Read part 1 of this story here – The ultimate family road trip (part 1)
Our itinerary – Christchurch to Auckland in a campervan
Camper-vanning from Auckland to Christchurch, we knew we would need to drive two to four hours each day to keep from having any massive drives. There were several places that we’d never seen that we really wanted to hit (Napier, Nelson lakes, west coast of the South Island), and once we plugged those in, our itinerary was pretty much set.
Flight from Auckland to Christchurch
When we fly, we let each kid pack a small backpack with whatever toys they want, and that acts as their carry-on bag. We don’t take additional toys, as they don’t end up playing with them anyway. To survive the flights, we make sure we have plenty of healthy snacks on hand (travelling is stressful enough without adding in blood sugar swings) and that they have access to the toys they’ve packed in their backpacks.
Christchurch is a great destination with kids. We lived in Christchurch for six years from 2009-2015, but the city is always changing as the rebuild continues, and there’s even more to love now. Some free kid-friendly activities include, The Margaret Mahy playground, Imagination Station (bookings recommended). Victoria park and playground (in the hills – great views!), Sumner beach and playground, Hagley park playground, the botanic gardens and the Canterbury museum.
Leg one – Christchurch to Greymouth via Arthur’s Pass
It actually snowed while we were driving through Arthur’s Pass, which was magical because the kids have been begging all year to see snow and we thought we’d missed our window. It only lasted about 20 minutes but we stopped and let the kids try to catch snowflakes, see their breath, etc.
Pit stop –The Wobbly Kea for dinner
Must do with kids – Roll down the windows and shout, “You shall not pass!” in your best Gandalf voices while driving through Arthur’s Pass.
Highlight – Snow!
Campsite – A free campsite near the water in Greymouth (basically a gravel carpark, but it was free)
Leg two – Greymouth to Picton
A quick stop at Lake Rotoiti to use the toilet ended up being my favourite part of the trip. We parked near the lake and the kids spent the next hour throwing stones into the lake, spotting eels from the dock, and meeting baby ducks. It was cold but the kids didn’t seem to notice. We cooked dinner in the camper and ate while we watched the sun go down. Then we let the kids watch a movie on the TV while the adults sat up front and listened to some classical music and soaked in the view.
Pit stop – The pancake rocks and blowholes in Punakaiki
Must do – The short drive from Greymouth to Westport, which is stunning. In fact, some travel bloggers call it the most beautiful drive in New Zealand – high praise, but it’s definitely a contender!
Campsite – Momorangi DOC campsite in Momorangi Bay, about 30 minutes from Picton (paid $63, bookings recommended)
Leg three – Picton to Wellington
We crossed the strait on the ferry and no one vomited. That’s a win in my book.
Must do with kids – The pirate playground on the Picton waterfront. There’s a train ride and merry-go-round as well.
Highlight – The scenic drive from Momorangi Bay to Picton.
Campsite – The Evans Bay Parade carpark (free) on the marina (about a 12-minute drive from the CBD).
We planned a little extra time in Wellington, but of course it wasn’t enough to do everything we wanted in this fascinating city. Our main goal was to take the kids to Te Papa, and we spent most of the day there. The kids loved all of the Discovery Zones and the stuffed moa birds.
Pit stop – Morning tea at Red Rabbit Coffee Co (beautiful baking and the best coffee of the whole trip) in the Hannah’s Factory building – walking distance from Te Papa. Also in this building is Pizza Pomodoro, which is a great dinner option.
Must do with kids – Te Papa (free)
Campsite – Ngatitoa Domain campsite (free) just north of Porirua. We drove out of the city and stayed here on our second night in Wellington in order to miss rush hour traffic in the morning, but it ended up being one of our favourite spots. The site is next to a great playground and a quiet little beach. It’s also near a petrol station where you can refresh your water and fuel supplies.
Leg four – Wellington to Hawke’s Bay
Napier has a lovely waterfront with a massive playground and some pools, an amphitheater, and more. The MTG (Museum, Theatre, Gallery) is a good option for adults and older kids, but didn’t have any exhibits/areas for young kids when we were there.
Highlight – The pools on Marine Parade (for the kids) and the 1931 Napier Earthquake exhibit at the MTG (for the adults)
Must do with kids – Get some real fruit ice creams and wander the streets of Napier spotting ziggurats.
Campsite – The Marine Parade campsite (free) in Napier.
Leg five – Hawke’s Bay to Tauranga
Heaps of hill walks and beach walks at Mt Maunganui.
Pit stop – Flaveur Breads on Mt. Maunganui for coffee and sandwiches/baking
Campsite – Beachside holiday park on Mt Maunganui (paid $62, bookings recommended)
Leg six – Tauranga to Auckland
Pit Stop – Karangahake Reserve in Karangahake Gorge. A great place to stop and have a picnic lunch and explore for a while.
Highlight – Sleeping in our own beds again!
When we were sitting next to Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes region watching the sun go down, listening to Mozart with kids happily watching a movie in the back, I thought to myself, “This is why people do these trips, for magical moments like this.” Those moments of the trip that weren’t planned were that much more special, because none of us were expecting them, which seemed to make it easier to be in the moment and just enjoy ourselves and each other.
Would we do another relocator road trip? Absolutely. Perhaps we will try to cover a shorter distance next time, but I can definitely say that more campervan holidays are in our future. Our great Kiwi road trip is one we’ll always remember.
Read part 1 of our story here – The ultimate family road trip (part 1)