Our adventures in New Zealand with two under 4s │Week 1

I am a terrible blogger. We have been home from New Zealand for two months, and I still haven't posted any New Zealand blogs. In my defense, I've spent a long time trying to work out how to structure my posts so that they aren't just a list of what we did, but might be helpful to anyone planning a trip out that way. In the end, I decided that rather than faffing and putting it off, I just needed to get writing. So here goes!

Flying to New Zealand with under 4s 
After a lot of worry about whether we were going to even get to Heathrow because of the snow (that feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it!), and well over 24 hours of travel, we finally landed in Auckland early afternoon on 5th March. From Auckland we hopped straight into our prebooked taxi and travelled a further 2 hours to my brother's farm in Tirau. 

My brother moved out to New Zealand 6 years ago, and I hadn't seen him since. He’d never met his niece and nephew, and I’d not met his girlfriend.  So, the plan was to spend our first week based at the farm, as the main purpose of our trip was to spend time together and catch up. As they currently live in a fairly central location this was ideal for us. We managed to go of on lots of day trips and see huge amounts of the North Island, all within a reasonably short drive away.

Sunset at the farm

As always when travelling with children, things don’t always go to plan. For the first day or so our 3 year old daughter wasn’t very well. Was it something she’d eaten or drunk? Jet lag? Exhaustion? Eventually, we realised it was in fact Chicken Pox. Luckily for us, after the initial 36 hours of being unwell she perked up pretty quickly, and as there are so many wide open spaces in New. Zealand where she wouldn’t encounter anyone else, we weren’t restricted to the farm and could still get out and about. A bit of Pamol (New Zealand’s Calpol equivalent) and some soothing mousse for her spots, and she was right as rain. What a trooper.

The Blue Spring at Te Waihou Walkway
On our first full day my husband had to go collect our hire car, so whilst he did that I played at the farm with the children. Car hire was straight forward. We paid for car seats, and an extra fee which meant all tolls were already paid and we didn’t have to faff around paying any fees at a later time. After some lunch and a nap we decided to attempt some fresh air and a supermarket visit so we could grab some bland, beige, food for the poorly one.

The Blue Spring at Te Waihou Walkway

Our first New Zealand sightseeing trip was to Waikato Blue Spring. It was a hot afternoon,  but the springs were incredibly beautiful. The contrast in colours between the water, the hills, and the sky was breathtaking. It was only a short walk, but I would recommend if you are in the area. There are toilets at the springs.. I had to take the kids to them and a man who didn’t speak much English kept blocking the door and saying “dirty, dirty, dirty! Stop, dirty!” I squeezed past as there was no way of explaining that if a 3 year old says they need to wee, they need to wee. When we emerged a few minutes later he was still hanging around outside with his hands on his hips “see, dirty!”. The toilets weren’t dirty at all...just composting toilets rather than your regular flushable ones. Right, think that’s all the New Zealand toilet anecdotes over and done with right at the start!

Matamata, Tauranga and Mount Manganui
The following day was when it became apparent we were infested with Chicken Pox. We left the three year old on the sofa with her auntie and uncle whilst me, my husband and the littlest popped into Matamata to visit a pharmacy. All the brand names looked unfamiliar, but the pharmacist was a great help. We’d brought a load of Calpol sachets with us, but not enough to cover Chicken Pox for potentially 2 children.

One thing I liked about New Zealand was the excellent tourist information offices. The one in Matamata is the most local one to Hobbiton and so, obviously, this was inside... 

Meeting Gollum

When we returned to the farm the pox ridden one had eaten some lunch, drunk some lemonade, and was dancing around on the deck with her auntie after having attempted a game of Twister! We decided we were probably ok to risk a short trip to Tauranga and Mount Manganui. We knew we weren’t going to be out for very long so parked up right by the waterfront where we knew we’d find a little park and a a number of statues from the Hairy Maclary books by Lynley Dodd (Lynley lives in Tauranga). Our daughter was therefore known as “Bottomley Potts all covered in spots” for the rest of the holiday. We strolled along the waterfront for awhile but the kids were getting tired and the clouds were starting to roll over. We decided to drive the 20 minutes up to Mount Manganui so they could have a little rest. We stopped at the beach, and managed to have a run around, eat a million cream crackers, clamber on rocks and collect some shells before the sky got really black. We got back to the car just as it started to pour with rain.

Mount Manganui

Orakei Korako and Rotorua
Whilst we were in New Zealand we knew we wanted to visit one of the thermal areas. We had a few different recommendations to choose from, but opted for Orakei Korako. It's located between Taupo and Rotorua, and once you arrive you just need to take a short ferry ride across the lake from the visitors centre to reach the geothermal field. We chose Orakei Korako as it appeared to be the most child friendly option. There were backpack carriers available to borrow for free, so my husband carried our youngest the whole way around.

Orakei Korako

The looped walk around the geothermal field wasn't particularly taxing, but there were plenty of steps and it was a hot day - a signpost told us that is was usually a couple of degrees in the geothermal area than on the other side of the lake. Not being 100% well our daughter struggled a bit, and Stuart had a very sweaty back after carrying a 21 month old around. It was worth it though. We saw geysers, hot springs, mud pools and silica terraces, as well as a cave. There are plenty of benches along the pathway if you need a rest, and although there is a cafe and toilets they are at the other side of the lake by the visitors centre, so make sure you take some water over with you.

