There’s 101 things to do in Auckland, but when it comes to toddlers, some activities are better suited. We discovered 3 great things to do in Auckland with toddlers, and why fluffy’s and roadtrips just don’t mix.
We decided to head up to Auckland from Hamilton for a couple of days. Before we had children we used to just throw a bunch of clothes in a bag, grab some roadtrip snacks and that’s pretty much it, we were off. In fact, on some roadtrips we didn’t even choose the destination until we got there. We can’t get away with that now though!
We learnt a fair few things on this trip and we’ve compiled our learnings for you. There’s 15 really useful tips to help you when planning your own activity-filled adventure.
Three things to do in Auckland with toddlers
It’s been a long time since we last visited Auckland Zoo.
It’s great taking kids to activities you haven’t done for a long time. It’s just so different experiencing something like the zoo through your children’s eyes. And with Auckland Zoo’s savannah experience bringing giraffe’s, elephants and rinho’s right up to the fences, what an experience it was!
We arrived a little later than we planned to, getting there just before lunch, and the carpark was pretty packed, but we still found a park. First order of the day was to load up kids, cameras and snacks. We did plan for this part fortunately. With cheese sandwiches in hand we could eat and walk, and we headed straight for the savannah.
KF Tip # 1 – Auckland Zoo has stroller hire right at the entrance to the zoo. Such a great idea! So if you’re traveling up from Hamilton or Tauranga for the day, or transiting from the airport, and don’t have a vehicle, you needn’t worry about packing the stroller.
The savannah experience really is a great asset to the zoo. It all feels very expansive with wide paths for strollers, lots of room for the animals, and yet it’s very easy to whip round too. Our daughter became fixated on seeing a tiger, which is in a different part of the zoo. But she was still blown away by the cute little meerkats, the charging rhino, the pinkness of the flamingos and watching the elephants get a hose down.
From the savannah we went through a series of enclosures showing off New Zealand’s wonderful native birds. The Takehe/Whio enclosure is great, and the Kea really put on a show for us! At this point we came a little unstuck. Our daughter slipped on the wet concrete, scrapped her hand and had a full blown meltdown.
Once we got her back under control, we ducked into the cafe and the awesome staff there provided us with a plaster, which miraculously healed her ouchy.
KF Tip # 2 – The zoo is no place for Dora the Explore sheepskin boots. Make sure your kids have proper footwear. Although we got lucky with the awesome cafe staff, we really should have a small first aid kit with plasters and antiseptic cream as part of our travel kit. Toddlers are very accident-prone.
After a lunch stop at the neat little playground, complete with kune kune pigs, we finally found the tigers! Inevitably miss 3 was enthused for all of 3 seconds, before spotting the rotunda. “Look Daddy, a house.” So we all went and played house at the rotunda, which was actually a nice break from the sun.
KF Tip # 3 – No matter what time of year, no matter the weather, a sunhat/sunscreen combo is a must in Auckland.
Incredibly we had already been at the zoo for 3 hours by this point. We wandered past the wonderful lemurs with their stripy tails standing proud, and saw the orangutang playing in the late afternoon sun, and then got a bit lost. We ended up back at the rotunda.
After consulting the map, we headed back up and saw the giant ‘exit’ sign that we missed the first time round!
There was just enough time for one last ride on the giant tuatara at the entrance, before we all got back in the car exhausted, but exhilarated, from our family day at Auckland Zoo.
We’ve never been to Butterfly Creek before, but it’s always been on our list of things to do in Auckland. And now that we’ve been, I don’t know why we left it so long to go!
First off, the friendly staff at Butterfly Creek are excellent. We were greeted with smiles and lot’s of helpful information on what to see, and in what order.
KF Tip # 4 – Leave the strollers in the car, unless you have very little ones. Butterfly Creek is very easy to get around, and there’s lots of places to sit down for a break as you go.
