A holiday in New Zealand ticks all the boxes for natural beauty and exciting kid friendly adventure no matter the age group. For us a trip to New Zealand's South Island was the perfect solution for travelling with a toddler and we took in all the things to do in Queenstown, Wanaka and Milford Sound. A holiday to New Zealand means all the necessities and comforts that make travelling with an infant easy were at hand, without sacrificing on gorgeous scenery, tasty dining options and fun activities for the whole family.
We visited Queenstown in January and had prepared for a warm sunny break in NZ so the first travel tip for South Island NZ is to be packed and ready for any type of weather. Our plane landed in a snowstorm and for most of the twelve days of travel we had jackets and long pants on and off. It can be a pretty chilly place even in the depths of their summer.
Getting there and getting about
Queenstown can be reached via a direct flight from most Australian east coast cities and the descent into Queenstown airport gives you a wonderful view before you even touch down. Once on NZ soil I do recommend hiring a car to get the most out of your trip and to ensure travelling with babies and infants is a seamless experience. Road tripping New Zealand, particularly the South Island is the only way to be able to take in the sheer beauty of the country and also means you can take as many stops as you like to keep kids happy and active.
At the time of travelling Europcar rentals included infant restraints free of charge, saving us the hassle of travelling with our own. Worth checking this out in your options when looking for a car hire.
Driving in New Zealand is really as easy as overseas driving gets. Roads and rules are almost identical to what Australians are used to at home and navigating your way around is very straight forward with most drives on open country roads. The hardest part is keeping your eyes on the road instead of the amazing scenery.
Queenstown Accommodation - best places to stay in Queenstown and Wanaka
Being a big resort area in both winter and summer this region of New Zealand has a huge amount of high quality family accommodation and the two apartments we booked for our trip were truly spectacular and impossible to fault.
We started our trip in Wanaka, a pretty one hour drive north of Queenstown airport. Here we had booked in to the Mercure Oakridge resort where we really did get spoilt. Our apartment had the most pristine views out across the mountain ranges.
Click here to get the latest prices for the Mercure Oakridge.
If you stay at this hotel with young kids its a great idea to request a ground floor apartment as they have wide bay windows and doors that open up to sprawling green lawns for your kids to run and play to their hearts content. Kids and adults alike will love the heated pool, restaurant, gym and day spa. Our daughter also loved visiting the horses across the street from reception who were very friendly and would trot over for a pat each morning.
Heading back to Queenstown we found ourselves in an even better apartment complex at the Mantra Marina. These apartments are located a short drive from the centre of Queenstown which is not a problem if you have a car, and means you can enjoy the peace and quiet of the lake frontage this hotel occupies. The Mantra Marina self catering apartments are hugely spacious and very comfortable with again, amazing views this time directly over Lake Wakatipu and across to the Remarkables Mountain range. It is a pretty spot to take a leisurely walk or to hire a bike for a loop round the lake.
Of course there are loads of apartments and hotels in this region so search below to find what you love.
Places to eat in Queenstown
One thing that concerned me initially about a trip to New Zealand was that perhaps the lack of culture difference from Australia would make me feel like I am not really on an overseas holiday.... I always love the thrill of being somewhere completely different to home. What was great about Queenstown though is that it was such a lively and energy filled town. It has a vibe that just feels 'cool' with loads of active people and plenty of interesting restaurants, cafes and bars adding to the holiday atmosphere. The laid back feel and the huge array of places to eat some fantastic fresh food was a pleasant surprise. Stress less for families too as there are heaps of casual options to feed the young ones and still allow mum and dad to feel like they are out and about as part of the 'scene'.
For a casual bite to eat I recommend Fergbaker which is a renowned hot spot and often has lines out the door. Great pies, pastries, sweets and burgers to satisfy all taste buds.
Feel like a tummy filling opportunity with a view? Dinner at the Skyline Stratosphere restaurant is highly recommended. Enjoy the spectacular view and setting sun as you feast on a buffet of delicious food. Very children friendly (at the time we were there you could choose an early dining time which was mostly groups of families) and loads of food options to keep even the youngest kids happy.
If you are away on a longer trip and feel like self catering there are several large supermarkets in Queenstown and shopping for baby or infant supplies are at your fingertips as well.
10 amazing things to do with kids - Queenstown Activities
A trip to Queenstown is the ultimate of indulgence for those who love the outdoors, and kids will love the adrenaline charge of getting active in the beautiful mountains. Pack your gear ready to explore cause this place is designed for adventure and sightseeing. It's basically like a giant choose your own adventure story book.
So what are the must dos for families visiting Queenstown?
Note our visit to Queenstown was in the summertime so doesn't mention the obvious snow activities that you would find in winter.
1. Haast Pass - scenic drive day trip
Hire yourself a car and hit the road cause the region around Queenstown has some seriously beautiful drives, hikes and places to see and the drive north-west to Haast was a fabulous day trip. We opted to stay in Wanaka a few days but if you base yourself out of Queenstown then a side trip to Wanaka is also worth the effort. It's a picture postcard alpine village with some lovely walks and cool ski resort style shopping and eateries.