Fat Dog in Rotorua

On our way back to Tirau we decided to have a quick stop off in Rotorua. We had great coffee and cake in Fat Dog, and the kids had a quick play in the park.

Manu Bay, Raglan
My brother had to work for the whole day, so his girlfriend suggested the rest of us visit Manu Bay near Raglan. This was by far my favourite beach of the trip. The car park was situated on a cliff above the beach, and the walk back up to the car was hot and sweaty carrying a toddler, but I’d do it again. We'd stopped off at a supermarket on the drive over, so we had a lovely beach picnic, and did plenty of jumping over waves. The weather was excellent, there were lots of surfers around, and it really was a stunning beach.

Manu Bay, Raglan

On the drive home we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls. The kids fell asleep in the car so my brother’s girlfriend offered to stay with them whilst Stu and I went for a look. The waterfall was incredible. It was a pretty easy walk to the bottom, but a hardcore trek back up the steps to the top. I felt very guilty when we got back to the car as the children were both awake, and the youngest was screaming! A quick cuddle from mummy soon calmed him down.

Bridal Veil Falls

Waihi and Waihi Beach
Waihi is a small town, with a history of gold mining. The drive over from Tirau via the Karangahake Gorge road was beautiful. The thing I found about New Zealand was that the scenery is just incredible. There are so many stop off points along the roads where you could get some great pictures, but I think if we’d stopped at all the ones I wanted to we’d never have arrived at our destinations

We just had a stroll around the town of Waihi, had a look at Martha Mine and some of the associated buildings. The Goldfields Railway would probably be a good option for any train enthusiasts, but as our time was limited, and we had a train day planned when we were back in the UK, we decided to give it a miss. 

Waihi Beach is a short drive away, so we headed there for the rest of the day. Another beautiful beach, with plenty of space to run around and waves to jump over.

Howarth Memorial Wetlands and Hamilton Gardens
On our last day in Tirau my brother and his girlfriend had a busy day on the farm so Stuart and I took the kids for a walk around Howarth Memorial Wetlands. I wouldn't say they are a "must see" if you're in New Zealand (we really wanted to do Wairere Falls but it would have been too much for the children) but we had a really lovely relaxed morning strolling around. It was also do-able with the pushchair.

By the evening most of the farm work was done, so we went to Hamilton Gardens. The gardens are free to go into and are incredibly beautiful. I’m disappointed I didn’t get more photos but I was doing a lot of grumpy child wrangling that evening. In the summer months the gardens host a little food festival on a Sunday evening, with live music and lots of little food stalls. We got some food and sat out on the grass for awhile, whilst trying to distract the eldest from wanting to go on the bouncy castle and inflatables that were there.

Hamilton Gardens
I thought the gardens were incredible, particularly as they don’t charge an entrance fee, and I would definitely go back if we do a return trip. I think there are also some free children’s activity trail sheets availiable, which would have been good if we’d had more time there.

On the day we were leaving the farm we had booked to go to Hobbiton. Our lovely hosts were both back to work that day, so we booked our tickets in advance for the second tour of the day. We ended up arriving early, and as there was space they let us go with the earlier tour group, which worked out really well for us.

Hobbiton is actually on a working farm, so once you park up your car you get on a bus and are driven through the farmland and up to the site of the set. The bus journey was good though as the guide could point out a few things to you, and they play a few videos about the making of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. You can only book guided tours around Hobbiton, but to be honest that was much preferred anyway. The tour guide, obviously, had plenty of facts to share and anecdotes to tell, and you learnt so much about how they produced the films. The set itself was incredibly beautiful. It was so well presented and cared for, and went a long way to explaining the hefty price tag that was attached to the entry tickets! 

Bag End, Hobbiton

The walking was easy for the kids, especially as we kept stopping to hear from the tour guide. Although they obviously haven't seen the films I kept it interesting for them by telling stories about Hobbits, and there were so many things for them to "spot" - washing hung on the line, vegetable patches, different coloured doors, the bakers etc. 

 The tour itself took around an hour, and after that you walk through the set down to the Green Dragon Pub. A drink is included with your ticket price, but you can buy additional drinks and food if you like. As it was mid-morning I decided that one beer was probably enough.

If you are a fan of the films, like me, then I would definitely say that Hobbiton is a must-do. If you haven't seen the films, or aren't too bothered, then it is a lot of money to be spending on just a few hours. I absolutely loved it though.


Right, this seems as good a place as any to take a break. I hope everything makes sense, isn’t too “listy”, and is helpful. If you have any questions please do leave a comment below, I always read the comments and reply to as many as I can.

I have put in lots and lots of links, so hopefully they are helpful, but let me know in the comments if there's anything missing and I'll try add it for the next posts. Hopefully it won’t take me over two months to get week two and week three up for you!

Edit: Surprise, surprise! It took much longer than 2 months for me to get Weeks 2 & 3 up. Here they are: Week 2 & Week 3