How to Plan a Trip to New Zealand with Children: Plan a New Zealand Family Vacation
There’s nothing like hitting the road to explore places with sublime landscapes that the whole family will remember for many years to come. Well, that’s New Zealand in a nutshell. The country is comprised of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, both offering a destination for families to adventure together. New Zealand is a place to educate the little ones of different cultures like the local Maori and experience the playground that Mother Nature has provided. Plan a trip to New Zealand with the kids using this travel guide to New Zealand for families.
The Best New Zealand Family Travel Guide: Listen to the Article
Don’t have time to read because, well, you’re a parent? Listen to the video or keep scrolling for the full article.
A Quick Intro to New Zealand
Location: New Zealand is located on the Oceania continent in the South Pacific Ocean, about 1,500km (930 miles) east of Australia and around 1,000km (620 miles) south of the South Pacific Islands.
Climate: New Zealand has a diverse climate across the country, where the mean average temperatures are 10°C (50°F) in the South Island and 16°C (61°F) in the North Island. See What is the Weather Like in New Zealand? or check out the “The Best Time to Visit New Zealand for Families” section below.
Time zone: UTC/GMT+12
Population: 5 million. Learn more about New Zealand’s population here.
Languages: English, Maori and New Zealand Sign Language.
Size: 268,021km2 (103483 mi2) in total. It is approximately 1,600km (990mi) long and around 400km (250mi) at its widest point.
Travelling to New Zealand with Kids
First things first, you’ll need to see if you are actually able to travel to New Zealand due to restrictions put in place at the borders after the COVID-19 outbreak. Visit covid19.govt.nz for the latest travel information.
Now onto the fun stuff! Most families travel to New Zealand via the skies. Search for direct flights from the US, Canada, South America, Asia, Australia and the South Pacific Islands. Coming further afield from destinations such as in Europe and you’ll need to catch at least one connecting flight.
See our complete guide on how to get to New Zealand. Otherwise, here’s a quick rundown.
Flight Times to New Zealand
Argentina – 12h30min, Brazil – 15h30min, Canada – 16h30min, China – 13h30min, Denmark – 22h, Finland – 20h, France – 23h30min, Germany – 22h30min, Hong Kong – 11h, Israel – 32h, Italy – 22h30min, Japan – 11h, Korea – 12h, Malaysia – 11h, Netherlands – 22h30min, Philippines – 10h30min, Singapore – 10h30min, Sweden – 21h, Taiwan – 11h, United Kingdom – 22h30min, USA – 12h, Vietnam – 12h30min
New Zealand International Airports
Starting north to south, these are the airports you can arrive in New Zealand from overseas. The most popular international airports in New Zealand are:
- Auckland (AKL)
- Christchurch (CHC)
- Queenstown (ZQN)
However, flights from Australia can also arrive at Wellington Airport (WLG) and Dunedin (DUD).
Find out which airport makes the most sense for your family to arrive at using our guide, Which Airport to Arrive in New Zealand.
The Cost of Flights to New Zealand for Families
Airfares depend on different factors: what time of year you choose to fly, how long in advance you book, where you’re flying from, what type of ticket you get, and the route you take to get to New Zealand. With that, airfares can cost anywhere between NZ$200 to $5,000 per economy ticket.
To save money on pricey airfares, note that the cheapest time to fly to New Zealand is during New Zealand’s spring, winter and autumn months (between July and November). Summer and particularly around Christmas is the most expensive time to fly to New Zealand.
You can often also save money by booking multiple stopovers, i.e. less direct routes to New Zealand. However, this comes at the disadvantage of longer travel times, which is not worth the hassle with younger children. We recommend paying a little more for more direct flights. Check out the 5 Money-Saving Tips for Flying to New Zealand with Kids for more advice.
A Note on New Zealand’s Biosecurity
New Zealand has strict biosecurity measures at the border to stop unwanted pests and diseases from entering the country. This includes common items like food and sports gear. Be sure to read up on Arriving in New Zealand: Airport Customs, Biosecurity & the Arrival Process so that your family is prepared.
The Best Time to Visit New Zealand for Families
New Zealand has a famous saying: “four seasons in a day”. In other words, the weather is very changeable even in summer. For this reason, we do not recommend planning your trip too much around the weather. The decision on when to travel to New Zealand with kids is better based on when it’s most convenient for your family. Nevertheless, here is what you can typically expect in each season:
Summer (December to February)
Summer is the warmest time of year reaching highs of 25°C (77°F). Expect finer days than during the rest of the year where you’ll need to slap on the kids’ sunscreen constantly due to the high UV levels.
