Our adventures in New Zealand with two under 4s │Week 2

What did I say in my previous New Zealand post  Something along the lines of “hopefully it won’t take 2 months to get weeks 2 and 3 of our trip written up”? Well, here we are in August. Three months since the first post was published, and five months since we returned from New Zealand. Better late than never, hey? Rather than spend paragraphs talking about how incompetent I am, let’s just get on with it. Here’s week 2 for you. 

Edit: you can read Week 1 here and Week 3 here

Once we left the Hobbiton tour, it was time to drive across to the east coast for a one night stay in Napier. Earlier in the week we weren’t sure we’d be able to make it all the way to Napier due to severe weather warnings. And as there is nothing much at all on the road between Taupo and Napier (and I mean nothing) we didn’t know whether we should risk being stranded. As it happens, the weather wasn’t as bad a predicted and we were able to make the drive without any hassle.

We arrived and settled at our Motel, which was on the sea front, and went to explore. In 1931 the town suffered a disastrous earthquake, killing over 100 people, and flattening nearly all the buildings. During the 1930’s the town had to be rebuilt, and as such many of the buildings have a real Art Deco feel. Unfortunately, the dreary weather and lack of light didn’t make for the best photos of the town, but I’ve dropped one below to give you an idea! 

NFB building in Napier New Zealand
After a day of being Hobbits, travelling, and exploring a new town, the kids (and the adults) were shattered. We were typical Brits; grabbed a McDonalds and had an early night. 

As we’d wandered around most of the town the previous evening we didn’t really need to walk back into the centre (it’s not a very big town) so drove up to Napier Botanical Gardens to have a walk around. The gardens are small but very pretty - be prepared for some reasonably steep paths though! There were some small aviaries, and small patches of grass, so the children had chance for a bit of a play and a run around.   

We didn’t have to rush off that day, and the Botanical Gardens didn’t kill quite as much time as we hoped, so we thought we would give National Aquarium of New Zealand a try. It was a nice little aquarium with plenty to see, including fish, sharks and rays, but we were particularly happy to be able to see some kiwis. We saw a few signs on our travels suggesting we were in “kiwi areas” but turns out this was the only opportunity we had to see the shy, nocturnal birds.

National Aquarium of New Zealand mural, Napier

After our aquarium visit it was time to hit the road again. We were headed to Tongariro National Park, which isn’t particularly close to any shops (or anything for that matter), so we grabbed some picnic foods for lunch which we ate in the car, and a few bits and pieces to take over to our self-catered accommodation in Whakapapa Village

Tongariro National Park
Our few days at Tongariro National Park was probably my favourite section of our trip (apart from seeing my brother and his girlfriend, obviously!), despite me managing to set off the smoke alarm in the accommodation within an hour of arriving - my cooking isn’t THAT bad! We were staying at Chateau Tongariro, although in one of their self-catered lodges rather than the main hotel. The actual hotel is such an impressive looking building and we did pop in to use the bar. To get to the accommodation we were in you had to walk down the road around the back of the hotel, and our lodge was situated just out of this photo on the left hand side.

Chateau Tongariro
I think that the self-catered lodges have a bit of negative press as being a bit grotty, but ours was fine and I’d definitely recommend the lodges to families. I suspect those reviews are just due to comparisons with the hotel rooms - but having not seen one of the hotel rooms I couldn’t say for sure. Like I say though, I liked the lodge, it met our needs, and we had a little picnic bench in the garden with excellent views of Mount Doom (for any Lord of the Rings fans).

Mount Doom

If you are planning on doing some walking in this part of the country I would make the Whakapapa Visitors Centre, situated just behind the hotel, your first stop. There’s a load of information on the different walks you can do, maps, and plenty of advice. I would have loved to have given the Tongariro Alpine Crossing a go, but it just really wasn’t feasible with the children. However, if you were planning on it, you can book a bus which picks you up near the hotel, takes you to the start of the crossing, and back again.

After a browse of the options in the visitors centre we realised that the Short Under One Hour and Half Day Walks were our best options.

Whakapapa short walks with kids

Whakapapa short walks with kids

Whakapapa half day walks

Whakapapa half day walks
Rather than start with a super short walk, we thought we‘d jump in the deep end and give one of the half day walks a shot. We were fully expecting to either have to turn around part way through the walk, or for it to take all day to complete, but we wanted to test the terrain and the timings against the given information on the signs, see how the kids got on so we could plan the next few days, and make the most of being outside whilst the weather was dry (the forecast wasn’t particularly great for our stay).

So, off we went on the Taranaki Falls Walk (to the right on 2nd map pictured). We took the lower path to the falls and walked back along the upper path. I have to say, with kids, the lower path was pretty hard going. 
Taranaki Falls, lower path
The whole loop walk was supposed to take 2 hours, but with the little legs of a not quite 4 and not quite 2 year old it took 2 hours just to get to the falls. Very much worth the long walk for this though.

Taranaki Falls, Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
We walked (carried the kids) up the steps alongside the falls and stopped at the top for a much needed drink and snack break. We then followed the upper path back along to the accommodation. The terrain on the upper path was much easier to navigate, and much flatter. We did this section in just an hour, despite the fact that my husband had to carry our son for the last mile and a half after he fell asleep on his shoulder.

