10 Bucket List Family Adventures in New Zealand

It's not all about bungee jumping. New Zealand has a lot of soft thrills for the whole family, from zip-lining to rafting and more.

Photo By: Tourism New Zealand

Photo By: Visiti Rotorua

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Visit Rotorua

Photo By: Tourism New Zealand

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Visit Rotorua

Cruise Through a Glowworm Cave

If you’ve never seen bioluminescent activity, put it on your bucket list. It’s something even teens will have to admit is cool. The natural phenomenon occurs in species all over the world, but in New Zealand there’s an abundance of glowworms. For a spectacular show, head to Waitomo Glowworm Caves to cruise in a boat through caverns lit up with bright greens and blues. Heads up: there are brief moments of total cave darkness on the tour, so, if your little one is afraid of the dark and you want to sit it out, the cave’s restaurant has a gorgeous patio tucked into the forest.

See Pohutu Geyser

"Pohutu" means constant splashing in the native Māori language and, true to name, Pohutu Geyser is the largest, most active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere. The most beautiful views are at dusk when the geyser steam mixes with the cool blues and purples of the fading sky. To watch, head to the Te Puia cultural center where you can sit on geothermal-heated rocks while sipping hot cocoa made with New Zealand chocolate.

Walk Through the Redwoods

Explore a forest with soaring, 100-year-old redwoods at Redwoods Treewalk. The eco-friendly suspension bridges and observation decks give guests incredible views of the forest and tree canopy. Got little ones? The tour has special strollers for navigating the course. Even infants are welcome.

Raft Down a Waterfall

The family that rafts together, stays together. Although when going down the Kaituna River with Rotorua Rafting, there’s always a gamble on who gets thrown out! If your family loves active adventure, there’s no better activity in New Zealand. When you raft, you have to work as a team. Every position in the boat has a specific role. It’s a great way for families to work together. Plus, going down the largest commercially-rafted waterfall in the world will definitely be a lasting memory. No previous experience is required and kids as old as 10 can raft the Grade 3 half trip. Kids 13 and older can raft the full Grade 5.

See the Little Blue Penguins

While the star of the show at The Royal Albatross Centre is the namesake, the center also offers a nighttime program with the cutest animal on the plant. At twilight, you make your way down to a viewing platform overlooking Pilots Beach on the Otago Peninsula. And then you wait for the "rafts." These groups of Little Blue Penguins emerge on the water’s surface and slowly make their way to the beach. Then, the pearly blue penguins waddle up the sand to their babies. You have to remain silent the entire time so as not to scare them so this activity may not be good for little kiddos but older kids, teens and even octogenarians will appreciate the magic of seeing the Little Blue Penguin.

Take a Wildlife Cruise

Dunedin is known as the wildlife capital of New Zealand and you can’t visit the South Island town without taking a wildlife cruise. Monarch Wildlife Cruises and Tours offers 90-minute family-friendly cruises around the Otago Harbor where cruisers might see New Zealand Fur Seals, penguins, dolphins or the massive Royal Albatross.

Ride the Scenic Taieri Gorge Railway

If you’re on the South Island, the Scenic Taieri Gorge Railway is a must. The steep bridges, narrow gorge and dark mountain tunnels are thrilling, and the wildflower speckled hills are stunning. Plus, the historic train cars come with tables perfect for impromptu UNO games with the family. If you have teens who love to Instagram, give yourself a little time before the ride to explore the beautifully-tiled train station in Dunedin.

Take a Street Art Tour

"Historic walking tour" might sound like a death sentence for teenagers, but in Dunedin, the most popular walking tour is all about street art, which teens will love it because they can Instagram the whole thing. The South Island city’s mural program has created a vibrant downtown with funky art everywhere you turn. For the best experience, you need to walk the city with Victoria Gilliand AKA Street Kiwi. Gilliand’s two-hour walking tour covers Dunedin’s giant murals and hidden graffiti. She’s incredibly passionate about street art, and you’ll learn so much about the different styles of graffiti, from stenciling to yarn bombing.

Cycle Through Orc Country

For incredible landscapes, including rocky hills featured in The Lord of the Rings, check out the Otago Central Rail Trail outside of Middlemarch. This nature reserve is great for cycling, and you can rent an E-bike from Cycle Surgery to cruise the rail trail with ease. The special pedal-assist power does all the work, allowing you to take in the sights without breaking a sweat. It’s also a great option for seniors who want to cycle without getting their heart rate up.

Take an Eco Zip Line

Get a bird's-eye view of one of the only intact, native ecosystems in New Zealand with eco-tour group Rotorua Canopy Tours. Part adventure, part educational tour, the low-impact, eco zip-lines allow guests to soar above 1,000-year-old trees in Dansey Road Scenic Reserve without causing damage. The three-hour tour includes hiking, navigating suspension bridges, zipping down long, thrilling lines and learning about New Zealand’s native species. Children may get to meet and feed extremely friendly and curious North Island Robins along the way.

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