Ultimate New Zealand Family Itinerary

New Zealand — with direct daily flights from Hong Kong — is one of the best and now accessible destinations in the world for family holidays. With magnificent scenery spread across both the North and South Islands, there are countless itinerary combinations.

We’ve asked Lightfoot Travel — one of Hong Kong’s highly esteemed “tailor-made” tour operators — for their best recommendations for a two-week family holiday in this gorgeous, inspiring country.

Day 1: Hong Kong to Auckland (North Island)

The overnight flight between Hong Kong and New Zealand’s capital city of Auckland means different things to different families, but for those with young children, it usually works well as the little ones tend to conk out soon after getting on the plane.

We generally advise spending the first night or two in Auckland in order to recuperate and get over any jet lag. It’s nice to avoid layovers while you wait for domestic connecting flights, and we don’t recommend setting off on a long drive immediately after the overnight flight.

Stay: Hilton Auckland
You don’t get more central than the Hilton Auckland, and the interconnecting rooms are ideal for families. Explore the city, pop out to shops and restaurants. We suggest upgrading to a Deluxe Harbour View Room for stunning views over the waterfront.

Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island

Day 2: Day Trip to Waiheke Island (North Island)
A 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland lies the idyllic island of Waiheke, a lovely retreat with white sandy beaches, beautiful vineyards and a distinctly warm island lifestyle. Your private tour of the island will get you up close to a selection of people, places and tastes, and tours can be tailored to suit each family’s needs. Have older kids who want to swim and need to be entertained? Spend the day sailing, by the beach or testing out the island’s zip trek. Have babies or younger kids who just need space to run around? Explore the wineries and sample the island’s renowned fresh and local cuisine while the kiddies enjoy the wide open spaces.

Stay: Hilton Auckland

Rotorua
Rotorua

Day 3: Drive Auckland to Rotorua (North Island)
Pick up your rental car in the morning and embark on the on the 3-hour drive from Auckland to the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua. Even if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan, make a pit stop at the Hobbiton — kids will love seeing all the props and sets used in the films, and the visit will hopefully encourage a bit of reading afterwards! Other stops along the way include Waiotapu, where kids can learn about the unique volcanic features as families walk at their own pace along well defined tracks.

Stay: Treetops Lodge
Part of New Zealand’s collection of luxury lodges, Treetops is a wildlife sanctuary set within 800-year-old forest just 20 minutes from Rotorua. The villas are spacious and cosy, children’s menus can be arranged, and lodging is inclusive of pre-dinner drinks and dinner — great for parents in the evenings.

Day 4-5: Activities at Treetops Lodge (North Island)
For the next two days, relax at Treetops and enjoy the array of activities on offer at the lodge and around Rotorua. Think hiking, mountain biking,  fly fishing and even classes at the lodge’s own cooking school. Many of the adult activities can be tailored for children, or if parents want to head off on a heli-excursion to nearby White Island (sure to be a highlight of your holiday), the lodge provides babysitting services.

Stay: Treetops Lodge

Day 6: Fly Rotorua to Christchurch (North to South Island)
Drive back to Auckland and hop on a domestic flight to the garden city of Christchurch on the South Island’s east coast. It’s a small city with sobering reminders of the recent earthquakes, and worth spending the afternoon walking around. Pop out to local favorite Strawberry Fare for dinner and make sure to sample their trio of deserts — pretty life changing!

Stay: Hotel Montreal
A superb boutique hotel near the city center and close to the park, Hotel Montreal has comfortable family suites featuring twin beds for the kids and spacious living areas.

Christchurch Driving
Christchurch Driving

Day 7: Drive Christchurch to Kaikoura (South Island)
Pick up your rental car in the morning and head up the east coast to the town of Kaikoura, approximately 2.5 hours away. The road follows the Coastal Pacific railway line and is one of the most scenic drives in the country. After checking into your accommodation for the evening, spend the afternoon relaxing poolside soaking up the stunning mountain views.

Kaikoura - Hapuku Lodge
Kaikoura – Hapuku Lodge

Stay: Hapuku Lodge
You will find the drive well worth it upon arrival at Hapuku Lodge. The treehouse villas are great for older kids, who find it quite exciting to be perched high above the ground and in a separate space to parents who enjoy the master suite above. Get up early and take the kids to pick fresh eggs straight from the chicken coup, visit the herd of deer that live right on the property, or simply kick back and enjoy the views with a good book. An added perk? 80% of the food is sourced directly from the land, and dinner will be one of the best meals of your trip.

Kaikoura
Kaikoura

Day 8: Whale Watching Scenic Flight & Swimming with Dolphins (South Island)
People come to Kaikoura for the wildlife — and the thrilling activities. Start the morning soaring over the sea in a fixed wing plane, suitable for kids of all ages and bound to be a hit. See who spots the first whale or dolphin pod, then dip down to circle overhead so everyone can get an up close view.

In the afternoon, get kitted out in wetsuits, flippers and snorkels, and set sail in search of dolphin pods. Once a pod is spotted, all passengers jump into the sea to witness them swimming just below — definitely a bucket list activity. (Suitable for kids over the age of 10 only).

Stay: Hapuku Lodge

Nelson - Bronte Country Estate
Nelson – Bronte Country Estate

Day 9: Kaikoura to Nelson (South Island)
Drive further up the coast to the northernmost tip of the South Island to the town of Nelson, the sunniest spot in all of New Zealand. Break up the journey by stretching your legs at Ohau Point, walking ten minutes along a forested trail to see the colony of fur seal pups splashing about in a waterfall pool.

