“I do believe it’s time for another adventure”…New Zealand has long been top of our family travel bucket list. Places including Kaikoura, Blenheim, Abel Tasman, Punakaiki, Wanaka, Queenstown, Milford Sound and Lake Tekapo all on the South Island and Auckland, Rotorua and of course Hobbiton on the North Island were added to our itinerary.
“You’re crazy going that far with kids!” or “good luck with that!” was the response from the majority of people in the UK when we told them we’d booked a 3 week road trip around the North and South Islands of New Zealand with our two boys aged 7 and 9 years old. Our boys are pretty well accustomed to a +10 hour flight having been on trips to Canada and America, but of course New Zealand is twice that distance, so to say it was a little daunting is an understatement. The reality was our boys were so excited to have an adventure across to the other side of the World they just took it in their stride. We even had some passengers who sat behind us on the first leg of our journey to LA comment on how well behaved they were, bring on the proud mama moment. We flew from London with Virgin Atlantic Airlines and on board they had loads of movie choices for the kids along with games and TV shows, plus the trusty Nintendo Switches helped heaps keeping them entertained. With a 3 hour layover in LA we boarded an Air New Zealand flight for another 12 hours across the pacific to Auckland. New Zealand is probably one of the furthest places to go to from the UK which is a downside, but at the same time, it’s what makes it so special. I can say without hesitation that it is 100% worth the mammoth effort to get there.
Day 1 – Auckland
We touched down in Auckland International Airport and got a taxi into the city centre which took around 30 minutes. We arrived at our hotel the Crowne Plaza Auckland and we stayed here for 2 nights. As we were feeling a little jet lagged we all had a little power nap to adjust to the 11 hour time difference. This helped us adjust quicker and keep the boys going until the usual bedtime. We found the hotel perfect for families, it had asuper comfy king size beds with lots of space and quiet rooms to get some well earned sleep. It also offered a fantastic breakfast and had a great location to explore this awesome city – we all loved watching people jump of the Sky Tower from our bedroom window. The hotel had a great glass lift which has a lovely view and travels on the outside of the building. It’s just a short walk to the shops, restaurants and bars and the lovely waterfront area.
Day 2 – Waiheke Island, Auckland
After a good sleep and a big breakfast, we spent the first day just exploring the local shops and walked down to the waterfront to people watch and get our bearings. The next day we decided to catch the ferry to Waiheke Island for the day. We all loved this beautiful island, it reminded us of the Isles of Scilly by our home in Cornwall, England; relaxed, picturesque, ice cream parlours, shops, restaurants and cafes by the beach – lovely beach for playing in the waves and stand up paddle boarding. Highly recommend this trip to Waiheke for families. Its got a great chilled out vibe and feels so different to the city of Auckland.
Day 3 – Christchurch to Kaikoura
After our two days in the city, it was time to head back to Auckland airport and catch our Air New Zealand flight to Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand and where we would begin our two weeks motorhome family adventure. After a huge amount of research and checking out reviews we booked our motorhome with Wilderness Motorhomes. Once we arrived at the arrivals we called Wilderness who picked us up and drove us to their office which was about ten minutes from the airport. We couldn’t recommend Wilderness Motorhomes highly enough; they were so helpful, especially as this is the first time we’d ever done anything like this with hiring a motorhome. The motorhome itself, a Peak 4 Motorhome was perfect for us as a family of four; easy to drive, comfortable, powerful (sport switch really helped up steeper hills), lots of storage space, everything you need for cooking, and most importantly, a USB connection to play our New Zealand Spotify playlist as we travelled around the island.
We had the guided tour of our Peak 4 Motorhome and how it all worked along with a few hints and tips. And just like that we are were on the road ready to go and find a supermarket to stock up and head North to Kaikoura.
Our first journey in the motorhome was to travel from Christchurch to Kaikoura which was around a 2 1/2 hour drive. We used the Campable App and booked a place called Beach Paddock – loved it here, toilet, shower, water, electricity – very peaceful with the sounds of the waves crashing in the distance.
