By: Antonia Milkop
Why Go to New Zealand
We live in Wellington, on New Zealand’s North Island and were looking for an affordable family holiday where we could chill out, spend time together as a family and still enjoy a bit of adventure. We thought a campervan holiday ticked all these boxes; it offered a flexible way to travel (we could decide what to do and where to go on a daily basis) and it was (we hoped!) an easy way to travel with young children.
New Zealand is very family-friendly, the scenery is outstanding and you don’t have to drive far to come across completely different landscapes. One day you could be hanging out in geothermal hot pools, the next soaring through snow-capped mountains and then the next surfing on a golden beach. It really is a top destination if you want landscapes, activities, adventure and tranquillity.
For our holiday, I had visions of parking up by deserted beaches, sipping wine while the kids played happily making sandcastles in the sunshine. Not long before we were due to set off, however, I started to have second thoughts. Were we about to embark on a torturous 10-day adventure? Would it be endless crying, sleepless nights and time spent confined into a tiny space with two active pre-schoolers? And what would we do if it rained the entire time? We were due to go in November, New Zealand’s spring time when the weather is notoriously unpredictable.
Fortunately, however, my fears were unfounded and we ended up having a fantastic family holiday. The beauty of campervan-ing is that you don’t have to be anywhere at a set time. You can plan your days with places, activities and sights to see but it doesn’t all fall apart if you don’t make it to your desired destination on time. You also have the freedom of being able to stop whenever you feel like it (“Ooh look, there’s some seals. Let’s stop!”).
If you have a self-contained campervan, you can park wherever you like as long as freedom camping is permitted in that area. Holiday parks allow you to ‘plug in’ (connect to electricity) and also have various facilities like hot showers, toilets, laundry, kitchens etc. if you want to use them. Even though there were only 4 of us, we hired a 6-birth campervan for the extra space it gave us (I’d highly recommend doing this).
A Family-Friendly Campervan Route
Given that we live in New Zealand we have already seen a lot of the country’s main tourist sights and so chose a route based on driving times rather than iconic landmarks. We flew from Wellington, on the North Island, to Christchurch on the South Island with Air New Zealand and the followed the following route:
For alternative family road trip itineraries, take a look at Recommend Trips on 100% Pure New Zealand, New Zealand’s official tourist board website.
We hired our campervan through Apollo, however I was a little disappointed with their service. When we collected the van we were charged more than they originally quoted. We wrote to them on our return, and eventually they agreed to refund the difference. Try one of the companies listed here instead. For peace of mind, we also brought our own car seats for the children.
Deciding where to park for the night? These two easy-to-use apps with maps are very useful as they include ratings and reviews that you can check out before deciding where to stay:
The Best Part
Most of the holiday parks we stayed in had playgrounds and because we visited during the quieter season we usually got to park right alongside them. So my visions came true; not quite the deserted and dramatic landscapes I had in mind, but at least the holiday parks had a plugin and we could charge our phones and the kid’s DVD player. And enjoy a glass of wine in the evening of course!
The children’s delight in the most simple of things was contagious. We heard shrieks of excitement from my daughter as she opened the little curtains by her bed upstairs to recite exactly what she saw when she was ‘trying’ to get to sleep at night. “Sea. Daddy I see the sea. Playground…look there’s a playground there… Duck. Mummy I see a duck. Look…look. What’s that….?”…and so on.
The Best Time To Go to New Zealand
I would highly recommend avoiding high season (i.e. not December to February) when the roads, and campgrounds, are much quieter. November or March are good months; the weather is (usually!) warm but you are not fighting the crowds of peak season.
Three Things You Should Definitely Do
1. Take your time driving on New Zealand’s windy roads and don’t try to cover long distances each day. It’s pretty slow going in a campervan, and far more fun with a ‘less is more’ attitude. In 10 days, driving 1.5 – 2 hours a day, we covered just the top (eastern part) of the South Island. It’s possible to cover the whole island in that same time but I know for our family it would have been stressful (e.g. our boy gets car sick…did I mention that earlier?!)
2. Farm animals! We saw so many animals on our travel and got to interact with them a lot, whether it was at holiday parks where they had their own animals that we could feed, or when we visited a petting farm with alpacas, goats, pigs and lamas…or just spotting various creatures on our travels. One of the highlights for my daughter was getting up close to a Tuatara, an extremely rare reptile found only in New Zealand.
We went to the A&P Farm show in Marlborough one day, a wonderful local event oozing with local kiwiana spirit, food and craft stalls, lots of cute animals, horse jumping, merino sheep contests, sheep-dog competitions, merry-go-rounds and rides. We bought some of the most delicious wild venison burgers I’ve ever tasted from a local chap in his van there.
3. Stopping on our travels for various treats (we had lots of coffee/fluffy stops, fish and chips by the beach, green mussels for lunch one day, oh yes and ice creams!). Tourist sights are usually marked as brown signposts and we enjoyed looking out for these and stopping off on the road; seal colonies, beaches, viewpoints, picnic spots and more.
Probably the most pleasant part of any day, however, was arriving at a destination, parking up, cooking something we had bought (e.g. anything from local fish…to baked beans on toast) and cracking open a beer.
Ohau Waterful Walk and Seal Pups: A fantastic seal colony
Waiariki Petting Farm & Cafe, Hanmer Springs
Tips for first-time motorhome drivers by Jarrod Wright, via the NZ Herald
More information on travelling in New Zealand with kids: Family-Friendly New Zealand
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