New Zealand school holiday escapes the whole family will love

The days may be cold in winter but the manaakitanga (the traditional Māori word for hospitality) is always toasty warm across Aotearoa New Zealand. There are so many amazing ways to get out and explore the country these school holidays, but we think one of the best options is a good old-fashioned road trip. It’s even more affordable for families during winter with fewer crowds and more competitive prices.

From south to north, here’s a quick guide to the best places to make school holiday memories. Remember to book your stay in each destination at

1. Take a punt on a visit to Christchurch

If you are heading past Christchurch, plan to spend at least a couple of days enjoying this resilient city that has rebuilt itself time and time again. Visitor support is vital, and there’s plenty for families to do here. Go for a punt along the Avon River (just remember to rug up!), ride the fully restored heritage trams on the City Tour Loop, head out to one of the nearby ski fields for a snow adventure or drive down to pretty Akaroa and do a dolphin cruise. These aren’t just any old dolphins, either. They’re Hector’s dolphins – reputedly the friendliest dolphins in the world!

More: Top 10 Things to do in Christchurch

Need a place to stay?

Choice Hotels offers several Christchurch accommodation options.

New Zealand winter school holiday escapes
Image courtesy of Christchurch NZ

2. Enjoy some movie magic in Wellington

New Zealand’s cosmopolitan but very relaxed capital has plenty to offer families passing through. If there are any Peter Jackson fans in the fam, they are going to love Weta Workshop. Located in Miramar in the outer suburbs of Wellington (known to locals as ‘Wellywood’), you can take a tour through the museum at this renowned special effects facility. Gawk at weaponry and armour from movies like District 9 and The Lord of the Rings trilogy and check out the prosthetics workshop where they make Hobbit feet!

Back in town, drop by Te Papa museum to give the kids some solid grounding in New Zealand culture and history. This exceptional museum is located right on the waterfront, so head to one of the many cafes nearby for a casual meal afterwards.

Related:  School Holidays NZ (Term Dates & Holiday Planner)

Need a place to stay?

Quality Hotel The Angus in Lower Hutt offers an idyllic alternative to staying in the busy heart of Wellington, and you’ll be ideally placed to continue your journey north.

New Zealand winter school holiday escapes
Weta Workshop, Wellington. Image – Alamy

3. Get the adrenalin pumping in Taupo

If you and the kids love the great outdoors, we reckon you’re going to adore Taupo. It’s known as an adventure lover’s playground. Lake Taupo is an angler’s dream, with an abundance of freshwater trout just waiting to jump on your line. There are plenty of charters and cruises that you can jump on board, as well as options like kayaking tours that will take you past local Māori rock carvings.

Nearby, you’ll find stunning Huka Falls. Go jet boating on the Waikato River at 80 kilometres-per-hour, and pay a visit to Huka Prawn Park – an aquaculture operation fed by geothermal heated water. Learn all about growing prawns, taste the produce and hang out with Shawn the Prawn (the park’s mascot!).

Need a place to stay? 

Surrounded by seven hectares of gardens, Quality Suites Huka Falls offers plenty of extra space for the family to spread out and enjoy, and you’re just a few minutes’ drive from the Taupo town centre and Huka Falls.

New Zealand winter school holiday escapes
Go jet boating on the Waikato River in Taupo. Image – Bigstock

4. Do a day trip from Auckland

Auckland is always a great getaway destination and the perfect base for a range of wildly diverse day trips. Drive to the hippie arts town and black sand beaches of Piha on the West Coast, connect the dots with those Hobbit feet on a tour down to the Hobbiton Movie Set and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, or jump on a ferry across to Waiheke Island for a day of family fun. This island is nirvana for kids and adults alike. The beaches are amazing (even for a walk along the sand in winter), and the island’s renowned wine-producing scene is tailored to family visits. You’ll find kids’ play areas and menu items at many cellar doors.

Need a place to stay?

Choice Hotels has several great Auckland hotels to choose from. West Auckland’s Quality Hotel Lincoln Green offers a leafy escape from the CBD and easy access to several top attractions – including Auckland Zoo. This is also a great option if you are continuing on to Northland.

New Zealand winter school holiday escapes
Hobbiton Movie Set. Image – Bigstock

5. Discover northern wonders from Whangarei

Located up in Northland, Whangarei is the perfect base to explore the many wonders of this region. Drive north to visit Paihia in the Bay of Islands. This gorgeous town is the jumping off point for cruises out to the Hole in the Rock. Just across the Waitangi One Way Bridge you’ll find the Waitangi Treaty Ground, where the Māori and the British Crown signed a treaty back in 1840. Explore the heritage buildings and traditional meeting house and get a close-up look at a carved ceremonial canoe.

The famous Kauri Museum at Matakohe is another of the region’s highlights. These majestic trees once covered much of the North Island. Learn about the precious kauri gum, which was traditionally used to make jewellery.

Need a place to stay?

Comfort Hotel Flames Whangarei offers a fabulous location overlooking Whangarei Harbour and adjoining rooms that are ideal for accommodating families. Relax by the open fire after a hard day of winter sightseeing!

New Zealand winter school holiday escapes
Visit the Waitangi Treaty Ground. Image – Bigstock

About the writer

Emma Castle has been writing about travel, in one way or another, for over 15 years. After the birth of her son, she moved into a freelance role and now contributes to various publications. She is also baby and toddler editor at Holidays with Kids magazine and blogs at SheGoes.