Our Epic Family Trip to New Zealand – The Lowdown

New Zealand With Children

We’re back from our family trip to New Zealand and wow, what a trip! We enjoyed the most amazing three weeks in March, exploring both the North and South Island. I’d spent forever researching and planning our dream trip to New Zealand and it didn’t disappoint.

Sure, it ended up being double the length of time we planned due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but we actually managed to enjoy our full NZ trip as planned. Lockdown happened at the end of our trip, so the extra three weeks were like a weird add-on (we were stuck inside a small apartment, so it wasn’t exciting). I thought I’d share a post about the actual holiday part.

Family Trip to New Zealand
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Our New Zealand Family Itinerary

We hired a motorhome for our self-drive adventure. Starting in Auckland on the North Island, we then made our way south to Wellington over the course of seven days. We packed our days full of fun tourist attractions, as well as more unique activities and sights.

Then we took the motorhome on the beautiful 3.5 hour ferry ride to the South Island. Over two weeks we made our way down the west coast before looping back up the east coast, in a little bit and then back out to Christchurch. Again, ticking off major sights and having loads of fun in nature’s playground.

You can read my North Island Itinerary and South Island Itinerary here

Family Trip to New Zealand in a motorhome
With our motorhome

We basically tried to see as much of New Zealand as possible with two young kids in tow. Our days were full and the trip was fast paced, sometimes perhaps a little too much, but that compromise meant we could do the holiday justice in the time we could afford.

As usual we treated it like it might be our one and only family trip to New Zealand – at least for a very long time. Our 4 year old starts school this September, so it seemed the perfect time to visit the other side of the world.

3 Weeks in New Zealand

And as much as we packed a lot in for a family trip it almost always felt like never enough. There was usually another amazing hike or view or lake just another hour away. Another cool town to explore or another wildlife spot. I feel like we did so much, but there’s still so much we couldn’t fit in. We’ve seen the highlights if you like.

Sure we could have concentrated on just one island, but my FOMO couldn’t handle that. I didn’t want to gamble on other people’s opinions. Now that I’ve been I know the South Island is my favourite and that it could have given us the perfect family trip to New Zealand. But, I had to discover that for myself. And that’s not to say that the North Island wasn’t amazing – it was – just if I had to choose, it would be the South.

For some places I was happy with the one night we had there, but with others I pined for a longer stay. I fell in love with Punakaiki Beach and our freedom camping spot at Lake Pukaki and was so sad when it was time to leave.

Family Trip to New Zealand
Lake Pukaki

New Zealand With Kids

My 2 and 4 year old also absolutely loved the trip too. They were both sad when it came to saying goodbye to our trusty motorhome. And they both became accustomed to the fast pace.

New Zealand with kids felt like a breeze. It’s an easy place to have an adventure without having to be too adventurous (though if that’s your thing you can totally do that too).

There are no language barriers for us Brits, they drive on the same side, the food is similar and the people to space ratio is so generous that you can go off-grid with no effort at all. All the tourist attractions, both chargeable and free, are well sign-posted. It’s basically geared up for you to have the time of your life.

Family Trip to New Zealand at the family friendly sulphur mud spa, Hellsgate
Three little pigs at Hellsgate Mud Spa

New Zealand With Children

And all of those things make parenting easier in my opinion. Parenting is tough enough, so the fact you can have an incredible adventure without too many extra things to think about is perfect.

Every night I’d give the kids an overview of what we’d be doing the next day – it’s a parenting technique I use at home and it felt all the more important on this trip. And by the end of the trip, when we were in lockdown, they kept asking me what fun activities we’d be doing and where we were going. I’m not sure I’ll be able to top a helicopter ride or mud spa any time soon. They’ve started to accept that now…just about!

Family Trip to New Zealand at Huka Falls
Fun at Huka Falls

The Best Bit of Our Family Trip to New Zealand

The best thing about this trip was the freedom. We pulled over so many times that it became a bit of a joke. The views were so incredible. Every time I thought I’d seen the best we’d turn a corner and I’d be bowled over again.

By travelling in our accommodation we didn’t have to faff about with lugging suitcases into different hotels. It felt liberating to have everything we needed with us. We had picnics by waterfalls, dinner at the foot of a mountain, breakfast by the beach. We weren’t bound by anyone or anything – well, we were but you know what I mean.

Family Trip to New Zealand on the ferry from Wellington
On the ferry from the North Island to the South Island

Exploring New Zealand felt freeing. We didn’t see many others on the road, which felt insane given the jaw-dropping views and indescribably beautiful scenery. I kid you not, there were some points where I had happy tears in my eyes watching my precious babies play against the most gorgeous backdrops.

We’d stumble out of the motorhome, park (for free – unheard of in the UK) and clamber up some hill or through some woodland. And we’d find the prettiest of spots without another person in sight. It felt like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Family Trip to New Zealand on the Hooker Lake trail
The beautiful Hooker Valley Trail

The Real Truth About Family Holidays in New Zealand

I appreciate I’m painting a very rosy picture – and it was – but that’s not to say there wasn’t any whinging or whining. Travelling the distances that we did each day is no mean feat, especially with two under 5s.

Some days they’d moan about being in their seats so much and some days I’d have a whinge. Some days we’d all sing and play nicely and others not so much. It’s to be expected and similar to life at home, except it was life with incredible distractions and views. I know which I prefer.

Due to the busy schedule and distances we weren’t always able to tie the drives with my 2 year old’s usual nap time. And the worst thing is that she seems to have now dropped that precious nap. And right now, I could do with that daily break.

However, we did keep to the usual meal times for the most part, which helped an awful lot. It gave the kids (and me) a bit of structure. Although the days were full of the most exciting fun and no two days were the same, we could use the meal times as benchmarks to know how much more or less to expect of the day, if that makes sense.

Family Trip to New Zealand on the south island
Pit stop views

Give Me More

And at the end of three weeks I was still hungry for more adventure. I could have quite happily carried on in that motorhome. At least for another few months before I even considered missing my house at home or a hotel room.

Sure, at night with the doors shut and the kid’s bed lowered from the ceiling we were cosy. However, it didn’t feel suffocating. I didn’t miss all my ‘stuff’. It helped that we had a generously sized motorhome. We had a dining area, space underneath the van to store our suitcases, and the front cab was spacious too.

After seeing a glimmer of what New Zealand offers I also had the urge to see more. Nothing had disappointed, except perhaps one tourist attraction. I know that if we had carried on driving we’d have discovered even more beautiful places. And what’s not to like about that?

Family Trip to New Zealand on the south island
Freedom camping makes me happy

Overall Thoughts on Our New Zealand Family Holiday

Amazing. Even with such long flights with two little children it was absolutely worth it. We all loved it. And I know it was sposed to be a once in a lifetime trip, but I’d go back in a heartbeat.

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