Friday, December 20, 2013

Amazing New Zealand, A Self Driving Family Trip, Part 1 (North Island)

Our family of 4 finally had our first overseas trip together before my little bunny turned 2 years old, it's so exciting! After much consideration, we have agreed to go New Zealand. Why NZ? It's not too far from Malaysia, it is a child friendly travel destination and language is not a barrier. Besides, with The Lord of the Ring trilogy, the beautiful landscape of New Zealand needs no introduction. Everyone knows it's a heaven on Earth, don't we? :)

Breathtaking view of Lake Wakatipu

I have the habit of keeping a travel journal since young. This journal was written during the trip, while travelling on plane, while the kids were asleep, or while idling in the car ride, so you may see mixture of present tense and past tense throughout the article. Some part of these were written just minutes before I zonked off to bed, so please do not expect a professionally written travel article. 

I am just sharing this journal from the point of view as a parent travelling with 2 young kids. Hopefully this will help for other parents who are planning for a holiday to NZ. Feel free to use this as a reference, however if you are going to use any of the info or excerpt for your own article or publication
, do give credit to my blog and a reference link to this post will be most appreciated. :)

A bit of background before you read on..

  • This was a 15-days self driving trip where we traveled from North island (starting from Auckland) and drove all the way to South island (took off from Christchurch), covering over 2,000 KM of travelling distance on the road.
  • We traveled in mid October, it was early spring so weather was cooling and some parts were snowing.
  • There were 4 of us, me, big guy and 2 young kiddos age <2yo and <5yo respectively at the time of travel. All the room we booked were either for 2 double bed rooms or an entire apartment/house. To ensure comfort to the family, I searched for accommodation with enclosed bathroom and kitchenette facilities. Wifi was not my priority since we were there for vacation, not for work! 
  • The entire itinerary is designed with child-friend in mind.  I have skipped the glacier, hot spring, trekking or adrenaline activities (shotover jet, sky diving, mountain cycling etc) that will not suit children under 5 yo. If you are seeking for thrill driven trip, this may not be the best fit. :)
Important Tips to Know...
  • New Zealand is ideal for self drive with its well connected expressway. I used this website to calculate the estimated distance and planned the itinerary accordingly. We kept each road trip to no more than 5 hours to avoid the kiddos from being over-boredd.
  • While Malaysia driving license may be recognised in New Zealand as suggested by some website, we took the safe approach by applying for international driving license at JPN the day before our travel. Alternatively, you may request for license translation service at JPN which is said to be cheaper (translate to English).
  • When booking car rental service, do factor in the extra cost for child seat and GPS which are a MUST. Some car rental company provide the ferry fare for crossing island too, so do inquire before confirming your booking.
  • Bring a tube of rich moisturising cream if you are travelling in early spring / winter. The cool and dry weather may cause to extreme dry skin condition, so do apply generously. Otherwise, just buy the local Lanolin cream which is rich and super mosturising!

Our 15-days itinerary, summarised in a map below

  • 6 days in North Island (Auckland - Taupo - Napier - Hastings - Wellington - Picton)
  • 8 days in South Island (Picton - Kaikoura - Lake Tekapo - Mt Cook - Queenstown - Milford Sound*- Oamaru - Christchurch)
*we didn't managed to visit Milford sound due to road closure caused by bad weather condition. :(
A Family Self-Driving Trip in New Zealand

This is how our journey to the New Found Land began...

Day 1 - The Beginning

  • Kuala Lumpur - Singapore - Auckland
  • 10 hours flight + 3 hours transit
Finally, we set off to New Zealand for our very first overseas family trip after baby C was born. Little E was so excited and looked forward for the trip that he had been counting down since weeks ago. He even helped me to pack his luggage by picking his favorite toys to bring. Baby C too was excited when I told her we are going to take airplane ride, everytime we spoke about it she will make a loud "yeah!!" and clap her hands excitedly.

