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Exploring New Zealand: A 7-Week Family Adventure

Join Kim and her family as they embark on a 7-week journey through the breathtaking landscapes of New Zealand. Last week, we shared their exciting escapades on North Island, and now, they’re exploring the wonders of South Island. Let’s dive into their adventure!

Exploring New Zealand’s South Island: A 7-Week Adventure

First Stop: Abel Tasman National Park

Upon setting foot on the South Island, the stark contrast to the North Island is immediately apparent. While the North Island is characterized by its rough, robust, and crater-like landscapes, the South Island is noticeably greener and, for lack of a better term, “nicer”. Nestled on the North side of the South Island is the Abel Tasman National Park, a perfect destination for a fun-filled day with kids.

This beautiful nature reserve stretches along the coast, offering three main modes of exploration: water taxi, rented kayak, or a scenic walking path. As someone who prefers land over water, we opted for the third option. Our day was filled with scenic walks, sandcastle building on a secluded bay, and even a kiwi sighting! A carrier is highly recommended for this walk.

Discover the Wonders of the West Coast

Embark on a journey of discovery along the West Coast, where there’s an abundance of sights to see and activities to enjoy. Our top three highlights include the Pancake Rocks, the Franz Joseph Glacier, and the Fox Glacier. Before reaching the West Coast, we make a stop at the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, a thrillingly wobbly bridge that crosses a river. It’s a fun and adventurous experience, especially for kids.

1. Discover the Unique Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki

One of the most fascinating natural wonders in New Zealand is the Pancake Rocks. These unique formations are a must-see for any traveler, especially those traveling with kids. The Pancake Rocks are a great way to introduce children to the wonders of nature and the beauty of our planet.

What Makes the Pancake Rocks Special?

The Pancake Rocks are a natural formation of layered limestone, created over millions of years. They are named for their unique appearance, resembling stacks of pancakes. This unusual geological phenomenon is a result of the slow erosion of the limestone by the elements, creating the distinctive layered effect.

Visiting the Pancake Rocks

Visiting the Pancake Rocks is a fun and educational experience for the whole family. The site is easily accessible, with a well-maintained walking path that leads you through the rock formations. There are also informative signs along the way, explaining the geological processes that led to the creation of the Pancake Rocks.

Why Kids Will Love the Pancake Rocks

Kids will love exploring the Pancake Rocks. The unusual shapes and formations are sure to spark their imagination, and the easy walk is suitable for children of all ages. Plus, the site is located near the beach, so you can combine your visit with a day of fun in the sun.

Plan Your Visit to the Pancake Rocks

When planning your visit to the Pancake Rocks, remember to bring comfortable walking shoes, as the path can be uneven in places. Also, don’t forget your camera – the Pancake Rocks are a photographer’s dream!

2. Embrace the Thrill at Franz Joseph

Next, we head to the snow-capped Franz Joseph glacier. The information center offers various excursion options, although not all are child-friendly. While enjoying an apple juice with my daughter, my husband chats with a staff member at the counter. He returns with a grin, revealing a thrilling birthday gift for me: a skydive over the Franz Joseph glacier. Despite my fear of heights and shaky legs, I find myself at the airport the next morning, ready for the adventure.

Despite my fears, the skydive is an exhilarating experience. The initial leap from the plane is terrifying, but the freefall through the sky is an adrenaline rush like no other. Once the parachute deploys, the breathtaking beauty of the area becomes apparent. The Franz Joseph jump is considered one of the most beautiful in the world, second only to Mount Everest. This thrilling experience is a must-try for any adventure seeker visiting New Zealand.

3. Exploring the Fox Glacier

The Fox Glacier is a must-visit destination for any travel enthusiast. This stunning natural wonder offers breathtaking views and a unique adventure that you won’t find anywhere else. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a casual tourist, the Fox Glacier has something for everyone.

Experiencing the Fox Glacier

After recovering from the jump, we embark on another walk at the glacier, this time heading to the Fox Glacier. We opt for a child-friendly excursion – a helicopter ride to the glacier’s peak. The helicopter zooms between mountain tops, landing us high in the snow. The kids absolutely love this! Upon arrival, we step out of the chopper to take in the breathtaking view and the snow. It’s quite posh indeed, being dropped off by a helicopter in the snow, building a snowman, and then being flown back down.

4. Exploring Wanaka & Queenstown

We bid farewell to the West Coast and drive inland towards Wanaka. We find Wanaka reminiscent of Taupo on the Northern Island – a small, pleasant town beside a large lake. We plan to rest here for a couple of days before driving towards Queenstown for our next adrenaline rush.

Instead of taking the regular highway, we choose the Cardrona Road, a more inland route with beautiful scenery. In Queenstown, it’s my husband’s turn to do something scary. He decides to take the biggest bungee jump in New Zealand, plunging 134m deep into a canyon without even blinking. With both mum and dad having had their share of thrills, it’s time for some more child-friendly activities.

