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Where to go to avoid the school holiday crowds

New statistics suggest Kiwis plan to re-discover their wanderlust by taking to the road these school holidays.

Data from Budget Car Rentals reveals domestic demand for rental car bookings, ahead of the upcoming September school holidays, is up nearly 30 per cent compared to the July school holidays.

With this in mind, Budget Car Rentals has put together a list of some of New Zealand’s overlooked holiday destinations perfect for a family getaway these school holidays, so you can spend less time waiting in queues and more time exploring all that our beautiful country has to offer.


Instead of queueing at Cardrona, take the kids to Methven, a quaint little country town in Canterbury.

Drive the stunning inland scenic route 72 where Canterbury plains meet the Southern Alps and you’ll reach your destination in just an hour and a half. From Methven you can catch a shuttle bus up to Mt Hutt Ski Field, the largest commercial ski field in Canterbury. With spectacular views of both the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean, it is a great option for families with a dedicated learner area, plus kids under ten ski for free.

If you get tired of the slopes, Methven has an array of outdoor activities on its doorstep from jet boating in the Rakaia Gorge, to playing 18 holes on one of the country’s most picturesque golf courses.


Staying in Te Anau gives you access to all the activities Fiordland has to offer. At 1.2 million hectares, it is the largest National Park in the country. The 'walking capital of the world' is home to three of New Zealand’s Great Walks – the Kepler, Milford and Routeburn tracks. While the full 60km Kepler track takes four days, there is also a day walk around the Te Anau lake shore to Dock Bay and Brod Bay that is great for kids and all huts on the track are free for children.

The two-and-a-half-hour drive from Te Anau, through the Homer Tunnel, to Milford Sound is one of the most breathtaking roads in New Zealand. You will drive through the Eglington Valley, which was once a glacier, as well as the Mirror Lakes. When you reach Milford Sound consider a full day cruise which includes getting dunked under waterfalls, kayaking below the Cascades Range waterfalls and a look through the deep underwater observatory at Harrison’s Cove – and most day trips are free for kids during the school holidays.


The ‘Tron’ has great shopping, a zoo, museums and plenty of parks and playgrounds, making it a fun place to go for a family holiday. The mighty Waikato River that winds its way through the city offers a scenic cruise or walk and cycle along its banks through the heart of Hamilton. The award-winning Hamilton Gardens are a fun day out for the whole family, with activity sheets available for the kids and a playground.

Day-tripping is easy from Hamilton. Within an hour’s drive you can visit the Hobbiton Movie Set (children under eight are free), spot glowworms at the Waitomo Caves or explore the coastal town of Raglan.

Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari is another must-do activity. Hiking through the lush ancient rainforest will get you up close and personal with kiwi, tuatara, native bats and takahe – among hundreds of other species thriving in the vast 3400-hectare reserve.

The Far North

Follow the twin coast discovery highway to discover the spectacular scenery of the ‘Winterless North’.

There’s plenty of places to stop on the way, including the birthplace of New Zealand – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. For the adrenaline-junkies, New Zealand’s highest parasailing at 1300ft is the ultimate way to see the beautiful Bay of Islands. While you’re there, there are a number of dolphin and whale watching and swimming tours in the area.

On your way to Cape Reinga stop in Kerikiri or the world-famous fish and chip shop built over the water in Mangonui. The top of New Zealand is a must do for any Northern roadie, and make sure you snap a pic with the lighthouse.

On the way back to Auckland experience the affinity MƒÅori have with the forest and walk under the stars to see the largest known Kauri trees in the world at Footprints Waipoua’s Twilight Encounter.

The award-winning Kauri Museum in Matakohe, famous for its storytelling, hospitality and the legacy left behind by the ancient kauri trees which once covered Northern New Zealand, is great for kids and adults alike (under-fives are free). It’s also home to the world’s largest kauri slab measuring 22.5 metres in length.


Dunedin is one of New Zealand’s oldest cities and the gateway to the Otago region. The heart of Dunedin is the Octagon and most attractions are within walking distance, including shops, cafes, and restaurants along with the main information centre, museums and cinema.

Just minutes from the central city is St Clair beach – a playground for local surfers and walkers alike. At the southern end of the beach is a heated saltwater pool. It is the only surviving saltwater pool of several in Dunedin from the late 1800s and a family pass is only $15.

You cannot visit Dunedin without a trip to the Otago Peninsula.

Choose Portobello Road if you want to hug the coastline and have immediate sea level views or Highcliff Road to traverse the rolling hills of the Peninsula. From here you can take a short diversion to the windswept Sandfly Bay and take in incredible views.

Other highlights on the Peninsula include Lanarch Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, Penguin Place, home to the Yellow Eyed Penguins and the Royal Albatross colony and information centre.

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