Cultural experiences for kids in NZ | Apollo NZ
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Northland & Bay of Islands

Located at the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island, Northland is a land of contrasts, with ancient kauri forests, pristine beaches, and charming coastal towns. This region is not only the birthplace of the nation, with significant historical sites like the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, but it also boasts some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the country, including the famous Bay of Islands.

Northland's climate, known for being subtropical, means warm, humid summers and mild winters, making it a perfect destination year-round. The Northland weather encourages outdoor activities and exploration, whether you're soaking up the sun on the golden sands of Paihia, sailing through the turquoise waters of the Bay of Islands, or driving up to the iconic lighthouse at Cape Reinga.

Travelling by campervan offers the freedom to explore Northland's diverse attractions at your own pace. From the historic charm of Kerikeri to the Tutukaka Coast, known for its world-class diving spots, there’s something for everyone. Take your pick of great Northland holiday parks and campgrounds along the way, ensuring comfort and convenience as you discover the stunning landscapes of this captivating region. Whether you’re interested in Māori culture, keen on adventure sports, or simply in need of a peaceful retreat amidst stunning natural beauty, Northland provides an unforgettable backdrop for a memorable campervan journey.

 

Why explore Northland & Bay of Islands by campervan

Exploring Northland by campervan is the ideal way to truly connect with the region's abundant natural beauty and rich history. With the freedom of the open road, you can navigate the diverse landscapes at your leisure. Start your day with a sunrise at Paihia, have lunch in an ancient kauri forest, and end with a sunset at Ninety Mile Beach. 

The ability to spontaneously choose your destinations each day, without the need to stick to a fixed itinerary or check-in times, means you can immerse yourself fully in whatever captures your interest. Travelling by campervan not only offers all the comforts of home, including your kitchen and bed but also supports a self-sufficient way to travel. This is a big plus in Northland, where you might want to spend several days exploring more remote areas. Plus, having your own facilities means you're never too far from a hot meal or a comfortable night's sleep, no matter where your adventures in Northland take you.

 

Things to do in Northland & Bay of Islands

You certainly won’t be short of things to do in Northland and the Bay of Islands. This popular region is bursting with activities that cater to every interest and age group. Discover Kerikeri’s historic sites, including the oldest stone building in New Zealand. Relax in the laidback setting of Russell, a charming town with a rich history. Adventure seekers can enjoy kayaking along the coast or exploring the underwater world at Poor Knights Islands. For a more leisurely pace, indulge in wine tasting at local vineyards or simply unwind on the pristine beaches of the Bay of Islands. Every corner of Northland promises memorable experiences for all.

Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ blog

Cultural experiences for kids in NZ.

Planning a New Zealand road trip by motorhome to explore some of the great cultural experiences on offer? Despite being a relatively new country, New Zealand has a long and fascinating history. From the violent volcanic activity that sculpted its terrain to the arrival of settlers who built their lives here, New Zealand's history is a dynamic one. The events that have shaped this country have left their marks not only on the land but also resonate through the rich traditions and enduring stories of its people. 

In this handy guide, we’ll share some of the top cultural experiences that the kids will love. From the authentic Māori experiences in Rotorua to the interactive wonders of Te Papa in Wellington, there’s something for every age and stage. 

 

Why NZ cultural experiences are great for kids

New Zealand's cultural experiences offer a unique outdoor classroom for children, where learning comes alive and ignites curiosity. The country's Māori history and legends are not just stories; they're lessons that come to life through interactive Māori experiences. 

These cultural adventures, from the storytelling circles of Tamaki Māori Village to the ancient rituals and craftsmanship, offer a unique way to understand the rich heritage of Aotearoa. It's also a chance for young minds to absorb the values of respect, community, and stewardship of nature. 

 

The best cultural experiences for kids in NZ

Keen to add some culture and history to your road trip travel itinerary? Here are some of the top experiences for kids worth seeing on your New Zealand travels.

Image: Mark Clinton

 

Visit an ancient kauri tree

Plan a road trip to the Waipoua Forest, near Dargaville, and introduce your family to Tāne Mahuta. This ancient tree, likely the largest your children will ever see, is a natural wonder that has witnessed the passage of time for over 2,000 years. Known as the 'Lord of the Forest', Tāne Mahuta is not only the largest kauri tree in New Zealand but also a significant cultural icon. The tree is deeply revered in Māori history and mythology as the god of forests and birds. Visiting this ancient tree offers a moment of awe and a profound connection to the natural world and the stories that are rooted in New Zealand. 

