Family travel: Educational and entertaining tourism experiences

Meet the blue penguins at the National Aquarium, Napier. Photo / Supplied

Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology… Kiwi kids don’t have any excuses. Holiday programs, museums and interactive activities educate our tamariki and mokopuna without them even realising it.

Here’s a sample of fun things to do, see, touch and play during and after the school break that are far from boring – and kids will come away having learned something. They might even know what a slide rule is for.


Get a head start on the history curriculum at Opononi’s Manea – Footprints of Kupe. The 75-minute voyage uses storytelling, art, taonga, film, performance and digital interaction to guide visitors into Te Ao Māori through Kupe, the intrepid navigator.

In the’hood: Whangārei’s Kiwi North introduces kids to kiwi, tuatara and gecko; Whangārei Museum has learning opportunities from insects to artefacts.


Heading south, take the whānau up the Eyeful Tower. That’s on the Driving Creek narrow-gauge railway, climbing the hills behind Coromandel, over viaducts and beside art installations to panoramic views.

It’s downhill all the way on the zipline, gliding through the forest then walking through the conservation park. Potter, writer, conservationist and railway nut Barry Brickell created this as a place where art, engineering and conservation intersect.

In the’hood: Barry’s cousin Alistair Brickell’s Stargazer tours explain constellations and stars in the night sky. Kids can handle billion-year-old meteorites and dinosaur bones; Bullswool Farm combines a working farm, petting zoo, heritage shearing and milking sheds with a nature walk and bird reserve ..


They teach science (if not spelling) at Waikato Museum’s Exscite gallery. Youngsters can play a tune on Musical Pipes, create mesmerising Magnetoscope patterns, kick-start the giant Gear Wall machines or tell a story at Color Our World. These holidays, Our Moon is a free, hands-on astronomy exhibition.

In the’hood: Te Awamutu Space Center is a small but fascinating collection of artefacts from places far, far away; Hamilton Zoo houses more than 600 animals; Waitakaruru Arboretum’s sculpture park encourages kids with activities, a scavenger hunt, building a hut or yacht.


At Marshalls Animal Park in McLaren Falls Park, Tauranga, children can feed and play with farmyard animals and others that don’t come from around these parts –emus, ostriches, Texas longhorns and more.

In the’hood: At Waihi’s Gold Discovery Center, can chat with magnetmed miners, walk around the giant pit rim or venture deep into the mine.


Rotorua has more experiences than you’ll fit into two weeks but here’s a recommendation: Te Puia’s Geyser by Night tour. What kid wouldn’t want to wander the geothermal reserve by moon- and torchlight, listening to kiwi and ruru while a guide explains the area’s story, cooks steamed pudding in a hot pool and… whoosh! They’ll stand near Pohutu and its siblings as the mighty geysers erupt.

In the’hood: Agrodome, Paradise Valley Springs, National Kiwi Hatchery, Wingspan Bird of Prey Center; Settlers and Steam Museum; aMAZEme, problem-solving at its finest.


On the prowl for something different? Steve and Taniya Coxhead opened Timberline Racing Siberian Huskies in Taupō to educate Kiwis about the breed. Families meet and cuddle dogs and puppies, watch an eight-dog team at work and – warning – learn how to keep huskies as pets.

In the’hood: Tongariro National Trout Center’s holiday programs to get kids hooked on fishing.


Enough petting cute critters. The Dinosaur House at Raetihi is our largest private collection relating to scary giant prehistoric beasties, with displays, fossils and life-sized models. No, you can’t take home a T Rex. You can have a T- shirt.

In the’hood: Kids HQ at the National Army Museum, Waiouru, hands-on learning about military history.

Attention! Exploring military history at the National Army Museum, Waiouru. Photo / Supplied
Attention! Exploring military history at the National Army Museum, Waiouru. Photo / Supplied


Our National Aquarium lies in Napier, where sharks, stingrays and fish swim over you in the oceanarium tunnel. At Penguin Cove families can meet and feed the birds; tuatara and kiwi hang here too.

Meet the blue penguins at the National Aquarium, Napier. Photo / Supplied
Meet the blue penguins at the National Aquarium, Napier. Photo / Supplied

In the’hood: Gannet Beach Adventures’ vintage tractor-and-trailer tours travel the spectacular coast, past fossils and earthquake fault-lines, to the world’s largest mainland gannet colony.

Take a field trip with Gannet Beach Adventures, Hawke's Bay. Photo / Kirsten Simcox, Supplied
Take a field trip with Gannet Beach Adventures, Hawke’s Bay. Photo / Kirsten Simcox, Supplied


Tāwhiti Museum in Hawera employs life-size exhibits and scale models to present Taranaki’s heritage in super-realistic and engaging displays; its Traders & Whalers underground boat ride glides families through the province’s history. via historic buildings and artefacts. Kids can dress in olden-day clothes or learn to make candles or butter.

In the’hood: Brooklands, the Southern Hemisphere’s only free zoo; Puke Ariki museum’s Map It! Exhibition for kids to solve puzzles using augmented reality and the library’s programme to compose digital music; Lake Rotokare Reserve’s night tour, meeting moreporks, hearing weta and seeing glow worms.


