I’m a traveller- my idea of a five year plan involves new destinations and fun experiences, not things like career goals or mortgages! Since having a baby that hasn’t changed, and I’m excited now to be trip planning with a kid-friendly focus.
One big motivator to get out & about while your baby is still young, is the fact they fly free before the age of two. New Zealand was on our wish list for a before-two trip, somewhere I’m embarrassed to say, that despite living in Brisbane, I had never been!
For our first kiwi experience with an 18 month old we picked North Island and decided to visit just a few destinations with minimal driving – it was really hard to choose where to go as everywhere sounds amazing!
Wow wow wow and wow- I LOVED the Coromandel! It is the stuff beach holiday dreams are made of- stunning white sand beaches, abundant wildlife, lush vegetation, quirky towns, and oh so relaxed! We stayed in a cute cottage on a remote beach north of Whitianga, and rather than visit the tourist hotspots of Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, we stuck to the local area which was fabulous (and much easier with a toddler).
Highlights included the Coroglen farmers markets, fresh seafood, walking through forests to the beach, the gorgeous little town of Kuaotunu, beach combing, swimming in calm clear waters, and all the different seabirds (my toddler’s highlight).
We had a few comments about ‘Rotovegas’ before arriving so were half expecting a gaudy neon-lit, super-touristy town – while not quite as intense as Las Vegas, there’s certainly a lot of tourist activities to choose from in Rotorua. The main attraction for me was the geothermal activity- it’s so cool to see volcanic forces up close.
There are HEAPS of different places to see geothermal activity- we visited Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland which was awesome, especially the large pool bubbling yellow, blue, and red smoke (aptly named the Artist’s Palette).
Just walking around the town you will see steam rising from the ground or see bubbling mud in someone’s front yard. Kuirai Park in the centre of town is wonderful to visit, especially early in the morning when the steam appears very dense and you feel in another world.
For something non-volcanic, the Redwoods Forest is lovely for a walk amongst huge trees.
A surprise highlight for me was Rainbow Springs nature park – we saved it for the last morning in Rotorua as somewhere to tire out our toddler before a big drive- it is beautiful there! You can see quite a few of New Zealand’s iconic bird species (including kiwi) amongst dense green vegetation with a meandering crystal clear creek and waterholes. Oh and there is an outdoor playground and an indoor play area in the cafe so it did the job tiring out an energetic child!
From my toddler’s point of view, Rotorua had excellent playgrounds, lots of nice areas for pram walks, and best of all a cat cafe!
From Rotorua we drove to Waitomo, somewhere initially we hadn’t considered but after a lot of people telling us it was the best part of their New Zealand holiday we knew we had to visit.
The drawcard of Waitomo is the glow worm caves, and after hearing somewhere that the caves were the inspiration behind the magical world of Pandora in the Avatar movie, I was so excited to go!
Now after reading many (and I mean many) reviews of the glow worm tours with toddlers (FYI people are either totally for it or totally against it) we decided not to torture unsuspecting tourists with a screaming child and instead took turns visiting the caves.
Can I just say that after hours of MUMMA MUMMA MUMMA a forty-five minute tour in near silence is absolute bliss. Oh and the glow worms were pretty cool too!
The non-relaxing parent had a few options for child entertainment- in the centre of Waitomo there are cafes, a small playground, and also a museum which isn’t bad to look around. We stayed at Big Bird B&B which also happens to be a miniature animal farm meaning my child was in heaven (ok ok and so was I!)
We only had a short amount of time in Auckland and were lucky to find an excellent Airbnb apartment walking distance to the Wynyard Quarter area. This part of Auckland was perfect for taking a toddler with a fun playground (that also had a water play area), a long promenade to walk along, and interesting things to see like big ships and seagulls. The Auckland Fish Market was a great spot for an early dinner- there is a relaxed eating area with high chairs, and a number of different eateries you can order delicious food from (and a bar!).
The one tourist attraction we visited in Auckland was Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium – absolutely brilliant! There is a wonderful display of king and gentoo penguins where you can see them on the ice and be mesmerised watching them buzz around underwater. The rest of the aquarium was quite good and there is a fenced play area inside right next to the cafe- a perfect outing for a toddler especially if the weather is a bit glum.
What I enjoyed the most about New Zealand was just how friendly everyone is, and seeing new amazing landscapes like the beach forests of the Coromandel Peninsular.
If you are doing a similar trip with a toddler, I highly recommend to buy, hire or borrow a child carrier – our toddler was happy in ours for about an hour, meaning we could go hiking!
I’d love to know if you have travelled to New Zealand with kids, and what your recommendations are! It is one destination I definitely want to visit again!