Are you busy planning this year’s family holiday? January is traditionally the busiest month for holiday sales, and it’s not hard to see why. We all need something to look forward to once Christmas is over, don’t we!
We always plan our family holidays in January, and this year we’ve got quite a big adventure on our wish list: a New Zealand road trip.
We’ve been talking about this holiday for a while now, but this year it feels like the timing is right. We’ve been waiting for our youngest to be old enough to cope with a physically active holiday, but we can’t leave it too long or we’ll be in the midst of our eldest’s GCSE years. We also needed to save for such a big trip!
Tips for a great New Zealand road trip
We’re busy firming up our bucket list and the practical considerations of a New Zealand road trip with kids. Here’s where we’ve got to so far.
Sort out a New Zealand visa
If you’re visiting New Zealand, you must have a New Zealand visa. This is quite a new change which came into effect in October 2019. The new eTA (electronic Travel Authority) system applies to tourists and business travellers.
The easiest way to sort out your New Zealand visa application is online. Applying online means you won’t have to visit the embassy to have a visa applied to your passport.
The NZeTA visa for New Zealand is valid for two years from the date of approval. The visa can be used to travel to New Zealand an unlimited amount of times during this term, although each stay can only be for a maximum of three months.
Your passport also needs to be valid for at least three months after the date you leave New Zealand. Make sure you check each family member!
Manage the kids’ expectations
Our kids are already super-excited about a big New Zealand road trip, and by the time we actually go they’ll be ready to pop! Excitement and enthusiasm is brilliant, but we’ll definitely need to manage their expectations of travel time, possible delays and jet lag.
I think a good approach is to get the family together before you travel, and explain just what’s going to happen on the journey and during the trip. Cover things like how long it will take to get there, what they will do during the journey, what the plan is once you arrive, when you might have to queue up, what you’ll do if there’s a travel delay, and any cultural differences that they need to be prepared for. You can then move onto your trip itinerary, covering where you’re staying, any travelling you’ll be doing between destinations, and all the amazing things you’re going to see.
There’s no need to go into great detail. The aim is to prepare children for the change in routine, and help them to understand what’s expected of them. There are bound to be hiccups on the day, but being prepared definitely helps!
Plan for long journeys
There’s no getting around it: travelling to New Zealand takes a long time. And the very essence of a New Zealand road trip is lots of driving when you’re there too. This has definitely been a factor in our decision to wait until the kids are older for this trip.
Long flights and lots of time in the car means you need to be prepared for keeping the kids busy, so it’s well worth planning this before you travel.
Activity books, small handheld games and reading books all work well on an aeroplane. We also take a notebook and pens so we can play simple games like hangman and noughts and crosses. A favourite soft toy is a must for our youngest too. And if the background noise gets too much, audio books are a great way to switch off – this one also works for adults!
When it comes to car journeys with kids, I’ve picked up some tricks over the years to help keep stress levels down. It’s a must to plan the route in advance – no winging it – so you have a rough idea of where you will stop for a break or a meal. We’ll be looking at the routes we’ve got planned and identifying interesting places to stop along the way, hopefully this will turn the journey into part of the fun.
Having some family car games in mind is also a great idea. Things like twenty questions, I-Spy and a bingo-style list of things to spot on the journey all work well. We love The Floor Is Lava book, which has a whole section on games you can play while travelling. And of course, remember to pack lots of drinks and easy-to-eat snacks to keep everyone happy!
Obviously the clothes you pack will depend on the time of year you visit New Zealand, but given that it’s famous for having four seasons in one day, it’s worth being prepared. I’m going to spend some time finding out more about the weather in each place we’re going to visit, but as a general approach I think packing layers and assuming we might encounter pretty much any type of weather is probably the best plan!
Our New Zealand bucket list
We’re focusing on the South Island, and I think we’ll hire a motorhome for at least some of the trip. The experience and emotion of travelling with a 6 berth motorhome is always a challenge. Here’s our New Zealand bucket list so far.
Start from Christchurch
The largest city on the South Island, Christchurch is generally seen as the basecamp for a South Island tour. It’s a thriving city in it’s own right, with lots of green spaces and culture to explore. If you like the idea of starting your trip with some adrenaline, the nearby Rangitata river is a good spot for white water rafting.
Situated on the northeast coast, Kaikoura is all about the marine wildlife. There’s a continental shelf break in the ocean close to the shore, and this means you can see sperm whales, dolphins and seals up close without taking a lengthy boat trip. This is probably top of my bucket list, so it’s a great way to start!
Abel Tasman National Park
The Abel Tasman National Park on the northern coast is a stunning combination of sandy beaches, granite and marble headlands, and forest backdrop. It’s a great place for wildlife; the flora and fauna is totally different to what we’re used to seeing back home, so a spotters guide for the kids is a must. You can also hire sea canoes and paddle along the coastline, this can be combined with an overnight campout on the shore, an inland walk, or a visit to seal sanctuaries. It sounds like a fantastic place to leave civilisation behind and spend some amazing family time together.
Nelson Lakes National Park
From Abel Tasman we’ll head south and inland to the Nelson Lakes. This area was created by enormous glaciers, creating mountain ranges with tree-filled valleys and glacial lakes in between. There are lakeside walking tracks and more challenging mountain hikes. The latter won’t be suitable for small children, but I think ours are old enough to give it a go. If we can make it to the top we’ll be above the tree line and able to take in some amazing views. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can go on longer hikes and camp in the wooden huts that are dotted along the trails.
Franz Josef Glacier & Fox Glacier
Situated on the west coast, these two glaciers are in the foothills of the Southern Alps. They reach from the mountains down into rainforest. You can hire a guide and go ice-hiking, or book a scenic flight over the glaciers.
Fox Glacier is also close to Lake Matheson, which has a mountain backdrop and offers yet more perfect photo opportunities.
Queenstown is the adventure capital of the South Island – the bungee jump was invented here – so if you’re looking for an adrenaline fix, this is the place to go. You can go skiing, sky diving, bungee jumping, jet boating, horse trekking, river rafting and canyon swinging. If that all sounds a bit much, Queenstown is also an absolutely beautiful place, situated on the huge Lake Wakatipu with the snow-capped Remarkables mountain range on the other side.
Te Anau & Milford Sound
Further down the west coast, Te Anau is a good base for exploring the Milford Sound region. It’s another stunning location, you might recognise it from the Lord of the Rings films.
Te Anau has a native bird sanctuary, and is a great place for some wildlife spotting. I think the kids will love the Kea birds, apparently they’re very inquisitive and cheeky!
Heading across to the east coast again, Dunedin is another must-see for wildlife. Beaches full of seals, clifftop views of penguins returning from a day’s fishing, and possibly dolphins leaping in the bays – it sounds absolutely magical. Dunedin is also a lovely Victorian and Edwardian city, with lots of Scottish heritage and a large harbour to explore.
So basically, we’re planning to tour the South Island, exploring lots of amazing natural wonders and doing some cool outdoor activities as a family. In addition to the main must-see spots, places of interest are apparently very well signposted from the roads, so you can combine a rest break with a short walk or an interesting sight. I love the idea of finding hidden treasures we weren’t expecting. It’s going to be an incredible trip!
Have you been on a New Zealand road trip with children? What are your top tips for making it a fantastic family holiday?