Standing before Tāne Mahuta, children are often struck by the sheer scale of this living legend. The tree's girth measures over 15 metres, and it towers into the sky at a staggering 51 metres, making it a sight that's as humbling as it is breathtaking. It's a tangible link to the ancient world of the Māori, where trees were not merely plants but entities with their own mana (spiritual power) and mauri (life force). 

 

Explore the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds is not just a cornerstone of New Zealand's history; it’s a living classroom packed with activities kids will love. Here, history is far from static; it's a hands-on adventure where children can learn about the Treaty of Waitangi, explore the beautifully maintained grounds, and be captivated by powerful performances.

Kids can marvel at the size of a traditional waka taua (war canoe), step back in time in a colonial house, and even meet characters dressed in period attire. It's a place where the past is presented in a way that's both fun and fascinating.

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds also house a museum that offers a deeper understanding of the Treaty's significance. Interactive exhibits allow children to engage with the stories and events that shaped the nation. They can listen to narratives from different perspectives, giving them a multifaceted view of New Zealand's founding document. The grounds also offer a variety of workshops and cultural demonstrations, from traditional weaving to Māori weaponry, providing an immersive experience that goes beyond the pages of a history book.

After a day of exploration, you can unwind at the nearby Waitangi Holiday Park, a perfect spot to reflect on the day's adventures and plan the next leg of your campervan road trip.

 

Visit Te Puia geothermal area

In New Zealand’s geothermal heartland of Rotorua, Te Puia presents a landscape unlike any other your family will encounter. It's a must-visit destination on your New Zealand road trip, offering both fun and learning in equal measure.

The Pōhutu Geyser, the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, is a highlight of this Rotorua attraction, erupting several times a day and sending plumes of steam and water up to 30 metres high. As you walk the pathways around Te Puia, you’ll also discover steaming vents, boiling mud pools, and silica terraces, each telling a story of the earth's incredible subterranean forces.

But Te Puia is more than just a natural spectacle. It's a cultural hub where traditional Māori carvers and weavers share their crafts, offering a window into the artistry that is as enduring as the geothermal activity itself. For kids, the excitement of seeing these geothermal wonders is matched by the opportunity to learn about Māori culture. 

 

Visit the Māori Village Te Pā Tū

Popular Rotorua tourist attraction, Te Pā Tū (formerly the Tamaki Māori Village) offers a deep dive into the heart of Māori culture. Here, the essence of New Zealand's indigenous culture is brought to life through stirring performances, authentic songs, and the sharing of ancient stories.

Te Pā Tū offers two distinct experiences that reflect the seasonal heartbeat of Māori culture. The Tū Te Rā - Summer Harvest Celebration honours the bountiful gifts of Papatūānuku, the Earth Mother. Visitors can participate in traditional harvesting techniques and taste the fresh flavours of the season. You’ll also learn about the sustainable practices that have been passed down through generations.

In contrast, the Tū Te Ihi - Winter Matariki Celebration is a time of reflection and remembrance. This is timed to coincide with the Māori New Year when the cluster of stars known as Matariki rises in the sky. This celebration is a time to remember those who have passed, celebrate the present, and plan for the future. 

 

Visit Te Papa

Te Papa in Wellington is a must-do for families keen to learn more about New Zealand’s history. As kids wander through the family friendly exhibits, they can encounter the natural world in the Awesome Forces exhibit. They can come face to face with New Zealand's incredible wildlife in the Mountains to Sea exhibit, and even step into the shoes of early settlers in the interactive colonial village. The museum's Discovery Centres, specifically designed for children, are full of activities that encourage hands-on learning, from feeling the texture of a kiwi feather to building structures in the interactive construction zone.

Te Papa also offers storytelling sessions where the stories of Māori legends come to life. It's a place where every visit can turn into an adventure, with new things to see, do, and learn, making it an essential experience for any family on a New Zealand road trip.