Autumn (March to May)
Autumn has milder temperatures; anywhere between 6°C (43°F) and 20°C (68°F). Weather patterns start to become more changeable with a few more rainy days than in summer.
Winter (June to August)
Temperatures can be anywhere between -3°C (27°F) and 15°C (59°F) depending on which parts of the country you are in. Snow falls in alpine regions, while rainfall is more frequent elsewhere.
Spring (September to November)
Temperatures rise again during this shoulder season, where lows are 2°C (36°F) and highs are 17°C (63°F). Expect to experience both fine weather and rainy days.
For more detailed information on the climate, check out our New Zealand weather guide.
For more tips from this travel guide to New Zealand for families, head to our complete article on the best time to visit New Zealand
New Zealand Family Packing List
Sure, we have a full New Zealand Packing List that goes way too much into detail. But in short, families should prepare for a New Zealand holiday by packing lots of layers, sun protection (or winter warmers), and containers, water bottles, etc. necessary for a family on the go.
Note that New Zealand has plenty of shops and services should you need anything while you’re travelling, including nappies (or diapers for our American friends). Therefore, there’s no need to pack the kitchen sink. The lighter you pack, the easier it will be to travel around.
A Quick Family Packing List
The key to packing lightly for New Zealand is versatile outfits. Some handy items to remember for every family member includes:
- Leggings/sweatpants/hiking pants
- Shorts (for warmer days)
- Hiking shoes
- Thermal underlayer (top and/or bottoms)
- Waterproof and windproof jacket
- Woollen socks
- A warm jacket (winter/spring/autumn)
- A selection of light tops
- Toiletries including a mini first aid kit, sunscreen and insect repellent
- New Zealand travel adapter
- Electronic device chargers (extra batteries are a good idea)
- Reusable water bottles
- Travel-friendly food containers (picnicking is a family must-do)
Remember to check out the full list in the New Zealand Packing List: What to Pack for New Zealand.
New Zealand Visas
A tourist/visitor visa for New Zealand activates automatically upon entry to New Zealand for most countries, usually allowing visitors to stay for up to three months. Visitors also need to pay for an NZeTA and IVL before arrival in New Zealand.
Family Travel Insurance for New Zealand
Although the ACC in New Zealand partly covers accidental injury medical bills, many families opt for travel insurance for peace of mind. Our recommended insurance for families is Orbit Protect, which is based in New Zealand. Find out more in our article, Medical and Travel Insurance for New Zealand.
New Zealand Currency
The currency in New Zealand is New Zealand Dollars (NZD). There are plenty of ATMs in towns and cities where you’ll be able to withdraw cash. Credit cards are also widely accepted.
Get more tips on how to save money on withdrawing cash and paying with card (locally known as paying with “EFTPOS“) in our article, The Best Way to Pay in New Zealand.
How Long Should a Family Vacation in New Zealand Be
Unlike many destinations, New Zealand is best experienced by travelling from place to place, rather than staying in one spot. A common mistake families make, however, is underestimating the travel times by road. Allow around three weeks to comfortably see both the North and South islands. Otherwise, planning to visit just one island is a smart option for one or two weeks’ holiday.
1-2 Weeks in New Zealand
Within this time, you should explore just one of the main islands. Take a look at the itineraries: North Island Family Itinerary: One Week, South Island Family Itinerary: One Week, North Island Family Itinerary: Two Weeks and South Island Family Itinerary: Two Weeks.
3-4 Weeks in New Zealand
Three weeks to a month is a preferable time to visit both islands in New Zealand, perhaps for your children’s summer holidays? Get inspiration from the New Zealand Family Itinerary: Three Weeks and New Zealand Family Itinerary: One Month.
Family-Friendly Transport in New Zealand
There’s no right or wrong way to get around New Zealand, as it all depends on your family’s preference, needs and budget. The most family-friendly transport options in New Zealand are the following.
Renting a Campervan or Motorhome
A super popular way for families to travel around New Zealand, campervans and motorhomes provide freedom without having to unpack and repack at every motel. See How to Travel by Campervan in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide for more advice, as well as The Best Family Campervan Rentals in New Zealand.
