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Essential Travel Tips for Visiting New Zealand With Kids

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Last Updated on June 5, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

After more than two years of traveling with kids full time, New Zealand has become the most child-friendly destination in the world for us.  It’s a very strong contender for somewhere we want to live with our five kids and should absolutely be on your list for a family vacation.

We spent seven wonderful months in New Zealand exploring the North and South Islands with the kids. We can’t wait to return! We couldn’t believe the incredible scenery this country has to offer. The isolation from the rest of the world keeps New Zealand special and beautiful. As long as you can learn to drive on the left side of the road (not as easy as you might think!), you can drive this entire country and drink in the beauty.

Beautiful mountains in New Zealand

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It was just announced that New Zealand would open back to visitors from certain countries starting May this year. You will most need to be vaccinated, although there are some exceptions.

Visiting New Zealand should absolutely be on your travel bucket list. The flight is looooong, but it’s worth it. I’ve got tips for flying with babies and toddlers to help ease your way across the world.

Why New Zealand is Perfect for Families

The strong Polynesian culture of New Zealand lends to large families, lots of kids, and welcoming locals.  Depending on where you are, the country can feel a lot like the UK, but with a relaxed vibe.  It was fresh air for us with five kids after so many months in Europe.  No one was perturbed by how many kids we were towing!

The country itself offers endless outdoor play from beaches to hiking to surfing and so much more.  Kids can spend all day outdoors, wearing themselves out in incredible beauty.  The weather is quite pleasant and changes often.  If you don’t like the weather, just wait an hour or two.

The topography also changes rapidly in short distances.  Within a couple of hours of driving, you can feel like a totally different world.  This is why so many movies are filmed in NZ: you can find snow, beach, desert, rainforest, and rolling farmland within a short distance drive.

Kids’ sand surfing at the Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes

Family Travel Tips for New Zealand

You can scour my Ultimate NZ Guide for local and activity-specific information, but I want to share some broad tips on traveling to and from New Zealand.

Traveling to New Zealand

New Zealand takes effort to get to.  It’s isolated and tucked away in its little corner.  I was surprised to learn Auckland is still a four-hour flight from Australia.  Flying LAX to Auckland will eat up about 14 hours of your life. Starting September 2022, Air New Zealand will offer a flight from NZ to NYC, which will be the longest flight in the world at 18+ hours!

Flying to New Zealand is long and can be expensive.  When we traveled there, we got flights from Paris (connecting through Bangkok) for about $600 pp.

  • Remember that seasons in New Zealand are opposite to the US. The best time to visit (and the most popular) will be December- March.
  • Use layovers to your benefit!  You’ll likely have to connect somewhere to get to New Zealand.  Don’t be afraid to extend your layover to another destination of your trip.
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Trying to capture amazing New Zealand with kids in tow!

Driving in New Zealand

  • Prepare to drive on the left, first of all!
  • Plan to drive in New Zealand… a lot.  It’s a large country with two islands (North and South) and a low population density.  Things are spread out.  While you could bus travel the North and South Islands, I’d recommend a rental car for families.
  • We could long-term rent our rental car (which we had all seven months) from Auckland.  Know that there can be issues taking a rental car on the ferry between islands.  Not all companies will ferry a rental car; sometimes, you need documentation or extra insurance.
  • Brush up on NZ road laws.  For example, many bridges are one-way in NZ.  There will be marking on the road as to which direction to go first and which to always stop to look.
Invited friends for Campervanning in New Zealand

Campervanning In New Zealand with Kids

Caption: Driving in New Zealand means more exploring with kids!

Campervanning might be the best way to travel in New Zealand.  RVs are plentiful, and the country is built to support them.  We did one weekend with a campervan, which was enough for us with five kids. There are lots of campervan rentals around NZ that you can choose from! We like our Airbnb space.  However, with fewer kids and not working full-time, I think we could love campervanning too!

A little scared of campervanning with your kids? We can be in that club together! You can check on these top-rated hotels on the North and South Islands:

For some really great tips, check out my travel bestie Laura’s tips for camper travel in New Zealand.

New Zealand Road Tripping Amenities

Road driving in New Zealand feels easy.  Check out these amenities!

  • Public restrooms are never more than about an hour apart!  They are clean and often have showers.
  • Natural attractions are marked with neat brown signs.  You can take a 1-hour drive and spend a whole day exploring the “brown signs.”  I think you could live a lifetime in NZ and never explore it all.
  • Gas stations are plentiful!
  • You can “free camp” in a lot of places.  Do more research on this if you are campervanning, but it’s way nice!
  • iSites.  Make it your new best friend!  Each city in New Zealand has one of these, and they are for tourists.  You can book activities, get info, and talk to locals about how to do things.  When we hiked the Tongariro Crossing, we went to our local iSite in Turangi and booked the transportation, got information on the weather, got help with planning, and more. 

