The great family day out was a privilege that has been elusive for some of us in recent years – who would have thought anyone would miss out on long car rides with siblings fighting in the back seat; The toilet stops ten minutes after everyone swore it Not Need to go and endless snack and ETA requests?
But it’s all back on the cards, and with renewed appreciation, it’s time to load up the coolers, pack up the station wagon (including 28 ‘essential’ stuffed animals, matchbox cars and an endless supply of granola bars and crackers) and hit the road.
If you’re looking for a North Island route to explore, Auckland to Taupō is a wonderful option, and breaking it up with a few overnight stays en route (and back) makes it even more adventurous.
Here is a personally tested itinerary suitable for anyone traveling with their youngsters. You can ramp it up or down depending on your budget and time frame.
* Restaurants for every occasion in Hamilton
* Taupō is the perfect distance for a road trip
* New Zealand Family Tour: The Treasures of Taupō
There is a lot going on in Taupō – you just have to look a little closer.
Auckland to Hamilton
Hamilton is a great place to spend a few days, especially if you have kids. The Woodlands Garden Grove Cafe on the Woodlands Victorian Estate is definitely worth a stop on the way there – and while our teenager and tween loved it, I couldn’t help but think back to when they were younger and so were we Half of a day could easily have been spent in a place like this.
It’s a little people’s paradise with a giant cricket oval, trolleys, cricket set, giant chess and other oversized interactive games. The historic homestead next door is also fascinating, with fun disguises for the kids and a lovely stroll through the garden, which can look almost like Monet depending on the time of year. Stroll around or take the opportunity to sit down with a coffee (or a local beer or cider) while the kids work themselves out.
Speaking of places that keep kids busy, the Waikato Museum in Hamilton itself — right on the banks of the river — is a blast. Give yourself plenty of time, because once you’ve passed the stunning waka and beautiful galleries, your kids won’t want to leave the highly interactive Exscite Science Gallery.
There is so much for them to do and they will be amazed by the fact that instead of telling them not to touch each other, you encouraged them to do everything. You’ll love the huge games and fascinating science experiments, and you might even want to get involved.
A riverside dinner is a must. Older kids might like Mr Pickles (food is great), but there’s also fried chicken from The Bearded Weasel (closed winter) just around the corner, or Vietnamese from Banh mi Caphe, also in the same area by the river – or see across the street past the incredible dumplings from The Chilli House.
Again, Hamilton delivers the kid-friendly products with a large amphitheater-style area for kids to roam freely after dinner – with their Duck Island ice cream in hand, of course. After all, Hamilton is where it originated.
Hamilton to Napier
Depending on your children’s ages and interests, there are a few options before leaving Hamilton for the four-hour drive to Napier. The zoo will fascinate you with more than 600 native and exotic animals. Make friends with alpacas, giraffes, kunekune pigs, ring-tailed lemurs, bison, tuatara – and everything in between.
And of course there’s the glorious Hamilton Gardens – there’s a reason this incredible attraction has won international awards, and while it’s always been fun for all ages, recent developments (like the Surrealist Garden) have made it fun for families made even more attractive.
Entering this area, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve suddenly shrunk when towering “trons” — animatronic trees with moving branches — loom over you. Insta-tweens will love posing in front of giant doors, wheelbarrows and spades, and the tromp-l’oeil wave floor at the entrance.
Hamilton is also a great place to explore by bike if you want to hire bikes and explore some of the cycle routes.
Two days in Hawke’s Bay is great but of course there is plenty to do if you have time to stay five or even a week. It’s such a family friendly destination. If you’re there in gannet season, don’t miss this incredible experience.
There are a few ways to do this, but we went with Gannet Safaris Overland and along the way we were blown away not only by the birds but by the stunning scenery at Cape Kidnappers. At peak times there are over 20,000 birds and unlike other colonies where you squint at a distance, here you are only meters away from the preening, dancing and swooping action. There are definitely some “characters” and you will wish you had spoken gannets after seeing some of the Argy Bargy and – it’s a bird Kurzlandstr for sure.
Napier’s Marine Parade has to be one of the most family-friendly waterfront walks in the country. The two-mile walk includes a bike pump track, junior bike path, playgrounds for all ages and levels, Bay Skate (a very impressive skate park), Sunken Gardens, miniature golf, and the National Aquarium.
Spend the afternoon exploring everything your loved ones like and end it with a giant ice cream cone as you stroll back to the car. The dining options in the region are endless and places like Mister D, Chan’s Chop House, Alessandro’s, Mary’s and Hunger Monger will keep both adults and children happy.
If your schedule allows, this is a great area for cycling. Hire from Napier City Bike Hire and Tours and head to the vineyards when the kids have a scenic few miles ahead of them (stop in Ahuriri to see the seafront murals and coffee and pastries from Crazy Good to pick).
If you’re looking for a family-friendly spot, Church Road has an expansive space at the back where you can grab a platter and some fries and stretch out on the lawn.
There are also museum tours with mannequins depicting parts of the vineyard’s history that children might find entertaining. If you don’t want to drive back after an exuberant tasting, Napier City Bike Hire and Tours will even pick you up and drop you off at the base.
Napier to Taupo
Either drive the 2.5 hours straight to Taupō or take a detour across the Mohaka River for some off-the-beaten-path whitewater rafting. The Mohaka Rafting Company (closed during the winter) even offers a raft ride that takes kids ages five and up, so not just for older adventurous kids. The scenery is truly breathtaking and the guides incredibly knowledgeable.
If you don’t want that, drive right through and check in at Taupō DeBretts Spa Resort or Lake Taupō Holiday Resort, which rank among the most family-friendly places to stay in the North Island.
If you’ve packed a lot into this trip, you’ll love staying somewhere where the kids can spend all day in the pool – and they will too. Lake Taupō Holiday Resort even has a swim-up bar, so everyone’s a winner.
There are so many options for your last day (or days) before returning home. One is the incredible world of geysers, hot springs, bubbling mud pools and some of the world’s largest silica terraces at Ōrākei Kōrako – kids will love the five-minute boat ride and stroll through this steaming geothermal wonderland.
Or take to the water with Taupō Sailing Adventures to see the Māori petroglyphs with fabulous hosts Dave and Jess. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, take part in the Formula Challenge to jet on the Taupō Karts or try the Rapids Jet experience at the Aratiatia Scenic Reserve.
Shooting through a narrow canyon and spinning on the considerable rapids will definitely get everyone’s heart rate up, it even drew a smile from our grumpy teenager. For free fun there is always the Huka Falls and Playground and the naturally heated Otumuheke Stream at Spa Thermal Park. Seeing the release of the Aratiatia Dam might sound strange, but you and your family will love it.
And when dining out, don’t miss out on donuts at Baked with Love, fish and chips at Grasshopper, or dinner at The Bistro or Two Mile Sailing Club if you’re looking for family-friendly options. The Taupō leg of your journey can last from a day to much longer depending on what you want to do before hitting State Highway 1 back to Tāmaki Makaurau.
Sure, there’s a bit of whining and scratching in the backseat, but the big Kiwi road trip is a rite of passage and Auckland to Taupō is a truly wonderful itinerary for the whole whānau.
Stay Safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions at covid19.govt.nz.