The 10+ hours flight with 3 hours transit in Singapore Changi airport wasn't an easy one, especially when 4 of us trying to find comfortable resting position on the 3 slim seats on JetStar. However, we managed. The duo had been behaving so well that I just couldn't complain anything about them. Truly our precious. 

Lousy JetStar misplaced our stroller and it never arrived in Auckland with us as they promised it will, anyway, I was gladful that it's the stroller that gone missing and not any of our luggage, or that may be really disastrous.. I was determined not to let anything destroy our holiday mode, so after lodging our complaint at the Auckland airport, we moved on without wasting anymore time.

(Yes, we survived the entire trip without a stroller. Jetstar crews LEFT our stroller at Changi airport and we eventually picked it up at the Lost & Found section after we returned to KLIA, what a waste of effort and time! So first time flying Jetstar left us a very bad impression...)

On a side note, the preparation that I made before hand...

I made quite a few DIY crafts for this trip, saved us quite a fair bit of money besides bringing the convenience.

The XL size modern nappy bag. I made this the morning right before our flight day. I must be out of my mind but it served its purpose well with the 14 storage compartments and large storage space. You can check out more about the bag here..

The portable iPad holder for car ride, an spontaneous design completed within a night. Special request by my big guy and after a full day of trial run confirm it worked as designed. I also made a few pouches for cables and sunglasses storage. So glad that I have picked up sewing as a hobby which allows me the flexibility to put my design into reality.

iPad Holder, designed by me :)

One life saver for the long journey was this Busy Bag, aka Fun Bag that I prepared in anticipation of long traveling. You may read more about it here.
The Fun Fun Bag

Took me sometimes to get all the above ready, however, traveling with young kids I would rather be prepared (to keep them entertained) than having cranky kids who may make me a monster mom. 

Day 2 - Auckland
  • Family Picnic @ Cornwall Park
  • Grocery shopping @ Count Down
Take a walk in the peaceful Cornwall Park

Sunshine warmth the park
Beautiful blossom at the Park

Upon arrival at Auckland city, we spent the late morning enjoying picnic & ice scream sipping at the beautiful Cornwall Park, a park in the city that is popular with the locals. My duo were having fun running and rolling down hill with the local kids, climbing the old tree and after they finally got tired, they just lie on the grass gazing at the clear blue skies. It was a good start for the journey and made us look forward for more!

Simple homecook dinner at the motel

The wide selection of cheese....

Nearby the hotel we stayed, Surrey Hotel, were mostly Asian take away food. Not interested in any of these, we decided to prepare some simple dinner instead. Count Down, the 24 Hour store was just within 5 minutes walking distance so we bought some simple ingredients and had a nice Honey Cured Hams 'n Cheese Sandwich which only cost us about NZD$10, including the chips and fresh juice. I love to spend some time shopping in the local market as it gives me a feel of how the local live, what they eat, instead of just visiting the tourist spots. 

We only spent 1 1/2 day in Auckland city, although I wanted to visit Hobbiton initially, I made changes to the plan to allow more days to explore the beautiful South Island. If you intend to spend more time here do check out the recommendation by AATravel here.

Accommodation & my rating:
Surrey Hotel, 3.5/5. 
Ample parking, clean room and comfortable beds. Kitchen is small but allows simple cooking with an induction cooker. Staff over counter was friendly, he even allowed us to have an early check-in.

Day 2: Lake Taupo
In the morning before departing Auckland, we drove North and enjoyed a brunch by seaside at Devonport. The beach was clean and windy, with lots of little kids playing at the public playground and building sand castle. The Devonport public library nearby was such a gem, with lots of kids friendly games and books. As we were enjoying our Fish 'N Chips at the seaside bench, Ethan had the biggest surprise when a large ship sailed pass, it looked humongous among all the yatch.
The siblings hanging out at the chilling beach @ Devonport

My little handsome gazing at the ocean

After the brunch, we headed to the expressway directly towards Napier and had a great dinner at Lake House Grill in Lake Taupo, it's a grill house that offers clear view of the lake. We had a huge portion of BBQ ribs to go with the hand craft Lake Man beer. Delicious food, friendly service and large portion all with only NZD$60+. We took a stroll along the Great Lake Taupo under the crescent moon before leaving the place.

