6 Reasons to Visit New Zealand With Kids: North Island

New Zealand is a tiny country consisting of two main islands (and many smaller ones) with a population of around four million people. It’s easy to find complete solitude in New Zealand with kids since most of the population is concentrated in the five main cities. New Zealand has incredible scenery ranging from rainforests, beaches and cool islands on the northern island, to glaciers, lakes, snow-covered mountains, and hot springs in the south. We had two weeks to drive around and explore New Zealand’s North Island with kids. We planned to explore the country for 4 days before heading to the stunning South Island.

Travelling to Auckland, NZ from Los Angeles

We flew from Los Angeles (LAX) directly into Auckland Airport (AKL) on a looooooong 17-hour flight, and spent a couple of days in Auckland recovering from jetlag. The boys handled the flight remarkably well – thanks to a good movie collection, books, and video games. New Zealand has some of the most diverse environments on earth and displays perfectly how two completely different cultures can thrive in a peaceful yet vibrant society.

Here are our kids’ six highlights of New Zealand’s North Island!

The Auckland War Memorial Museum

We spent an entire day wandering this stunning museum with the boys. This museum is located in a beautiful half-deco-half modernist building on top of a hill in a very peaceful neighborhood. The massive lawn has some great views of the city!

Kids at the Auckland museum new zealand

New Zealand was inhabited by local native people, the Maori, before the arrival of Europeans in the 1700s. There were many wonderful exhibits sharing the history of New Zealand, and the impact it had on the Maori population. It is beautifully curated.

We spent an entire day immersed in the rich history of New Zealand at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and the boys were captivated by the exhibits. One fascinating aspect was learning about the indigenous Maori people who inhabited New Zealand long before European settlers arrived. The museum’s beautifully curated displays offered insights into Maori culture, traditions, and their interaction with European colonizers.

The Highlight for us was the Maori section on the bottom floor. The highlight was the traditional Maori Hut and warrior boat.

Awesome reconstruction of a Maori boat

The kids were particularly intrigued by the traditional Maori Hut and warrior boat exhibited in the Maori section on the bottom floor. It provided them with a tangible connection to New Zealand’s indigenous heritage, sparking their curiosity about ancient civilizations and their way of life. Additionally, the museum’s location atop a hill in a peaceful neighborhood offered stunning views of Auckland, adding to the overall memorable experience for the whole family.

Waitematā Harbour

Walking around Waitematā Harbour gave us with an opportunity to explore Auckland’s waterfront charm. As we meandered around the harbor, the boys were distracted by the all of the maritime activity, the boats, and the insanely clear blue waters in the harbor. It’s the cleanest and freshest looking harbor I’ve ever seen!

Auckland museam new zealand harbor

Waitematā Harbor is the main access point by boat and the biggest port on the North Island. For this reason it’s often referred to as Auckland Harbor, despite the fact that it’s one of two harbors joining the city.

The picturesque views of downtown Auckland, coupled with the tranquil ambiance of the area, created a serene atmosphere perfect for leisurely family walks. Despite being a bustling hub for boat access to the city, Waitematā Harbour felt surprisingly uncrowded, allowing us to enjoy the scenery without feeling overwhelmed. The boys especially enjoyed spotting various boats and ships navigating the harbor, sparking their imagination and fostering a sense of adventure as they envisioned themselves setting sail on the open seas.

We wandered around and enjoyed beautiful views of the downtown area, clear blue waters, and many shops, restaurants, and cafes. It’s beautiful, clean, and not crowded at all.

The Rotorua Luge Slide with Kids

After leaving Auckland we drove about 3 hours south to Rotorua. We visited the Skyline Rotarua for some action and adventure on a downhill luge (also called an alpine slide). Our visit to the Rotorua Luge Slide was an adrenaline-packed adventure that left us tingling because it was SO fun. After a scenic drive south from Auckland, we arrived at Skyline Rotorua ready for some action and excitement.

The boys were not at all apprehensive about trying the luge, and they got even more excited as they saw the breathtaking views from the top of the mountain.

Despite having to wait for some really slow people in front of us, this was a great afternoon. The panoramic views of Rotorua from the mountaintop provided a scenic backdrop to our adrenaline-fueled races. This was a highlight of the kids’ North Island adventure.

If you’ve never been on a luge before, you’re in for a treat. We took the gondola from the base to the top of the mountain. The views were incredible. At the top of the mountain, we were told to pick through a grotty container of helmets to find the perfect fit for our ride.
Rotarua Luge ride - Stinky luge helmets
After researching this before we arrived, the boys were mortified when I made us all wear hairnets. (I’m sorry, I didn’t want to drive lice around New Zealand for two weeks with us!!!)
Rotarua new zealand - luge rides

So the luge is a bit like a go-kart, except it has a plastic tray to sit in and you steer it with handlebars that look like a bicycle. You pull the handlebars towards you to brake and push forward if you want to go. Sounds easy right?!?

