The highs and lows of a 6 week New Zealand Motorhome Adventure with 2 children under 3….
My husband and I had talked about driving around New Zealand for years, so when the opportunity arose I thought we would have jumped at the chance…. Our hesitancy was due to the fact that we now had 2 young sons: a 6 month old baby and a lively 26 month old toddler. After a week of researching other less exciting/challenging options we decided to go for it, and within 4 weeks of booking the flights we were on our way. Many people said that we were mad and I was extremely nervous at all the unknowns but the trip was an amazing experience, brought us closer together as a family (most of the time) and it was genuinely life-changing.
PACKING for the New Zealand Motorhome Adventure
Packing before we left was like a military operation and I am so glad that I took the time to research and purchase baby-friendly travel bits. We were keen to do a lot of walking so purchased a Deuter Kid Comfort 2 Backpack for our eldest. It was a great choice; it came with a teddy bear which he would show the way to whilst walking and cuddle whilst sleeping and he would happily sit in it whilst eating lunch. I bought a second-hand Baby Bjorn Active Carrier for the baby to offer more support whilst walking and again it was an invaluable purchase, not just for walking but for boat trips, on plane, trams… The motorhome did not have room for a highchair so my husband found a travel highchair which can be attached to a chair and meant that the baby could sit up and eat. And when not eating we took our Baby Bjorn Bouncy Chair– one of the best baby purchases we ever made. It folds flat, fitted into a large holdall and meant that we could put the baby down comfortably and safely anywhere. We decided to take our double Phil & Teds Navigator Buggy- a heavy and cumbersome addition but invaluable when arriving at a large airport with 2 very tired children. We packed it into a very large holdall to keep it safe in the aeroplane hold. Finally I purchased a bag from Two Queen Bees. It was large enough for all plane journeys and day trips, and packed down when not needed. In terms of packing mistakes we took our baby’s car seat. In hindsight this was not necessary as the car seat provided by the motorhome company would have been sufficient and in other countries wearing your baby in a sling whilst strapped into a car is perfectly normal. Secondly you don’t need as many clothes/shoes as you think!
On the PLANE to our New Zealand Motorhome Adventure
Plane journeys, of which we had 4 long haul and 1 short haul, are every parents’ nightmare and our experience was no different for the first flight. Our eldest had never slept anywhere apart from a cot so trying to get him to sleep upright in a chair whilst not touching the touch screen TV was difficult to say the least. However by flight 5 we all slept for 8 hours. My advice would be to let go of routine: anything goes on a plane- if they are not going to sleep don’t force them, plug them into the TV/tablet and let them watch it! Buy children’s headphones, have a new sticker book/toy for each flight and accept that those around you may judge/tut- ignore them and make friends with the air stewards! Having a large bag, with a collection of smaller bags within it helps. In the smaller bags keep toys, snacks, non-drip cups, clothes and sleeping clothes/comforters, as well as wet wipes. This means you are not always scrabbling to find what you need in the larger bag. Make sure you pack spare clothes for you and your partner. If you are travelling with a baby pack their favourite toy (those that rustle/squeak entertained mine for the longest), pouches/snacks and extra milk for take-off/landing as well as extra spare clothes and a large muslin- this acts as a blanket, feeding cover, cloth, comforter, changing mat etc. Never underestimate how fascinating being at an airport/flying on a plane is for a toddler. Embrace their fascination and spend time watching planes at the airport, buy them a small plane to play with, if you have a window seat make sure that you show them everything you can see and indulge them in wanting to walk up and down the plane, visit the stewards galley and the toilet. This makes time tick by so much quicker. Finally we did plan a stopover on both legs of our journey via Singapore. Whilst this was to visit friends, we felt that it would also help the children to acclimatise to the time differences. It was lovely to see our friends but I am not sure I would do it again. It meant that we had to pack for 2 different climates, the children acclimatised to one time zone and then had to start again in NZ and on the way home it prolonged the inevitable jet lag.