Queenstown itself is quite child-friendly. In fact, it’s the first city in New Zealand that we’re genuinely fond of. It boasts numerous playgrounds, coffee (or ice-cream) to-go bars, a lake perfect for stone-throwing (a favorite activity of our daughter), and a relaxed atmosphere. We’re fans. And let’s not forget the best burgers on earth at Fergburger. Yum!

5. Exploring the Fjordlands

Our journey continues from Queenstown to a quaint locale known as Te Anau, often referred to as “the port to the fjords”. In Te Anau, we stock up on provisions as our next destination, the fjords, lacks villages or reasonably priced supermarkets. The fjords offer stunning boat trips, with Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound being the most popular. We opt for Milford Sound, setting up camp in a damp site, ready for the night.

Boat Trip in the Fjords

Given that this region experiences rain for approximately 200 days a year, we brace ourselves for a potentially wet boat trip. However, the following morning greets us with a watery sun, hinting at the possibility of good luck. As it turns out, we’ve inadvertently booked a small, intimate boat, avoiding the crowded tourist-filled vessels that spill out from the tour buses.

A Must-Do Excursion for Kids

This boat trip is not only a hit with adults but also with children. The journey is filled with numerous waterfalls, which the skipper is more than happy to navigate under. The waterfall crashes onto the bow, creating a thrilling spectacle. As luck would have it, the sky clears, allowing the sun to shine through. We sail under a clear blue sky towards a breathtaking fjord, encountering numerous seals basking on a rock in the sun. This excursion is a definite must-do when visiting New Zealand with kids.

6. Exploring the Deep South of New Zealand

Just a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in Cape Reinga, a mystical place in the far North of New Zealand. It was hard to imagine then that we would soon be exploring the deep south of this stunning country. Yet, here we are, after seven weeks of traversing the diverse landscapes of New Zealand!

Time has flown by, a testament to the fun and adventure we’ve been having. We’re now in a quaint southern town called Bluff, where a signpost points to major capitals around the world and, of course, back to Cape Reinga.

Discovering Slope Point: The Southernmost Tip

However, we soon discover that there’s a place even further south: Slope Point. Naturally, we have to visit! Getting there isn’t as straightforward as we thought. It involves driving for miles on an unpaved road and then continuing on foot through a meadow teeming with what feels like thousands of sheep.

Discover the Catlins

Explore the deep South of New Zealand, home to the Catlins nature reserve. This reserve boasts beautiful waterfalls, endless green hills teeming with sheep, and breathtaking views that will leave you in awe.

7. Mountains and Lakes

In the heart of South Island, you’ll find New Zealand’s highest mountain, Mount Cook. Here, you can embark on a scenic journey along the Hooker Valley track. This easy, well-paved walk is filled with bridges to cross, making it fun and adventurous for kids. For the little ones, a carrier is essential.

Mount Cook is surrounded by stunning lakes, with Lake Pukaki standing out as the most beautiful. Fed by glacier water, the lake boasts a bright blue, almost fluorescent color. Close to Lake Pukaki is Lake Tekapo, another picturesque spot. It’s the perfect place to set up some fold-out chairs, relax, and soak in the incredible sights while the kids enjoy throwing stones into the lake and feeding the ducks.

8. Exploring Christchurch

Our journey concludes in Christchurch, a change in our itinerary due to a significant earthquake in Kaikoura. The coastal town, known for dolphin and whale spotting, was deemed unsafe due to the risk of tsunamis. Thus, we proceeded to our final destination: Christchurch.

We bid farewell to our reliable camper, “Fat Berta,” and spent our last two nights in New Zealand at a luxury hotel. This was a welcome change after six weeks of camping life. The hotel offered luxuries such as soaps, a flat-screen TV, a large soft bed, and a balcony with a lounger. A truly grand finale to our New Zealand adventure.

Exploring the Two Sides of Christchurch

Christchurch is a city of contrasts. On one hand, it’s a vibrant hub brimming with shops and restaurants. On the other, the aftermath of an earthquake that struck a few years ago is still evident. Many buildings are in ruins, including the central church.

Despite this, Christchurch offers a plethora of fun activities, making it a child-friendly city. A quaint train runs through the city center, providing an enjoyable ride for kids. But the real gem is the city’s botanical gardens. This expansive park is dotted with playgrounds and, in good weather, restaurants lay out bean bags on the grass. It’s the perfect setting for a sunny picnic while the kids play.

Seven Weeks in New Zealand: A Highly Recommended Adventure

Our seven-week journey through New Zealand has come to an end, and we’re on our way back home. We found New Zealand to be an incredibly child-friendly country. Playgrounds are ubiquitous, many restaurants provide highchairs, and the surrounding nature offers endless entertainment. From building snowmen and throwing stones in the lake to swimming, building sand castles, feeding ducks, and going on exciting walks, there’s something for everyone.

The flight to New Zealand is long, and the trip was a significant investment. But we have no regrets. New Zealand has captured our hearts, and the memories we’ve made are priceless.


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