Renting a Car
Renting a car provides ultimate freedom, easy driving and cheaper rental rates for families. See some of our recommendations listed in The Best Family Car Rentals in New Zealand, as well as Travel By Car in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide.
National Bus (Public Transportation)
For families on a tight budget, national coaches provide the cheapest way of getting from A to B. InterCity forms the most extensive public transport network in the country and is child-friendly. Find out more about planning a trip by bus in our guide to the InterCity bus passes?
The most hassle-free way to travel New Zealand with kids is on one of the guided bus tours, often with some meals and all accommodation included. While typically not suitable for infants, there are a few tour companies that accept children aged five years and above. Trafalgar, AAT Kings, Active Adventures and Thrifty Tours welcome children on their national tours.
While not as popular as in other countries, domestic flights in New Zealand are only a good idea for travelling long distances or between the North and South islands.
There are ferry services in New Zealand not only to enable travel between the North and South islands but to other off-shore islands. They are also an exciting experience for kids.
Finally, what kid doesn’t love riding the train? In New Zealand, you’ll love it too with the rail journeys being a scenic experience rather than a boring commute. Note, however, that the train network is small in New Zealand and is not transport to rely on to get around the entire country. See our guide to the Train Network in New Zealand for more details.
Still don’t know where to start? Start with the 10 Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand.
The Best Places to Go in New Zealand with Kids
Can’t decide between the North and South islands? Check out our full comparison, Should You Travel the North Island or South Island? Then, you’ll find each of the below destinations linked to our New Zealand travel guides for families so you can plan further.
- Bay of Islands Family Travel Guide – islands and beaches
- Auckland Family Travel Guide – volcanoes and city life
- Rotorua Family Travel Guide – geothermal activity and Maori culture
- Waitomo Family Travel Guide – caves and glowworms
- Taupo Family Travel Guide – lake and bike trails
- Wellington Family Travel Guide – capital city vibes
- Picton Family Travel Guide – water activities
- Kaikoura Family Travel Guide – marine wildlife
- Hanmer Springs Family Travel Guide – hot pools
- Aoraki Mt Cook Family Travel Guide – mountains and glaciers
- Queenstown Family Travel Guide – adventure activities
- Milford Sound Family Travel Guide – remote wilderness
And that’s just the hotspots! We encourage you to explore other destinations in our New Zealand Family Destinations guides.
What is There to Do in New Zealand for Kids?
New Zealand has so much to do that we could barely fit it all in our 50 Best Things to Do in New Zealand with Kids! In short, you’ll find experiences in New Zealand to suit a range of interests, budgets and ages.
Families often find that the free attractions, like waterfalls, clear springs, wildlife sightings and giant limestone arches are highlights of their holiday. In between, an exhilarating jet boat ride, a cute farm park visit or an epic off-roading tour are memorable experiences worth splurging for.
Plan your New Zealand bucket list using the 20 Best Things to Do on the North Island with Kids and the 20 Best Things to Do on the South Island with Kids.
And don’t forget to browse our New Zealand Activities category listing everything there is to offer in Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand).
Family Accommodation in New Zealand
Families are welcomed to all accommodation types in New Zealand, from family rooms in budget hostels to holiday homes listed on Booking.com, Expedia and Airbnb. Here’s a quick rundown of the accommodations available for families in New Zealand.
By far the most family-friendly option in New Zealand, holiday parks have self-contained motel units, basic cabins, tent sites and powered sites for campervans, as well as communal kitchens, laundry, bathrooms and children’s playground facilities. Get tips in our Accommodation Guide to Holiday Parks in New Zealand and check out listings in our New Zealand Holiday Parks category.
Offering a more compact home-away-from-home, motels provide privacy and convenience for families with kitchens, bathrooms and at least one separate bedroom, all within one unit. Compare motels across the country using our New Zealand Motels category.
A fantastic budget option, hostels offer family rooms and private dorms with shared facilities, such as a kitchen, laundry and bathrooms. See what to expect in A Beginner’s Guide to Backpacker Hostels. Plus, Check out listings for every town in our New Zealand Hostels category.
Campsites are where you can pitch a tent or park a campervan/motorhome overnight. Find out more in our guide to Camping in New Zealand and check out listings in our New Zealand Camping category.
