New Zealand is known as a beautiful country with an opportunity to a number of extreme sports that can get pricy. Sure, flights to NZ cost, for us it is almost as remote as remote can get: the shortest flight connection one can get from Helsinki to Auckland takes 27 hours with a 3 hour transfer in Hong Kong and in the winter the time difference is 11 hours. But apart from getting there, there is SO MUCH to enjoy for an affordable price, for all ages but especially for families.
This time we toured New Zealand with our children (aged 4 and 5) for about 3 weeks. It was the first time for our kids to travel the country even though, with a kiwi husband, I have by now spent quite a few months in the country. Still the closest to living there for me would be the 3 months we spent there 7-8 years ago when my husband finished his studies. From the times we explored NZ without kids I’ve done a list of 10x Free but Fun in New Zealand and I still think the list reveals the amazing beauty and fun of the country.
Our route: We flew to Queenstown and drove from there with various stops to Auckland: Arrowtown (recommended, so cute!) – Wanaka (the previous leg was very scenic!) – Omarama – Twizel (Mt Cook) – Fairlie – Temuka – Timaru (check out Caroline Bay) – Fairlie – Christchurch – Kaikoura – Blenheim – Picton – Wellington – Hawke’s Bay – Taupo – Roturua – Auckland.
We found New Zealand to be an excellent country to travel in with children! People are very welcoming towards children and even strangers invite kids to take part in things that they may find interesting (not in a spooky but a very lovely way, eg there was a lady who spun wool while selling her knit wear and as she noticed the kids were curious she invited them to come in her stall to see better). Also, pretty much all towns, even small ones, have a fair sized playground with picnic tables, often a barbecue, and public free and clean toilets nearby, offering a good place to stretch the legs when driving longer distances.
On a trickier note Wifi is very limited (we may be a bit spoilt there in Finland). In most cafes you get 10mb for free and even hotels often charge you if you want to use more than that. There is always McDonald’s though but we also noticed many telephone booths had signs saying they have Wifi. So one can pay or, like us, choose to not be online and enjoy the real life company and beautiful scenery instead.
One of the best things in New Zealand is that many things are so uncomplicated. It is easy to get close to animals and equipment, like in Omarama, no fences, no fees, no special permissions around the gliders, we could just rock up, talk to the people and they were happy for us to have a look. Or the road side cafe at a fish farm where kids could feed the salmon for free. Every so often there is something small to take a look at, like clay cliffs or an old tractor that has been made safe for kids to play with.
In Fairlie we popped into the Heritage Museum, it cost a few euros, but everything is displayed in the way that even children like looking at it and were excited to hear a bit of the early days of Europeans settling in New Zealand. For example looking at telephones and trying some of the really old ones was extremely exciting for kids that only know smart phones. I’ve seen similar ones around, so when road tripping one can take a pick.
In many places one can just walk up to see animals, like we did the seals in Kaikoura and ducklings and pukekos in Christchurch, and there are plenty of farm animals around. To enjoy the nature is often free too, thermal areas in the Taupo-Roturua area are quite exotic for most and pretty easy to get to, prepare for the weather on mountain walks (we stayed true to our tradition to empty Katmandoo in their great sales after Christmas), there seemed to be a lot of great biking trails for a bit bigger people, and there are lovely water fronts or beaches (eg Queenstown). There are also plenty of local small fun things to explore (like in Picton), it would have been fun to go and pick plums or cherries or something with the kids (be aware of the price, should not be more expensive if you do the work too…) but there wasn’t time for everything, and even though extreme sports may not be for kids some are fun to watch. To give a few ideas.
Accommodation: there is so much to choose from and it is the part that will cost most on the trip. We stayed in a number of different options, rented an apartment with friends in Quuenstown, a house in Fairlie, hotel rooms in Christchurch and Auckland, a motel in Roturua (with a thermal pool on the yard, yay), cabins on campgrounds and with relatives. I liked the Holiday Park campgrounds (this time in Omarama and Blenheim) with children as they are simple but there is often a bit more space than in a hotel room. Also, there are options for kitchenettes meaning there is no need to always eat out, and there are opportunities to activities. Most of them had pools, trampolines, play grounds etc. It really comes down to what your needs are but to spend a night for less than 100 NZD would be a good price for a family of 4 (of course, if you stay put longer, there may be better options).
In short, New Zealand is well worth travelling with a family. Clean, easy, beautiful, plenty to do and to enjoy but the flights and accommodation will be considered in the budget.