It started as a dream 7 years ago, and a then, a few months ago we decided, why not? It was the same cost to fly to New Zealand as to fly and visit rellies interstate … we would live our dream.
So off to NZ we went. We had a whole list of things on our to do list. But dragging a toddler and primary schooler around NZ with as little stress as possible? That was the challenge.
Today I am going to go through the things that worked, and the things that didn’t.
My kids, particularly J, don’t like their sleeping locations to change. Holidays are usually a series of sleepless nights, jumping from one location to the next. Which meant that if we were going to go on a long holiday, sleeping arrangements were a priority. Which led to – campervans! Different location, same bed. Brilliant.
And it worked. With the same ‘home’ every night, we were able to establish a routine, albeit a loose one, and the kids, blessedly, slept. C adored his double-sized ‘bunk bed’ above the drivers seat, with it’s own light and ladder. Keeping his sister out of it was the main problem!
|Perfect Playground: Lots of Stones|
Quite frankly, even though I put a lot of thought into the plan, and limited activities, I still put in too many
structured activities. Our kids loved to just play. Quite honestly, if the whole trip had been travelling from one playground (or ‘swing park’ as J calls them) to another, they would have been over the moon.
At about day 5, we pretty much threw out the schedule and just did what we could. Usually one, maybe two activities a day, and between 2 – 3 hours driving.
The days worked best when we woke the kids up before dawn, strapped them in their car seats, and did at least 1 hour of driving before breakfast. Strangely, despite all the reading I did on wiggly kids, our kids coped with travel a lot better if it was a long trip (1+ hours) followed by a long break.
Lots of small trips did. Not. Work.
Stopping for a ‘quick’ sightseeing just wasn’t worth it . Ten minutes out of the camper would be followed by 10 minutes of fighting to get J into her seat. And she does an awesome octopus. It had to be pretty special for us to stop – and it was best if it was a walk to somewhere interesting, preferably with puddles, and mud.
|A Walk Means Carrying and Mud|
Shoes were a disaster. J destroyed her shoes on day 3 in a muddy puddle, and was left wearing her crocs for the rest of the trip. Without socks. Because socks are just made to get muddy in 5 seconds or less.
Now, NZ in May was lovely, with wonderful weather. But it wasn’t warm. After a week of struggling with constant muddy socks, the fact that she refused to keep socks on if not accompanied by a muddy shoe, and the terribleness of socks that must be dry to be worn, we all gave up on J’s socks. Warm feet were for lesser mortals.
C was more circumspect, and only managed to have the front of his shoes always damp and muddy. Thankfully, the herculean task of finding thongs (or flip-flops / jandles depending on your location!) he would wear had been successful. So he had alternate footwear when needed.
We learned the hard way that J, and sometimes C needed constant, in arms-reach supervision. Now, that kind of goes without saying for a toddler. But there’s supervision and supervision.
Just out of arms-reach was far too dangerous – as J proceeded to try to kill herself in numerous ways – tumbling down every staircase she found. Being so independent, she really did not like that Mummy and Daddy insisted that she hold our hands on slippery, wet staircases up cliff faces. And yes, I ended up covered in mud, from a well-timed push, when I tried to stop her stomping in puddles in Rivendell. Trudging passed the last homely home while dripping in mud from the waist down is quite the experience, particularly in the cold morning air.
We also learned to double-check that the campervan doors really were closed, and preferably locked. The curtains would sometimes catch in the door, and after yet another tumble, this time out the door onto concrete, it became an essential routine.
If you’ve got a cook top, you will understand the fascination with turning knobs that toddlers’ possess. This rises to a new level of terror in a gas-bottle supplied campervan – as J invented new ways to try and kill us all. Thankfully, we could turn the gas off at the bottle when not in immediate use.
And we learned to check the grill before cooking, to find out what item the children had decided needed to be roasted today.
