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New Zealand is a breathtakingly gorgeous country. And it is very family friendly. It is a country that should definitely be on your bucket list. But, I will admit, planning a trip to New Zealand can be overwhelming because there are so many great things to do. So, to help make your trip planning easy, I’ve put together this simple guide to planning the ultimate New Zealand vacation.
Reasons to Visit
There are many reasons to visit the Land of the Long White Cloud. Some of the biggest reasons are:
From the rolling green hills to the rugged coastline and sweeping beaches, everywhere you look you will be in awe of the natural beauty of this country. You just can’t help but stop and stare. It is unreal how gorgeous the views are.
It’s super clean.
Regardless of whether you are in the midst of one of its bustling cities or in the middle of the country, New Zealand is neat and clean.
They have cute small towns.
New Zealand has tons of small towns full of charming mom and pop shops, fun parks, lots of great activities, and interesting art pieces. Many of these towns are worth taking the time to explore.
New Zealand is also a very safe country to visit. In fact, it is one of the safest countries in the world. Pretty much everywhere you go, you will feel safe and comfortable.
It’s family friendly.
New Zealand is a great destination for families. Most every place you go is welcoming and accommodating to children. And there is lots of space for them to run and play.
There’s so much to do.
Maybe the best reason to plan a trip to New Zealand is that there is so many things to do. You will definitely get your money’s worth. You will find art, shopping, outdoor activities, sports, good food, and much, much more.
And you can find many options that are free! Check out our list of free things to do with kids in New Zealand to get you started.
There is something for everyone.
Not only is there a lot to do in New Zealand, but there is a wide range of activities. So, regardless of your family’s interests, you will find lots of things to do.
This is a great country to visit for families who love extreme outdoor adventures. But it is also a good choice for those people who prefer to spend their days in museums and art galleries.
Know Before You Go
There are a few things about New Zealand that you need to know before you visit. Being aware of these things in advance of your vacation will make your trip planning better and save you some big headaches and maybe even some money.
New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere.
This means that seasons are reversed from what you are probably used to. So, you can spend your Christmas trip at the beach or your July vacation on the ski slopes.
Be prepared for this when planning what clothing to pack for your vacation and what activities you plan to do.
It’s bigger than you think.
While New Zealand looks small on the map, it’s actually much larger than you realize. Think about this when planning your activities and what towns and cities you will visit.
I highly recommend visiting various parts of the country. But look to see how long it will take you to get from place to place and factor this time into your itinerary.
Be sure you have the right electrical adapters.
Australia and New Zealand have electrical outlets that are different from those used in Europe and the United States. So, make sure you buy and pack the correct adapters for your trip.
Most roads are narrow and curvy.
There really aren’t any major highways in New Zealand like you will find in the United States. Instead, the roads are small, windy, and narrow. Because of this, you will have to drive slower than you think in many places. This will add to the time it takes you to get from one location to another.
There are lots of traffic circles.
New Zealand loves traffic circles (or roundabouts). You will find them everywhere! Most intersections of “major highways” include a traffic circle.
So, if you are not comfortable driving in them, you may want to practice before your trip.
When you are traveling within the country, pay extra close attention to the signs so you don’t get lost by taking the wrong turn.
You can’t do it all in one trip.
As I mentioned above, there are a lot of things to do in New Zealand. This makes it a fabulous choice for a mega, once-in-a-lifetime family vacation. But, it makes trip planning hard.
You will inevitably feel the need to do it all during your trip. And it is just not possible. So, pick out your top must-do options and make them your priority. And if you have time to fit in anything else, it will be a bonus.
The weather changes often.
When you are planning your trip to New Zealand, keep in mind that the weather changes often. Sometimes, it can swing wildly in the course of a day.
It is smart to pack a range of clothing that you can layer as needed. This is especially true if you will be doing a lot of outdoor activities.
Don’t bring food into the country with you.
The customs laws in New Zealand are very strict. They are very particular about what you can and cannot bring into the country. You are not allowed to bring any food, plants, or other agricultural products into the country.
When you arrive at the airport, you will have to go through customs and declare all items. If you have something that is not allowed, you will be required to throw it away. If you don’t declare something, you could be fined for it.