Enjoy entire holiday homes, locally known as “baches” all to yourselves with plenty listed on booking websites like Booking.com, Expedia and Airbnb. See our guide on Everything You Need to Know About Airbnb in New Zealand, as well as listings in our New Zealand Holiday Homes category.
Hotels are found in New Zealand’s larger cities and top tourist destinations. They follow the usual international standard with star ratings, private ensuite rooms and additional facilities like a restaurant. See hotel listings in our New Zealand Hotels category.
Do you seriously need more information than that?! Head over to our New Zealand Accommodation category and browse until your heart is content.
What to Eat on a Family Vacation in New Zealand
Stopping for food is a good way to break up the drive and, well, stay alive! There are plenty of supermarkets across New Zealand to stock up on healthy road trip snacks and groceries to make the most of the self-catering accommodation (and save a ton of money on food). Plan your food shopping budget using our guide, How Expensive is New Zealand? Plus, get advice for grocery shopping in our guide to Food Shopping in New Zealand.
If you do want to treat the family, however, you’ll find an eclectic array of eateries across New Zealand. New Zealand-style cafes and restaurants serve Westernised meals where children’s menus are almost always available. You’ll also find all sorts of international cuisine, especially Chinese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese, should you crave variety. See our array of Food Guides for New Zealand listing the best places to eat. And note that it is acceptable to bring baby food or breastfeed in restaurants.
See what are the staples of New Zealand, such as fish and chips, hangi and hokey pokey ice cream, in Where to Try Traditional New Zealand Food? and the 25 Foods You Have to Try in New Zealand.
New Zealand Family Vacation Budget: How Much Does it Cost for a Family to Travel to New Zealand?
While we can’t give you a precise family budget for New Zealand, knowing that each family has very different tastes and needs, we can provide the typical expenses associated with a family trip (after airfares). Work out your family’s budget according to your own needs by looking at the typical prices listed below or in our article, How Much Does it Cost to Travel New Zealand?
Note that children’s rates for accommodation, activities and public transport are usually half the price of adult fares.
Family Transport Costs
- National coach bus/ 4-hour trip: NZ$30-$80 adult/NZ$30-$60 child
- Car hire/ day: NZ$30-$150
- 4-person campervan hire/ day: NZ$120-$420
- Petrol/ litre (0.3 gallons): NZ$1.90-$2.50 (Check out weekly fuel price data on the MBIE website)
- Domestic flights/ one-way pp: NZ$120-$240
- Train/ one-way pp: NZ$100-$260
Family Accommodation Costs
- Family room in a hostel, motel or holiday park/ night: NZ$90-$240
- Apartment or holiday home/ night: NZ$190-$370
- Motel self-contained unit/ four people per night: NZ$150-$250
- Campervan powered site/ four people per night: NZ$50-$80
- Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite/ per night: NZ$15 adult/NZ$7.50 child (see DOC campsite passes here)
- Freedom camping with a self-contained vehicle: Free
Family Activity Costs
- Walking/hiking trails: Free
- Jetboat: NZ$80-$130 adult/NZ$50-$70 child
- Whale watching: NZ$120-$150 adult/NZ$60 child
- Cruise in Milford Sound: NZ$60-$100 adult/NZ$20-$30 child
- Rotorua geothermal park: NZ$30-$70 adult/ Free-NZ$15 child
- Horse Trekking: NZ$50-$150
- Hobbiton: NZ$80-$100 adult/Free-NZ$50 child
- Glowworm tour: NZ$50-$120
Family Food Costs
- 1 litre (35fl oz) of milk: NZ$2.40
- A dozen eggs: NZ$5.40
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of rice: NZ$2
- 500g (1.1lbs) pasta: NZ$1.20
- A loaf of sliced bread: NZ$1.20
- 1kg (2.2lbs) cheese: NZ$11
- 100g (3.5oz) dry freeze coffee: NZ$7
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of apples: NZ$5
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of bananas: NZ$3
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of tomatoes: NZ$10
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of onions: NZ$2
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of chicken: NZ$13
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of beef mince: NZ$13.
That’s all from our complete guide to planning a family vacation to New Zealand. Well done for making it this far! If you found this FREE guide to New Zealand for families useful, how about supporting what we do on Patreon? We’ll leave you with some final travel wisdom, our 31 Tips for Travelling in New Zealand.
– Happy Travels!