No light pollution so we could clearly see the Milky Way during the night, breathtaking gazing at the stars. A short walk down the road was the beach (volcanic sand), along with biggest collection of driftwood we’d ever seen!
Day 4 – Kaikoura to Blenheim
Today we celebrated Marks 40th birthday, hurray! and after opening cards some very tuneful singing from the little guys and of course some birthday cake, we headed to Kaikoura town for a coffee; I must say the coffee in New Zealand is consistently awesome!. We did have a Whale watching tour booked in but unfortunately when we got there, because of the 3 metre swell, the advice was not to go out with the boys as there was a high risk of sea sickness, so we didn’t get to see any whales or dolphins.
So here is the beauty of travelling in a motorhome, as our plans had changed we then decided instead of staying another night in Kaikoura, we would head up to Blenheim that very day instead. This was a stunningly beautiful drive, amazing scenery with countless vineyards, crazy blue and turquoise ocean colours flanked the road for most of of our journey. We then used trusty TripAdvisor and read the reviews of a super restaurant. So we stopped for the big birthday meal at Gramado’s in Blenheim, a fantastic Brazilian restaurant. The meal was fantastic, best steak and lamb we’ve ever had and being in the Malbrough Wine region it would have been rude not to have a glass of their cuvee wine.
That evening we used the Campable app again and stayed in the grounds of a ladies home in Blenheim ten minutes from the beach, she had a few horses and chickens which the boys loved and plenty of room for running off some energy in the sunshine.
Day 5 – Blenheim to Abel Tasman
Stunning drive again heading for Abel Tasman where the scenery and the weather got more tropical as we headed our way north.
We stopped off at Pelorus Bridge, this is where the Pelorus River meets the Rai River. Its a great stop as it has a lovely cafe where we had lunch and then a short forest walk from the parking and cafe was the pool where we all got in for a cool off swim. For our eldest boy he couldn’t believe his luck, he spent an hour jumping off a partly submerged tree and swam to the sounds of crickets and the forest. What an experience for all of us, a truly beautiful spot. After that we got back on the road and headed North to Abel Tasman national park and its gateway Kaiteriteri.
Our park we booked online at Kaiteriteri Beach was located right next to the beach; the gateway to the Abel Tasman national park. We spent the afternoon on the lovely beach which is really family friendly with safe shallow warm waters. You can hire paddleboards and kayaks directly off the beach so we took two double kayaks out around the bay to explore with the boys. We were lucky enough to encounter the native blue sea penguins who swam alongside and underneath our kayaks. Our youngest son Harry thought this was the funniest sight, like little torpedoes. The natural beauty of this coastline is stunning and looks so different from the water- amazing!
Day 6 – Abel Tasman
The next day we booked a boat tour to the national park which was conveniently located on the same beach. We chose the 4 hour tour as we didn’t plan to do all the hiking, just a short walk to explore the area. There are so many tours you can choose to do depending on how much hiking or camping you want to do in the park. When our boat arrived on the pristine beach of Anchorage Bay, we headed out into the heart of Abel Tasman through the forest on the hunt for a good picnic spot for lunch. We walked around 20 minutes through unspoilt forest, seeing lots of local birdlife on the way, arriving at the stunning Te Pukatea Bay. Here we relaxed on the beach, swam in the ocean and watched a baby kiwi play with its mother. The boys just climbed rocks and jumped in the crystal clear ocean. We really did feel like we had found our own little piece of paradise.
One tip we would say is spend more time here exploring, we had only two days and it wasn’t enough in hindsight, we loved it.
Day 7 – Abel Tasman to Greymouth
So we were up early as it was an another beauty of day and hit the road again. This time we headed south down the west coast and our overnight base was a place called Barrytown, not far from Greymouth. This was planned as one of our longest drives, which in total was about 5 ½ hours. It was our longest journey of the trip but the scenery and plenty of stops along the way helped and its so different to driving in the UK.
