Plans for summer? Get the family on board.

When spring turns into summer – and as Christmas crawls closer, there’s always the question of where to holiday with the kids? What to bring? And how do you make things as stress-free as possible? Luckily, we’re here to help.

Family Vacation Feature

To get the ball rolling – and help turn your to-do-list to ta-da, we’ve pulled together some helpful tips and tricks on holidaying with the family in summer.  There’s everything from things to do in New Zealand, to the best ways to get there, to what to sort before you go. Hopefully, you'll feel fully prepared by the end. Get reading – and enjoy!

Pick a destination

Perhaps the most important decision is choosing your destination. And it’s one well worth talking over with the kids. You could opt for adrenaline-pumping adventure, kicking back at the beach, exploring national parks or taking a walk down memory lane with some historical sites.  Whichever family holiday destination you choose, just make sure there’s enough to see and do, and it's somewhere you'll enjoy as much as the kids; remember, it's your holiday too!   If you need some inspiration on where to go, we suggest reading our blogs on some family fun destinations in New Zealand;

  • West Coast family adventure.  YouTube teenage vlogger Mr Izzyboy takes a trip to the West Coast on the TranzAlpine and charts how his adventure unfolds on the wild West Coast.
  • Family fun in Kaikoura.  If your family are lovers of wildlife, sea life and the great outdoors, this blog on family fun in Kaikoura might cross the 'where should we go' off the list in a hurry! 
  • Pack your bags for Picton.  This small seaside town is often overlooked, but it honestly has a huge amount to offer for families.  From nature walks, dolphin watching to historical Maori pa sites and museums, there isn't a shortage of things to keep the family fun levels high. This blog will give you the lowdown on the best things to do in Picton.
  • Things to do in Wellington with kids.   If you love the lure of a city but also want a little beach live, Wellington is jam-packed with attractions for the whole family that will have you dipping your toes in the sea to travelling through time at the city's museum!  

Book popular activities 

Once you’ve settled on a destination, it’s worth locking in the activities you and the kids want to cross off when you're there.  Get your kids involved in choosing the activities you're going to do when on holiday - it adds to the excitement and fun! Just make sure to check the activities are age appropriate for all the family.  If you opt for the adrenaline-pumping quad biking and you need to be over 12 years of age, and your kids are under 10, it could lead to tears and tantrums!  The other benefit of booking in advance is you can sometimes get some good deals, sites like bookme.co.nz are excellent for this.   

To get you and the kids thinking, there’s whale watching in KaikouraKiwi-spotting at Zealandia in Wellington, swimming with dolphins in Picton or getting adventurous on the West Coast of the South Island.   

Just remember not to cram in too many things, so you're sprinting from activity to activity, holidays are also for relaxing! It's also a good idea to leave yourself some floater days, circumstances can change (like the weather!) so can be handy to have a spare few days up your sleeve.

Whale tail fluke in Kaikoura
Whale Watch Kaikoura
Kiwi Bird in Wellington width=
Kiwis at New Zealandia, Wellington
Dolphins in Picton
Eco Tours Picton viewing the dolphins
On Yer Bike Greymouth off raod tour
Mr Izzyboy at On Yer Bike Greymouth

Where will you stay? 

Accommodation is something else to think about. Is camping on the cards? A hotel? Maybe you’re renting a bach? Is the accommodation the holiday itself! There are so many different ways to go, but before you land on the one that’s right for you and your family, read over reviews from families who have stayed there in the past, see how easy it is to travel there and what facilities they offer.  Booking early can be a good bet too as some places have the option of early bird specials (you could save a few pennies).   To get your idea list started, check The Curious Kiwi which has over a hundred weird and wonderful places to stay which might delight the kids.  From a tipi in Orongo Bay Holiday Park Northland where you can bird watch in their 14-acre grounds, a lighthouse in Island Bay, Wellington to a boot-shaped B&B in Tasman Bay!  The accommodation could quickly become the main attraction itself with such unique places to stay.

Island Bay Lighthouse Wellington

Island Bay Lighthouse

How will you get there? 

Working out where to holiday is one thing, but getting there is another. If you want to include a roadie as part of your summer holiday plans – and are looking at travelling between the North and South Island, there’s always the option of the Interislander. It’s a fun, comfortable and affordable way to get from A to B and a great way to break up your road trip. And if you’re travelling during the kids’ holidays, they’ll be plenty of entertainment options on board, including performances from magicians, a movie theatre and jungle gym. Alternatively, soak up sights from the viewing deck and do some wildlife spotting in the Sounds: dolphins, little blue penguins and a variety of shags.  Best still, the Interislander always has family fare discounts which will get you across the Cook Strait for a bit less. 