My friend’s mother went to New Zealand. Before she boarded the plane, she put a banana in her purse to eat during the flight. She forgot about it, and later didn’t declare it when she went through customs. She was fined $400 because of it. That’s one expensive banana!
So, be careful about what you bring into the country.
Pay your tourist tax and have the proper visa.
To visit New Zealand, you will need to have either a visitor visa or a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTa). Which one you need will depend on where you are coming from and a few other factors.
Additionally, you will need to pay the International Visitor Levy, which is $35 New Zealand dollars (about $25 US dollars). You will have to pay this at the same time that you pay for your NZeTa.
For more information on both the visa and the tax, see the New Zealand government website.
Popular Must-Do Attractions
To help you get started with planning your trip to New Zealand, here is a list of some of the most popular must-do attractions in New Zealand. These are things that most people want to do during their trip. You may want to add some of these attractions to your list of things to do during your trip.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The Waitomo Glowworm Caves is, by far, the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my life! This should definitely be on your list of things to do during your trip to New Zealand.
This is the only place in the world to see glowworms in their natural habitat. After hiking down into the caves with a Maori guide and marveling at the beautiful sights and sounds of the caves, you will board a boat and silently move into the dark to observe the glowworms.
It is remarkable! Your whole family will enjoy this excursion.
Have some Lord of the Rings fans in your family? Then a trip to the Hobbiton movie set should be at the top of your list of must-do attractions.
Take a guided tour through the 12 acres of the famous movie sets. See how the magic was brought to life. Even enjoy a dinner or breakfast feast amid the hobbits.
Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium
If you or your kids love marine animals, you definitely have to visit Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium in Auckland. This is the best aquarium we have ever visited. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.
They feature the largest exhibit of Antarctica penguins in the world. They also have an impressive walk through tunnel with huge sharks and sting rays gliding overhead.
One of the most amazing museums in all of New Zealand is Te Papa. It is located in Wellington, and it is free to visit! Te Papa has six floors of incredible exhibits. The offerings include art, fashion, animals, weather, Maori culture, and many other topics.
One of the things I love about Te Papa is that it has several “kids rooms” where the exhibits are all hands on and geared towards kids.
This is a museum that everyone in the family will enjoy.
Want to learn more about the history and culture of the Maori people who first inhabited New Zealand? Then head over to Auckland Museum. This popular museum has some fascinating exhibits and artifacts from the Maoris, such as boats, weapons, and sculptures.
The top floor of the museum is dedicated to the war history of New Zealand. It also includes memorials for those who died during the various war efforts.
Tamaki Maori Village
While learning about the culture through museum exhibits is one thing, sometimes you want something more immersive. A trip to the Tamaki Maori Village is perfect for this.
Here, you can take part in a traditional ceremony, help prepare and eat a traditional meal, listen to the stories of this proud people, learn about their customs, and even spend the night amongst them.
One of the most beautiful natural sights in all of New Zealand is Milford Sound on the South Island. The mountains, forests, waters, and wildlife will all impress you during your tour of this amazing place.
You can book tours to see Milford Sound from the water, which will give you a perspective unlike any other.
Another popular spot in New Zealand is Rotorua on the North Island. People flock to this area to experience the natural hot springs, mud pools, and geothermal activity. There are tons of things to see and do in this area that is part of the Pacific Rim of Fire.
You will be able to relax, take part in some outdoor adventures, and experience the local culture all in one location.
One of my biggest regrets when planning our trip to New Zealand was that I didn’t include zorbing in our list of activities.
Zorbing is a favorite outdoor experience in New Zealand. Basically, you climb inside a large inflatable ball and roll yourself down a hill. This looks so much fun! I want to go back to New Zealand, just to experience this!
This is a fun activity your whole family can enjoy together.
New Zealand is known for its rugby dominance. So, if you have sports fans in your family, definitely consider watching a rugby match during your trip to New Zealand . No matter where you are within the country, you are sure to find a rugby match to attend.
If you’re lucky, you can go watch the All Blacks. But if not, don’t hesitate to watch one of their professional teams play or catch an amateur match. You will be glad you did! Rugby is such an exciting sport to watch!
Is seeing a glacier on your bucket list? You can fulfill this dream in New Zealand! Head to the South Island to see one of these wonders of nature up close and personal.