On route to our next motorhome stop off we checked out Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes. These are on the way which was great as its the perfect stop off with Cafe, toilets and plenty of room to park Moto Moto (the new nickname for our motorhome). This place is unreal, we witnessed the raw power of the ocean with the blow holes and our boys spent ages watching the huge waves rumble under the cliffs and shoot out sprays of water into the air- this is a must visit for any family trip. There is also a great little restaurant and coffee shop at the entrance to the rocks too serving…… you’ve guessed it pancakes!
We arrived at out campsite for the evening, had a BBQ and then headed for a sunset walk down to the beach to watch the sunset. We had stunning tree covered mountains behind us and one of the biggest beaches i’ve ever seen, with not another person in sight.
Day 8 – Greymouth to Franz Joseph Glacier
Day 8 and we were headed from Greymouth to Franz Joseph Glacier down the scenic west coast, we chose to split the journey by stopping off at Hokitika – there is a gorge we’d read about which has the most blue turquoise colour. The water was in fact milky grey on the day we visited but only because of heavy rainfall the day before, but it didn’t matter – this place is a must visit. The boys loved walking over the gorge across rope bridges, it wasn’t far from the car park and there is a cool little coffee van. Little tip – invest in some sand-fly repellant, it’s a haven down there for those little nippers.
We stopped for some snacks and a coffee at the van after exploring Hokitika Gorge and taking a million photos. We then got chatting to a lovely local man (Matt) who asked the boys if they felt strong and would like to help him move his helicopter out of his hangar, to which they were very excited as I think they thought he was a New Zealand Cow Boy ( it was the hat I think ) he then said to say thank you he would give us all a little flight. Wow! The helicopter ride was an experience well never forget, the scenery this area has to offer is so diverse and unique- we would highly recommend Matt and his tours. You pass their base on the way to Hokitika Gorge, they offer so many different tours and you can even get up and see the glaciers surrounding this area of New Zealand – you can’t miss them, they’re called precision helicopters.
This was one of the highlights of our entire trip. Matt was brilliant, specially with the boys. With over 20 years experience PHL are knowledgable and you feel in the safest of hands. A scenic flight isn’t something I thought about doing as a family until we went on a Precision Helicopter and now i would recommend everyone to experience this and see this stunning country from an unrivalled view.
That afternoon after the excitement of the mornings escapades we decided to take a hike to the foot of the famous Franz Joseph Glacier. This is a good 3 hour hike there and back and to be honest a little bit too far for our youngest son. What a spectacle that awaits you at the end of this walk.
The blue ice can been seen from the path leading to the glacier. You unfortunately can’t climb the glacier from the base anymore due to climate change, the only way to access and walk on the glacier is to take a helicopter flight. There are many of these in the town which offer tours to the glacier. Well worth if you want to climb across the blue ice, but not if you’re travelling with young children. That evening we booked into the Rainforest retreat. This motorhome campsite was perfectly situated to walk into the village of Franz Joseph. We fancied a night off cooking so that evening we headed to town and had a lovely meal and stocked up on a few essentials from the local supermarket.
Day 9 – Franz Joseph Glacier to Wanaka
So we woke up bright and breezy excited to get on the road and visit Wanaka. We have heard so much about this town. We checked out the route and found a good stop-off called Knights Point. The drive there was along the ocean road and wow was this spectacular. Knights Points is an elevated position overlooking the coastline. From here we saw a huge pod of Dolphins jumping in the ocean down below.
So after a stop off here we got back on the road and headed to Wanaka. Now this part of the journey was completely different to any scenery we had seen prior to this. We left the raw beauty and dramatic western coastline and came inland on our journey into the realm of Hobbits. The Haast area is classed by UNESCO as a world heritage area, and as we snaked alongside the famous Haas river we went into the mountain roads of the Haast Pass. Cue the lord of the rings music and you could almost be right there in the movie with Frodo and Bilbo. We took the route and went alongside the famous Makarora River to be fronted at the end by the majestic Lake Wanaka.
