Kids will love New Zealand. There are enough weird, wonderful, curious, funny, and interesting things on these islands to amuse the most inquiring child's mind. I'd recommend 3 weeks if you're traveling with a family (you can stretch out the 2-week itinerary below), so it's less taxing on everyone. And I'd either go "bush and beach" with a tent at a northern beach camping ground so the kids can run wild and free; or I'd stick to three major centers - Auckland, Rotorua, and Nelson - for the best concentration of kid-related activities. Much of the gut-busting excitement of Queenstown has age limits, but if your kids are old enough and you want a longer trip, tack on the "Ten Action-Packed Days in the South Island" tour.
Day 1: Arrive in Auckland
Start slowly with an easy day, checking out combo deals and family passes at the visitor center at Viaduct Basin, where the kids can watch the boats and visit the New Zealand Maritime Museum. Boys, especially, seem to get a real kick out of a ride on the historic scow, Ted Ashby. Give them a bird's-eye view of the city from the Sky Tower, taking them up in the exterior glass lift and letting them walk over the glass floor. Dine in the revolving restaurant at the top.
Day 2: Auckland Sights
Impress the kids right from the start with Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World - where else can they see an underground colony of penguins? Drive around to Mission Bay, rent rollerblades, swim at the beach, have a picnic lunch, and feed the sea gulls. Spend the afternoon at Auckland Museum and make sure you let the kids loose in the superb Discovery Centre, where they can open drawers and touch exhibits. The Wild Child display and the Maori Treasures are also good value.
Day 3: More of Auckland
Get off to an early start at Auckland Zoo, which has heaps of great stuff for kids. Check out the daily animal encounters and view sea lions through underwater viewing windows. Or consider their Safari Night Sleepovers and guided night walks instead of a day outing. Drive to Butterfly Creek, flirt with winged beauties, ride on the Red Admiral Express, and see animals at Buttermilk Farm. Drive north to Snowplanet, where you have the unlikely pleasure of a midwinter snow experience in the midst of a subtropical summer.
Day 4: Drive to Rotorua
Hire a car and start the 3-hour drive to Rotorua early. Stop at Hamilton along the way and feed the ducks at Hamilton Lake. In the afternoon, visit Rotorua Museum and "experience" a volcanic eruption in the theater there. Follow this with a leisurely drive around the Blue and Green Lakes to the Buried Village, to see the remains of Te Wairoa village, which was buried by the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.
Day 5: Rotorua
The kids will be screwing their noses up at the smell of sulfur in the air, so get out there and show them what it's all about. Drive down to Waimangu and Waiotapu. Allow half a day for both, or, if you have to choose, 2 hours for Waiotapu. Back in town, feed the kids from one of the takeaway stands at the lakefront and then let them loose at Skyline Skyrides, where they can plummet downhill on a luge, or better still, have an adventure in the Zorb. The Agrodome is a hive of kids' activities - I'd plan to spend the afternoon here. Finish with a relaxing dip at Polynesian Spa.
Day 6: Maori Experiences
Spend the morning investigating the wonders of Te Puia, which includes the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve and the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute. Stay and watch Pohutu Geyser blow its top. In the afternoon, take a guided tour of Ohinemutu Maori Village on the lakefront. Set the evening aside for a hangi meal and a Maori experience at Tamaki Maori Village.
Day 7: Drive to Wellington
The drive south normally takes about 5 hours, but allow a day. Stop at Lake Taupo for a go at the Hole-in-One Challenge. And visit Huka Falls, just off the main highway north of Taupo. Have a picnic at one of the little beaches around the lake and then head into Tongariro National Park for beautiful mountain landscapes. The kids will be ready for another stop at Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre - keep your eyes open to spot a kiwi; and maybe there'll be time to squeeze in a snack stop at Greytown before you wind your way across the Rimutaka Ranges and down into Wellington by late afternoon.
Day 8: Wellington
Spend your first 3 hours exploring the Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa and allow extra time for the kids to experience the interactive displays on the ground floor. Let them run free along the waterfront after that - there'll be boats and people aplenty for them to watch. Head up the cable car next to the Botanic Garden, where you should take them to the Carter Observatory for a bit of stargazing. If you never got to the zoo in Auckland, don't miss the Wellington Zoo and its interactive animal experiences. Wander down Cuba Mall late afternoon and let the kids get wet in the Bucket Fountain.
Day 9: Ferry Ride to Picton
Catch the early Interislander across to Picton. The ferry has movie theaters and play areas for kids. Hire a car and drive to Nelson. Stop 10 minutes short of Nelson at Happy Valley Adventures for 4WD bike adventures and the sky swing. In Nelson, hunt out Penguino for a well-deserved specialty ice cream.
Day 10: Nelson
Start at the World of Wearable Art & Classic Cars Museum where everyone's eyes will pop out on stalks. Let the kids loose next at Nelson Fun Park and Natureland Zoo. Enjoy a picnic at nearby Tahunanui Beach and then spend the afternoon swimming, making sand castles, and generally relaxing on one of the most popular beaches in the area. You'll probably want to visit Penguino again after that.
Day 11: Exploring the Area
Watch glass blowing at Höglund Art Glass International Glass Centre, then drive to Mapua, visiting pottery studios along the way. Stop at orchard stalls for a crisp apple snack. Dabble fingers in open displays at Touch the Sea Aquarium and have a yummy late lunch at the Naked Bun Patisserie. Drive on through Motueka and turn right to Kaiteriteri, one of the prettiest golden-sand beaches you'll ever see. Spend the afternoon playing and swimming, or take a water taxi around the gorgeous coast of Abel Tasman National Park. Stay at Kaiteriteri or Motueka for the night.
Day 12: Abel Tasman National Park
Drive through Kaiteriteri and around to Marahau to get yourselves aboard one of the Abel Tasman kayaks. This unbeatable experience amid clear waters will amaze you. Watch for seals and penguins and don't forget to take your swimming togs. Alternatively, take a guided day walk on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. Get back to Nelson in time for dinner - perhaps fish and chips on the beach as the sun sets.
Day 13: Outdoor Adventures
Wander around Nelson's pretty shopping streets in the morning, or go for a walk along the Boulder Bank. In the afternoon hire bikes, go swimming at the beach, or fish off the end of the Nelson wharves. Visit Founder's Heritage Park.
Day 14: Return to Wellington
Rise early for the 2-hour drive to Picton. Allow time to wander along the shore, watching boats coming and going before getting back on the ferry to Wellington. Connect with your international flight home in the afternoon or early evening.