• Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Family travel In New Zealand

New Zealand: The Bucket List Family Adventure
July 3, 2019
By , Contributor

The Itinerary

Although travelling is and art in and of itself, travelling with kids, is a whole separate form of art. Ivelisse Simon is not only an expert businesswoman and seasoned jet-setter, but she is also proficient in planning adventure trips for her family of five – herself and her husband, nine-year-old twins Max and Mia, and seven-year-old Zoe. The Simon family recently embarked on an adventure to New Zealand, and Ivelisse has shared insider information with Galavante on the planning, execution, and the experience of the Simon family New Zealand adventure.

For every trip we take, I have a theme: we’re going to learn about something. This trip was culture-and-adventure themed. My son was studying the Maori tribe at school – an ancient Polynesian tribe with a fascinating culture. And there’s no better way to learn about something than to see it first-hand. I have also always wanted to see the fjords.

I told my husband on the flight over, “This is not a vacation, this is a family adventure.” It’s not for the weary. It’s a big country, a lot of travel – but can all be done in twelve days.


I like to fly during the day, because that way, the kids are entertained and nobody’s getting a terrible night’s sleep. With New Zealand, it’s easy: you fly overnight, and you arrive at the same time that you left LA, because of the time zone. And on the return, you fly during the day, and you get back at night – it’s perfect for families. The flight itself is about 14 hours.

As for transportation within New Zealand, in Queenstown, I had private transportation booked each way. The fjords are covered in snow, you’re surrounded by glaciers, and stunning as the whole sight may be, driving is not recommended (also, New Zealand drives on the left side of the road).

When we travel, I try to make it easy on us food-wise. I either make sure we stay where food is provided, or if we’re staying at an Airbnb for a longer period of time, I like to hire a chef. I don’t even cook at home, but I like to have food readily available for the kids – at least for breakfast and dinner (and then we can go out for lunch). But on this particular trip, food was hardly an issue.


Auckland and Waiheke Island

We flew into Auckland on the North Island, and went straight to Waiheke Island – a stunningly beautiful island about a 30-minute ferry ride outside of Auckland. It’s the most populated island in the Hauraki Gulf, and also the renowned center of wine in New Zealand, containing all of the major vineyards. With wine-tasting for the adults, and infinite space to enjoy the nature as far as the eye can see for the children, the vineyards alone can take up several days of your trip. Our highlights were Goldie Estate, Tantalus Estate, Cable Bay Winery, and Man O’ War Vineyards. Another wine-tasting alternative is to take a luxury wine-tour bus. There is no need to drive, and the children adore the adventure.Because Waiheke is a highly mountainousisland, there is a 360-degree view of the ocean from almost every location, which is one of the most mesmerizing landscapes in the world.

Waiheke Island also has a dainty downtown area, with local markets selling handmade whale-bone necklaces, and food that is all farm-to-table, organic, gluten-free, and generally one of the healthiest places to eat. It’s also the home of the blue jellyfish – a nature phenomena that’s difficult to picture until you encounter it.



The next stop was Rotorua – the most touristy part of New Zealand. A town set on its namesake lake, world-famous for its bubbling mud pools and geothermal activity (and thus spas a-plenty), it’s 98-foot Pohutu Geyser that erupts multiple times a day, and for having served as the filming location for Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. Vising Hobbiton is a must-see, equipped with a full tour of the Shire and the hobbit houses – though truthfully, most of Rotorua looks like the Shire anyhow.

The other Rotorua can’t-miss is the Maori tribe village. The home of New Zealand’s Polynesian tangata whenua (indigenous people), the village preserves in itself the story of the Maori’s arrival in New Zealand from the land of Hawaiki on their canoes over one thousand years prior. As though stepping into Disney’s Moana, both children and adults can learn about the tribe’s deep spiritual connection with the environment, cultural legends and tales (purakao), keeping their culture alive, and the meanings behind their world-famous face tattoos. It’s a beautiful tribe with a one-of-a-kind culture.

Among other Rotorua-local phenomena are the pink dolphins – a species of dolphins native to this part of the world that lack pigment in their skin, resulting in their blood vessels causing for their skin to appear pink. Although, in our case, I overestimated the age-appropriateness of the intensity and caliber of the number of adventures, and our day-cruise was a complete disaster. Apparently, there is such a thing as too much excitement for a seven-year-old. But, it’s all a learning experience.

In Rotorua, we stayed on a farm: the Lakeview Heights B&B Farmstay. We’re talking hundreds of sheep, alpacas – you name it. The farm-to-table food goes without saying, as does the fact that the children were thrilled.



After Rotorua, we flew into Te Anau on the South Island, which was my favorite city. Emblazoned with a gorgeous lake, the whole town is built on a small mountain, overlooking the lake that’s visible from every conceivable lookout spot. Home to the flightless, endangered takahe birds, Te Anau is also the home of an underground waterfall, multiple limestone grottos, glowworms galore, glacial valleys, beech forests, mountains, and everything else that sounds like it’s extrapolated from a fairy tale.

Once again, we stayed on a farm at a bed-and-breakfast: the Prospect Lodge B&B, with thousands of cattle, and farm-to-table organic food. The lamb alone is worth going to New Zealand for.

Te Anau is located right outside the fjords area, Fjordland, so the next stop was naturally the fjords and glacial hiking: another day cruise (this time equipped with a helicopter ride). Going through the fjords on the cruise is perhaps the most beautiful and peaceful silence I have ever heard. There was one moment during the cruise where they turned off the engine of the boat, and asked everyone to simply listen. There is no construction allowed in this part of the country, there are no people, and nothing manmade – only seals, dolphins, penguins, and waterfalls.


Everything Is a Learning Experience

Apart from having met ample amazing people with whom we have remained in touch, another Simon family custom is for the children to put together a presentation for their classes about the trip, complete with a small souvenir of each child’s choice to hand out to their classmates after the presentation. As with any trip, the experience is ‘to each their own.’ Max got everybody a necklace with a Maori tribe charm, Mia picked a dowel of the kiwi bird, and Zoe selected small gift swords made by the Maori. But, souvenir tokens hardly do justice to this trip, it’s sublime landscapes, and wall-to-wall breathtaking adventure. There is truly no other land like the Aotearoa or the Land of the Long White Cloud, and no people like the kiwis. Children or not, it’s worth seeing at least once in everyone’s lifetime.