Day 10 & 11 – Wanaka
Wanaka is such a cool town, I think if we were to live anywhere on South Island, it would be here. We had booked into Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park. Here we booked two nights. We chose this park as it was within walking distance to the lake and town, and by this point we needed to wash some clothes. This place has a super kids park and its so nice to be able to see the lake. We walked into Wanaka that evening and found the famous Eriks Fish and Chips. We explored this town and spent time cycling the lake and visiting the famous Wanaka Tree (you’ll know it) , we also relaxed on the beach and our eldest son joined the local new zealand school boys and launched himself into the lake off the jetty. This place is spectacular. Mountains surround the lake and sky seems to go on forever. The town has some great shops, cafes and bars. It really does cater for everyone and had a very relaxed vibe.
Day 12 – Wanaka to Queenstown
We left Wanaka on route to Queenstown. We stopped at Crossfire Wanaka and spent some time shootings arrows and playing mini golf. Then we headed through the Pisa Mountain range into Queenstown. What a drive, we went up through the highest mountain range with far reaching views through the valleys below. We then came down through winding roads into the Gibbston Valley. We stopped at a vantage point overlooking Lake Wakatipu and our first glimpse of Queenstown.
Days 13 – Queenstown
We arrived in Queenstown which where we planned to stay for 3 nights in the Queenstown Lakeview Holiday park. We again chose this one for the fact it was right under the gondola to get up the mountain and also within walking distance to the town. It didn’t disappoint. It was very busy, but then compared to being in the Wilderness, being in Queenstown was a change. This town literally has everything. Shops, Bars, Cafes, Restaurants, extreme sports, bungee jumping, skiing in the winter, the list is endless. We decided to explore the town on our first day as we had Milford Sound booked for the the next day. So we eat Italian food and drank gin overlooking the lake whilst the boys played on the lakeside beach.
Day 14 – Milford Sound
We set off for the base of Air Milford which was about ten minutes outside Queenstown. We arrived at the base and after a briefing on the flight path we were going to take through the mountains we boarded the plane. As the fleet are high winged planes, you have an unobstructed view of the most unreal scenery. We past snowy peaks and high mountain lakes. The boys were in awe of what they saw and we hadn’t even arrived at Milford Sound. The pilot flew us in over the Tasman Sea and we touched down among towering peaks. A short bus ride from the landing strip and we were at the boat port. This is when our jaws dropped. We were lucky that the region had lots of rain prior to our visit and we had wall to wall sunshine. You just cannot describe what you witness here. The sound itself holds a magic. You cant quite take it all in, no photo or video can do this place justice.
We cruised around the sound, the boys opted to sit up top and we had front row seats to the “waterfall facial”. Yes this isn’t some fancy spa treatment offered on board, the captain takes the boat into the powerful spray of one of the thundering waterfalls falling into the sound. The scream of delight and laughter of our two little boys, we will never forget. What a place, truly magical.
Day 15 – Queenstown
Queenstown has stunning scenery, but the best vantage point to see this is from the top of the Skyline Gondola. The gondola ride takes you to the top where you can do all sorts of activities such as a zipline, the luge, or just eat and drink. You have uninterrupted views of Lake Wakatipu. We opted to have a go at the Luge and I have to say it’s one of best things we have done as a family. All of us howled with laughter as we raced (carefully) down the mountain side. You could easily spend the day up here and soak up the atmosphere and views.
In the evening we took advantage of the first table app and went to the Ice Bar, very cool (literally!) – our youngest son lasted about ten minutes but it was good fun to try. Nice cocktails too.
Day 15 – Queenstown to Lake Tekapo
We packed up and set on our way to Lake Tekapo. We had researched a lot about this area as Mark is a photographer and wanted to practice some astrophotography here. Where else in the world is it better to see the milky-way than in the largest natural dark sky reserve in the southern hemisphere. On route we decided to stop off at Lake Pukaki on the way to Lake Tekapo – the drive to this lake was unreal in itself, we went from vast plains flanked by mountains to turquoise rivers that didn’t look real.
The next view around a corner we overlooked the stunning Lake Pukaki. Wow this lake has the bluest turquoise water we’ve ever seen and to top it of ( and this lake is showing off right now) it has the best view of the majestic Mount Cook in the background. Words, photos or video cannot capture how stunning this area is, you have to see it.
