A guide to Lord of the Rings country

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The land of adventure. A paradise for thrill seekers. A Lord of the Rings pilgrimage. These are all descriptions that suit New Zealand from its crazy bungee jumping to its tours of Middle Earth. But what about New Zealand as a family friendly destination?

We packed our two daughters, ages 6 and 4, and decided to investigate. And I don’t mean booking a resort and chilling out at a kids’ club. We booked a flight, a car and little else, and travelled through the North Island from Auckland to Wellington, and round the South Island in a loop.

The conclusion of this completely selfless experiment is summarised below.


Being an adventurous family, we’ve travelled quite extensively. In my quest for adventure, I had almost forgotten that some countries are well-kempt, well-organised, lawful and therefore safe. That’s not to say crime doesn’t exist, but there aren’t many no-go places, or advice to heed above common sense. That said, the wild countryside can be dangerous, so make sure you plan and have the right kit.


I’ve often ranted about family holiday accommodation: the hotels that say there aren’t any interconnecting rooms after you’ve called to check three times; the hotels that refuse to let more than one child in the room but leave few options; the overpriced babysitting service that leaves you eating room service in the dark while your children sleep. New Zealand is refreshing. There are plenty of good motels offering spacious accommodation with great facilities that don’t cost an arm and a leg.

The natural world

With jaw-dropping scenery and mesmerising vistas, kids from 0 to 99 will find themselves awe-inspired. We loved exploring Coromandel’s beaches with bubbling hot springs, where you can dig your own spa; the smelly bubbles of Rotorua’s thermal pools, where steam also leaks out of cracks in the pavement; watching whales at Kaikoura gracefully flick their tales before diving into the deep; snow-capped mountains sliding into clear blue waters at Queenstown; helicopter rides to the top of Franz Josef Glacier; treetop walks on the west coast; driftwood beaches at Hokitika.

And if that leaves you exhausted, try afternoon tea or fish and chips besides the lake at Wanaka.

It’s safe, beautiful and amazingly diverse.

Top tips

Take warm clothes and a raincoat. The weather can change quickly.

There are no superfast highways, so relax and enjoy the scenery. And don’t speed. The road might be empty, but the police are vigilant.

Most activities can be adapted to even the youngest of children. Our four-year-old wasn’t much help in a canoe, but she enjoyed being paddled around.


Helen McClure is the journalist behind Expat Explorers (www.expatexplorers.org), a travel and expat website offering free independent insights, ideas and inspiration.