Before children, my wife and I were always in the mountains — hiking, rock climbing, exploring places, road tripping. We were always outdoors. When we had our first son we were dedicated to continue to be outdoors and took him on short backpacking and camping trips. Eight and a half years later with two more kids in tow, we’re still dedicated to the outdoors. We want our kids to be active and appreciate and nurture the outdoors, and in Hawaii there is a lot of emphasis in the ocean. There are a lot of people who think once you have kids your travels are done. Yes, it requires much more work to adventure with kids, but it is just as important, if not more, to have travel and outdoors be part of their childhood and upbringing.
New Zealand has always been near the top of my bucket list, partly due to the Lord of the Rings. Over a decade after the films, I was finally heading there, along with the entire family. The best way to visit New Zealand is road tripping in a campervan. We found the raddest 1982 VW Camper (or “Kombi” as the Kiwis call it) from Classic Campers NZ. It had a pop top where the two boys slept and my wife, me, and our baby girl slept on the bottom fold-out bed. Every evening and every morning was our Tetris routine. At night we had to take all our gear out of the rear onto the front seats to fold out the bed and then reverse in the morning. By the second week, I had it down to a timely science with every piece fitting where it needed to be. The classic van got a lot of attention and we met several people because of it.
Our initial plan was to start in Christchurch on the South Island and finish in Auckland on the North Island. About a week or so into the trip, we knew that wasn’t going to happen. There is so much beauty and grandeur in the south, we changed our plans to stay there the entire time. We limited our driving to an average of a couple hours a day (if we even drove at all) and had a list of destinations to check out (but let the weather and experience determine when). If we found a place that was rad, we spend more days there. We had to skip over some areas because of bad weather, but then backtracked to those areas. It was a loose plan, in other words.
We made sure the kids had a lot of time to explore, throw rocks, play with sticks, and found that New Zealand has the best play structures. Most Holiday Parks and every town had a rad playground. We stopped frequently and let them play. The kids had such a good time and we made sure to make our plans to be enjoyable for them.
We traveled in New Zealand’s off/shoulder season. We wanted to be there when there were less visitors, and we could only afford to fly standby which limits our traveling to the off season. April is when their air gets crisp and the colors turn. We got to experience the Autumn Festival in Arrowtown which is a 4 day long party that the whole town participates in. The streets are shut down and thousands of people enjoy the festival. Traveling in April meant the greeting of fall, but also getting the cold. Some nights it dropped to freezing temps, but thanks to Kelty and Patagonia our kids were warm through those cold nights. Being from Hawaii, our kids really enjoyed those nights we woke up and there was layer of frost on the ground.
For other families that are thinking about traveling with young children, do it. New Zealand was a trip of a lifetime and my kids always talk about it and want to watch the video all the time. The key to success was having a very flexible itinerary and making sure the kids had time to be kids. We chose to stay at Holiday Parks that had good playgrounds. We let them play outside the campervan and that meant getting dirty. Throwing rocks into campside creeks or streams. Playing with sticks. Minimizing travel hours. But primarily, letting them be kids. It’s definitely hard work and requires more energy then kidless travel, but it’s worth it.