Stay: Bronte Country Estate
Te Koi Villa at Bronte features two bedrooms, a sizeable kitchen and beautiful outdoor terrace overlooking the Waimea Estuary. It’s conveniently situated for day trips into the Abel Tasman National Park, and there are some great restaurants within an easy drive.

Nelson - Abel Tasman National Park
Nelson – Abel Tasman National Park

Day 10: Day Trip to Abel Tasman National Park (South Island)
Nelson is all about the Abel Tasman National Park, with its long stretch of coastline full of beaches, walking trails and coves full of marine life. Jump onboard a cruise, which are fully flexible and tailored to suit each family’s needs — just tell the skipper what you’d like to see, and he’ll do his best to accommodate. Swim, sea kayak, head ashore for a bush walk, or just relax on the boat while your lunch is prepared. Meals are always delicious and cooked with the freshest local ingredients — cheese and fruits, soup with freshly picked mushrooms, and of course, local beers and wine for the parents.

Stay: Bronte Country Estate

Day 11: Fly Nelson to Queenstown (South Island)
Fly south to the adventure capital of Queenstown. The city is situated on picturesque Lake Wakapitu, and even if you’ve viewed pictures beforehand, seeing it in person will still take your breath away.

Stay: The Rees Hotel and Luxury Apartments
The Reese is a short drive or 30-minute walk from Queenstown center, and there is also a jetty right in front of the property making the 5-minute journey by water taxi very convenient. Set right on Lake Wakapitu, the uninterrupted views are some of the best we’ve seen. Its 2 or 3-bedroom apartments are great for families, and it provides fantastic value for money.

Queenstown
Queenstown

Day 12: Milford Sound
Welcome to fiord country! Deep within Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound features waterfalls, dramatic cliffs, lush forests and diverse underwater life. Depending on the ages of your children, opt for either a full day scenic flight and boat cruise, or a shorter helicopter ride that can include a snow landing. The epic landscapes that unfold beneath you are often what people envision when they picture a holiday to New Zealand, and it’s often a holiday highlight.

Stay: The Reese

Day 13: Mt. Nicholas High Country Farm or Dart River Adventure in Glenorchy
Pick your excursions based on the ages and needs of your children. Little ones will probably prefer a sail across Lake Wakapitu to Mt Nicholas High Country Farm, to witness sheep dogs in action as well as sheep sheering demonstrations. It’s a lovely morning or afternoon out, and so different from anything we’d ever see in Hong Kong!

Older kids may prefer driving down to nearby Glenorchy (also prime Lord of the Rings country) and taking an exhilarating jet boat ride down the scenic Dart River. The landscapes you will go through are so pristine, they have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Stay: The Rees

Day 14: Day at Leisure in Queenstown
While in Queenstown, definitely set a day or two aside to just sit back, enjoy the views from your property and explore the little town. While the shopping isn’t anything to write home about, you can’t go home without a tin of Manuka Honey or two, and the Lululemon store (and it’s cheaper-than-Hong Kong pricing) somewhat acts as a magnet. No trip to Queenstown is complete without a meal or two at Ferg Burger, a homegrown restaurant that serves up the best burgers we’ve had in our lives -– no exaggeration. How they manage to pack the patty, cheese, aioli, tomato sauce and onions in without it all spilling out is beyond us, and the final product is nothing short of addictive. Go at off peak times to avoid the queues, don’t skimp on the fries, and treat the kids to a “hokey pokey” gelato milkshake — you will definitely earn brownie points for that one.

Stay: The Rees

Day 15: Queenstown to Hong Kong
All holidays must sadly come to an end so, take a domestic flight back to Auckland in time for your onward flight back to Hong Kong.

New Zealand Travel Tips:

  • Always schedule helicopter or scenic flight journeys on your first day.
    Flights are weather dependent, and if your excursion is cancelled we will do our best to put you on another flight later that day if the weather clears up, or on following days.
  • Domestic flights are not a bad thing! Flying in New Zealand is like going back in time — tiny terminals, minimal security checks and the most laidback staff you’ve ever seen in an airport. Turn up an hour before your flight, stroll onto the tarmac 20 minutes before departure, and enjoy the fun experience of being on a small plane! If a 30-minute flight will spare your toddlers a 5-hour drive, opt for the flight.
  • That said, don’t be deterred by driving.  Driving is for many, one of the best things about holidaying in New Zealand. Perhaps even more so when you live in the concrete jungle that is Hong Kong. A 3-hour drive goes by quickly when you’ve got beaches, salmon farms, fruit markets and cafes to stop at, and the scenery you drive through is truly stunning.
  • Pick and choose your accommodation carefully.  If you don’t have the budget for luxury lodges the whole way, save by staying at more modest hotels in places where you know you’ll be out and about for much of the day. Then splurge on an epic property when you know you’ll have plenty of time to sit back and enjoy it.

Lightfoot Travel is a Hong Kong-based luxury tour operator specializing in tailor-made family holidays to destinations around the world. Above is a sample itinerary to New Zealand, but each holiday is fully flexible based on guest’s preferences. Call +852 2815 0068 or visit lightfoottravel.com to speak to a New Zealand specialist and start planning your holiday today.

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