Lesser-known than other capital-city attractions, Staglands Wildlife Reserve in Akatarawa Valley, Upper Hutt, offers a natural and genuine opportunity to interact with local wildlife. Bush, farmland and wetlands have been cultivated into a haven for iconic and endangered species, blending tourism, conservation and education. Tour with a ranger, explore the old settlement and railway to feel our history.

In the’hood: Wellington Zoo’s keepers pass on knowledge of 500 animals in tours, its hospital and native wildlife center; Space Place at the top of the cable car is an interactive astronomy center; 3D Trick Art Gallery helps kids create photographic art.


Close to Nelson city but hidden away in bush, The Brook Waimarama Sanctuary is the South Island’s largest fenced haven for endangered plants and creatures. Guided tours touching on the animals, plants and history are perfect for kids to immerse themselves in nature. Natureland conservation center at Tahunanui Beach has tuatara, kea, monkeys and more.

Natureland conservation center at Tahunanui Beach. Photo / Supplied
Natureland conservation center at Tahunanui Beach. Photo / Supplied


Weka Pass Railway uses vintage locomotives and 1930s carriages on rural rail routes through the pass’unique limestone beauty near Waipara, North Canterbury.

In the’hood: Boyle River Outdoor Education Center challenges and inspires young folk in outdoor pastimes amid alpine surroundings.


There’s gold in them thar heritage parks. At Shantytown, Greymouth, child labourers can roll up their sleeves and slave away at gold-panning. Everyone comes away with some of the shiny stuff; there are historic train rides and more. For an authentic experience Wander deserted streets and sleep with ghosts in DoC’s Waiuta Lodge. Once a village of 600 residents, it’s lain deserted since the company padlocked the West Coast’s largest goldmine in 1951.

In the’hood: West Coast Wildlife Center at Franz Josef – it’s kiwi breeding season –in Lonely Planet’s Top 12 NZ must-sees; nearby Ōkārito is the last place to spot rowi in the wild.


Christchurch caregivers wondering how to entertain bored kids during the break: send them to Antarctica. The International Antarctic Center reckons there’s no cooler programmes than theirs, designed to cater for all ages, interests and abilities. Hang with a husky handler and dog; programme a trail-finding robot; be a penguin keeper for a day; “live” on the ice; master technology from Hillary’s sleds to space gear.

In the’hood: Rutherford’s Den, the university clocktower hideaway where the great scientist carried out his first experiments, alive again through multi-sensory displays and hands-on experiences; Orana Wildlife Park; Willowbank Wildlife Reserve.


Ngāi Tahu brings Māori heritage and astronomy alive at the Dark Sky Project, Lake Tekapo. Featuring an indoor experience as well as stargazing tours, this world-class attraction explains navigation, planting, cultural significance and observations.

In the’hood: Aoraki Mt Cook Visitor Center has a great kids’ area; The Cairns Alpine Resort is a family favorite for its petting farm starring Whiskey, their Kune Kune pig. Cute animal stories abound at Skipton Animal Park, Fairlie, where youngsters can hand-feed the usual suspects plus miniature horses, donkeys, alpacas and llamas, wallaby, deer, chinchilla and way more.


Think you’ve been there, done that in Queenstown? At the Time Tripper underwater cinema you’ll head under Lake Whakatipu to watch fish, ducks and eels until a large screen descends and you travel back 90 million years. Dive deep into the earth , see the Southern Alps form, traverse the glacier that carved out the lake. Spoiler: the movie ends in present-day Queenstown.

In the’hood: Lakes District Museum, Arrowtown, for golden days; Kiwi Birdlife Park with live bird show, kiwi and tuatara; Naseby, for a relaxed, open-air night sky tour with a local astrophysicist. They’re everywhere these days.


Dunedin’s street art is world-famous and not just in New Zealand. The Secret Path is a scavenger hunt, designed for children to explore George St like a video or augmented reality game with grownup help. Examining artworks and solving puzzles in shops and cafes will children’s art made at the Klubhaus will create the NFT –Nifty Future Trendsetters –exhibition (April 16-30, booklets from Dunedin Public Library and other locations).

In the’hood: Hard to beat that activity but check out the Sea Monsters Exhibition; Wild Dunedin; Tuhura interactive science center, planetarium and tropical butterfly forest; Toitu Otago Settlers Museum; Orokonui Eco-Sanctuary.


In the Deep South, Curio Bay is home to a 180 million-year-old petrified forest and rare, endangered wildlife such as yellow-eyed penguins and Hector’s dolphins. Make sense of it all at superb Tumu Toka Curioscape, a world-class interpretive center that explains the bay’s wildlife, characters and history. For another slice of southern life, Fiordland Escapes’ Te Anau challenge invites families to join hardy men and their families braving harsh weather, isolation and avalanches to build the Homer Tunnel and Milford Road. I ‘ll take the helicopter.

In the’hood: Catlins’ Earthlore sanctuary has a family tour with insect murder mystery and flea circus; Southern Discoveries’ underwater observatory, Milford Sound; Bill Richardson Transport World in Invercargill, vehicle displays, wearable arts collection and more.

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