Joanna and Michael Crain, and their 3-year-old twin daughters, Mackaylee and Mackenzie, who attend The Children’s House International Montessori Kindergarten.
Over Chinese New Year, we rented a camper van and traveled 1,500km from New Zealand’s South Island to the North Island. We flew with Air New Zealand from Beijing to Auckland, then took a domestic flight to Christchurch. We spent the next nine days driving to Akaroa, Kaikoura, Blenheim, Picton, Wellington, Paraparaumu, Taupo, Rotorua, Papamoa Beach, and back to Auckland. From there, we flew back to Shanghai on the same airline. In total, the trip lasted 11 days.
All flights with Air New Zealand cost RMB 35,000 for the whole family. The camper van from Maui Rentals (www.maui-rentals.com) cost approximately RMB 20,000 for eight days. During this stretch, we stayed in camper van parks, which ranged from RMB 125-275 per night. We stayed in a hotel for the other nights, which cost around RMB 1,000. The ferry from South Island to North Island cost RMB 3,000. In the end, the 11-day trip cost around RMB 65,000 for two adults and two toddlers.
The Best Part
After nine days in the camper van, we hired a babysitter in Auckland and were able to slip away for a nice dinner at Cibo in Parnell. The bottle of wine was well-deserved and the dessert was amazing. The same babysitter returned the next day, so we could go canyoning. While the drives were long, the scenery on both the north and south islands were spectacular and surprisingly varied. The ferry across the Cook Strait from Picton to Wellington provided an excellent view of the Marlborough Sound. Mackaylee and Mackenzie enjoyed the penguin adventure at Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World in Auckland.
The Worst Part
There were torrential rains on the day that we intended to be our “beach day.” We packed up the camper van and continued on to the next spot, which gave us more time to spend in Auckland – and in the end, a chance to attend the Auckland Food Festival. Also, the camper van was quite large and some roads were quite narrow. When taking a turn too closely, Michael damaged the vehicle. Thankfully, he had bought the complete insurance package from the rental company.
Traveling without a schedule allowed for spontaneous finds. After seeing a TV program about “zorbing” (rolling down a hill in a giant plastic orb), Michael was able to zorb in Rotorua. On the drive to the next town, we happened upon the Skyline Rotorua Luge and spent the next few hours riding the luge down different paths. The entire family enjoyed the experience, and it proved to be a highlight of the trip.
New Zealand is the most child-friendly place we’ve ever been to. The camp sites were equipped with trampolines, playgrounds, and swimming pools; the restaurants included play areas and kids’ menus; and tourist attractions all catered to children. Mackaylee and Mackenzie enjoyed the playgrounds (which seemed to be on every block). They even played a driving game called “Find the Playground,” which kept them occupied from city to city. The grown-ups loved the many vineyards in New Zealand. Even there, the girls were provided with games and activities or vast open areas to play in. We were pleasantly surprised at the ANZ Bank in Picton, which had a small teller station for the girls to role play a bank teller and a customer while Momma and Poppa exchanged real money at the counter.
- With its direct service from Beijing to Auckland, Air New Zealand made the trip very convenient. In addition, the airline provided exceptional service and made the girls feel especially welcome.
- The average temperature in New Zealand is never too hot, so even in the middle of the summer the weather is still generally mild. Light layers and long pants are recommended. We had to turn on the heat in the camper van on several nights.
- The camper van is a nice way to travel; you don’t need to pack up every day. There’s the advantage of having your own refrigerator and stove, so that you can always have drinks and snacks on hand, and cook a meal or two along the way. Alternatively, the parks have cabins to rent, so you can get the same experience with a car rental.
- In more rural parts of New Zealand, business hours are more of suggestion than regulation. More than once, we saw signs that read: “Open at 9ish, closed at 3ish.” Be prepared to move at a slower pace than in China. But that’s why you’re on vacation in the first place, right?
All photos courtesy of the Crain family