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Make midwinter school holidays extra-special with some family bonding that embraces travel, adventure and fun. Some of these ideas could already be on your ‘must-do-one-day’ list; others involve places and pursuits you might not have thought about.
- Climb a lighthouse at Awhitu Peninsula.
Lighthouses are cool to look at, but they’re even better when you can explore from the inside out. The restored Manukau Heads Lighthouse at the tip of Awhitu Peninsula is open from 9am to 5pm daily. There’s no charge for admission (but a donation is appreciated) and you can climb right to the top!
- Dig a spa pool at Hot Water Beach, Coromandel.
New Zealand’s lull in international tourism is an ideal opportunity to visit Hot Water Beach for a dig-your-own-spa experience. Aim for two hours either side of low tide and bring a spade. Soon you’ll all be soaking in a free hot tub, courtesy of local geothermal activity.
- See the world at Hamilton Gardens.
Kids can learn about plants and other cultures with fresh air fun at Hamilton Gardens. Visit the Indian Char Bagh Garden, Italian Renaissance Garden, Japanese Garden of Contemplation, Chinese Scholar’s Garden and English Flower Garden. There’s also a traditional Maori productive garden Te Parapara.
- Watch birds at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari.
A day in a predator-fenced sanctuary gives kids an appreciation for New Zealand’s unique birds. Just south of Cambridge, Sanctuary Mountain Mangatautari is a huge 3400-hectare reserve – one of the largest pest-proofed projects in the world. It has a track network for exploring.
- Walk the Redwood Forest at night.
Rotorua’s Redwood Forest is much more than a series of hiking and biking trails. There’s a daytime treewalk suspended above the forest floor; an altitude walk that goes even higher; and a nightlights experience involving swing bridges, tree-platforms and coloured lanterns that make the forest twinkle with magic.
- Hike to the hoodoos at Putangirua Pinnacles.
Who knew there are hoodoos in New Zealand? These nature-made towers of rock and sand look like something from a fantasy movie and they’re free to see. You’ll find the Putangirua Pinnacles Scenic Reserve on the Cape Palliser coastline in the South Wairarapa district. This valley of hoodoos was used as a filming location for the 'Paths of the Dead' scene in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King movie.
- Catch the cable car to Zealandia.
From the top of the cable car route in Wellington you can walk to Zealandia, a predator-free sanctuary for some of our rarest native species, including little spotted kiwi, kākā, kereru, tīeke, hihi and the prehistoric tuatara. The birds at Zealandia are famously friendly, so you can do some great nature photography here.
- Ride the trails at Kaiteriteri Mountain Bike Track.
At Kaiteriteri near Nelson, your family can take a biking obsession to new heights. The local bike park has 14 trails for riders of most ages and stages. To mention just a few, the famous Corkscrew comes with a massive coastal panorama, Glade Runner is a super-pretty forest trail and Flamin’Nora is pure exhilaration for experts.
- Zip from hill to hill at Christchurch Adventure Park.
Whizzing through the air above a forest with scenery in every direction is the new way to do sightseeing. For school-age kids who weigh 27kg or more, ziplining is up there with snowboarding (but much less expensive). Christchurch Adventure Park has four ziplines that will easily occupy half a day.
- Stargazing at Mount John.
The Mackenzie region, west of Christchurch, is an official Dark Sky Reserve - one of only eight in the world. Take a scientific approach to stargazing with a trip to Mount John Observatory, where real astronomers will show you the galaxies with huge telescopes. Or keep the event totally relaxing by gazing upward from the hot pools at Tekapo Springs.