Now I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not, but our toddler is totally into dinosaurs at the moment and I began to wonder if we’d talked up the dinosaurs a bit too much…
… I needn’t have worried. The dinosaurs were very cool indeed!
I’d say that kids all the way up to about 12 will enjoy it. For toddlers, the dinosaurs are so real, they’re almost scary! We spent ages with the dinosaurs. There’s a great little Jurassic Park-style safari jeep to play on, a giant dino egg to play in, and we even rescued a Dad and his daughter from a caged raptor. It was great seeing other Dad’s ‘get their play on’ with their kids. There’s just something about giant, carnivorous dinosaurs that’s so appealing…
We then went to see the crocodile show. Our toddler was really into the idea of seeing crocodiles, but unfortunately we didn’t last too long. We probably got there a bit late in the day, as our miss 3 was waning and ready for lunch. I think it was just us though, as there were heaps of little ones there for the show, sitting quietly and loving every minute of watching the crocodile leap, snapping, from the water!
After a lunch, and play on the playground, we went to catch the train. Unfortunately, when we got there the train was full… or so we thought.
KF Tip # 5 – The train goes round more than once, and picks up more passengers. If it’s full, don’t just leave like we did, just wait in line for it to come around again.
We headed over to the animal farm instead. This area is perfect for younger ones. We had lots of fun hanging out with the kune kune pigs, talking to the parrot and playing on the tractor. We even reenacted the pilgrims on a cool old wagon, and had other people’s kids join in.
The weather was so lovely, we hardly wanted to go back inside, but we still had the butterflies to see. We’ve been to butterfly houses in other parts of the world, and New Zealand’s is just as good. The butterfly house is really warm, so it pays to take off extra clothing before you go in. There’s over 20 different types of butterfly in there, although you’ll see different types depending on the season. There’s little sugar-syrup dishes spotted around that attract the butterflies and they’re just really beautiful to watch go about their day, quite mesmerising.
We were all lucky enough to have the butterflies sit on us, and this was definitely a highlight for our toddler.
KF Tip # 6 – The butterflies only sit on you when you’re very still. This is really tough for a toddler though. Apparently they like bright colours too, so wear something with a bit of colour.
As if we hadn’t had enough fun already, we still had the train ride to go! This time we made sure we actually got on the train, and it was another highlight for our toddler. The train ride is quite short, but fun. It goes past a pirate ship, some more dinosaurs, past the animal farm and through a tunnel. Everything kids could hope for.
I think all up we were at Butterfly Creek for almost 4 hours, and it went quite quickly. We had the pick of the weather, but you can certainly go if the weather is iffy, as much of it is under cover. Our kid’s had an absolute ball, and we’ll definitely be back!
My wife and I are keen snowboarders. At least we were before we had kids, funny how that happens! So it’s really natural for us to want to introduce our kids to the snow.
The problem though, with going to the mountain to see snow, is that everything is BIG. The carparks, the walking, the chairlifts, the lines, it’s just overwhelming for younger kids. This is where Snowplanet really comes into it’s own.
Snowplanet + toddlers = awesome.
I feel like this place was made for toddlers. The staff are just fantastic, everything you need for a day out in the snow (waterproof gear, boots, mittens, helmet and tube) is supplied, and hot chocolates are literally metres from the snow.
The gear and board/ski hire are right at the entrance. You can just drive up, walk in, gear up and walk straight out onto the snow. There’s good-sized lockers in the rental area for bags and valuables and it’s all very low key, without the constant hustle and bustle of mountain skiing. It’s similar to taking your kids to the pools… expect that the water’s frozen!
We geared up, and were out on the snow in about 15 minutes, tube in hand. It was so cool seeing our toddler experience snow for the first time. Her eyes lit up like it was Christmas.