Roads in New Zealand

  • Most roads outside of Auckland are going to be two-lane highways.  Your max speed is around 50mph, and you will get tickets!  Don’t speed.  We got several from cameras or in-person.
  • Remember the biggest thing about driving in New Zealand: you are driving on the left! This does take a while to get used to, and we never felt super comfortable with it.  However, it gets a lot easier after a few days.  
  • Brush up on your roundabout right-of-way and signaling laws as well.  It’s a little intense for those who don’t drive roundabouts daily. For example, signal left if you are going left ( which would be the first exit since you are driving on the left) and signal right if you are going farther around!! Roundabouts are plentiful and efficient.

Spending Time in New Zealand with Kids

  • One thing that surprised us about New Zealand is that you feel like you are stepping back in time for a decade or two.  Auckland is the exception, but it is relatively small compared to big cities around the world.  

Everywhere else in NZ feels like the US 10-20 years ago.  We felt like we were in Utah a lot of the time: nice people, stunning outdoor beauty.

Hitting the beach in New Zealand with kids

Languages of New Zealand

  • English is the primary language, but Maori and other island languages are prevalent.  For example, you might find children’s activities in Maori at the playground.  Kids also learn Maori in school.
  • Like the UK, however, there are a few minor differences from USA English.  Here are a few things we picked up on:
    • Instead of “thank you,” they say, “It’s ok!”
    • Instead of “stapled,” expect “pinched together.”
    • Instead of “fries”, they say “chips.”
    • “Togs” means “swimsuit.”
    • “Tramping” means “hiking.”

For more fun words to expect and what they mean, check this out!

Safety in New Zealand

  • Is New Zealand safe?  Yes, very.  However, there are some thefts and small crimes.  Never leave valuables in your car.  This can especially be true at touristy destinations, parking lots of hikes, etc.  Just be as careful as you can.
  • There can also be some undercurrent of cultural differences.  When we lived in Turangi during the Covid lockdown, there were some times we certainly felt unwelcome as tourists.  However, these were stressful times, and I think, for the most part, everyone was very kind and helpful.

Booking Activities in New Zealand for Family

  • In addition to using the iSites for booking, check out this website where you can find discounts on many activities throughout New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji.
  • For some shopping fun, check out the “op-shops” or thrift stores in each town and city.  There can be some fun finds!
Different fun adventures in New Zealand for family and kids!

Best Foods to Try in New Zealand with Kids

There were not a ton of foods I felt like that was “pure NZ,” but we did like and enjoy:

  • Fresh seafood
  • Fish and chips
  • Chicken sushi (fried chicken instead of fish).  We found this at the grocery store a lot.
  • Lamb.  You’ll see lamb farms all over the country
  • Pavlova.  

Best Time of Year to Visit New Zealand with Kids

  • What time of year is best for a visit to New Zealand?  Remember that their seasons are opposite of the US.  The most popular time to visit is winter in the US, meaning November through March.
  • We spent January through July in New Zealand (their winter), and it did get cold about April. You can go skiing on the North Island. It was so strange to feel like it should be spring and see the leaves turn and fall! I felt like it should be Halloween time.
  • However, New Zealand has something to offer year-round.  You can ski in June/July or enjoy the warmth in December/January.

Important Things to Bring when Visiting New Zealand with Kids

Backpacking with kids might be a challenge (at least at first), but it’s a lifesaver when you’re able to bring all the essentials:

I hope these tips help, and we can all enjoy New Zealand again sometime soon!



✈️ Book a flight for your family to New Zealand on Booking.com, Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, or Expedia

Find affordable hotels in New Zealand from Booking.com, Expedia, or Vrbo, (we also love Tripadvisor and Hotels.com)

Discover fun family activities from GetYourGuide, Airbnb Experiences, or Viator

Need a car? Rent one on Expedia Rental Cars

✅ Get your family’s travel insurance from World Nomads

Capture your best family memories in New Zealand with a GroPro, Sony camera, or our favorite drones: DJI FPV, Air, and Mini

Check out other travel necessities from a comprehensive list of all the 7Wayfinders Travel Must-Haves. Click Here!

Additional Reading

Ultimate Guide To New Zealand: 95 INCREDIBLE Things To Do With Kids

What Food To Buy When Staying In An Airbnb With Your Family

30 Must-Have Tips for Flying With a Toddler

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