Are you planning a trip to New Zealand with kids? Find out the 10 things every parent needs to know before they leave.
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Last year, my friend Traci visited New Zealand with her 4 year old for an epic 16 day trip! She wrote an incredible guest post detailing her entire itinerary and I asked if she’d write another highlighting her top tips for parents.
Thankfully, she agreed and now we all get to benefit!
10 Essential Tips for Traveling to New Zealand with Kids
Guest post by Traci Wong
1. Have a Rough Agenda, But Don’t Book Everything Ahead of Time
We’re pretty comfortable traveling and going with the flow of things.
We always have:
- a few key things we know we want to do
- things we would like to do
- and things that are nice to do, but won’t be sad if we miss it
For New Zealand, it was my husband’s third time, so I wanted him to do things he hadn’t done before.
He booked all of our hotels ahead of time, as well as domestic flights and cars, so we knew what cities we would be in and when.
He prepaid some of the hotels early in the trip, but reserved some later in the trip to pay at the hotel, in case we wanted to change plans. This gave us a lot of flexibility.
The only activity tickets we purchased ahead of time were for Thomas the Tank engine.
We had already planned on taking the train ride at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway, but happenstance had it that Thomas was going to be there the weekend we were driving through.
So, my husband went ahead and booked the tickets before we left the States.
All of our other activities and excursions were booked day of or the night before, so we could move things around (like our 4-hour train ride and penguin excursion) to align with the best weather or have a slow day to rest.
There are some activities that are likely to sell out further ahead than others, but in New Zealand, one thing that is an absolute, must-book-far-in-advance is a reservation at an overnight hut on New Zealand’s Great Walks.
Staying flexible worked well for us, since we ended up having to cancel our trip to see the fjords.
Not only was it going to be raining the day we had planned to go, but high winds were expected, which would have made for a terrible boat ride.
2. Try Things You Haven’t Experienced Before
Before we left, my son and I agreed to do ‘open mind’ for all food.
He’s not a picky eater, but can at times be stubborn. This trip, he repeatedly did open mind and found out that his new favorite food was salmon sushi rolls!
He already liked cooked salmon and had tried other sushi before, so this wasn’t a big stretch.
We can’t decide if the outcome was a good or bad thing, but at the time, was a bad thing for my husband, who got to eat only 1 of 6 pieces of his salmon sushi roll.
It’s also a great time to get kids to do something outside their normal routine.
We also discovered a love of anything Hokey Pokey (ice cream, candy, cookies, etc.) It’s unique to New Zealand and fun treat to say as well as eat!
We spent a rainy day at Puzzling World in Wanaka. It was a last minute add on because we canceled our trip to the fjords.
I discovered during this time that my son can spend 90 minutes working on a nearly impossible puzzle and didn’t get frustrated when he couldn’t solve it.
He made me buy one to take home and work on some more.
3. Food is Expensive — Hit the Grocery Store!
My husband and I have always loved checking out grocery stores in foreign countries.
We’ve made it a tradition to find a cheap cookie to try every time we’ve traveled abroad and have never been disappointed.
Food is pricey in New Zealand.*
As my husband says, “if it’s not fish, lamb, or dairy, it’s probably shipped there.”
I do love all the inexpensive take-out counter sushi shops, and we made that a go-to for lunch.
But, another way to save a bit was to buy lots of ‘muesli’ bars, as they are called there, and fruit at the grocery store for breakfast.
The fruit is delicious; buy whatever is in season.
I was able to find a lot of different bars to try. Another fun thing was to have my son to pick them out, so he’d try something different.
Our biggest grocery store buy was…dessert!
We had a refrigerator in all of our hotel rooms, so we bought a half gallon of ice cream for each hotel (even the one we were only in for 1 night).
It was less than $5, which was cheaper than a scoop of ice cream at a shop, so I didn’t feel bad about leaving the carton behind.
It also made a great incentive for a tired little boy to walk the rest of the way back to the hotel – ice cream is waiting!
*Upon reflection, while restaurant prices can seem high, tax is included, and you don’t tip in NZ, whereas in the US, tax and tip can easily add another 30% to the bill, so keep that in mind!
