I had a week to make the most of my time in the North Island of New Zealand. I asked my friend, and fellow American expat, if she would be keen to join my daughter and me, and she gave us an emphatic YES! We had less than 24 hours to plan an epic week, jam-packed full of adventures and a large TO-DO list.
Like I said, we didn't have long to prepare. I knew we would be taking two cars, which meant that I was going to be in the car alone with my toddler for long periods of time. This meant one thing.... SNACKS! I've limited her mid-morning and afternoons snacks of late, but when it comes to traveling with kids, snacks are sacred.
HOT TIP: I have blogged about this before, so have a read, especially if your are flying internationally with your munchkins.
In order to prepare for success, I hit up the shops the day we left. I bought trail mix, cherry tomatoes, popcorn, mandarines, apples, bananas, organic rolled oats, peanut butter, our homemade breakfast seed topping and a few organic baby food pouches (meat and veg only, no fruit) if I was caught in a pinch.
I also brought my slow cooker! Yep, you read that right. I knew that two nights we would be out in the bush, super remote and without wifi. I purchased everything I'd need to make a healthy veggie filled minestrone soup that would feed the three of us for two hearty dinners.
First Stop: Taupo
We booked and Airbnb a stones throw from Lake Taupo. It was a little A-frame cabin that was super cozy. We woke up early the following morning and watched a pink sunrise over Lake Taupo and Mt Taupo. It was spellbinding!
Pit Stop: Rotorua
We were only 40 minutes away from the highly recommended Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, and this was a non-negotiable, must-see in my book! To get there, we drove along the Thermal Explorer Highway which was incredibly scenic and showcases a myriad of lakes, hot springs, geysers, natural spas and mud pools.
Second Stop: Waitomo
We stayed at the Rock Retreat in Waitomo. As the name implies, it's a retreat, surrounded by rock formations and clusters that hold an insane resemblance to the Scottish highlands. We stayed in a quaint cabin, with a resident border collie, and we only had a wood burning fire place for heating. It was quite romantic and seemed like the perfect backdrop for an episode of Outlander.
My favourite parts of the cabin itself were:
The organisation of the kitchen with rubbish, recycling AND compost.
That you had to grind our own coffee beans in an ancient wall mounted churning device from back in the day.
The balcony overlooking the valley and the white puffy sheep that frequented our knolls.
The ladder to the attic with a kids play area and extra beds upstairs.
HOT TIP: You can follow Rock Retreat on Instagram
We were only 13 minutes from the famous Waitomo Glow Worm Caves, which was another must-see on our list. We loved the tour and can't recommend it highly enough. I particularly like that the caves were privately owned and all the employees were direct descendants of the Maori tribe leader who discovered the caves over 130 years ago.
Pit Stop: Zealong Tea Estate
We had a long drive ahead of us from Waitomo to Auckland, so we timed our pit stop perfectly to stretch our legs and explore the Zealong organic tea farm. We made a booking for their scrumptious high tea, which is only $49 and included 6-8 cups of tea from a bag of your choosing. Zealong have won a number of awards and it's not hard to see why. The grounds are exceptionally well kept and tidy, littered with large Japanese inspired bronze statues, tea pots and dragons. The tea tasting room looked like something out of a futuristic sci-fi movie and was immaculate. Highly recommend stopping by for a tour, a bite to eat and look around their magnificent grounds.
Stop 3: Auckland
To be fair, we only drove past Auckland and didn't have a proper look. I heard it was quite similar to Melbourne, but not as nice. After all the remote explorations we had soaked up, the last place I wanted to be was a big city. A proper coffee was tempting, but we opted to stay in the inner city suburbs for a night and had some bomb Italian for dinner. We wanted to get an early start the next morning for The Coromandel.
At this point we had connected with our hubbys, so our party size doubled, and so did the fun. We all decided that the best way to see the Coromandel would be by boat tour. We booked online that morning and made the 2pm tour. The water was still and we had no waves in sight. This was a huge relief for me because I get dreadfully seasick. The tour was an hour long and featured some stunning caves, the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve and the famous Cathedral Cove.
After the tour, we decided to hit up Hot Water Beach. Be sure to bring a shovel with because the novelty here is that you can dig your own spa! When you dig a hole in the sand, hot geothermal water under the sand gurgles up and makes a hot (sometime scolding hot) spa. We all burned our feet on a few occasions, but it was so fun trying to find the perfect spot, which did take a lot of trial and error. We all watched the sunset from our mini sand hot tub and walked home in the pitch black. It was such a fun, unique experience and not one you replicate anywhere else in the world I believe.