Dinner at the Lake Man Grill

Crescent moon overlooking Lake Taupo 

The biggest surprise: Star gazing at the road side along the Thermal Explorer expressway! While we pulled aside for baby C's diaper change, we had the most wonderful surprise. We can actually see all the star constellations crystal clear right in front on our eyes! It's such an amazing sight that no words can describe. The siblings started singing Twinkle Twinkle little star in excitement when they saw the zillions of stars.

Along the drive we can see smoke steaming out from the ground, no wonder it's called the thermal explorer expressway. Somewhat reminded me of the scene in Lord of The Ring when Frodo and Sam were approaching the land of Mordor.

Cozy attic room in the Coach House

We reached Napier late night and the Coach House (a privately run B&B) was such a lovely surprise. After a nice warm shower and toast for supper, we all snuggled into the beds on the room in the attic and entered dreamland on the heated beds. The siblings were super happy, so were the daddy and mommy.

Supper before bed

Day 3: Napier & Hastings
  • Wine tasting @ Elephant Hill Winery 
  • Honey sampling @ Arataki Honey Center 
  • Breath taking view @ Te Mata Peak
  • Harbor view @ Bluff hill

We had our hearty breakfast overlooking the beautiful garden, and set off to our journey to Hawke's Bay and visited several of its tourist hot spots. Napier is famous for it's wineries and fruit farms, we basically just picked up the brochures at our B&B,  planned out the itinerary the night before and set the destinations into our GPS before we began the journey.

Our hearty breakfast served with homemade marmalade and apricot in jar!

So here are the places of interest we visited in one day.

Arataki Honey Farm - it offers free sampling of honey and bought different varieties of the Arataki honey such as Clover, Blue Borage, Multi Floral and of course the famous Manuka honey! We got a few tubs of honey here to bring home as souvenir. While Manuka honey is generally available in most hypermarket, this store offers the most comprehensive range of selection.

The variety of honey we bought from NZ as souvenir

We stopped by Elephant Hill Winery for lunch and wine tasting, it's an award winning restaurant and the service was fantastic. We were offered a nice window facing table with 270° view of the vineyard and we can have some privacy with the duo without disturbing others. Food was seriously delicious and the Chardonay was smooth.

Fine dining experience in the Elephant Hill

We then drove up to the Te Mata Peak for a 360° Clear view of Napier. Endless greens, ultimate fresh air, friendly folks trekking up and down the hill, the drive was certainly worth it.
Te Mata Peak on a clear day

Before sunset, we managed to take a detour to visit Bluff Hill, which is a small public garden that offers magnificent view over the Harbor. Lots of spring flowers in blossom, it was such a beautiful sight to end the evening.

Blossoms in Bluff Hill

Accommodation & My Rating:
The Coach House B&B. 5/5.
Nicely renovated, a cozy home away from home filled with much love. Lovely rooms, thoughtful layout and large blooming garden. Jan was a friendly and helpful host.

Day 4: Art Deco Napier
  • Art Deco Napier city stroll
  • 4 hours drive Napier - Wellington


Vintage toys from the good old days

We were supposed to head down to Wellington after a stop at the Art Deco center, however little one had been not well (threw out few times ), so we had to stop by the city medical center for doctor visit. Luckily the consultation was free and we only have to pay for the medicine, which surprisingly is not much different compare to what we usually pay in KL. 

Interesting fact!

we were informed by the doctor that Napier and Nelson are the 2 cities in NZ with highest rate of allergies reported due to the agricultural activities and hay season. So if you are visiting during spring season, do take extra precaution.