That evening we arrived at Lake Tekapo. The campsite was yards from the lake and had a super playground for the boys. We had that evening planned a night at the observatory in the dark sky reserve but didn’t manage to fit it in so we did our own (and saved $160 dollars) so we headed down to Lake Tekapo beach at about 9pm and was greeted with stunning view of the milky way. Mark tried out his first shots of astrophotography and the boys couldn’t believe their eyes, plus it was very exciting getting to stay up late.
Day 16 & 17 – Lake Tekapo to Christchurch
We got on the road again (Willie Nelson of course is on our Spotify playlist) and headed to the South Islands capital city. Now in hindsight, we made a bit of a mistake here…well, we had to make at least one mistake on this trip! we should have stayed at the Lake Tekapo for another night but ceis la vie, we live and learn. Christchurch is a welcoming city. Very different to the rest of the south island in as much as its like any other city really, full of people and I guess we had got very used to almost having the south island to ourselves. We stayed at two different campsites. One by the beach, which was quite windy and the other not far from Auckland Airport. The weather had also turned on us at this point but our Wilderness motorhome kept us nice and warm which had done us proud taking us around the South Island but now it was time to return it and head back to North Island for a few days.
Day 17 – Christchurch to Auckland to Rotorua
So back where the adventure began at Auckland airport, and back to some nice warm summer weather! We collected our hire car and headed 3.5 hours south to Rotorua where we had booked to stay at the Aura apartments. We booked here because of the excellent TripAdvisor reviews. Beautifully equipped apartment, comfortable beds, awesome coffee, and to top it off…a hot thermal swimming pool for the boys to enjoy. Aura caters for everyone. Its centrally located to Rotorua town so you can easily walk to all the restaurants and shops.
Day 18 – Rotorua
We decided to pack as much in today as possible as there is so much to do in and around Rotorua. We got up early and headed to Waimangu Volcanic Valley. This place blew the boys and us away. Its around a 40 minute drive from Rotorua. Its steaming lakes and geysers are spectacular and you almost feel you are on another planet. We opted to walk to the lake taking in all the sights along the way with a little picnic stop. We then took the boat cruise around the lake.
In the evening we took a drive out to Redwoods Treewalk which was fantastic, a must do for any family visiting the area – you can go daytime or in the evening. We chose to go in the evening to see all the lanterns lit up and it was spectacular, walking across suspension bridges high up through 115-year-old redwood trees.
Day 19 – Rotorua & Hobbiton
Today we headed up the Skyline gondola to experience the Luge Rotorua style. As we loved the Queenstown one so much, we couldn’t resit. It didn’t disappoint, this is so much fun for adults and kids. Once at the top of the gondola we were welcomed with spectacular views of Rotorua, the lake and surrounding mountains.
In the afternoon we headed for the famous Hobbiton, as huge Tolkien fans we couldn’t come all this way and not visit the home of hobbits. So we drove around an hour to the Hobbiton Movie Set. We were not sure what to expect, we had done Disneyland Orlando and was hoping this wasn’t quite as commercial and gimmicky. We arrived at the car park and collected our tickets from the main entrance. It has a cafe and a little shop and this is where you board the green bus to take you to Hobbiton. As we crossed the road and dropped down into the valley, we caught our first glimpse of the rolling green hills, accompanied by the Lord of the rings music in the coach this really set the tone for the adventure.
We started the guided tour, and not being a fan of a “guided tour” this surprised me. Our guide was relaxed and we had time to learn all about the movie making, get lots and lots of photos of our boys outside hobbit holes and then as you wander through the vegetable patches and the party tree you reach the Green Dragon Inn. We had time here to explore and have a Hobbiton brewed cider. This tour was absolute magic, our boys are a little young for the movies at the moment but that didn’t stop them feeling the magic of this place. So we sat and drank overlooking bag-end whilst the sun set. What a way to finish this extraordinary trip of a lifetime.
Watch video of our New Zealand family road trip
Finally, here’s a short film I put together from footage I filmed over the three weeks in New Zealand, what an adventure, highly recommend to any family!