After the kids had a sleep, and we all had some lunch, there was still plenty of the afternoon left. The little ones had done so well in the morning we thought it was sensible to take it a bit easier so we had a stroll around the Whakapapa Nature Walk - location shown on the first map pictured. This was a much more leisurely stroll, the paths were mostly accessible, and the children had a little run around a patch of grass at the start of the walk and sat on the picnic tables for a snack break.  

Despite the much longer than estimated walk time on our first day, we were pretty impressed with how well the kids did, and thought we’d stick to a similar format for the next day; our last full day in Whakapapa. This time we thought we’d attempt the Silica Rapids Walk (see second map, lower left), but try make it a little easier going for the kids. We took the car up to the furthest away parking area (labelled “1” on the map below), followed the walk, then the children and I walked back from the other parking area (labelled “2” on the map below) straight back to the accommodation (labelled “3”), whilst my husband went back for the car (cheers!). 

Considering how close this walk was to the one we did the previous day, the scenery was pretty different. And despite the children being visibly more tired, we had to stop for a lot more sweetie breaks, we still finished this walk in a shorter time than the walk the previous day. It was also the location for my favourite photobomb ever...
Silica Rapids Walk photobomb
Again, we decided a more leisurely afternoon was required. We drove up to the Whakapapa Ski Area. We were too late in the day to get the chair lift up Mt Ruapehu, but we did some ill-advised climbing up a part of the bottom of the mountain instead.

Mt Ruapehu views
On our final morning in Whakapapa it was very wet. The Tawhai Falls walk was described as only taking 20 minutes there and back (accurate), and that it was a good wet weather walk (also accurate). What it didn’t say was that your husband was likely to walk out onto a rock to get a photo, slip, and almost fall into the water. 

Tawhai Falls

Again, if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, this is also known as Gollum’s Pool, as a scene where Gollum’s catching fish was filmed here.

Taupo and Huka Falls
After our morning waterfall viewing we needed to be on our way. We were spending one final night at my brother’s farm, and wanted to go back to his via Taupo and Huka Falls.

I really loved Taupo. On the drive from Tongariro the weather cleared and we managed to have a leisurely walk around the town, the children had a play in the park, we saw the lake, and had a great meal, and a cheeky beer at Waterside (although my brother tells me we should have gone next door to BurgerFuel). Again, pop into the i-SITE if you need any information - all the tourist information centres we went into were so helpful.

Lake Taupo
We did quickly pop to Huka Falls - it is such a short stroll from the car park, so definitely worth going to see. However, despite the falls themselves, and the volume of water cascading down them, being super impressive, the site was so touristy in comparison to our past few days in Tongariro. We just took a quick look and headed straight back off to the farm.

Huka Falls

We spent our morning with, and said our goodbyes to my brother, his girlfriend, all the animals and the farm, before heading off on the next leg of our New Zealand trip. We were spending a couple of nights in Whitianga and thought a visit to Hot Water Beach on our way to our accommodation would be a fun few hours for the children. 

Hot Water Beach
My advice having now visited? Don’t bother. To be fair, it wasn’t the best weather on the day we were there, but it was basically a huge beach, with about 100 people crammed into a small section of it, desperately digging and trying to reach warm water. The kids had fun jumping from giant hole to giant hole, but we visited much more beautiful beaches than this one on our trip.

Our accommodation was a motel along Buffalo Beach Road in Whitianga. We stocked up the food supplies at the supermarket and had a little wander to get our bearings. The next day we planned to get the ferry across to Ferry Landing. The ferry journey only takes a few minutes and is really cheap, but it would have taken 40 minutes to drive there around Whitianga Harbour, so the ferry ride is the best option. 

Whitianga to Ferry Landing
After just a short walk from where we got off the ferry we were at a beach by Maramaratotara Bay - a perfect example of a beach which is far more beautiful than Hot Water Beach. We spent ages playing on there with the children, had some snacks and a turn on the swings at the far end of the beach. We strolled along the coastline, and had a very relaxed morning, but couldn’t walk too far as the kids were absolutely exhausted. 

Ferry Landing
Our son was desperate for a nap, but wouldn’t sleep in the motel room. We knew he’d fall asleep in the car, and would probably need a journey of ooooo, about 40 minutes to drop off and stay in a deep-ish sleep. You guessed it. We ended up driving all the way back around Whitianga Harbour so we could see Hahei Beach and Cooks Bay, which are a little further along the coast from Ferry Landing. Again, really beautiful beaches, but just a shame the wind had picked up and we ended up having our legs exfoliated by the sand whipping up around us. Lots of fun though; we ran up and down the sand, chased the waves, and managed to blow out some cobwebs.   

#lovingwhitianga #goodforyoursoul

Wow! This was a whopper of a post - sorry! Hopefully it was informative, and it just goes to show how much you can pack into a short period of time. Just one more week to go after this one. What’s the betting I get it written and uploaded this side of Christmas? 

Have you visited any of these places? How old do you think the kids need to be to cope with the Tongariro Crossing? Not that I’m already planning future visits or anything.

Visiting New Zealand with under 4s