Fun for the family: NZ’s best North Island attractions

people boating in Waitomo Caves, looking at glow worms

Zoe Macfarlane

Posted April 11, 2022

Whether you and your family enjoy exploring natural wonders, playful immersive experiences or heart-racing adventures, there’s an activity on the North Island to match. 

Planning a trip to New Zealand’s North Island is fun; figuring out how to keep the whole family entertained, less so. Thankfully, this handy guide will help you weave family-friendly activities throughout your North Island itinerary with ease.

Best family activities to do in New Zealand's North Island

Sandboarding, Cape Reinga

A trip to New Zealand’s northernmost point is always fun, but add in sandboarding, and it’s a guaranteed good time for all. Te Paki is home to 10 sq km of towering dunes that are beautiful to look at, and way more fun to slide down. Of course, you’ll need to walk to the top before racing down in your rented sandboard or sledge. Still, the panoramic views across the sweeping dunes and across to picturesque Ninety Mile Beach make it worth it. 

Te Paki is only 15 km south of Cape Reinga and its iconic lighthouse. Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) is the meeting point of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It’s a place of great spiritual significance for Māori. 

While you’re here, visit Ninety Mile Beach, the Bay of Islands, and camp at Tapotupotu Bay.


young man holding a sandboard on dunes

Sandboarding is a guaranteed good time for all. Image: Shutterstock

World’s Largest Kauri Tree, Waipoua Forest

New Zealand is well-known for its breathtaking scenery and remarkable natural wonders. With 78% of Aotearoa uninhabited, there's so much to explore across the country’s great outdoors.

A popular destination suitable for the whole family is a trip to Tāne Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest living kauri tree. The Lord of the Forest is around 1,250-2,500 years old, towers 51 metres high, and its trunk measures more than 13 metres. If the whole clan links arms, maybe you’ll manage a group hug around Tāne Mahuta!

Find Tāne Mahuta (and other giant kauri trees) in the ancient subtropical Waipoua Forest, 65 km from Dargaville. Witness the forest come alive on a dusk tour with Footprints Waipoua while learning the Māori myths and legends connected to Tāne Mahuta. 

While you’re here, visit Dargaville Rail Tours, the Kumara Box, and Ripiro Beach.

largest tree in the world

The Lord of the Forest is the largest tree in the world. Image: Shutterstock

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel

Forget overly chlorinated pools and expensive day spas; why not dig your own hot tub? 

At Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel, you can do just that as geothermal waters sit below the sand. At low tide, visitors descend on the beach, armed with a spade, ready to dig their way to relaxation. Rent your spade at the nearby surf shop. The natural hot water can get a tad scolding, so build your DIY Jacuzzi close to the waves for the perfect blend of temperatures.

While you’re here, visit Cathedral Cove, Hahei, and the Driving Creek Railway. 

pretty beach cliff landscape

Cathedral Cove is both stunning and peaceful. Image: Matt Crawford

Weta Workshop, Auckland

It’s not often you get an opportunity to go backstage on a movie set. While Weta Workshop Unleashed isn’t giving you access to a live film, per se, it’s close enough. This immersive experience places visitors smack-bang in the middle of a movie scene as if it’s being shot right now. It’s a creative endeavour from the special effect geniuses that contributed to the Lord of the Rings franchise. 

Based on three movie concepts, you’re guided through everything Weta does to produce special effects for fantasy, sci-fi, and horror movies. It’s a great day out for all ages. 

While you’re here, visit Auckland MuseumRangitoto Island, and Kelly Tarltons Aquarium.

Hobbiton, Matamata

Head to Middle Earth, otherwise known as Matamata, home of Hobbiton. Visiting sights from the Lord of the Rings movies is a New Zealand tourism rite of passage, with ‘The Shire’ being the most famous location of them all. 

The iconic pint-sized Hobbit holes are still in situ across the undulating farmland where this iconic Kiwi movie was made. During your guided tour, you’ll learn all the spell-binding Hobbiton tales and visit the Green Dragon Inn, the mill, and the Party Tree. Hobbiton offers a quaint, picture-perfect attraction to wow the family. 

While you’re here, visit Rotorua, Raglan, and the Blue Springs.

A hobbit-hole in Hobbiton, Matamata. Image: Sara Orme
Hobbiton is located in The Shire in popular fantasy series "The Lord of the Rings". Image: Sara Orme
Looking into Hobbiton from inside a hobbit-hole. Image: Sara Orme

Glow worms, Waitomo Caves

Tubing through a labyrinth of caves lit by thousands of bioluminescent glow worms is as magical as it is fun. Ruakuri Cave is a vast underground two-level network. Stay dry as you walk the upper cave amid the limestone formations that the Arachnocampa Luminosa glow worms (it’s endemic to New Zealand) call home.

Book a cruisy boat tour for a leisurely exploration of the lower cave. For a more adrenaline-filled adventure, go black water rafting. Aside from the highly unfashionable wetsuit attire, this is a thrilling way to experience the cave and glow worms up close. Float, climb, jump, and swim the Ruakuri Cave network on a fascinating 3-hour tour. 

While you’re here, visit Hamilton Gardens, Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland, and Kiwi House.

people boating in a glow worm cave

Waitomo Caves host one of the best glow worm colonies in the world. Image: Shaun Jefferson

ZEALANDIA, Wellington

Discover New Zealand’s native animals and birds at ZEALANDIA, the world’s first urban ecosanctuary. Wander 32km of tracks through the lush regenerating forest to spy the rare avian species, reptiles, and invertebrates that call the sanctuary home. 

Opt for a general admission ticket, or get the low-down on the kākāriki, tuatara, takahē and more on the 2-hour guided day, twilight, night, or – if you’re game – dawn tours. The night tour is a firm favourite, with thousands of glow worms on display and 150 kiwi birds wandering the forest.

While you’re here, visit Te Papa Museum, The Pinnacles, and take a coastal tour.

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