New Zealand is a beautiful country with diverse landscapes and a number of things to do for both adults and children. Whether you choose to explore the North Island or the South Island, you will be amazed by the beauty of this country. However, travelling with children can be a real challenge. It requires planning and a more or less flexible schedule. In this article, we give you the keys to travel with peace of mind. Find out about our itinerary recommendations and ideas to discover the South Island of New Zealand.
Best season to travel to New Zealand
New Zealand is located in the southern hemisphere, so the seasons are the opposite of those in Europe. The best season to visit is between February and April, in late summer and early fall. During this period, the weather is nice and sunny. Remember that the climate on the North Island differs from the colder South Island. Whereas mornings are chilly, temperatures can rise up to 25 ° at daytime. The month of April, even though it gets a bit cold, is an ideal month to visit the South Island. Then you see trees tinged with beautiful colors in red, orange, and green, which makes the landscape look even more wonderful.
During the month of January, it is school holidays in New Zealand. Therefore, prices are higher (peak season) and there is less availability for hotels, rental etc.
What mode of transport?
Once there, you can opt for either car or motorhome rental. The choice will depend on several factors (budget, desired level of comfort, desired speed of travel, and even the season).
Rent a car in New Zealand
If you opt for a car, you need to book accommodations for your travels. This offers less flexibility on your route. Furthermore, you have to add hotels bookings ($ 180 minimum per night for a family room) to the equation, which makes the overall costs of the rental car option higher. Not to mention the expenses for eating out because you won’t be able to cook your meals. Another drawback is that you have to unpack your stuff every day, like putting the bags in the trunk, taking them out again.
However, the car option also has advantages. In fact, traveling in a car is easier than in a motorhome. The roads in New Zealand are quite narrow and winding, so driving in a small vehicle is easier and faster. This option also offers a lot more comfort than the camper, because you spend nights in spacious hotel rooms and don’t have to worry about cooking. The car is probably a better option if you are traveling during winter season because you enjoy warm nights at the cozy hotel room.
Renting a motorhome in New Zealand
Renting a motorhome allows you to move at your own pace in a small house. This mode of transport offers you a lot of flexibility. If you like a place, you can to stay longer, or if you run out of time, you can change your travel route. In motorhomes, you have everything at hand and you don’t need to empty the trunk every night. Depending on the vehicle you choose, you have a small kitchen, a bathroom with toilet and shower, and a real bed. Once your fridge is packed, you can hit the road. The price of renting a motorhome is also cheaper than the combination of car rental and hotels plus restaurant meals.
Regarding the choice of the camper, remember to make sure that you can access the rear of the vehicle from the cabin. Some vehicles have a separating wall, so you have to stop and get outside to access the living area.
What about the car seat?
Children under 7 have to sit in car seats. The models vary according to the age and weight of the child.
For newborns and toddlers, you need baby car seats or capsules. Rental companies normally don’t provide them, so you should plan to bring your own.
For older children, and generally over 10 kg, a car seat attached to the seat belt is necessary. The car rental companies offer them for hire. Depending on which option you choose (with or without insurance), you may not have to pay for car seat rental. However, be aware that the seats provided by rental companies are not the latest models, which means they are often old and uncomfortable (packed foam). In this case you rather pay for a better seat. You can either obtain it from the car rental company or from specialized companies.
Rental companies often ask you to install the car seats yourself because they don’t want to take on the responsibility and for safety reasons.
What to see in New Zealand?
The North Island of New Zealand offers diverse and stunning landscapes. There is Auckland, the largest city in the country, where you probably arrive in. From here, you can explore the north of the island, a cultural and spiritual mecca for the Maori people. Enjoy beautiful beaches, small coves and islands, and giant Kauri forest.
Then head to the Coromandel Peninsula. This region is pure wilderness with tropical forests and beautiful beaches with white sand and crystal clear water.
Don’t miss the geothermal wonderland Rotorua and the volcanoes in the area. Tongariro National Park is also a must-see on the North Island. You can do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, known as one of the most beautiful day hikes in the world.
Visit Wellington, the capital of the country, before heading for the South Island.
Discover lakes in breathtaking colors, glaciers, fjords, snow-capped mountains, beautiful beaches, and vineyards on the South Island.
Next, go to Christchurch, which is still in the process of being rebuilt since the earthquake in 2011. If you want your children to have a good time, take them to the Margaret Mahy Family Playground. It is a huge park with games for all ages, swings, giant slides, climbing cabins and more, all for free.
From Christchurch, take the road to the east coast of the island to get to the glaciers.
Then head for Wanaka or Hawea lakes, which are really worth seeing. The autumn colors of the trees lining the crystal clear water make the landscapes look stunning.
In Queenstown, nestled in the mountains on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, they offer many adventure activities for both adults and children. Head to Glenorchy and enjoy the beautiful views of this route.
From there, you can go exploring the fjords from Te Anau to Milford Sound. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Milford Sound is one of the most visited places in the country. Go hiking or on a boat or canoe tour to see dolphins, whales, and seals.
Another great place to see wildlife is the Otago Peninsula, near Dunedin. This peninsula is famous for its colonies of albatrosses, seals, and penguins.
The distances between cities are long, and the roads are narrow. Plan to take a break every 2 or 3 hours.
How to Prepare for Traveling in New Zealand with Children
First of all, we have to think about the climate, which is rather cold in New Zealand and there are always chances of rain. Therefore, it is necessary to pack warm and waterproof clothes.
The flight from Europe to New Zealand is long, very long actually, at least 24 hours with one or two stops. So pack things that keep your children entertained during the flight. For the little ones take books, music games etc. For older children, the in-flight entertainment program covers children’s movies and games for all ages.
You probably arrive in New Zealand in the late afternoon or evening. This will allow the children to recover during the night and overcome the jet lag more easily.
Airlines generally allow you to carry more in your carry-on luggage than normal (sterilized water, juice, milk, etc.). You can also take your stroller, car seat, or baby carrier with you for free. Remember to double-check these things with your airline before you leave.
If you decide on the car + hotel option, many hotels have apartments equipped with kitchens and play areas for toddlers.
Finally, on the road, you find public toilets that are generally well maintained and have baby change units.
Activities to do with children
You find playgrounds in every city, that are more or less modern depending on where you are. This gives children the opportunity to play and stretch before going on the road.
Visit zoos or wildlife parks or go on a cruise on one of the lakes to see a whale, seal or penguin.
You also find a number of museums, for which the entrance is generally free for small children.
With older children, you could go swimming with dolphins or sea lions in the Bay of Islands on the North Island or Kaikura on the South Island. Another fun thing to do is horse riding tours, which are offered in most places in New Zealand. If you want to do something a bit more ‘extreme’ , go on a helicopter flight.
Companies often offer family fares that are cheaper than buying separate tickets. Many activities for toddlers (under 4 years) are free.
Our practical advice
If you opt for the camper option, we advise you to get a larger model. Then you can leave the car seats in there without having to put everything away to make the bed every night. For example, in a 6-seater, you could set up a permanent bed at the back and use the car seats in the front also as high chairs at the table.
Choose an arrival in New Zealand late afternoon or evening to recover faster and overcome the jet lag.
Book a hotel close to the airport so you can walk there or get free shuttles.
Before your departure, remember to check the seasons and the temperatures you are going to have.
As for accessories, if you travel when it’s cold, take a hot water bottle and a thermos with you. Also remember to take an adapter and multi-port charger.
Updated on the 31/12/2019. Initially published on the 24/09/2018.