We hired the motorhome through Iconic Motorhomes in Christchurch and they were extremely helpful in planning our itinerary and sending pictures through of the motorhome so that we could plan where everyone/thing would fit. We paid extra for a 6 berth motorhome which meant that the boys slept on a bunk bed each. Both bunks had guards to keep the children in and the toddler only fell out of the top bunk once and that was during the day whilst having a tantrum! The baby slept on the bottom bunk which also doubled up as extra storage space. I would advise taking a black-out curtain as the blinds/curtains were not sufficient to block out the evening light. We slept above the cab, but halfway through the trip discovered that the bed made up in the seating/dining area was bigger and more comfortable and fitted the toddler in too, so we used the bed above the cab for more storage. Our motorhome company provided bed linen, towels, all kitchen equipment, baby blankets and feeding bowls/cutlery, as well as a table and chairs for outside. Our TV was pre-programmed with films, including those for children, and we took favourite DVDs which the boys watched whilst we packed up the motorhome in the morning before a long drive. We found the best toys to take, that could be packed and stored easily, were sticker/colouring books, jigsaw puzzles in bags, card games, small plastic animal sets again in a soft bag, a small drawing tablet and lots of books for the toddler and Lamaze toys for the baby, as well as Sophie the giraffe and teething toys. Obviously our tablet provided a lot of entertainment, although I almost had a heart attack when I realised that favourite TV show episodes that had been downloaded expire after 30 days (not normally a problem on a short holiday). I recommend the Lego apps and the CBeebies apps for endless hours of fun for a small boy. One of the challenges was washing the boys! We had a small shower but our toddler hated it. Some evenings we had to resort to a stand-up wash or no wash at all (an issue for me who was wedded to her bedtime routine for the boys). I discovered that most campsites could provide a baby bath and some even had a dedicated family bathroom. Again, just like the flights I had to let go of the routine and wash when we could- it was liberating!
NEW ZEALAND – the trip itself
New Zealand is a country made to drive around in a motorhome. There is a huge network of campsites/touring parks, where even in the busy school holidays (Dec-Jan) we never had to book ahead to get a space and for which you can get discount/loyalty cards. A large majority of the sites also have play areas for the children, including our son’s favourite the jumping pillow. The sites are enclosed and well-kept so we were happy to let our toddler roam a little further than normal. We tried to do as much as possible when not travelling from place to place which included walking various tracks, a myriad of boat trips, vineyard tours/wine tastings as well as a lot of beach and paddling time. We pretty much visited every playground on route and most were large, wooden, varied and could have kept our toddler busy for hours- the kiwis know how to build playgrounds! The Margaret Mahy family playground in Christchurch was a particular highlight. Our eldest’s favourite trip was to a local rodeo- a travelling competition of professional rodeo riders- which was dusty, authentic and impressive and really put us in touch with New Zealand’s rural heart. Travelling with very small children did have its drawbacks; we couldn’t take part in the extreme adventure sports New Zealand is famed for or walk the longer tracks camping as we go. There were many times where we promised each other ‘next time’. However the beauty of the country is breath-taking and there are so many moments when you drive around the corner and exclaim ‘Wow!’ at the view that even our toddler started doing it! The weather helped- the summer months are like a very warm English summer day, and the people are welcoming, helpful and keen to share their beautiful country with you. We will be back.
Top destinations/activities that worked well with small children:
• Boat trip in the Bay of Islands
• Walk to New Chums Beach at Low Tide
• Visiting the huge Kauri Trees
• Kai Iwi lakes for safe swimming,
• Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel peninsula,
• Boating on Lake Taupo and Riding the Model Train in their main park.
• Wellington: Te Papa Museum, Cable car and Carter Observatory
• Picton play area
• Marlborough/Nelson area: Cloudy Bay Winery (lots of toys to occupy the kids whilst you sip wine!), walk the Queen Charlotte track, boat trip around Marlborough Sound from Picton.
• Boat trip and walk the track in the Abel Tasman National Park
• Christchurch: tram, play area in the Botanic Gardens and the new Margaret Mahy family playground
• Wooing Tree vineyard, Cromwell- a great sandpit to keep little ones busy whilst you sample the wine
• Lunch in Twizel whilst the kids play in the excellent playground.
• A sunset hot tub at Omarama
• Walking in the Mount Cook National Park and the excellent view across Lake Pukaki
• Queenstown: Skyline gondola and luge, 3 excellent playgrounds
• Fish and chips from Dulcie’s takeaway to eat on the boat at Sunset Point, Hokitika
• Fox and Franz Josef glaciers
• Day trip to Doubtful Sound
• A picnic on Monkey Island Beach, Southland
• Spotting the huge sea lions at Surat Bay
• Clambering on the Moeraki boulders
• Steampunk HQ and the Friendly Bay playground, Blue penguin colony, Oamaru
NB: This is a guest post by Anna did the New Zealand Motorhome Adventure with her husband and two boys and submitted this Guest Post. It does not contain any sponsored content or links. All products are simply products Anna wanted to recommend.
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