Ah glorious food. With fussy eaters, and food allergies and intolerances galore, this was one of the deciding factors in having a campervan. We could cook meals they would eat.
Cooking worked best when one of us took the kids out of the campervan while the other prepared dinner. There’s not much space, and there’s an awful lot of buttons and toggles in a campervan.
We also double-checked the front of the car every night before sleeping to see what buttons had been left on – and we never woke up to a drained battery, thank goodness!
We also had a camper with seats just behind the driver for the kids – which was wonderful – as the kids never stopped eating. Mummy became their personal food – shoveller, as the never ending campervan meal just kept on trucking.
We also discovered that NZ is wonderful for gluten-free living. Everywhere we stopped, from the smallest hamlet to the largest city had a decent GF option on the menu. (Except inside Auckland airport, which was woeful.) All the supermarkets, even the tiny 4 Squares and cheaper Pack’n’Saves had GF options – usually integrated into the rest of the store. They would usually have a blue sticker at New World Supermarkets to make them easier to find.
About once every 3 days we ate at a restaurant / take away. The kids loved Hell Pizza – which does a great kids pizza, and will cater to bizarre requests (Banana pizza, no sauce, no cheese, delivered to a Motorhome park? No worries). It was about the only take away / restaurant meal that J would eat. And they were great pizzas.
Towards the end of the holiday, I stopped doing internet searches of menus before we got to a restaurant. It wasn’t necessary, which is a pleasure, believe me. No matter how cosmopolitan Melbourne believes itself to be, it has a long way to go before it equals the care and attention to food allergies and intolerances I encountered in even the smallest town in NZ.
|Next to the Rivendell Mud-tastrophy|
Ah, the joys of a shower. Technically, we had one with us, and we used it occasionally. Usually, we used the showers at the motorhome parks. Though some places insisted on charging for hot water after we’d already paid the hefty fee for staying there. ( I’m looking at you, Hastings).
My lil’ J doesn’t like showers, though she suffered through a few. In some parks, we were able to get our hands on a baby bath, and she was a very happy girl.
In terms of clean clothes, I do believe our standards slipped a little. If it wasn’t mud covered and was dry it generally counted as ‘clean’ or ‘cleanish’. And for everyone except J, we did not pack quite enough clothes.
The rough crossing on the Ferry from Picton to Wellington certainly put a damper on the clean-clothes movement. Poor little J has not learned how to aim yet, unlike her Mummy and Daddy, who are experts at sea-sickness. C, naturally has the spirit of a sailor and looked after his poor Daddy extremely well. I will also give a huge shout out to the kindness of strangers, who entertained J while her Mummy was greener than a well-manicured lawn.
Of course, 24 hours later we were dealing with the Rivendell-incident, and I was looking down the barrel of travelling NZ au-naturale. Luckily, most motorhome parks have washing machines and dryers (though not all – worth checking before you pay your fee, as we discovered in Gore Bay. I can’t really fault them for the lack of safe drinking or shower-water, as that came from all the earthquakes and floods they have suffered, but no dryers?).
My kids are great walkers. C is like a marathon runner, or maybe the ever-ready bunny, no distance is too long. And in Melbourne, J is similar – she loves to walk. But in NZ, well, that’s another matter.
Due to our infinite wisdom, and a desire for less luggage, we had decided we didn’t need a stroller. A decision we regretted every. single. day. In an unfamiliar landscape, little J preferred to be in her parents arms. There is nothing quite like a 2 hour bush walk carrying a muddy toddler – who only liked walking IN puddles. On the plus side, I am now much fitter, stronger and slimmer.
All over, despite all the minor complaints, and near injuries, it was a wonderfully successful trip – with as minimal stress as we could manage in unusual and unpredictable surroundings. And we did so many wonderful things! Which I will talk about next time … so stay tuned!
Read the other parts of our campervan adventure:
Catering to Obsessions
This post was originally part of the Virtual Field Trips at GHF.