Auckland has plenty on offer for your little Hobbits, whether they fancy getting their big feet wet sailing in the harbour, scaring themselves silly from the dizzying heights of the Sky Tower or conversing with animals at the zoo. Here are a few ideas.
Auckland Sky Tower is a good place to start – I always like to get up high to get the lay of the land at new destinations. You can point out landmarks to the kids and show them the places they’ll be visiting, and from a height of 328m, you can see most of Auckland.
The kids can test their fear of heights (and yours) in the elevator which has a glass bottom floor and glass door, allowing you to watch the ground speed away from you at an alarming rate.
Kids over 10 years old can also take on their fear of heights with either Skywalk or SkyJump. On SkyWalk, strapped to a harness you walk on a narrow parapet around the tower without as much as a hand-rail to hold on to.
Sky Jump allows you to base jump off the tower (attached to a wire), plummeting 192 metres at 85km per hour.
Set in 17 hectares of parkland Auckland Zoo has the largest collection of native and exotic animals in New Zealand. There are plenty of hands-on experiences for the kids including the opportunity to help one of the keepers wash down an Indian elephant or have lunch with a lemur.
You’ll get to see some of New Zealand’s famous flightless birds like the Kea, the Kaka and of course the Kiwi itself.
At Kelly Tarltons Sealife Aquarium you can see the world’s largest Antarctic penguin colony outside Antarctica, the world’s biggest species of stingray and sharks galore. Other highlights include a rather spectacular jellyfish display and the magical Seahorse Kingdom.
There are also a few animal experiences on offer, including a snorkel with the aquarium’s resident sharks in the Shark Cage Experience. There’s no age restriction, but kids must be at least 1.3m, able to swim and accompanied by an adult.
Waiheke Island is a 30-minute ferry ride across from Auckland Harbour, and when you arrive at the other end, it’s like entering a different world completely, far from the city.
There you’ll find beautiful countryside and a number of gorgeous beaches including my personal favourite, Onatangi Beach, so you can spend the day lazily messing about in the water and building sand castles or get out on the water on a kayak.
Sea Kayak Waiheke can take you on a guided half day tour which will take you to the North Western corner of the island, visiting caves, paddling through rock channels and archways to secluded beaches.
If you’re after a faster tour and higher views of Waiheke Island, the guys at Waiheke Eco Zip can provide that for you. A shuttle will pick you up from the wharf and take you to the far side of the island to its highest point.
From here, your zipline your way to the valley below, high over the vineyards and skimming the tips of a pocket of thick virgin forest.
When you reach the bottom you’re then taken on a guided hike back up the hill, and given a little lesson on the island’s history and biodiversity.
A 25-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland will take you to Rangitoto Island which you can explore on a 4WD road train through rugged lava crops and bushland while learning about the island’s fiery past, its history and geology.
The tour takes you to the close to the summit of the volcano, and it’s a short walk from there to the to the very top.
A little further afield, the Glass Bottom Boat, “Aquador” runs trips at Goat Island Marine Reserve, about one hour north of Auckland. On the trip you get to explore the underwater world, check out the reef and marine life below you, without getting wet, and visit a few caves along the way.
And of course, for the little Hobbits in your family, no trip to Auckland would be complete without a trip to Hobbiton. It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Auckland which you can self-drive, and there are also plenty of tours on offer to take you there.
Once you have arrived in The Shire, you’ll be taken on a guided tour of the movie set, which has now been established as a permanent tourist attraction. The tour ends with refreshments (and an ale or two for the grown ups) at the Green Dragon pub, in a tranquil lakeside setting.