HOT TIP: Don’t let the handlebars go because the luge will stop instantly… no matter how fast you’re going. We learned the hard way and almost lost teeth! We had the option of three luge tracks with varying degrees of difficulty.

We opted for the beginner track, much to the disappointment of the boys, who, you guessed it…. wanted to head straight to the advanced track!

We were able to control how fast (or slow) we felt comfortable riding, and after a few minutes, we felt more comfortable experimenting with the speed. Such a fun experience and the views of Rotorua from the top of the mountain and the whole way down were breathtaking!

Tamaki Maori Village

Immersing ourselves in the rich cultural heritage of the Maori people at Tamaki Maori Village was an unforgettable experience for the whole family. The evening unfolded with a series of captivating cultural performances, including singing and dancing that mesmerized the kids.

maori village new zealandWe couldn’t leave New Zealand without taking part in a traditional Maori ‘hangi’ feast. Tamaki Village felt welcoming and warm, and the natives genuinely seemed to enjoy sharing their history and culture of the Maori people with us.

maori village new zealand
Driving to Tamaki Village, our group chose a Chief for the night, and we were excited that Hot Hubby was chosen. The responsibilities of the Chief included representing our group during the admission ceremony and participating in the traditional welcome Haka dance.  This an extra element of fun into the Maori customs we learned about.

When we entered the village, we were greeted with the traditional Maori greeting of hongi, a nose-to-nose gesture symbolizing unity and connection, which fascinated the children and sparked their curiosity about Maori traditions.

maori village new zealand - new cheif

The Chief performs duties such as representing the group when requesting admission to the village and performing in the welcoming ceremony. Upon passing the test to enter their village, the interim Chief receives a hongi, which is the traditional Māori greeting where noses are rubbed together.

maori village new zealand with kids

We spent an immersive evening beginning with a traditional welcome ceremony, learning the local customs, and watched a powerful display of song and dance. We ended the evening with a delicious dinner. The traditional hangi dinner was cooked underground in earth ovens, a method that fascinated the kids as they watched the preparation process, helped dig the food out of the ground, and ate the delicious results.

The boys loved the rhythmic chants and intricate movements of the dancing and ceremonies, and we all gained some insight into the rich oral traditions of the Maori people. Throughout the evening, the warmth and hospitality of the Maori hosts made us feel genuinely welcomed, leaving a lasting impression on the children and highlighted the importance of cultural understanding.

North Island: Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Our trip to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves was like stepping into a magical world of nature. Going through the cave’s three levels was amazing, with all the cool rock formations like stalactites and stalagmites. But the real showstopper was the Glowworm Grotto, where thousands of tiny glowworms lit up the darkness like stars. The kids couldn’t get enough of these glowing bugs, and their faces lit up with wonder as they watched nature’s light display underground.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves new zealand

The Waitomo glowworm caves take you through three levels of incredible Waitomo caves systems.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves stalagmites

The first level (the Catacombs) is an extraordinary walkway within the limestone cave. The second level is displays the more prominent stalactites and stalagmites.

Glow worms!
Glow worms!

The final level is the Cathedral, with high ceilings and large (and growing) stalactites and stalagmites.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves new zealand with the family

Our visit ended with a boat ride in the Glowworm Grotto.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves new zealand river tour
Riding a boat through the Glowworm Grotto was a one-of-a-kind experience. We silently glided under the twinkling lights of the glowworms, and the kids were completely captivated. As we went further into the cave, the magic just kept growing, making memories we’ll never forget. Another reminder of how beautiful and diverse our natural world is, and it made us all appreciate the importance of taking care of places like these.

The experience is truly phenomenal and we couldn’t help but marvel at the wonder of nature.

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, New Zealand

Our visit to the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village was another peek into how the Maori people live alongside Rotorua’s hot springs and geysers. The kids were amazed by all the bubbling hot pools and steamy geysers, showing them the earth’s power up close.

Set with boiling and bubbling hot springs, mud pools and steaming lakes, we visited Rotorua’s only Living Maori Thermal Village. Here we learned about the Maori culture traditions and their unique way of life.

Thermal hot springs with kids

We learned how the natives use geothermal activity in the village to cook, bath & preserve.

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village - geothermal fun

We also were able to walk around the village and explore the steaming vapors, and witness the two erupting geysers.

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village erupting geyser 

Full disclosure, since this is an active geothermal location, the smell is similar to rotting eggs, and it takes a while to get used to that.

Meeting the Maori people who live there was a real eye-opener. We got to see their traditional dances and songs at the Marae, and it was like a living history lesson. Exploring the village and seeing how the Maori go about their daily lives gave us a deeper understanding of their culture and left us all feeling grateful for the chance to learn about and respect different ways of life.

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village new zealand travel
One of the highlights for us was the traditional Marae (Meeting House) for the community, with views of the distant erupting geyser in nearby Ta Pui.
Just seeing the intricate carvings that were on every beam and every corner made us appreciate the care and craftsmanship of the Maori and the importance of this central meeting place. Exploring the village’s stores and observing everyday tasks performed by the villagers offered further insights into Maori life, sparking curiosity and fostering cultural appreciation in the children.