4. Someone Needs to be Comfortable Driving on the Left
My husband is oddly very comfortable driving on left. He’s done it in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand a few times.
We had a car for our entire trip. While in Auckland, you can get around by public transportation. But, we drove between cities and did a lot of excursions outside the city.
In addition to being able to drive on the left, you need to be able to navigate the traffic circles, aka roundabouts, which are everywhere.
If you’re not, you’ll either cause chaos or an accident.
And, you need to be okay with sheer drops off the side of the road you are driving on – think lots of cliffs with little between the road and falling into the ocean.
5. Get a Vodafone Travel SIM After You Land
Communication is key when we travel abroad.
We got our Vodafone Travel SIM right after clearing customs. It came with 3 gigs, 200 mins & texts good in NZ and back to the U.S., and it’s good for 2 months.
It’s a SIM card that you insert into your phone so you can call, text, and stay connected to social media like Facebook and Instagram without being charged International fees.
At $50 NZ, it was about $35 US, which worked out to about $2/day for our trip.
6. Experience Nature with your Family
New Zealand’s strength is its beautiful landscapes.
Because it’s comprised of 2 main islands, it’s got a lot of water and beaches. I suggest seeing the beaches, getting out on the water, and going for a hike or nature walk.
The good news is that New Zealand doesn’t have dangerous animals or insects that can hurt you…no bears, wolves, snakes, tarantulas, scorpions, etc.
Just some sandflies (think mosquitoes) and the occasional possum.
7. Prepare for Weather and do Laundry on the Road
Our trip was during the second half of March, so summer was turning into fall, and weather is less predictable that time of year.
We needed to buy winter hats for our penguin excursion in Dunedin (I did pack gloves, but neglected to actually take them with us that night).
Three of our hotels had a washer and dryer, so we were able to do laundry easily. I knew this ahead of time, and so I packed accordingly.
Hotels with in-room laundry facilities provided free detergent. That being said, I saw several places to do laundry if your hotel doesn’t have facilities.
8. Get a ‘Real’ Pin & Chip Credit Card
New Zealand, like many places outside of the U.S., is mostly on pin & chip technology for payments.
With most U.S. credit cards requiring a signature even though they now have chips, it means that your credit card is not likely to work at anything that is unmanned.
We couldn’t buy gas from stations without an attendant. And we couldn’t pay at a parking vending machine without having to call their customer service number.
That extra hassle doesn’t sound like much, except when it is.
And when you are traveling to New Zealand with kids, minimizing hassles is a good idea!
So, make sure you have a “real” pin & chip credit card for this instances. This is a good site to learn more about how to get pin & chip credit cards.
9. Hotels Usually Charge Extra for More than 2 Occupants
One thing that surprised us about traveling to New Zealand with a kid is that we had to pay extra for having a 3rd person in our hotel room.
Hotels charge based on the number of occupants regardless of bedding, and most seemed to start at 2 people and charge more per additional occupant, even if they are a child.
This meant we had nightly surcharges on most of our stays.
AUCKLAND HOTELS FOR FAMILIES
This apartment-style hotel offers affordable luxury in the heart of Auckland’s most vibrant central district. You can easily talk to some of Auckland’s best restaurants, shops and attractions.
This hotels is just a few minutes walk from The Edge Entertainment Centre, Sky City, and Queen Street’s golden mile.
This hotel is also located in the heart of Auckland and they have a pool!
10. Fishing Requires a Permit, Though Kids Permits are Free
Since New Zealand is an amazing spot for adventurous families, you might want to go fishing during your trip.
My husband and son enjoy fishing at home in Seattle, so we brought along my son’s miniature rod and reel with a handful of lures. We thought it would be something fun to do, if we found the time and place.
You’ll want to make sure to get a fishing permit for adults. Permits for kids are free!
We saw gorgeous and huge steelhead or salmon in Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, but only right at the docks in a non-fishing areas.
If you really are into fishing, it’s a great country for it, but be aware there are a lot of regulations.
Bonus Tip for traveling to New Zealand with Kids: Book a Family Photographer
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