There’s a great ski mat for the tubers, and the little ones can just sit in the tube and be dragged up. There was definitely nervousness and a fair bit of apprehension as we got to the top of the tubing track, that’s to be expected though. Actually, the tube run is great, it’s quite high and fast too! The first couple of runs even my heart was pounding a bit. And our toddler? She LOVED it. We hadn’t stopped moving after the first run when I heard, “let’s go again Daddy!”
KF Tip # 7 – Tubing releases a lot of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, for little ones, and that’s got to go somewhere. Lot’s of snacks, water and downtime should sort them out though. Make the most of the great après-ski area for downtime, it’s warm and chilled out, and has great food.
After a good feed, we hit the slopes again, and each time we built up the courage to go even faster. After a few more runs we relaxed in the snow and had a snowball fight, and made a snowman and snow angels. Well, we made two snowman blobs and waved our arms about in the snow a bit. The great thing about toddlers is their imagination!
Of course our toddler has to really experience everything. She tried eating some ice, and I don’t think the snow is the fresh, straight-from-the-clouds type, probably not recommended. Then she tried touching the ice.
KF Tip # 8 – The snow at Snowplanet is real snow… and really cold. Toddlers just love to experience things and like ours will probably take off their mittens to feel the snow. And, just like ours, will probably totally freak out when that icy-cold, burning sensation doesn’t immediately go away. Luckily, the warm indoors is only metres away, and the hot chocolates not far from there!
Something we were surprised by were the prices. This is a very reasonably priced activity. And substantially cheaper than actually heading up the mountain. There’s lots of different packages too to suit every age range, skill level, and interest. We love the idea of the Snowplanet birthday party for kids too. And the great thing about Snowplanet’s location is that you can easily just pop in for a couple of hours and you’re back in central Auckland in about 20 minutes.
KF Tip # 9 – Something that we talked a lot about (over a coffee and nachos) is how great Snowplanet is for kids learning to ski or snowboard. The environment is so much less frantic than the mountain, making it great for learning. Also the runs are simpler and much less crowded. And the prices are really competitive compared with the mountain too.
Watching our kids experience snow for the first time took me back to my first snow experience. I’m not sure exactly what it is about snow, but it just brings so much joy to children. We couldn’t stop smiling once we left, and boy did we all sleep well that night.
If you’ve often talked about taking your kids to the snow, but not got around to it, then get along to Snowplanet. And if you’ve never even considered it, then you definitely should. It’s so much fun, and you will all totally love tubing!
Planning, patience and packing well
Traveling with kids is an exercise in planning, patience and packing well! Now that you’ve got some great ideas for things to do in Auckland with toddlers, here’s a couple of quick toddler traveling tips that you might find helpful:
- Snacks are a must. But plan ahead and pack snacks like trail mixes, fruit and nuts, cooked corn, sandwiches, etc. Anything that releases energy slowly and avoids angry sugar-crashes.
- If you’re traveling overnight pack a few home comforts like favourite toys, games, books, teddy’s, blanky’s and food and snacks. Even a simple motel room can be a home away from home with our creature-comforts close to hand.
- Make a checklist to make sure you remember all of those crucial little things like nappies, first aid kits, sippy cups, etc, etc. Taking 5 minutes to sit down and think about all of things you use at home, will safe you a lot of grief and stress on the road. Some of these things you may never even take out of the car. But if you do need them, and don’t have them, you’ll really wish you had made that list!
- Expect car grizzles. All the activity, fresh air and exercise will really tire out your little ones. And if there’s a big car ride back to homebase, then you should plan for protests from the back seat. You can’t really prevent this one. Just go in with a gameplan, always put yourself in your kid’s shoes before you react and always think safety first in the car.
- If you’re not from Auckland then get a GPS. It’s going to save some serious road angst. We ended up just using Google maps, which actually works really well, until your phone goes flat.
- This is a bonus tip. Fluffy’s and roadtrips just don’t mix. Basically all that milk and sugar turns into a curdled milkshake inside their little tummies once you hit the corners. And, yes, we leant this one the hard way…