Some of the best ways to keep the kids entertained over the winter school holidays

The Aotea Square Ice Rink is very popular during the winter school holidays. Photo / Dean Purcell.

With the July school holidays fast approaching, Jessica Wynne Lockhart rounds up some of the best family-friendly winter activities around the country.

Experience a true winter wonderland at Snowplanet

If you’re considering taking the kids on a ski vacation down south but aren’t sure it’s worth paying for an activity they might not enjoy, a day at Snowplanet in Silverdale is a good litmus test.

The Snow Dome caters to absolute beginners, with lessons for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. For a whole different set of skills and fun, you can visit the separate Winter Wonderland area, where you can fly down the hill between the snow-covered trees in a snow tub or on a toboggan.

Glam it up at Aotea Square Ice Rink in Auckland

From June 24th to July 31st, Aotea Square will be transformed into a fully covered ice rink. This year’s rink will feature an installation by top lighting technician Jonny Cross to make skaters feel like they’ve slipped into another dimension. (No wonder it will also be the venue for the free Drag Disco on Ice event on July 14, part of the Element AKL Festival.)

The ever-popular 35m ice slide also returns this year. Skate and helmet rentals are included in the ticket price, which can be purchased on-site or online in advance, starting at $19 for children and $23 for adults.

Learn to skate at Dunedin Ice Stadium

Although the Dunedin Ice Stadium is open all year round, the feeling of gliding across the ice is just a little different in the middle of winter. Celebrating the rich history of ice sports in Otago, the arena hosts ice skating, ice hockey games and curling, as well as ice bumper cars.

During the school holidays, there is public ice skating every day from 12 noon to 3 p.m. Tuition is also available, including through the COOL Kidz Club for ages 5-12, where little ones can get tuition, lunch, bumper car rides and a supervised disco session for $32.

Go curling in Naseby

What is the only sport that encourages its players to throw rocks at a house? curling! The rich sporting tradition is celebrated in the Central Otago area, where the country’s first Bonspiel was held in Naseby in 1879. Today, the village is home to the Southern Hemisphere’s first dedicated indoor curling rink open to public booking seven days a week (excluding tournament days). Each booking ($15 for kids; $40 for adults) includes lessons, equipment rental, and enough time for a game.

Would you also like to spend some time outdoors? Drive over to Naseby Forest and the 400m long ice toboggan where you can reach speeds of up to 70km/h.

No trip to Naseby is complete without trying out curling, and the town's purpose-built ice rink was the first in the southern hemisphere.  Photo / Getty Images
No trip to Naseby is complete without trying out curling, and the town’s purpose-built ice rink was the first in the southern hemisphere. Photo / Getty Images

Sightseeing from the Sky Waka Gondola

You don’t ski or snowboard? That doesn’t mean you can’t experience the joy of winter on Mt Ruapehu from the warmth of a sightseeing gondola. The floor-to-ceiling glass Sky Waka Gondola offers sweeping views of Mt. Ruapehu as skiers and snowboarders scoop out the snow beneath.

You drive almost 2 km to the Knoll Ridge Chalet, where you can treat yourself to a hot cup of coffee at 2020 meters above sea level. You can see neighboring peaks Mt Ngāuruhoe and Mt Tongariro and even Mt Taranaki on clear days.

The Sky Waka gondola at Whakapapa.  Photo / Mount Ruapehu
The Sky Waka gondola at Whakapapa. Photo / Mount Ruapehu

Skate in the heart of winter at Wellington’s Queens Wharf Precinct

Next month, a fully covered ice rink will take over the Queens Wharf neighborhood of Wellington, making it the perfect place to play whatever the weather. Tickets include skate rentals and start at $22, with student specials every Wednesday night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. when it’s only $14. Family passes are also available.

If you can’t make it to the rink in July, don’t despair. Daytona Adventure Park has a year-round ice rink that hosts disco nights every Friday and Saturday night.

Step back in time at the Aoraki/Mount Cook Visitor Center

Aoraki/Mount Cook Village may be known for its outdoor activities — including a snowy walk through Hooker Valley — but that doesn’t mean there’s not much to do indoors, either. If the weather is terrible outside, visit the DoC Visitor Center which is an attraction in itself. Below you will find a children’s area with games, puzzles, replica huts and films to watch. The upper floor features artwork and interpretive exhibits, including displays of the gear worn by early mountaineers like Sir Edmund Hillary to explore snow and ice-covered elevations.

Experience a polar explosion at Christchurch’s International Antarctic Center

Experience what it’s like to be caught in a polar storm at Christchurch’s International Antarctic Center. Enter the Storm Dome and you will face temperatures as low as -8 degrees, shaken by a -18 Celsius wind chill machine. Once you’ve warmed up again, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the rest of the center, which is home to rescued penguins, hagglunds (all-terrain vehicles) used on the icy continent, exhibits and a 4D cinema.

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