New Zealand is an ideal holiday destination for families because it is safe, clean and has a fantastic small town vibe about it. Glaciers, mountains, forests all so picture perfect that hobbits have been known to be spotted here, the scenic Wanaka is a winter wonderland not be missed. Cardrona Alpine Resort, Treble Cone and Snow Farm New Zealand have just opened for the season so whether for skiing or movie geeking, the crisp air will be a refreshing break for the whole family. Here are the activities you can do in New Zealand with kids. 

The Destination

New Zealand is all about embracing the great outdoors and this is particularly true in Wanaka. Known for it’s natural beauty, the tourism here is cleverly designed to make the most of the perfect natural ski slopes, hiking trails and rock climbing walls. Because the area has deliberately given itself a reputation for extreme sports and tourism in the summer, this means lots of younger, trendy travellers frequent the place so there is a host of amenitites that range from luxurious to budget backpacker.

It also means that despite the country’s small size, there are still cafes and entertainment that will keep the most fatigued parents feeling hip even in the depths of winter.

The Attractions

For those who love to get a bit of mountain air, Cardrona Alpine Resort is the extreme snow bunny’s paradise. There’s an Olympic Superpipe and Gravity Cross course to satisfy even the most avid snowboarder or skiier.

Didn’t understand any of that paragraph? Don’t worry – Cardona also caters to more sedate family downhill snowsports. The trails are wide so you can ski across the mountain at a slower pace if you prefer and you never have to take exactly the same route twice.

If you need some adults-only time, there is a childcare facilties that start from 3 months old. The Ski Kindy for three and four year olds has a designated fenced off ski area specifically for children and instructors only. There is also the Flexi-Fun option where you can choose exactly how much time you want the kids in ski/snowboard school or the indoor care and how much time you want on the snow as a family – then you pay accordingly.

If you’ve never been skiing or snowboarding before, don’t underestimate the convenience of staying on the mountain, especially if you have children with you. This is the one huge advantage that Cardrona has over the other Queenstown-based ski resorts. But it’s an advantage only for the quick and ready – accommodation is limited to a few apartments so you need to book early. 

Sadly, the South Island’s largest ski area, Treble Cone, doesn’t have onsite accommodation (you will need to stay in Wanaka), but it’s still worth considering for the snow-obssessed. There is some stunning off-piste with equally impressive views.

The other major downside of Treble Cone for families is that only 10% of the slopes are beginner standard. So it’s useful that this year they have opened the Jazz Kids Fun Trail which is perfect for children who want to learn to ski or snowboard or for the more adventurous who want to get airborne. (Helmets are free to hire for kids who rent their gear from the on-mountain hire shop.)

For those who prefer cross-country skiing, Snow Farm New Zealand provides well maintained trails where you can try ski skating or classic cross-country skiing. Alternatively, take advantage of the gorgeous surrounds and go off trail.

If skiing still doesn’t appeal, there are several other snow activites including sledding, tubing, dog sledding and snow mobiles. 

If your kids (or you) are The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings fans, Wanaka is where much of the films were shot and many of the cast and crew call home. Book your spot on the Ring of Gold tour that takes visitors to some of the shoot locations and gives access to movie props. Or otherwise take a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter ride with Eco Wanaka for a panoramic view of Middle Earth before trekking down a 2000 metre ridgeline in the footsteps of hobbits and wizards. (This second option involves a 2 hour hike in the mountains so is suitable for older children only.) 

[For more ideas on how you can seek out the hobbit in New Zealand, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]

For a quieter day indoors, try the National Transport and Toy Museum that boasts 30,000 toys and more than 600 vehicles.

Or if you’re after something a little kooky and eccentric that the kids will love, try Puzzling World with it’s Willy Wonka-eque Ames Room, a huge labyrinth and lots of fun activities to amuse and delight.

The Practicalities

Wanaka has a very comprehensive tourist website that provides information on everything – including major accommodation choices.

Remember if you are skiing at Treble Cone or not planning to stay on Cardona Alpine resort that you need to be clever about how you plan your day to budget for the additional logistics of the commute up and down the mountain. Pack extra clothes and food with you as what should be a simple drive can become an awfully long trip home with tired, wet and hungry kids.


A good place to start looking at accommodation options is the Wanaka tourist website.

Wanaka Homestead has pretty, alpine-inspired self-contained cottages that make the ideal, homely settting perched practically on the lake.

Alternatively, Lakeside Serviced Apartments also has full kitchens and laundry services in the apartments and is perhaps a little more conveniently located within walking distance of the town centre. 

For more on snow sports on New Zealand’s South Island see Ski New Zealand 1: Queenstown 

For general travel tips for skiing and snowboarding with kids see the suitcases&strollers story Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding

Images: Lake Wanaka Tourism