School holidays can be great fun – a chance for families to reconnect and enjoy some down-time after a busy term, but they’re not without challenges.
How you feel about the next two school-free weeks probably depends on your situation, energy level, and the amount of juggling required to make it all work, but take heart: there are plenty of activities to keep the kids and adults happy. Planning, of course, helps. As does finding things your kids will love.
Libraries, galleries and museums tend to pull out all the stops in the holidays, offering a range of activities including free and low-cost options. Mining city council and tourism websites for ideas is also useful – most have must-see lists and activity tips. Christchurch residents are especially lucky to have KidsFest bringing a wealth of holiday fun.
One way to tackle the holidays is to think about what gets your kids excited, then tailor activities to their interests: take creative kids to a print-making class; active kids to an acrobatic lesson; and your budding biologist out for a day at a regional park. Of course, all kids like to mix it up and some activities combine multiple interests, so you could choose a theme and build a day around it.
To get you started we’ve compiled a list of ideas from what’s on offer in the major centres – Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch – separated by areas of interest. Happy holidays.
Galleries make excellent destinations for kids intrigued by all things creative: many have hands-on playrooms and some offer special school holiday programmes. In Wellington, check out the day-long craft camps at City Gallery, and make a vintage tourist poster, print or mural with the help of artist Becca Hasselman. The Dowse in Lower Hutt has an imagination playground where kids can build and run around. For a creative blast, the whole family can enjoy, try the Matariki kite-making day and build your own manu aute.
Corban Estate in Auckland offers a painting workshop for high school-aged youth called Painting Dreamscapes with Sarah Ormsby, along with . a range of other art courses. And these holidays, libraries are not just for books – Auckland libraries have a free craft events around the city: try making a Matariki star or quilt squares, a 3D sword or painted “kindness” rocks. Every day of the school holidays kids can create pieces of art as part of KidsFest at the Christchurch Art Gallery: older kids can sculpt a creation out of clay while younger children can listen to a story and do a painting of the moon using salt and dye. And while you’re there check out the family friendly exhibition Yellow Moon.
The active adventurer
Active kids love the great outdoors so make a list of local playgrounds or regional parks and tick them off as you visit. Or check out these activities to channel that active kid energy.
Spend a day foraging in the forest as part of the Matariki festival programme in Auckland. At Matariki Wild Thing Kai Time kids will learn to identify, forage then cook edible native plants. Conscious Kids is an Auckland treasure, offering outdoor play sessions across the city, including Long Bay, Fort Takapuna Reserve and Western Springs. Kids get to explore the outdoors in a free play programme designed as an antidote to modern hectic life.
Christchurch kids are spoilt for choice with mountains of KidsFest-related action, either free or reasonably priced. Check out the new outdoor space at One Central near the Margaret Mahy playground. There’s a new maze, sports pitch and giant game board, which are all free. Or sign up for daily ice-skating lessons, learn to ski at Porters, or join an acrobatics workshop at the Circotica Circus School where tumbling and partner acrobatics are on offer. For something exhilaratingly different learn to sail a blokart land yacht – like windsurfing but on wheels.
Intrepid Wellingtonians can sign up to explore the Botanical Gardens or Otari-Wilsons Bush with the help of garden educators. Younger kids can join Sprout Scouts while older kids, or Garden Explorers, can be dropped off for the day. Or do it yourself – download an adventure map from the Wellington City Council website to get exploring. If your active holidaymaker is into dancing, head to Te Papa for the Royal New Zealand Ballet Kids Dance Workshops – suitable for primary-aged kids.
Most kids get a thrill out of travelling via novel means and an easy way of spicing up the holidays is to utilise public transport. You can build it into your daily plan or simply ride the train, tram, bus or ferry somewhere just for fun.
In Auckland, double-decker buses run on some of the main city routes including Mt Eden and the Northern Express. Secure a seat up top and marvel at the views. Or hit the water with a Ports of Auckland boat tour of Waitematā Harbour, getting up close to big ships, cranes and port machinery, it’s free for kids. Another option is to take a rickshaw, a kind of three-wheeled bike big enough to carry several passengers – try Auckland’s own Bikeman.
Wellington wheel enthusiasts can try the same thing through BAXI, or bike taxi. Or enjoy the iconic Wellington cable car and watch the dramatic cityscape unfold as you travel up in New Zealand’s only running funicular railway. As an added bonus, visit the Cable Car Museum, which is holding “meet an engineer” sessions every day of the holidays.
Christchurch kids can explore their city from the top of a classic London bus on a Double Decker City Tour while guides explain fun and interesting facts about the Garden City’s history and rebuild projects. The 45-minute tour runs almost daily over the holidays.
The tech enthusiast
If your kids love everything tech then these holiday ideas will be a hit. Some are a bit pricey but look out for library events and other community-based technology sessions – many are free or low-cost.
Christchurch kids have a wide range of fun tech choices, again part of KidsFest. Through Christchurch libraries: learn the basics of how robots work and how to programme them; use Lego to make a stop motion animation; create your own digital story or comic book; or create and code your own electronic musical instrument.
Also on offer is an introduction to engineering at the Engineering and Architectural Studies Department at Ara, where kids can drive a vex robot and design a rocket. In Wellington, Te Papa is offering a chance to try out AR (augmented reality) technology and use it to search the museum for taonga at the Augmented Reality (AR) Treasure Hunt.
In Auckland, The Mind Lab by Unitec offers a raft of tech and creative-thinking sessions at Motat – choose from robotics, coding, animation, electronic engineering, and more. Or check out the Mind Lab kids website for take home ideas.
Learning about the natural world is a wonderful way to spend the holidays, whether you head to a museum or outside.
With the cold wintry skies and early sunsets, stargazing is a great activity for young nature lovers, and is on offer around the country. Aucklanders can learn about Matariki and the stars at free library run events in the city – check the libraries website for locations and times – or, of course, head to Stardome to learn about the planets, stars and constellations and to have a peek at the night sky through a telescope.
Wellingtonians can visit Space Place at Carter Observatory for an interactive multimedia experience at a digital planetarium. Visit on a clear night and explore the southern skies through a giant telescope. Nearly every night during the holidays (weather permitting) the Canterbury Astronomical Society will run sessions at its West Melton observatory, as part of KidsFest. Visitors will be able to explore the night sky under expert instruction through a wide range of telescopes – look out for Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
Bringing it back down to Earth again, get your hands in the dirt with tree-planting events in Auckland – check the OurAuckland website for details and to sign up.
Christchurch kids can spend a very special day with Christchurch City Council park rangers, exploring the unique environments of Victoria Park, South New Brighton Park, Halswell Quarry, and Bottle Lake Forest – book through KidsFest.
Right in the heart of Wellington is the award-winning eco-attraction Zealandia, a haven of native bush and wildlife. Visit during the day to see native birds, tuatara and green gecko. Or brave a guided night tour and walk by the light of glow-worms with the chance to see little spotted kiwi, giant weta, tuatara and pateke.
What are your tips for the school holidays? Share them in the comments.