The Coromandel Peninsula
Located 2 hours southeast of Auckland City, The Coromandel is known for stunning, white sand beaches including Cathedral Cove and the famous Hot Water Beach, where underground hot springs allow visitors to dig their own hot tub in the sand. Ideal for children, you can take a 50-minute ride on a toy train, pan for gold, rent kayaks, fish, swim with dolphins or hike over miles of trails. Keep in mind, it’s crowded in the summer. Accessible by car – take Highway 1 South to Highway 2 East, then follow Highway 25 east to the Coromandel Peninsula.
Travel down Highway 1 to Hamilton, head west toward the Tasman Sea and you’ll wind up in Raglan, an artsy/craftsy surf town located about 2 hours southwest of Auckland. The town is quiet and laid back, without many children’s activities beyond building sand castles and playing in the waves. However, about a half hour further south on Highway 1 are the Waitomo Caves, where you can travel by guided boat down an underground river and witness the spectacle of thousands of green, glowing glowworms. Other activities include absailing and blackwater rafting.
Less than three hours south of Auckland is New Zealand’s most “touristy” town as well as a center of Maori culture. Rotorua is located in the middle of New Zealand’s volcanic zone, and is a veritable wonderland of geysers, mud pools and natural hot springs, along with beautiful Lake Rotorua. It’s also a destination for adventure sports, with activities including bungy jumping, “luging” down a mountainside, “zorbing” in a giant plastic ball, jet boating and more. Plenty to do for everyone. Look out for the sulphur smell. Best reached by car – follow Highway 1 South to Highway 5. There is also a small airport.
Lake Taupo/Tongariro National Park
New Zealand’s largest lake is a favorite vacation destination, with beautiful scenery, adventure sports like skydiving and bungy jumping and geothermal wonders. Water sports like sailing and waterskiing are popular, and Taupo is an internationally renowned fishing destination famous for rainbow trout. Just to the southwest, Tongariro National Park is popular with hikers in the summer and skiers in the winter. An easy, 4-hour drive straight down Highway 1 from Auckland.
The Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is a subtropical paradise in the far north of New Zealand. The two main centres for exploring this region are Paihia and Russell. Paihia is more activities based and is very tourist focused with a lot of hotels, beach activities and boat trips, plus just to the north of the town is Waitangi, a location of great historical relevance to New Zealand. Russell is more olde worlde with quaint cafes and old churches, however, even though Russell is now a quiet and civilised town, it used to have a reputation as a very rough place indeed; the Tortuga of the South Pacific. If you want to swim with dolphins, see astounding scenery that takes your breath away, parasail, sail, take jet boat rides, view waterfalls and many more wonderful days out, then you need to head up to the Bay of Islands.
New Zealand’s capital city is just a 1-hour plane ride (or a 10-hour car trip) away. Wellington is packed with museums and galleries, including the amazing, interactive Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. Wellington also boasts a cable car, botanical gardens, Parliament, beaches, cafes, shops, and far more activities that you can possibly tackle in a weekend. But it’s fun to try. Located at the very south end of the North Island – ideal for families.