Annual Passes for Kids
When we first landed in New Zealand, we lived in a teeny tiny AirBnb for FOUR MONTHS. Our kitchen was the size of a postage stamp and we all shared one bathroom with zero counter space. Needless to say, our living room was minuscule, there was no area for the kids to spread out with toys, so we went searching for other places to entertain ourselves. In the end, we got annual passes to all sorts of fun locales and have settled on a few that we will renew when our year is up.
The Auckland Zoo: We use this one the most out of all the annual passes. The Family Pass is NZ$220 (US$150) and includes two adults and up to three kids. In addition to free entry, it also entitles you to discounts at the different food establishments scattered around and the gift shop. The annual pass means we don’t feel rushed to see the entire zoo in one visit, and that is super important because the pace is HUGE. We typically arrive shortly after 9:30 (opening time! And the parking lot fills up quickly so I recommend arriving early.) spend some time running around the outdoor play area which is conveniently located next to a small coffee shop, then go out to explore a few exhibits. The kids have their favorites, like the flamingos for my four year old girl, and the meerkats for my five year old boy. He loves exploring the kid-sized tunnels that let him pop up in the middle of the meerkat enclosure.
The Auckland Zoo is a well thought out and maintained place. There has been lots of construction for new exhibits and animal enclosures over the past year, and I think that this type of maintenance and upgrades are somewhat regular. It means the zoo looks fresh, the animals seem well cared for, and there are often new things to explore.
Kelly Tarleton’s Sea Life Aquarium: The second most frequented attraction is the aquarium, which is a short drive from our house. You can read my post on it to learn more about the layout and tricks to visit, but suffice to say that my kids know if it is raining, there is a 50/50 chance we are going to the aquarium to let them run around at the indoor play area. (The other 50% of the time we go to the Auckland War Memorial Museum which is free for Aucklanders and has an amazing kids area!)
Annual passes are NZ$48.50 per person in a family pack, with a maximum of 2 adults and minimum of 3 people. Our family of 4 was NZ$194 (US$132). If buying passes online, the adult passes are discounted from NZ$80 for a single adult pass to NZ$72. Child passes are NZ$55. Like at the zoo, there are additional discount benefits to the aquarium annual pass that extend beyond admission.
MOTAT (Museum of Transportation and Technology): We purchased the annual pass to MOTAT not because we love the museum itself, but because we love going to their special event weekends. Being a “MOTAT Mate” lets us skip to the front of the line (and the lines can be LONG on popular days like Bubble Day or Slime Day) and get free admission.
The exhibits at the museum aren’t very engaging for young kids, and there seems to be a lot of wasted space that could be filled with cool, interactive activities but isn’t. However, at NZ$95, we’ve gotten our money’s worth out of the annual pass after two event days, so it is still a good deal.
Stardome Observatory & Planetarium: Our Stardome annual pass was a gift, and as much as I want to love and use it, we’ve only been once. I think the kids are a year or two too young. The main draw at the Stardome is the cool planetarium which shows a variety of astronomy-themed shows throughout the day. Unfortunately, my kids can’t make it through anything more than an episode of “Puffin Rock” and completely freaked out at the immersive experience. And we are IN BED by 8 pm and can’t take advantage of the Our Night Sky shows. I think we’ll try again when they are older.
The displays at the museum are sparse and aren’t designed to entertain pre-reading kids. After spending time at the Stardome, we had a lot of fun at the Cornwall park playground, so we managed to sooth everyone’s fears with a ride on the train. The annual passes cost NZ$115 for a family pass, so if you plan on watching 3-4 shows per year, it may be a good deal.
Butterfly Creek: Butterfly Creek is a place we’ve visited, but not a place we’ve purchased an annual pass for. However, I think if we lived closer, this might be a frequently visited location that would merit purchasing a family pass. They cost NZ$253 for a family of four. It is a good deal if you think you’ll visit four times in a year.
We’ve been once on our own and another time as part of a birthday party. There is a lot to explore, including an actual butterfly house (its hot in there!), petting zoo, outdoor play area, giant dinosaur replicas, and a new exhibit on mythical creatures like unicorns and dragons. It’s very cheesy - in a Chuck E. Cheese animatronic kind of way, but kids under 6 seem to love it.
Next door to Butterfly Creek is another place with annual passes - Rocket Ropes. It has a little kids’ area, but my two were over it in about 5 minutes. I think it would be a lot of fun for older kids, and if you live nearby, it may be a good investment. Older kids can get annual passes for NZ$100 each.
In addition to these year-round activities for kids, Auckland is filled with different festivals, events, and performances to enjoy. Many of them are free or very low cost. The plethora of entertainment options are one of the (many) reasons we love Auckland and chose to live here despite the overall higher cost of living than other parts of New Zealand.
Are there any annual passes that I’ve missed? Where do you love to take your kids?