There are several options for seeing the glaciers during your visit to the Southern Alps.
Pink or Black Sand Beaches
If yo prefer the beach to the snow and ice, then plan a visit to see either (or both) of the pink or black sand beaches in New Zealand. The pink sand beach is north of Auckland, while the black sand beach is further south on the North Island. You will find it closer to Wellington.
Both of these beaches are unique and worth a visit, even if the weather is less than ideal.
Trip Planning Tips
To help you make your trip to New Zealand the best trip possible, here are some trip planning tips.
Don’t underestimate the time it takes to get from place to place.
Towns are further apart that you realize. There are no major highways. Speed limits are slower. So, it will take you longer to get from one location to another than you may think. Be sure to give yourself enough time between activities to travel between locations.
Where to Fly Into
One of the big things you will have to do when planning your trip to New Zealand is book your flights. If you will be heading to the North Island first, your best option for arriving is either Auckland or Wellington. Auckland is in the northern part of the island, while Wellington is at the bottom of the island.
If, on the other hand, you are heading to the South Island, consider flying into either Christchurch or Dunedin.
Auckland and Christchurch are definitely the biggest airports in New Zealand.
Air New Zealand is awesome!
Speaking of flying into New Zealand, let me just tell you that Air New Zealand is awesome! It is my favorite airline to fly.
The staff is wonderful. They are warm, friendly, and willing to help anyway they can. And in this day and age where airlines are cutting back the amenities and services they are offering, I feel that Air New Zealand is still offering those little extras that make you feel that you matter as a customer.
Be prepared to drive on the left.
Like most of the world outside of the United States, drivers in New Zealand drive on the left side of the road. So, if you are coming from the United States, be prepared to drive on the left. This isn’t that difficult, but it just takes some getting used to.
Consider Van Camping.
Van camping is very popular in New Zealand. If you are planning to road trip around the country, consider this for your accommodations. There are several places within New Zealand to rent vans suitable for camping in. Additionally, there are also lots of places to camp for free.
Hotels are pretty cheap.
If you are like us, however, and aren’t big on camping, then you will be relieved to know that hotels in New Zealand are pretty cheap. I was amazed at how affordable the hotel options were when I was planning our trip to New Zealand.
And many of them have washers and dryers in them, which is convenient when you need to do some laundry part way through your trip.
Maori culture is fascinating.
I mentioned above that there are several options to learn about the Maori culture during your trip. This is definitely something you should do because it is an intriguing culture. The history of the country is also pretty interesting and worth taking some time to learn about.
There are endless options for outdoor activities.
If you love the outdoors, New Zealand is a country made for you! There are an almost unlimited amount of outdoor activities to take part in throughout the country.
You can find simple activities, such as soaking in a hot springs, and you can find more extreme things to do, such as bungee jumping. You can hike, camp, fish, sail, go sea kayaking, do some bird watching, go parasailing, and much more.
Find one (or more) of these that peaks your interest and try it out.
New Zealand is full of amazing playgrounds.
New Zealand is full of wonderful playgrounds for little ones. This is one of the reasons why it is such a family friendly destination. The playgrounds are creative, spacious, and offer lots of things for your children to do. Plan to visit some of them to give your kids a chance to run around and play.
My son spent time exploring several of the playgrounds on our trip and loved every minute of it.
It can be challenging for picky eaters.
The one negative thing I have to say about New Zealand is that it can be challenging if you have picky eaters. Be sure to check the menus of restaurants that you are considering to make sure they offer something for your picky eaters.
During our trip, I had a hard time during some meals finding something for my son to eat. Breakfast was especially challenging for us. Dinners seemed to be a little bit better. I had to be careful choosing restaurants so he would have something to eat.
New Zealand is an amazing country to visit. It is clean, safe, and very family friendly. There are an almost endless number of things to do, so it is easy to find things to entertain your family, regardless of your interests. You will love a trip to New Zealand. I hope this guide makes your trip planning easier and less overwhelming.
For more on visiting New Zealand, see mistakes to avoid, tips for New Zealand road trips, our New Zealand road trip, Mama Brown’s, the New Zealand Navy Museum, and things to do with kids on the North Island.
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