 

Paddle a waka with Ko Tāne

In Christchurch, your family can embark on a unique journey down the Ōtākaro Avon River with Ko Tāne. Paddling a handcrafted waka, you'll glide along the waterways that have been a part of the region's history for centuries. This 45-minute experience is not only a fun activity but also a living history lesson.

As you paddle, local kaiārahi (guides) will share stories of the local Iwi, Ngāi Tahu, and the history of early European settlers. It's a narrative that weaves together the past and present, highlighting the collaborative spirit that helped build the city of Christchurch. Children will be fascinated to learn how Māori and settlers used these very waterways for transport and trade in a time before roads, using the waka as a vital tool for survival and commerce. It's an enriching addition to any New Zealand travel itinerary.

 

Bathe at Ngāwhā Springs

Ngāwhā Springs offers a cultural experience that's deeply rooted in the traditions of Northland. These geothermal springs are more than just a place to relax; they're a site of historical significance for Māori, known for their therapeutic properties and the healing waters that have been used for centuries.

When you visit Ngāwhā Springs, you’re stepping into a natural spa that has been cherished by the local community for generations. The waters are rich in minerals and the experience is as educational as it is soothing. Children can learn about the geothermal activity that creates these hot pools, as well as the stories and customs that surround them.

 

 

Ready to see New Zealand’s best cultural attractions on your family holiday?

From the ancient roots of Tāne Mahuta to the dynamic storytelling of Te Pā Tū, New Zealand’s unique cultural destinations offer a unique window into the heart of Aotearoa.

Planning a culturally rich New Zealand road trip in an Apollo campervan means your family can explore these wonders at your own pace. Travel with all the comforts of home on board as you take in one amazing experience after another. 

So, why wait? Book your Apollo campervan hire online today.

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Popular Northland & Bay of Islands road trips & itineraries

Northland and the Bay of Islands, situated at the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island, are ideal for campervan explorations rich in history, natural beauty, and adventure. With numerous scenic routes that lead to secluded bays and vibrant coastal towns, the journey itself becomes as captivating as the destinations. Well-equipped campgrounds along the way make it easy to park up and soak in the scenery or enjoy starlit nights away from hustle and bustle.

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Apollo Campervan branches

Auckland

Departing from Apollo Auckland, you’re perfectly positioned for a half-day drive to Northland & the Bay of Islands. This route ensures a seamless blend of scenic beauty and local culture, culminating in the stunning landscapes of Northland.

Christchurch

The drive from Apollo Christchurch to Northland & the Bay of Islands sets you up for a scenic multi-day journey across the South Island, including the picturesque ferry crossing at the Cook Strait, and into the North Island. 

Queenstown

Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore as much of New Zealand as possible? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and take your time heading northward over an epic 10-14 days taking in some of the great southern highlights along the way. 

Auckland City Skyline

Auckland

New Zealand’s multi-cultural hub of food, music, arts and culture.

 

Christchurch City, New Zealand

Christchurch

 One of the world’s most unique destinations.

 

Queenstown

Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.

 

Helpful tips for visiting Northland & the Bay of Islands

 

Climate and seasons in Northland & the Bay of Islands

Northland and the Bay of Islands are renowned for their mild, subtropical climate, making them inviting destinations throughout the year. The warm Northland weather is perfect for enjoying the region's stunning coastal areas and rich cultural heritage.

  • Summer (December to February) in Northland are warm and humid, with temperatures usually ranging from 22°C to 26°C. This season is ideal for exploring the beautiful beaches, engaging in water sports, or simply enjoying the vibrant outdoor lifestyle with alfresco dining along the waterfront. Summer is also a popular time for tourists, so expect a lively atmosphere, especially in beach towns.

  • Autumn (March to May) sees slightly cooler temperatures and less humidity, making it a perfect time for hiking and outdoor activities without the intense heat of summer. The scenery remains lush, and the less crowded attractions allow for a more relaxed exploration of the region.

  • Winter (June to August) brings cooler weather, with daytime temperatures typically between 15°C and 18°C. The cooler days are ideal for visiting historical sites and museums or enjoying some of Northland’s renowned cultural festivals. Winter in Northland is generally mild, allowing for year-round outdoor activities.