We witnessed their display of traditional Marae song and dance at the cultural performance and it was interesting to see the natives walking around the village in their everyday lives.

After the cultural performance, we were able to walk around the village stores and observe the villagers performing their everyday tasks.

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village - artist making handmade Maori masks
We bought a mask from this talented artist and it hangs proudly on our wall today!

We learned these events and places may seem commercial, however, they give the indigenous people a way to contribute to the economy of New Zealand and a chance to share their deeply rich and spiritual culture.

New Zealand is the PERFECT country to travel either with your family or solo.  The spectacular scenery, interesting culture and relatively compact size, makes it the perfect spot to relax, explore,  and try something a little outside of your comfort level.

Whakarewarewa Thermal Village travel new zealand with kids
Boys were thrilled with their traditional Maori spears to hang on their walls!

North Island with Kids: Hidden Gems & Insider Secrets

What cultural experiences can families with kids expect on the North Island of New Zealand?

When visiting New Zealand’s North Island with kids, you’ll immerse yourselves in the rich cultural tapestry of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people. From traditional Maori performances to hands-on experiences in Maori villages, you’ll gain valuable insights into their customs, traditions, and way of life.

What are some little-known facts about the Maori culture?

The Maori people have a rich oral tradition, with stories passed down through generations. They also have a unique greeting called a hongi, where noses are pressed together. Learning about these fascinating aspects of Maori culture will add a lot of depth to your North Island adventure with kids.

What historical sites should families explore in Auckland?

Auckland boasts a wealth of historical sites, including the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which offers insights into New Zealand’s history and the impact of colonialism on the Maori population. Exploring these sites provides a deeper understanding of Auckland’s past and its cultural significance.

How can families get around the North Island with kids?

Getting around the North Island with kids is easy and convenient, thanks to an efficient transportation network. There are taxis (not too expensive) as well as public transport like buses and trains. We rented a car to drive around the entire island. There are really no highways here outside of Aukland – every road is a two-lane road with (hopefully) a passing lane every few miles. Coming from a large city (like) you’ll need to remind yourself to relax.

What are some off-the-beaten-path attractions on the North Island?

You can dig your own hot pool in the sand at Coromandel Peninsula’s Hot Water Beach.

Are there any unique activities for families with kids in Auckland?

For a unique experience in Auckland, there is an adventure that’s easy to access, the Auckland Zoo’s Night Safari. Kids can see nocturnal animals after dark.

What traditional Maori dishes should families try on the North Island?

Don’t miss the opportunity to sample traditional Maori dishes like hangi, a feast cooked underground using hot stones, or kumara, a sweet potato native to New Zealand. These culinary delights offer a taste of Maori culture.

Are there any cultural festivals or events suitable for families on the North Island?

Keep an eye out for cultural festivals like Matariki, the Maori New Year, which offers a range of family-friendly activities, including performances, workshops, and traditional food stalls.

How can families engage with the local community during their visit to the North Island?

Consider participating in community-led initiatives or volunteering opportunities, such as beach clean-ups or conservation projects. It’s a great way to give back to the community and make meaningful connections during your trip.

What eco-friendly activities can families enjoy on the North Island?

Take part in eco-friendly activities like dolphin watching tours in the Bay of Islands or exploring eco-sanctuaries like Zealandia in Wellington. These experiences allow families to connect with nature and learn about New Zealand’s natural conservation efforts.

Kids on the North Island of New Zealand

What else should we visit in Aukland with kids?

This is a great, family-friendly city and there’s so much to do. Here are some suggestions:

  • The Auckland Zoo is ome to a diverse range of animal species, Auckland Zoo offers a fun and educational experience for families. Kids can observe native wildlife and participate in interactive exhibits and keeper talks.
  • The Sky Tower is Auckland’s iconic landmark, the Sky Tower, offers panoramic views of the city and beyond from its observation deck. Families can also enjoy thrilling activities like the SkyWalk or SkyJump for an adrenaline-filled adventure.
  • Sea Life Aquarium A nice acquarium where you’ll see sharks, stingrays, and a variety of marine life. Interactive displays and underwater tunnels provide an immersive experience for kids of all ages.
  • Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest park and has walking trails and recreational facilities for families.
  • Waiheke Island is just a short ferry ride from Auckland. We didn’t visit but it’s supposed to be great for nature lovers and food enthusiasts. There are beaches, hiking trails, and vineyards.
  • Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmakil – this is a famous New Zealand art gallery and it’s home to an extensive collection of New Zealand and international art.

After exploring the North Island we set out for New Zealand’s larger South Island. We made our Queenstown our home base and took many day trips, including a visit to the penguins near Dunedin and the incredible Milford Sound.

What is your favorite experience on New Zealand’s North Island with kids?

Let me know in the comments below, and join me on Instagram and X (Twitter)!

About The Author

Samantha

I’m a travel and health writer, digital brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising an active family, life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.

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