New Zealand – The Land of Great and Small

Read on for a fantastic and inspirational trip summary of New Zealand with 4 and 6-year-old girls. The guest post is from Lorraine Akemann of My Busy Kit. I’m impressed — the non-stop itinerary would be a show stopper for some families, but not so for the Akemann family. One of my beliefs is that travel creates flexibility in kids and I think this is a good example of that … the girls are already asking for another adventure. I love it!


It wasn’t a quick decision, taking a young family of four from San Francisco to New Zealand over the New Year. But it turned out to be one of our best decisions we’ve made.

An opportunity came up to join friends for a special celebration in their native country. A fantastical agenda was presented to us including back country tours, vineyard previews, and many outdoor activities. But the itinerary was geared towards grown-ups, and certainly not toddlers. Do we pass up a unique opportunity to visit a country we’ve always wanted to see, or do we bring the kids along for the ride? After getting permission from the hosts, our entire family was welcomed with enthusiasm and we set off on Christmas to explore the other side of the world.

We supplemented the scheduled itinerary with time on both ends for ourselves, using travel arrangements from Kelly Rubingh at Family Travel. The flight from San Francisco left at 7:30p, and our kids were asleep before take off (it was Christmas Eve so I figured the reindeer must have sprinkled some magic dust). We landed 13 hours later, kids happy, rested, and ready for breakfast. Everyone except me did great on the flight — go figure! After a quick connection from Auckland (North Island) to Nelson (South Island), we made it to the Kingsland Court Motel in Nelson to rest and get our bearings. This simple motel had everything we needed, from friendly hosts, to clean, comfortable and roomy accommodations. On the innkeeper’s suggestion, we toured the stunning Abel Tasman National Park, scenic Cable Bay, and the Aniseed Valley picnic grounds where locals spend Sunday afternoons. We then joined our friend’s pre-planned itinerary, and were shuttled on chartered planes to Christchurch, Cheviot Hills, and Queenstown (OK, that is a WHOLE other story). Back on our own footing, we made our way to Picton for the Ferry crossing over to the North Island.

Between Abel Tasman and Queenstown we had just witnessed some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. Emerald green waters, sculptured mountains, and pristine valleys … they were unbelievable, unparalleled, unmatched. And there I was, fixated not only on the scenery, but on the quality of some more obscure details … the playgrounds and the potties. As a mother toting two small children around, I think we visited every restroom in New Zealand. Out of the 500 restrooms we visited, 99.9% of them were sparkling clean. OK, I digress. But you can never underestimate the power of a fun playground and a clean potty to keep those little troops intact!

The Te Papa Museum in Wellington was fun for everyone. It was high quality and high interest, with lots to see and do. Each area had a children’s section with hands-on exhibits that entertained us for hours. From Wellington, we drove in a rental car to Napier, a town known for its art deco architecture. Near Napier and Hawkes Bay, along the cliffs of a remote beach, there is a bird colony that you can visit on a three hour tractor trailer ride. My kids are still talking about the Gannet birds, and wondering if seagulls are Gannets too. Leaving Napier on a high note, we got to eat lunch at our ‘house’ winery. They even had kid lunches for our crew. At that point we were considering ditching the return flight home.

From Napier we drove into the geothermal zone near Lake Taupo, and then on to Rotorua. The Waio-ta-pau Thermal Wonderland was a huge hit. Bubbling, smoldering earth and pools of colorful steamy water are enough to set off imaginations of all ages. And although the sulfur smell of Rotorua turned up the nose of my eldest, the farmhouse just outside of town (with a swingset and live bunnies) certainly got her attention.

That is what I’ll take away with me and never forget. In a country where so much natural beauty abounds, the delight can be just as much in the smaller details. We were truly welcomed in New Zealand, and thanks to the family friendly experience, we now have two pint-sized travelers on our hands. And can you believe they are already asking where we are going next?

Lorraine Akemann is the mother of two girls, ages 4 and 6. She has traveled with her family to Mexico, Nicaragua, Alaska and New Zealand. She is owner of My Busy Kit, a company that makes travel activities for kids to keep them busy while out and about.

So far, we only have one New Zealand property on Ciao Bambino, Arthur’s Pass Wildnerness Lodge in Canterbury. If you have any great property experiences to share from travels in New Zealand, please let us know via our community review form.

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