  • Spring (September to November) revitalises the region with early blooms and warmer weather, gradually heating up towards summer. This is an excellent time to witness the vibrant flora and fauna as the landscapes burst into life, making it ideal for photography and nature walks.

 

 

 

What to pack?

Preparing for your campervan road trip in Northland and the Bay of Islands means packing smartly to fully enjoy the region's mild, subtropical climate and rich outdoor and cultural offerings. From sunbathing on pristine beaches to exploring historic sites and sailing in the bay, here’s what to bring:

  • Outdoor gear: The diverse environments, from the sandy beaches of the Bay of Islands to the forested walks of Cape Reinga, call for versatile outdoor apparel. Opt for lightweight, breathable clothing that will keep you comfortable during the warm days, and don’t forget a few layers for cooler evenings — perfect for cosy nights under the stars. Durable walking shoes are essential, whether you're planning to trek through the forests or stroll around the historic towns.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan setup can significantly improve your travel experience. Consider packing a portable barbecue for enjoyable seaside grills. You may also like to hire extra camping chairs and a table when you book your Apollo campervan to create a comfortable outdoor living space wherever you park. These additions are perfect for relaxing after a day of adventure or for enjoying a meal with a view.

  • Sun protection: The Northland and Bay of Islands region enjoy plenty of sunshine, making thorough sun protection crucial. Include a high-SPF sunscreen, UV-protection sunglasses, and a broad-brimmed hat in your packing list. This will ensure you can safely indulge in the outdoor activities that the region is famous for, from kayaking across clear waters to lounging on the beach.

For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

 

 

Attractions and day trips in Northland

 

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a must-visit for anyone interested in New Zealand's history. As the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, it offers a deep dive into the nation's past through engaging exhibits, guided tours, and cultural performances. The beautifully maintained grounds overlooking the Bay of Islands also provide a peaceful setting to reflect on New Zealand's foundational document.

Paihia

Paihia is the vibrant heart of the Bay of Islands, known for its lively waterfront filled with cafes, shops, and galleries. It's the perfect base for exploring the surrounding islands by ferry or enjoying water sports like kayaking and parasailing. The town's relaxed atmosphere and scenic beauty make it a favourite spot for both locals and tourists.

Russell

Once known as a rowdy 19th-century whaling port, Russell has transformed into a charming seaside town. It's rich with historic buildings like New Zealand’s oldest church, and its quaint streets, waterfront promenades, and excellent restaurants offer a picturesque step back in time.

Cape Reinga

At the northern tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga offers breathtaking views where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. This spiritually significant site for Māori is accessible via a scenic drive, with opportunities to see the iconic lighthouse and the famous pohutukawa tree that marks the 'leaping-off' point of spirits into the afterlife.

Ninety Mile Beach

Despite its name, Ninety Mile Beach is actually about 55 miles long and serves as one of the country’s most stunning natural highways. It’s perfect for a day of adventure, offering activities like sandboarding down massive dunes or just enjoying a leisurely drive along its vast, sandy stretch.

Kerikeri

Kerikeri is known for its fertile soils and beautiful orchards, but it's also rich in history. Highlights include the Stone Store and Kemp House, the oldest stone and wood buildings in New Zealand. The town also hosts vibrant markets and has a thriving arts scene, making it a delightful destination for culture and cuisine.

Mangonui

Mangonui is primarily known for its historic waterfront lined with heritage buildings that now house charming cafes and shops. This small fishing village is famous for its fish and chips, offering fresh seafood with a view. It’s an ideal spot for a relaxed day soaking up local flavours and sea breezes.

Whangarei

Whangarei, the northernmost city in New Zealand, offers a mix of cultural and natural attractions, including the acclaimed Whangarei Falls and the Town Basin marina filled with galleries and cafes. It's a great starting point for trips to the nearby beaches and lush native forests.

Tutukaka

Known as the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands, Tutukaka offers some of New Zealand’s best diving and snorkelling experiences. The marine reserve's clear waters are teeming with colourful sea life and are perfect for underwater adventures. Above water, Tutukaka’s coast is dotted with secluded bays and pristine beaches to explore.

 

Where to stay in Northland & The Bay of Islands with a campervan

When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest in Northland & the Bay of Islands, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds. Here are a few worth checking out:

Northland

Bay of Islands

 

 

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