enough to get a Digicel SIM card with multiple prepaid plans.