Baby C was a true warrior, she recovered the very next morning after a good night sleep, and we were ready for a full day in Wellington!

We check-in to Mercure hotel at Wellington city center during night fall. The hotel was pretty standard, a 3 star hotel as-is but the service was rather attentive and friendly.

Day 5 & 6: Wellington City

Poppy flowers in the Wellington botanical garden
We began the day with a morning walk in the beautiful Wellington Botanical garden, the roses in the Lady Rose Garden had not awaken from the winter but the place was pleasant nonetheless. Had a nice morning coffee at the glass dome cafe and began walking towards the cable car station. We took the scenic route which took us nearly 30 minutes on foot, only to find out later that there is an easier path that takes no more than 10 minutes. Anyway, it was a pleasant stroll with all the surrounding green.

The Wellington Cable Car ride was a short but enjoyable one, duo were excited each time the door opens and shuts at each station. We went out at the Lambton Quay city exit while hub took the return trip to pick up our rented car. There were few interesting boutique shops at the Lambton Quay city, like handmade soups, handmade gift store, old cafe etc, being alone with 2 energetic young kids, we did not explored far.
Te Papa Museum is NZ's national museum and it's located right next to the harbor, so the walk to the museum was really windy and chilling, and my little handsome really struggled to walk against the wind. Good thing that we are equipped with winter clothing, scarf and hat; baby Claire was shouting 冷冷 (cold cold) all the time and asked to be cuddled. Poor baby, the wintery wind was just too strong for her.

This modern museum was worth the visit, the duo were captivated by the rotating sphere at the lobby of the entrance, they lousy mood changed instantly and my Little E just couldn't wait to enter the museum to explore more fun things. It offers free entrance and opens daily from 10am-6pm. If you visit on a Thursday like us, they opened till 9:00pm!

You will need to spare about 1.5 - 2 hours for a tour in this place. It provides great information and artifact of Maori history & culture, NZ nature and art. It's an interactive museum that allows children to explore and learn, which is a rather interesting concept. It also housed a giant Colassal squaid along with other animal sculptures that reminded me of the Natural History museum in London, but at a smaller scale.

Daddy & Daughter in the wild

Zealandia Wild Life Sanctuary was such a well preserved land that offers a safe haven for all the living things within its premise. We went there in the morning, found a nice parking spot not far from its entrance and spent a good 3 hours in there, enjoying a morning in nature and perfect tranquility. Little ones did not really enjoy it due to the long walk and lack of excitement, so if you are travelling with you kids, do be prepared to face some complaints. However, if you are a nature person, this place is worth visiting.

Takahe, only in NZ
We did not get to see much of the wildlife as they must have camouflaged themselves in the wild too well. However we were lucky to see the Takahe, an extincting bird species that can only be found in New Zealand.

Tips You Must Know!
  • Most parking in city offers 2 hour free parking. Take advantage of that but do not overtime as you may get a summon.
  • Wellington is a child friendly city. Try your luck and ask for rental of stroller to make the visit more pleasant - we rented one at Zealandia for $5 and loaned one for free from the Te Papa museum.
  • Always equip yourself with a tub of rich moistoriser cream when travelling to winter country. Use it generously on the face and body to avoid itchiness due to extreme dry skin condition.

For more ideas, check out the Wellington official tourism site for the Top 10 Things to do in Wellington.

Accommodation & My Rating:
Mercure hotel. 3/5. 
City parking cost additional NZD$20/night, service was decent, room condition acceptable but the bathroom needed fixing, the towel hanger actually fell off and hit my head when I tried to hang the towel. :(

The end of Part 1...
This mark our last night in the North Island. Read on more on Part 2 on the beautiful South Island here!

Copyrights © Pui Hua and Fun With Little Ones, 2012 - present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any materials/photos within this website without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pui Hua and Fun With Little Ones with appropriate and specific direction to the original content


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