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.
Snacks. Snacks. Snacks.
How many times have they utterly saved the day when you're with your kids at the grocery store... running errands.... during an agonizing road trip?
I get loads of DM's on Instagram about snack ideas for kids, so I thought I'd share a quick and easy blog post sharing what we have been loving lately.
Here are our latest on-the-go favs:
My daughter just turned 13 months and she has already taken 18 flights! In that time we've only had one bad experience, which is amazing considering we've taken three international flights, and fifteen domestic trips. In terms of the flying component; I believe a lot of it comes down to luck and having a healthy baby (a good temperament doesn't hurt either).
I did an Instagram poll asking who might be interested in learning a few of my tips for stress free flying as well as how to travel smoothly with kids in general. There was an overwhelming YES response, so I've accumulated a few of my techniques to share with you. I'll touch on traveling, what I pack and tips for healthy eating while on the road.
(ATTN: These are tips for flying and hotel accommodation- not road trips as we have yet to do one! We will take out first family road trip in July, so I will document that as well. Also, I know that some of these tips might not be appropriate for your child depending on their age, but here are my tricks of the trade nonetheless.)
I know what you're thinking, DUH! This seems like a given. What kind of snacks you bring is key in my opinion. Obviously sugary snacks that will make your kid peak and then crash in a fiery inferno are not ideal. My daughter is only 13 months old, so in the last few months I've been giving her foods that are small to help her practice and improve her motor skills. It takes her a bit of time to pick which berry she wants, master that pincer grip, and then pop it in her mouth. Before I travel, I stock up on fresh organic blueberries and have them ready, washed and packed in my carry on bag. I buy organic berries because non organic berries are known to be highly sprayed with pesticides. To save some cash, buy organic frozen blueberries from Costco in bulk, which are handy and only coast about $12 AUD from memory. Otherwise, plain frozen blueberries from Wollys or Coles work too. Just take them out of the freezer before leaving to catch your flight.
2. Travel Wise:
I've had the most rewarding travel experiences with Qantas. Each time I've flown with my daughter, they've always exceeded my expectations ten fold (even more so when I'm flying solo without my husband's help). The flight attendants are always eager to help and have a cuddle so I could use the bathroom with ease. They continually made sure I was well fed and watered, much like a prize stallion.
Also, did you know you can sign your baby up for frequent flyers with Qantas? Probably didn't, hey? Check out this link to see what the Joey Club has on offer, and to create their Joey Frequent Flyers account so you can start building their flying credit.
3. Interactive Toys:
Bringing toys also seem like a no brainer. I find that toys which can be fun, yet discreet, are key. I'm not going to bring her little drum set on the plane, now am I? There are really neat toys out there now, not like the ones we grew up with.
Books are my go to. I love small, palm sized board books that can be chucked around, get wet and wear well. The ones that have peek a boo flaps are particularly good.
Teethers are fantastic. Flying can aggravate babies ears, so chewing and sucking are great ways to help combat that build up of pressure. The nice thing about tethers is that they don't make any noise, and yet still provide relief and soothe gums.
These insanely gorgeous teethers from Grey and Gingham. They're stylish and functional for littles. G+G also sell teething bundles with a drool bib AND a matching teether if you're about keeping that outfit on point!.
A small plush rattle is good for young babies, and so are wooden blocks. I usually only travel will two or three blocks for the sake of easy. Whether I'm traveling or not, I'm always looking for toys that will expose her to a variety of shapes, sounds and textures.
3. I always try to anticipate roadblocks when we travel, so I try to prepare for everything. For example, we have two types of nappys in our home, one for daytime and another for nighttime. If I'm traveling, I'll put her nighttime nappy on before the plane departs because I know it's more absorbent. I've found that even little adaptations such as these can make a world of difference.
Let's get you organized:
1. Try to book a hotel or accommodation with a kitchenette. Being able to make your own food and meal prep is a sure fire way to keep a healthy, well balanced diet in action.
2. Toiletries: I always travel with our own body wash, face wash, moisturizer, and shampoo. Knowing exactly what's in the products we use is a great way to keep healthy and free from toxic exposure to things like Parabens, SLS, Phthalates and Parfum. I recommend Black Chicken Remedies, Dr. Bronner's and Beauty and the Bees if you are on the hunt for clean body care alternatives.
3. Bedding: I like to pack my daughter's own cot sheets if room allows. They remind her of home and the familiar smell would be comforting.
4. Routine, routine routine: I always bring her sleeping bags - the one she naps in and the one she sleeps in overnight. I try to keep her routine the same, even though we are in a completely different place. I also travel with our iPad which has a white sound app called Sleep Pillow. It's a free app that we use daily to play her lullaby on a 15 minute timer before every nap and bedtime. It might seem a bit like Pavlov's dog-esk, but when she hears the song, she knows it's time to sleep.
5. Bath Time: I've given my daughter a number of baths in the hotel bathroom sink. It's cramped, no doubt about it, but it gets the job done and it's cleaner than a hotel bath tub in my opinion.
Maintaining Healthy Habits
1. Utilize Your Bar Fridge: When we went away to Cairns recently I didn't know we would be without a kitchen. I made the most of it by heading to the shops and topping up with a few staples. I got natural yogurt and kefir which I kept in our little bar fridge. I also bought chia seeds by weight from the local shops, so each morning she would have a breastfeed, followed by a small bowl of yogurt with chia seeds and a piece of fruit. It made for a quick, easy, healthy (and cheap!) brekkie.
2. Heat It Up: I also bought some instant, plain oatmeal as well. You can add water and microwave it in your room for a quick breakfast or snack. If you don't have a microwave in your room, just head to the hotel reception and they will heat it for you. This can be said for bottles of milk, formula or heating a pouch of baby food.
3. Head to the Local Farmer's Market: I like to keep healthy food easily accessible in my hotel room and diaper bag (I'm a notorious snacker), so I went the farmer's market and bought a bunch of yummy fruit. I love shopping at outdoor markets because they support local farmers, the produce is insanely fresh, and it's also more competitively priced. Some of my go-to items from the farmer's market while on the road are: kiwi, paw-paw, apples, bananas, plums, and mandarines. I know fruit can have a lot of natural sugar, but by consuming the whole piece you're getting a big punch of fibre. In my mind, grabbing some fruit to go is better than diving into a bag of processed food, chips or a candy bar.
4. Be a Side Chick: If you're like me and don't enjoying eating out a lot, vacation can be tough! On our most recent trip to far north Queensland we were eating out twice a day, everyday. That was hard to do myself, let alone with a 12 months old in tow.
5. Make Time for Mama: There were many nights when my daughter went to bed at 7pm, which meant that I was stuck in our hotel room for 12 hours! Carve out time for yourself when you can to keep your cup full! Most evenings I covered half of the cot with a blanket to block out light so I could watch TV. I also used the few hours before bed to do some work, blog and snack on some popcorn while doing a face mask. There is no reason to resent your kids on the road, make it work for you! I highly recommend some yoga or mediation during nap time too because it's a quiet exercise that's great for your mind and body.
This little corner of the internet is for non-yoga topics like motherhood, low-tox living and green beauty products I love.