The Pit Stops on the Journey Home (The Coromandel ---> Hawkes Bay 5.5 hours)
Huka Falls : ragging waterfall, be sure to check it out.
Be sure to stop at the Otumuheke Stream as well. Warm geothermal water from the Otumuheke Stream flows into the Waikoto river, creating a mini spa with healing mineral water. It is open every single day and totally FREE.
Well that's it! Hope this has given you some guidance in preparation for your north island adventures. If you have any lingering questions, please pop them in the comments below.
Christmas has gotten out of control if you ask me.
I'm a firm believer in not spoiling kids. My 10 month old doesn't need lavish gifts she can't even open, couture clothing or designer shoes under the Christmas tree. I also don't like the notion of bribing kids to behave well when they should always behave well twelve months a year.
This is a guide that I like to follow for gift giving in our home for adults and children
"Something you want, something you need, something you love, something to read."
Just how I like it. It isn't over the top or pretentious.
I'm not sure what Riley wants, but I know of a few things she loves, needs and some great books for her ever growing collection. And since making the change to chemical free, I've become more aware of what toys she has and plays with as well. So below I'm sharing with you a few of her non toxic, plastic and chemical free presents, AS WELL AS alternative options for different price points.
Kangaroo Ornament from HomeGoods
It's our daughter's first Christmas, so how appropriate that we start her Christmas ornament collection! I would love to give her eighteen special ornaments on her 18th Christmas for her to have when she moves out. Secretly I'm hoping she lives with us until she is 35, but still.
Plastic free and sentimental, made of ceramic and the perfect heirloom.
* Alternative: You can also get a bargain with these super cute ceramic ornaments which are handmade in Brisbane. Plastic free and made with the intention of keeping in the family and out of landfills.
Beaver Puppet from Target
Set me back a whopping $10 and she lit up like a kid on Christmas (how appropriate) when she saw it. I'm going to clock hours of entrainment with this fuzzy little friend during story time.
* Alternative: Or you can try these adorable puppets from Biome in Brisbane. These puppets are made fairly in Nepal by ethical/sustainable businesses run by Nepalese women. Pretty neat and they will last a lot longer. The wombat puppet is a personal fav.
Headbands from Nordstrom
My daughter has been wearing headbands since she was 7 days old. She is used to wearing them thankfully, and I simply adore her in them. She doesn't have a lot of hair yet, and they make her look super girly which I love. These bows are well made, affordable and last for a long time.
* Alternative: Looking for an Aussie owned and Aussie made company? Check out Little Raya Sunshine. She hand makes gorgeous baby accessories in Melbourne, VIC.
Dr Bronner's Magic Balm
A great stocker stuffer for the little baby who has it all, but just needs a little extra moisture. I love this balm, we all use it in our house. I use it when she has cradle cap, or when she just needs a bit of hydration.
Let's Sign, Baby Board Book
BOOKS! I'm obsessed with children's books and I'm always giving them to other people's kids as presents. They are practical, great for learning and easily passed on to friends or donated when you're done with them.
I wanted to teach our daughter sign langue for a long time, and I finally got the perfect book. It covers the family members, eating, playing and the basic hand gestures alphabet as well.
Santa's Aussie Holiday by Maria Farrer and Anna Walker
Since it's our daughter's first Christmas, I want to start new family traditions for the three of us. One of which is reading a festive book in the lead up to Christmas as well as Christmas jammies. I haven't found any pj's yet, and I would love if you could comment below as to where I could hunt some down.
But back to the book! I have two favourite Australian illustrators, Rod Clement and Anna Walker. I've emailed with both of them and they are, no surprise, fantastic people. Anna is so talented across a variety of mediums. In my opinion, her best work can be seen in her new book, Florette.
You can find her on Instagram if you're a nerd like me and into following authors and illustrators on social media.
Wooden Story Blocks from HomeGoods
(not shown in photo)
Totally plastic free, so one tick in the non toxic column. There is just something about wooden toys that really romanticizes having a wee baby. These colorful blocks are made of wood from certified suppliers, treated with beeswax and botanical oils and packaged in a gorgeous eco friendly canvas bag. This 50 piece set is free from chemicals and handmade in the Beskidy Mountains of Poland. My husband and I lived in Poland for two years, so I think I'll like watching her play with these pieces of Poland and reflect back to a different time, before her, that now seems like a lifetime ago.
* Alternative: I also love the company Noc Noc Wooden Toys if you are looking to support Aussie made. They sell personalized toys (swoon), rattles, tethers, and blocks.
What are you looking forward to this Christmas? What are your go to places to shop for your loved ones?
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