Over the Easter break, CJ and I went to visit friends in Palmerston North. G and I have been friends for years, but the last time I had seen her was when I was nine weeks pregnant. Since then, I’ve had one child and she’s had two(!) so a catch-up was well overdue. Wanting to instill my love for adventure in my son, I decided to tackle the 1000km round trip with my son in the car, rather than fly down. I wondered whether I was crazy, but it was totally worth it. Having a holiday that centred around things that we would both find fun honestly made it a breeze.
We are big fans of the underrated Hamilton, but on our stop here this time we didn’t get out of the car. We pulled up alongside the lake and grabbed a quick morning tea to tide us over until lunchtime. The lake is a great place if you or your kidlet need a breather, as is the Botanic Gardens – although for both we usually find ourselves spending much longer there.
When deciding on a lunch stop, there really was no question for us. CJ is absolutely plane-obsessed and the McDonalds restaurant in Taupo has a retired DC-3 plane that kids can both play and eat on. CJ was so excited about the plane, although a little less so when he realised he couldn’t get into the cockpit. After our lunch, we went for a walk along the lakefront and had a bit of a discussion about the difference between lakes and oceans. We also checked the air pressure of the tires before hitting the Desert Road which CJ thought was absolutely amazing.
Waiting for four whole trains to go before your turn – pretty hard when you are excited and only two!
I’d been prepared to stop midafternoon if necessary but CJ was more than happy to have his afternoon tea literally on the go, with me contorting myself to pass crackers through from the front seat. While I’d definitely say that a key part of why our holiday was so enjoyable was our fantastic hosts, there are also some very fun things to do around Palmerston North with little kids. We hit up a couple of playgrounds, but CJ’s favourite would have definitely been the one at the Esplanade that has a miniature train ride. I say miniature, but it actually spans a significant portion of the gardens and goes quite fast, right up my little speed demon’s alley.
We got to explore the army camp and see all sorts of machines which absolutely thrilled the little boys. I also took CJ to the Manawatu Gorge – “big river” – and up to Te Apiti Wind Farm – “big engines” to round out our experience. In amongst all of this there was a serious amount of napping and relaxation for all kids and adults, some dinosaur donuts and a few motorcycle races. CJ also got to hold his first baby!
I timed our journey back so that we wouldn’t hit Auckland until dark and hopefully avoid the holiday traffic – if you are an Aucklander, you will know exactly what I mean! This meant that our lunch stop was in Taihape, home of the giant gumboot. My intention was to take CJ to see said gumboot but he had other ideas, having seen a sign for a train station. Our lunch break was spent pretending we were going to catch a train (the station is only served by the Northern Explorer, which is on a limited schedule) which admittedly was actually more fun than going to look at a gumboot.
Tongariro National Park (well, the entrance road):
An unscheduled stop, and not for everyone. CJ was grumping that he hadn’t had quite enough lunch to have his afternoon nap. Having a 4×4, I decided against just pulling to the side of the road and we headed into the road to the regional park itself, which looks a little bit like a Martian landscape. It was just something cool for CJ to see, and we didn’t venture very far from the road seeing as the NZ Army uses the area for training missions.
I knew that Rotorua would offer us plenty to do, which is why I chose it as our afternoon stop. I could have literally done an entire long weekend here with CJ, but decided to make it more of a taster. We headed to Government Gardens, on the lakefront which has a whole bunch of free and fun things to do. We visited the Rachel Spring and I explained about hot springs (the site of the infamous eggie comment). We found a pukeko up close and went for a walk along the lakefront where there are a bunch of teeny mud pools and little hot springs. The most impressive examples of their ilk? Of course not. But it was a fun intro for the little dude who was admittedly more interested by the “owies” Danger signs.
Dinner was definitely a nostalgia visit for me. One of the restaurants that we grew up going to was Cobb n Co and I had seen one on Fenton Street, one of the main roads in Rotorua. I was only going so that I could get a Traffic Light mocktail but it is ah-may-zing if you are on the road with a kid. They have a separate family seating section that has a whole corner to keep kids occupied – toys, TVs, and playstations which I saw a few of the dads on too LOL . While CJ is pretty awesome with his table manners, it was SO nice to know that I could take a leisurely time over my meal and not rely on a two-year-old’s ability to keep himself occupied. I love my fine dining but this was a nice, middle-of-the-road option that was low-stress and the perfect thing to round off a long weekend adventure.
An unexpected bonus was that most of the thing we did were either cheap ($2.50 for the train ride) or free! This wasn’t intentional, I did have a little holiday fund set aside, but it wasn’t really needed. I know that what we did only scratched the surface of the possibilities of what was available – I would have particularly loved to take a walk in the Redwoods in Rotorua – but I was more interested in relaxation this break than ticking everything off the list. In the end, it was a really fun little break that CJ still talks about and that is worth everything to me.