Enjoy a getaway at home
If you’ve left it too late to plan a getaway for the school holidays, why not try a staycation, writes Thomas Manch.
Winter wearing you down? That’s generally the pitch from travel companies promoting last-minute deals as winter wanes. The coldest season is a good excuse for a break, but not when you’re just a week out from the school holidays.
But there’s plenty of value in a staycation. They are a chance to see your town with new eyes.
Unsure where to start? Here are some school holiday staycation tips for the main centres:
Forget Sea World, Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium is an underwater world waiting for you around the corner. The aquarium is full of new life and romance in spring. Spot the baby sea dragons and jellyfish, and see the gentoo penguins courting each other. Tickets are $39 for adults, $22 for children – but cheaper tickets are available online.
The Museum of Transport and Technology doesn’t provide the thrills of Dreamworld, but the educational experience is probably more valuable than an adrenaline rush. Colour is the focus of its upcoming holiday experience, which includes a ‘‘Glow Zone’’ and optical illusions. At $16 for adults and $8 for children, the price won’t give you a head-rush either.
If you’re looking to escape the city, head to the Awhitu Peninsula, west of Pukekohe. Drive out to the end of the peninsula where you’ll find the historic Manukau Heads Lighthouse, one of few in the country that you can climb to the top.
Just north of Auckland you’ll find the black sand beaches of rugged Muriwai. Take a spin on a blo-kart, or view the gannet colony as the birds settle in for summer.
You don’t need to head to the Gold Coast to learn to surf. Raglan, described as a worldclass, family-friendly, surfing beach with a pioneering surf school by National Geographic, is only 45 minutes from central Hamilton. Beginners lessons are $89 and, with wetsuit rental included, all you have to do is show up.
There’s an unknown world in the King Country, right underneath your feet. The mythical Waitomo Caves are great for the adventurous; you can abseil, raft, or boat into its glowing depths. Prices vary, but check out the Caves’ website for school holiday deals.
Back in town, the Hamilton Gardens are worth a spring afternoon picnic. Take a cruise on the Waikato River Explorer, which sails on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and weekends. Tickets for the scenic cruise are $30 for adults, and $15 for children.
And it wouldn’t be a holiday without a trip to the zoo. Hamilton Zoo offers ‘‘Face2Face’’ encounters with the lemurs, cheetah, and even the rhino for $15. On the up-close ‘‘Eye2Eye’’ tour, at $75 for a group of five, you learn how the animals are cared for, the issues they face in the wild, and what the zoo is doing for conservation.
It’s the ‘‘little city that could, and did’’, according to a recent article on The Huffington Post‘s website which affirmed Wellington’s status as the creative capital. Boasting more cafes, bars, and restaurants per capita than New York City, why would you need to leave town to splurge these school holidays?
As with popular getaway destination Melbourne, lanes are increasingly playing host to the city’s offerings. The freshly renovated Egmont St and neighbouring Eva St are host to numerous destinations for foodies, including the Egmont Street Eatery, Wellington Chocolate Factory, and peanut butter makers Fix and Fogg.
Holidays are all about trying something new, but you can always bring the destination to you. Head to the night market and try a dish at one of the many food trucks offering cuisine from other lands. Head in with an empty stomach and you could have multiple holidays in one evening.
If you haven’t seen the two war exhibitions in the capital, now might be your chance. The Great War Exhibition at the historic Dominion Museum, and Te Papa’s Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War are highly regarded history lessons. Both are $15 for adults, and it’s $10 for children at Te Papa, and free for under-16s at the Dominion.
Te Papa has school holiday activities with lighter subject matter. Kids can take part in a ukulele jam session, an improvcomedy workshop, or learn how to sing with a NZ Opera singer.
If you’re looking to get outdoors, visit the often overlooked eco-sanctuary Zealandia. The entrance fee helps support the native birds, lizards, and bugs that call the reserve home.
Missing the beaches of Fiji? If you’re staycationing in Christchurch, forget the golden sands all together and head for white powder. Mt Hutt is open throughout the school holidays, with lift passes and lessons starting at $71 for a day for under-10s.
And if you’re seeking that resort treatment, indulge in the thermal pools of Hanmer Springs, a 90-minute drive north of the city. Push your kids down the slide and, if you’re feeling particularly luxurious, indulge in a spa treatment.
If indulgence isn’t your thing, the scenic township of Lyttelton is worth a trip. Stroll around the port town known for its offbeat charm, visit the Saturday farmers’ market and, if you like the port lifestyle, take the three-day Learn to sail course with the Naval Point Club for $175.
It’s possible to take a staycation far off the beaten track with the Mini New Zealand Icefest and its Our Place in Antarctica exhibition, on the perils of travelling and surviving on the world’s coldest continent. The first week of the school holidays is the exhibition’s last week, so get in quick before it melts away.
If you’re in Hamilton, visit the intriguing Waitomo Caves.