The North Island of New Zealand – with its divine wilderness and dramatic landscapes, alive and breathing with geothermal activity – is the kind of natural wonderland that most people only ever dream of experiencing for themselves. Imagine what it’s like to explore as a child.

Fortunately, there aren’t many places more perfect than ‘Te Ika-a-Māui‘ (the North Island’s Māori name) for an affordable and family-friendly adventure holiday, rich in Māori culture and spectacular scenery.

There’s something here for everyone, but for the young budding hiker and nature lover, the vast array of kid-friendly trails are sure to capture their imagination. This is the kind of wild place where life-long memories are formed. It’s like something out of a fairy tale.

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The echoes of a child’s laughter in the wilderness are one of the purest symphonies nature can compose.
There’s nothing quite like sharing nature’s wonders with your kids. You think that you’re going to take them out and show them a rainforest trail, a serene beach sunset, or a panoramic mountaintop view and enjoy teaching them all about the natural world. That’s true to some extent, but you’ll find that the surprising part is how much they’ll teach you. Hiking with kids helps you explore the natural world in their shoes. They’ll teach you how to really ‘see’ it.

One of the most popular ways to travel New Zealand’s North Island is in a campervan. Country-wide there are around 250 Department of Conservation campsites, and most local councils have followed suit and added to the count. On top of that, responsible freedom camping is legal in New Zealand – that’s kind of complicated, though, so make sure you’re across the freedom camping rules.

It’s the obvious way to do things when you want to get out there and have an adventure, especially when you travel with kids. Most of the places you’ll want to see aren’t in the towns where the accommodation is, so campervan hire is the only way to stay close to all the best adventures. It’ll also save you a bucketload of money compared to staying at hotels and hiring a car.

If you’ve dreamed about showing your kids one of the most incredible places in the world, you’re going to need the low-down on all the best kid-friendly hiking trails in New Zealand’s North Island. Let your children be your guide on these fascinating short ‘tramps’ (that’s what the Kiwis call hikes).

Mauao walkway (Mount Maunganui)

Mount Oberon Summit - Wilsons Promontory National Park - Victoria - Australia
Impressively perched on a peninsula, towering 232 metres over the Bay of Plenty, Mauao’s summit views from are not to be missed.

Mauao Historic Reserve in Mount Maunganui makes for a great first adventure when flying into Auckland, and it’s home to the Mauao walkway. Made up of a number of different trails, the two sections of the walkway you’ll want to experience are Te Ara Tūtanga – the Mauao Base Track – and Waikorire Track – the quickest and easiest of the summit trails.

Te Ara Tūtanga is an easy stroll around Mauao’s base and along the waterline. For those who don’t think the kids are up for a summit walk, the ocean (and nearby island) views are still spectacular from here. Waikorire Track mostly consists of well-formed staircase climbing steeply to the peak of Mauao, where you’ll be able to see all the way to Kaimāī Ranges and Waihī Beach (and beyond).

Mauao holds significant cultural value for the Māori people. As you navigate the trails, you’ll come across several pa sites – ancient Māori fortified villages – and other places of cultural significance. It’s an excellent opportunity to introduce children to New Zealand’s rich indigenous history.

This is, without a doubt, one of the best Auckland day trips.

Need to know

Te Ara Tūtanga

Length: 3.4 km
Time: 45 min
Grade: Easy
Style: Circuit
Access: Start the trail at either Pilot Quay or the north end of Adams Avenue in Mount Maunganui.
Map: A brochure for the walkway is available for download from Tauranga City.

 Waikorire Track

Length: 2.4 km
Time: 1 hr
Grade: Easy-Moderate
Style: Return
Access: From the Mount Maunganui Surf Club, follow the boardwalk to where it meets the Te Ara Tūtanga (Base Track) and you’ll find the Waikorire Track turn-off.
Map: Use the Mauao brochure from Tauranga City.

Taranaki Falls Walk (Tongariro National Park)

A gravel path (Taranaki Falls Track) leading towards Taranaki Falls, tumbling over a cliff face
Image credit: Kathrin & Stefan Marks (Creative Commons)
Set within the majestic Tongariro National Park, Taranaki Falls drops 20 metres from a cliff formed from eroded volcanic rock. This landscape is 15,000 years in the making, and you’ll feel that when the remnants of Ruapehu’s eruption crunches beneath your boots.

The Taranaki Falls Walk is a must-see for families venturing into the heart of New Zealand’s North Island. This 6 kilometre circuit track leads curious young explorers through open tussock to where the powerful flow sprays off the boulders as it falls. Then you’ll scope out the view from the top of Taranaki before returning through alpine forests, dotted with Black beech trees.

