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Planning a family holiday - New Zealand road trip


We took our three-and-a-half and one-and-a-half year old sons on a 3 week holiday to New Zealand's north island. We had an amazing, yet busy, time and the boys were so patient and tolerant of the moving and walking and unfamiliar surroundings.

The route

I was planning the trip for almost a year. I started by researching itineraries to find the best route for our adventure. This took some time as I have never been to New Zealand before and was very unfamiliar with the geography. I knew we wanted to limit ourselves to just the one island for this trip given we had a lot to see and just under three weeks to do it. I asked some friends who have lived in New Zealand what they thought of my planned route and took on comments about some of the places to avoid or stay longer. Our route ended up like this:

Canberra - Sydney - Auckland - Paihia, Bay of Islands - Maungotoroto - Whitianga, Coromandel - Rotorua - Taupo - Napier - Wellington - Sydney - Canberra


I pre-booked accommodation for every stop because I wanted to be sure we had the right accommodation for our family composition. We were looking for at least two rooms so the boys could sleep together and we could do things at night in the apartment/room without disturbing their sleep. We new we might be repacking bags late into the night or wanted to read or blog so it was important to have some seperate space. I was also looking for some accommodation options off the beaten track. We had a couple of farmstays which were so much fun and a new experience for myself and the boys. We also wanted accommodation for some of our longer stays that had opportunities to catch up on laundry as well as the ability to self cater for meals. I spent many evenings trawling tripadviser reviews and running internet searches to find the right accommodation and we were happy with pretty much every choice. Our accommodation in Taupo wasn't quite right for us and was probably better suited to a family with older children. We were only there one night and we spent very little time in the room as we were out enjoying Taupo's family activities, food and wine.


We hired a car for the duration of our holiday picking it up in Auckland and dropping it off in Wellington. It was a Nissan Wingroad - nothing fancy and a much smaller engine than our red Holden SV6 but it had just enough room for four of us and our luggage and it got us from one place to the next. The price was pretty good and once again it paid to do some research. Tripadviser came in handy when comparing a couple of car rental companies and we were happy with our choice.

Activities and adventures

In the few weeks before we left I planned the day time activities with contact details and prices for family friendly activities. I hadn't gone to this extent of planning a holiday before but we found it a very useful reference. It also helped to give a picture of the additional expenses we would incur and I was able to research whether there were free or cheaper options. Doing this type of planning also meant I could see if the children could be easily accommodated or if they were too young as well as making sure we saw things we would be sad to miss. Some of the highlights of the trip were:

Auckland - Sky Tower and Kelly Tarlton's SEALIFE Aquarium

Silverdale - Snowplanet

Paihia - Waitangi Treaty Grounds and the Hole in the Rock cruise

Rotorua - Skyline luge and gondola and thermal pools

Wellington - Cable car, Zealandia and Te Papa


Meals were much harder to plan and we got into a rhythm of packing sandwiches for the boys on a daily basis. They grew weary of eating in cafes all the time because they were often too hungry by the time the food arrived. We had some really rough evening meals as we sat waiting for the boys food to come. They got to a point where they were over hungry and over tired and then all hell would break loose. We would have to eat super quickly to get out of there before they screamed the house down. A couple of times we fed the boys some baked beans before heading out and that worked very well. They were then happy to graze on bread or chips but didn't get stroppy waiting for the food to arrive. We should have done that more often to avoid the hurried dinners. Some afternoons we were busy with activities and were in a hurry to get to dinner but we really should have taken the time to get home and make some beans - a lesson learnt!


I planned what I was packing well in advance and had the bags packed several days before we left. I planned it carefully to make sure we had clean clothes for all weather. I also planned to pack any last minute dirty clothes so as not to leave anything dirty sitting in a laundry basket. I learnt my lesson the hard way in respect to leaving dirty clothes whilst going on holiday. When our eldest was very small we often took long weekend trips to the coast and one time I left dirty clothes in the washing basket only to find them mouldy on our return. In most cases now I will do a final load the night before and hang everything on a clothes airer in our room. If I close the curtains the clothes are at no risk of fading and they are dry when we get home. I packed carefully and took note of how things were packed. In Sydney they were lenient with our baggage allowance. We were nowhere near our total limit but we have one very large suitcase with a huge capacity and it was slightly over the 23 kg limit (imposed by OH&S). On return from Wellington they weren't as lenient and we had to repack our bags to redistribute some of the weight - it was a real pain and another lesson learnt. In future I will pack a smaller bag or suitcase into the bigger bags in order to spread the load. It's harder to carry another bag or balance it on the trolley but as the boys get older they'll be able to help more and might actually end up travelling with individual bags anyway.

All in all our trip was amazing and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I'm not sure it would have gone so well if we had left things up to chance and done things on the fly. The internet is such a valuable research tool and makes holiday planning so easy.

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