10 cool places to take the kids swimming

It kinda feels like summer’s just started. I’ve been immersing the child in water daily for the last couple of weeks – even when overcast, it’s still been so muggy-a-rama that we have to throw ourselves in. At night in the heat, fighting with the sheet, I’ve been fantasising about swimming at places like these: (note – this is the North Island edition…South Island to come…)

1)Whale Bay, Tutukaka Coast, Northland

A brief walk through cool and shady sub-tropical native bush brings you to beautiful Whale Bay – no cars, no houses, just white sand and clear water a-plenty. Fringed with Pohutukawas, and with rocky shorelines to explore on either side, I’m sure this is what they’re talking about when people describe NZ as ‘Godzone’. Half an hour from Whangarei, 2.5 hours from Auckland, and it is SO worth the drive.

Whale Bay

Whale Bay

2) Piroa Falls, Waipu/Maungaturoto, Northland

This is a little gem off the beaten track. The turn off to the Waipu Gorge Scenic Reserve is clearly signposted off the bottom of the Brynderwyn hill on SH1, and after about 7km you’ll get to the carpark. It’s a short walk across the river bridge and there’s lots of different swimming holes along the little track – fun to explore on a hot day!

3) Lake Waimanu, Bethell’s Beach, Auckland

Auckland’s west coast is wild and invigorating, but the beaches can be dangerous for children with their pounding surf and strong undertows. Instead, have a family day out at Lake Wainamu behind Bethell’s Beach. You’ll enjoy all the west coast scenery and the children will have a blast. The carpark is on Bethell’s Road, and you can follow the little stream along, splashing and paddling as you go. It’s about 20 minutes walk up to the lake in the sand dunes. Tip – take decent footwear (ie not just jandals) as the black sand can heat up.

4) The Parnell Baths, Judge’s Bay, Auckland

This place is legendary – I remember going there as a child, and the site is certainly historic ‘old Auckland.’ Nowadays the modernised complex is home to New Zealand’s largest salt water swimming pool, and it boasts a fantastic aqua playground for children. A glorious waterfront setting with views to Rangitoto Island will ensure you all have a great day out.

5) Tiri Tiri Matangi Island, Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, Auckland

Tiri is a wildlife sanctuary just a short ferry ride away from Auckland’s CBD. (You can also get the ferry from Gulf Harbour in Whangaparaoa.) The island is home to a significant population of rare native birds including Takahe, and walking tracks will lead you to some superb beaches. Bring your snorkelling gear, buckets and spades, and an appetite for learning about ecology and conservation. The children LOVE it. You can also book ahead to stay the night in the DoC hut (which is actually a restored farmhouse) – be sure to get up early for the awesome dawn chorus!

6) Karangahake Gorge, Waihi, Bay of Plenty

The Karangahake Gorge has many lovely swimming holes, but you may want to tackle a section of the Karangahake Historic Walkway and take your pick of spots to dangle yourself into the Ohinemuri River. There are also mountain biking trails and fascinating relics from the gold mining days. Heaps of fun for all ages.

7) Blue Lake (Tikitapu), Rotorua

This is such a pretty spot just 10 minutes away from the hustle of Rotovegas. There’s a great perimeter track which takes approximately an hour through stunning native bush, (mountain buggy friendly!) taking in lake views and offering a sidle down to enticing beaches. The lake itself is clear and rejuvenating, and if you don’t want to leave (who would?) there is an award-winning Top 10 Family Holiday Park just over the road. Playground and public picnic facilities are also at your disposal, lakeside.

blue lake

Blue Lake

8) Lake Tutira, Hawke’s Bay

This peaceful country idyll is located 50 minutes north of Napier on the Wairoa Road, and it is a real find! There is a sweet little campsite, a gorgeous walkway to explore, and the lake itself is calm and safe for swimming, kayaking, SUP and sailing. Go there and feel smug about it.

9) Meeting of the Waters/Araheke, Taranaki

This is a lovely little family friendly reserve just south of New Plymouth on SH3. Lots of picnic spots, bush walks, and a suspension bridge. The Waiwhakaiho River is there for your splashing, paddling, and swimming hole enjoyment!

10) Scorching Bay, Wellington

It’s true that this beach is no secret to Wellingtonians – but if you go there, you’ll see why. Just the drive is enough to make your shoulders drop down and relax, as the road wends its way around the inner harbour and brings you to the stretch of golden sand. Native bush extends up the hill behind you and there’s a great café and playground at hand. So pretty and so accessible from the city!





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