North of Auckland:
We just LOVED Matakana. Had fabulous lunch at Heron's Flight vineyard and then gelato at Charlie's just down the road. Be sure to visit Tawharanui, and we passed the Sandpiper Lodge and it looked spectacular. We liked this area better than the Bay of Islands where we spend four days. Also, visit Morris and James Country Pottery and Cafe. Great food there, too. Ascension Vineyard is highly rec as well, though we didn’t go. If you fly into Auckland you could easily spend a few days up in this area (just 2 hrs. maybe? from Auckland) and then fly down to Te Anau area.
Southland: flew into Queenstown, then drove to Glenorchy. Stayed at Kinloch lodge—very basic accommodations (they don’t take kids in their fancier rooms), but great food and beautiful area: http://www.kinlochlodge.co.nz/
Queenstown is very beautiful, but the downtown very busy with adventure seekers—100’s of bungee jumping outlets.
Te Anau: Loved this place. There are two cottages—perhaps one for your parents and one for yourselves?
I belly-ached over which boat cruise to take to Milford and Doubtful sounds, but in the end I chose the biggest operator, Real Journeys, and we were very happy with them. We thought a bigger boat would be better with the kids, and we were right about that. We had taken a small boat cruise with kids in Alaska and there’s not much room for kids to run around. Also, note that every cruise in Milford and Doubtful does pretty much the exact same thing, so there’s no real incentive to take a different company. Real Journeys sells a package for Milford, Doubtful, and glowworm caves (which, as I said, are also worth doing). Actually, one really cool thing to do (we didn’t because we decided that it was just too pricey) is to take the boat overnight to Doubtful Sound. I think the overnight in Doubtful looks much more interesting than the overnight in Milford. We saw the spot where both ships anchored for the night, and definitely Doubtful is better. This would be a really cool thing to do with your parents (or maybe your parents by themselves):
The overnight cruise has to be booked WAY in advance, but if you decide just to make day trips, then I recommend waiting until you arrive and booking them all when you get there and can see the weather reports. Since we booked it with the weather in mind we had FABULOUS days for both of our main cruises. The glowworms could be done on a day that it’s rainy.
Beautiful place—can use as a home base to the area—visit the great beach at Kaiteriteri and do some hiking in Abel Tasman.
You could split your time in this area between Clayridge House and the following hotel (we didn’t stay there, but we ate there and thought the whole place was beautiful, albeit pricey):
If you don’t stay there, one good thing to do is to take a boat to a beach just south of the lodge and then hike to the lodge for lunch or dinner and then get a boat back from the Awaroa beach. We did this with our three year old.
Other random notes:
Footprint NZ is best guidebook. I also cross-referenced Fodor’s but it’s not as good.
BTW, my colleague who has won several wine tasting contest thought the best vineyard in NZ was Felton Road in Bannockburn, Central Otago. We didn’t go, but it sounds great.