Need to know

Length: 6 km
Time: 2 hrs
Grade: Easy
Style: Return
Access: Start the trail from Whakapapa Village, just below the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre.
Map: You can print a map of Taranaki Falls Track from the website of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (Te Papa Atawhai).

Wilkies Pools Loop Track (Egmont National Park)

With Mount Taranaki looming above, your little adventurers can explore the ‘goblin (kamahi) forest’ – tell me they won’t like the sound of that – where they’ll walk between twisted trees carpeted in thick moss. The wet forest floor is a magical miniature landscape to the imagination of a young nature lover.

Before too long you’ll cross Kapuni Stream on a swing bridge that requires a little bravery, before reaching Wilkies Pools, where the stream cascades down a hill through a series of clear rocky plunge pools of its own making.

If you’ve managed to visit on a warm day – or if you’re brave – treat the kids to a dip in the brisk mountain water.

Wilkies Pools is magnificent, but the rest of this circuit trail doesn’t disappoint. On the home stretch, you’ll need to cross the Kapuni Stream again, except this time there’s no bridge, only stepping stones. There’s no way the little ones won’t be talking about this trail for years to come.

Rocky pools on a river, surrounded by forest, with Mount Taranaki in the background
Image credit: Michal Klajban (Creative Commons)

Need to know

Length: 1.9 km
Time: 1 hr 30 mins
Grade: Easy
Style: Circuit
Access: You’ll find the trailhead about 75 metres from the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre on Manaia Road.
Map: You can grab a map of Wilkies Pools Loop Track from the Department of Conservation website.

Ruakuri Walk (Waitomo)

Ruakuri Walk
Image credit: Tony Lin (Creative Commons)

In the heart of New Zealand’s Waitomo region you’ll find the Ruakuri Walk, a short and accessible circuit trail, meandering through a forested gorge where the limestone is carpeted in moss. As you pass under limestone arches and tree branches hung with curtains of lichen, interpretive signs provide insights into the Waitomo area’s Māori heritage.

One of the trail’s highlights is the Ruakuri Natural Bridge viewing platform, which looks over a massive cave. The kids will be fascinated by the stream running underneath and the huge stalactites and stalagmites. It might be wise to bring a torch (a head torch is always handy), as the entrance to the viewing platform is dark. Other sections of the trail can also be quite dark, especially in the early morning and late afternoon.

Need to know

Length: 1 km
Time: 45 min
Grade: Easy
Style: Circuit
Access: Access from Waitomo Village is well-signed via Tumutumu Road. It’s only about a 4 km drive.
Map: A map of the Ruakauri Walk can be printed from the Department of Conservation website.

Ohinetonga Track (Owhango)

Ohinetonga Track
Image credit: Jaime Apolonio (Creative Commons)
Nestled near the charming village of Owhango, the Ohinetonga Track offers an idyllic introduction to the wonders of New Zealand’s wilderness. This relatively flat loop track is perfect for families with young children, offering a scenic stroll along the banks of the scenic Whakapapa River with perfect picnic spots and absolutely divine swimming holes.

The lush ferny forest is thick with towering rimu and kahikatea trees. Birdwatchers are in for a treat – with a bit of luck and patience, you might spot the kererū (New Zealand pigeon) or hear the distinct melody of the tūī.

At about the halfway point, you’ll come across a tranquil lagoon, where children can get an up-close look at wetland ecosystems. The observant might catch a glimpse of eels and other species that call the lagoon home.

Need to know

Length: 3.8 km
Time: 2 hrs
Grade: Easy
Style: Circuit
Access: Turn off the SH4 at Owhango and follow the ‘walking tracks’ signs.
Map: A map of Ohinetonga Track can be printed from the Department of Conservation website.
Further Info: Note that at the time of publishing, this track is partially closed due to landslide. The track can’t currently be completed as a loop. However, the rest of the track is still open.
New Zealand’s North Island offers an impressive selection of trails for families and young adventurers. These are just a handful of the best ones. From the Māori heritage and majestic kauri forests to the picturesque coastal walks and volcanic landscapes, you’re in for an absolute treat.

These trails invite you and your children to create unforgettable memories, ignite their curiosity, and foster a deep appreciation for the great outdoors and New Zealand’s rich history.

What are you waiting for? Organise those flights, book your campervan, pack up the kids and get exploring.

Ever travelled New Zealand’s North Island with your kids? Got any questions, comments, updates or corrections? Let us know by commenting below.

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