Continuing north past Lake Wanaka and you will be en-route through the Haast Pass which is often ranked amongst the most beautiful drives in New Zealand. What makes this drive particularly wonderful with kids is that there are heaps of short hikes directly from the roadside that are easy and fun for kids. We stopped for a picnic on the pebbles at Fantail Falls and the Blue Pool hike was really quite spectacular and entertaining for kids with some cool suspension bridges over the river.
If you have a mountain buggy style pram then all of these hikes are also possible with an infant pushed along for the ride.
Once you reach Haast the mountainous landscape of the Mt Aspiring National park opens up to awesome views across the river mouth and out to the beach. Despite being here in the summer school holidays there were very few people about which gives a real untouched wilderness feel to the whole day.
On the return journey back into Queenstown I highly recommend taking the slower but more scenic drive over the Crown Range road. Just don't look down if you don't like heights as you wind round some of the highest bends...
2. Milford Sound
A trip to NZs South Island is not complete without visiting the majestic Milford Sound. For family visits it's worth driving to Te Anau the day before your visit so that you can book onto the earliest boat tour of the day. Being such a huge tourist drawcard the Sound can get really busy so it is nice to enjoy the peace and beauty of the place early in the day and without the crowds.
If you are short on time however you can definitely take a full day tour from Queenstown to visit Milford Sound as well.
We chose to tour Milford Sound with Southern Discoveries and really enjoyed their trip. The boat was large and spacious with plenty of room for kids to run and play and they will love the thrill of donning the rain jacket and getting wet under the spray of the waterfalls.
If you opt for an early morning tour this means you have the rest of the day to leisurely explore the rest of the National Park... and generally without the hoards of crowds as their buses are heading toward their boat trips!
Stock up on food and drinks in Te Anau as there are limited services and don't forget to pack the wet weather gear as this region has high rainfall.
If you feel like travelling to see Milford Sound in supreme style consider a helicopter tour to the region.
3. Skyline Gondola and Luge
I have already mentioned the Skyline restaurant but for some hearty fun (and competition) take the kids to the top of Queenstown and then race each other to the bottom of the luge track. Mountain biking is huge as well in Queenstown so teenagers can fall in love with the adrenaline of the downhill trails from the top of the skyline.
Love hiking? New Zealand may well end up being your absolute favourite place to visit. There are so many options to choose, from simple flat walks around Lake Wakatipu or warm the muscles up a little more by hitting the steep climbs through the Remarkables or Haast Pass. Check out the New Zealand tourism website for lots of great hiking ideas...
At the time of travel we had an 18 month old so definitely still relied on a pram. Do yourself a favour and invest in a quality off-road style buggy and you can take the little ones everywhere you want go! Who needs to be restricted travelling with kids. A lot of the trails we covered were on wide fire trails and with just a little sweat and effort climbing some steep sections there werent many places we couldnt go.
5. Bike Riding
The Queenstown region is a paradise for cyclists whether it be mountain biking, road cycling or just casual family pedals around the lake. There are loads of places that hire bikes and it is a fun and easy way to sightsee with kids.
Cause we were staying on the lakeshore a little out of town we rode into Queenstown a couple of times along the water and then relaxed at a park or cafe to recharge before making our way back to our apartment.
If you are travelling with teenagers make sure you check out the more than 30 kilometres of mountain biking trails at Queenstown bike park.
6. Kawarau Bridge Bungy
So I am way too chicken to take on bungy but it doesn't mean it isn't fun to watch all the other crazy people launch themselves from the Kawarau bridge platform into the rocky gorge. It is the birthplace of bungee after all!
7. Shotover Jet Boating
If your kids are taller than 1 metre and up for a thrill then a ride on the shotover jet boats is sure to please. Weaving through the river canyon is a test of precision for the driver and an even bigger test of courage for passengers.
8. Horse Riding
What better way to take in the splendour of New Zealand than on horseback. Contacting Ben Lomond Horse Treks (http://www.nzhorsetreks.co.nz/) will get you saddled up and ready for some fun and all only 15 minutes from Queenstown. I was lucky enough to be the only guest on the day I rode so meant we could do plenty of cantering and trotting as well as taking in the cool views as we walked in the higher part of the mountains. A really beautiful spot to go horse riding!
Another activity that starts from the top of the Skyline Gondola at Bob's Peak are the eco friendly zipline tours - a definite winner for both kids and adults. Featuring the steepest and fastest ziplines in the World (www.ziptrek.co.nz) this tour was really professionally run and heaps of fun and although my daughter was too young at the time this would be a must do if we make it back with the kids when they are older.
For more amazing outdoorsy and natural attractions in New Zealand I recommend checking out Lady and the Tramper's article on Where to go in New Zealand.
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