Family in car ready to board Interislander ferry

Taking the family on the Interislander

 Driving isn't for everyone, and if you’d rather sit back and relax on the journey, the TranzAlpine, Coastal Pacific and Northern Explorer trains are all great ways to travel with kids – and cover some family-friendly stops. The Northern Explorer train stretches from Auckland all the way to Wellington, the TranzAlpine runs from Christchurch to Greymouth, and the Coastal Pacific runs from Picton to Christchurch.   Best of all, the journey to your destination becomes part of the holiday - all these scenery train journeys have incredible views with an open-air viewing carriage and onboard commentary, so you learn about the places you're travelling through.  

Kids on the TranzAlpine train

Relaxing train journey for the kids

 If you and the kids want to go off the beaten track, you could hire a campervan or rental car (if you’re catching the Interislander ferry, check whether you can bring your rental vehicle on board). We’d recommend Maui for campervan hire – and GO Rentals if you’re after a car. Just be sure to organise this well before your trip so that you can snap up an early bird or family discounts.

Your summer holiday checklist

Of course, to be sure your holiday goes to plan, it pays to make a checklist. From taking time off work, to packing the essentials – here’s our take on what to sort beforehand:

Holiday checklist family holiday

Time off work  

If you’re working throughout the year, you’ll want to book time off. The summer holidays are a popular time for travel, so block out your calendar as soon as you can and get the leave signed off by the boss.

Travelling with pets

Pets are part of the family, too. So if you don’t want to leave them behind, you don’t have to (if you are leaving them in the care of someone else, be sure to leave a pet sitter checklist). For no extra cost, you can bring your dog, cat or rabbit on the Interislander. If you're bringing your dog and driving, you can leave them in your vehicle during the crossing.  Or, if you want to leave your dog in one of the ships’ kennels, it’s just $15 to add this to your booking. Just make sure they’re well equipped for the journey. We’d recommend exercise beforehand and leaving them with toys, water and a blanket.  Smaller pets can be put in a cage or pet carrier and will be secured in our baggage area during the sailing.  You can read more about travelling with your pets on the Interislander on our blog

Dog in the car on Interislander

Holiday supplies

Packing can be a hassle, but between the weather, not having a pharmacy nearby, or camera store, it’s worth sorting supplies in advance. Medication is perhaps the most important of them all, especially if you’re planning a trip off the beaten track – don’t forget a first aid kit, or equipment if you’re camping. Nothing worse than being an hour from civilisation and not having a tin opener to get into the bake beans for dinner! 

Lastly, you’ll want the right clothing. We all know how unpredictable the weather can be – even in summer!  You might be pining for that jumper you left at home when you get some chilly evening weather you weren't prepared for! 

Holiday packing checklist for family travel

Stash some cash

Family holidays aren’t always cheap as chips. And there’s nothing worse than missing out on an epic adventure (or delicious meal) because you’re short of cash. So with that in mind, it’s worth working out a budget before you go. Think: accommodation, eating out, money for emergencies and gifts to bring home.  If you've planned your summer holiday in advance, it might pay to squirrel away a little bit of money leading up to your holiday.  

Keep the kids entertained                      

If you've got a long journey ahead or even a short one with impatient kids, you'll want a few things to keep the kids entertained or some scheduled stops to break up the journey whether you're going by car, train or ferry.   Having some games at the ready (I Spy, First One to See) and stock up on drinks and snacks - kids always seem to be hungry! 

Getting the kids outside is a great idea, with viewing decks on the ferry and open-air viewing cars on the train all boasting incredible North and South Island sights - this could be a great way to take some stress out of the trip.  

Children watching sunset on the Interislander ferry

It’s also worth noting the entertainment factor on board the TranzAlpine, Coastal Pacific and Northern Explorer. If you’ve got older kids, they can enjoy the fascinating commentary ‘stories of our land’, while younger kids may want to get stuck into a Great Journeys of New Zealand activity pack. Need more inspiration? Check out our guide to travelling with kids on the TranzAlpine and Interislander

Children on the train activity packs onboard

Documenting your holiday

Memories are priceless, especially with the family in tow. So before you jet off, grab a camera, or if you’ve got a smartphone, keep it handy. Plus, if you’re after school holiday ideas, scrapbooks are a great way to reflect on your holiday highlights so you can look back on your family adventures.  

Young girl holding camera

Don’t sweat the small stuff

It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of travelling with kids. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s important to keep a positive mindset, even when things turn to custard. Remember, you’re on holiday – so enjoy!

Journey New Zealand with us

TrazAlpine train
TranzAlpine crossing the Bealey River
Interislander ferry=
Interislander in the Sounds
Northern Explorer train
Northern Explorer crossing a viaduct
Coastal Pacific train crossing the Kahutara River

Above all, the summer holidays are about relaxing, spending quality time with family and exploring your favourite New Zealand destinations. And by ticking each of the boxes above, there’s every chance it’ll go to plan. But as they say, it’s about the journey as much as the destination. The Interislander, Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific and TranzAlpine cover some family-friendly, summer holiday destinations right around New Zealand.

 Simply jump into the Great Journeys of New Zealand website, explore all the great ways there are to travel in New Zealand, then start counting down the days. Here’s to summer!

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Family Travel