Tips for Road Trips

Left: Three hours into our trip, a stop at stunning Lake Taupo was welcomed. Right: The walk-in chopper at Wairakei, near Taupo.

We just survived two 8-hour road trips with a primary schooler and a toddler. Truth be told, they were the ones who deserve pats on the back because they dealt with what must have felt like a never-ending journey from Auckland to the Wairarapa via Palmerston North (and back) incredibly well. 

The travelling was exhausting for us all, but hubby and I tried to make it fun. Driving rather than flying meant we could take more luggage and dart between family/friend visits near our destination – all at a fraction of the cost of taking to the air.

Sure, there was a bit of bribery in the form of treats. But it was worth it for satisfied, happy faces in the back seat. Most surprisingly, and what I can only describe as miraculous, the kids watched a downloaded programme on a device for just 45-minutes each way!

For both long journeys, we made the middle of the North Island our long lunch destination to refuel and burn off some energy (the kids’, not ours). We stopped at Wairakei on the way south, where we discovered a giant walk-in Russian Mil-8 helicopter (pictured above) at The Hub Cafe/Heli Adventure Flights; and Taupo on the return trip north where we had a lakeside play and found cosy little cafe on the main street with a toddler play pen (heaven!). 

Travelling with the little ones does require a lot of planning (and patience), but the appreciation of our little country’s landscape and geography is so great for the whole family.  Here’s a few things we did, should they be handy for your tribe’s next car trip:

  • Leave early. Have everything ready the night before and set an alarm. Leaving at 6am had so many benefits: it meant hubby and I could do last-minute organising without the kids getting in the way we begin the journey in a calm state. We transferred the kids from their bed (yep, in their pyjamas) into the car, with their car seats in recline and a snuggly blanket for each. In an ideal world they would sleep for the first few hours. (Unfortunately, ours didn’t).
  • Consider nap times: Our toddler has one midday nap, so we made sure we kept to his schedule and ensured he had a good lunch and runabout prior to his midday snooze (lucky boy!) 
  • Play Games: Eye Spy, The Number Plate Alphabet…  These kept Miss Six entertained for an hour. 
  • Take activities. As long as your children don’t get carsick, a few activity books that they can use in the car helps pass the time. 
  • Find the good playgrounds and stop every few hours for a leg stretch. Tirau has a lovely playground with picnic tables which was a new discovery for us on this route. Not to mention a few lovely shops for retail therapy too.
  • Take a long, enjoyable lunch break to fuel up and burn off some energy. 
  • Talk to the kids about where you are, how long the journey will be, and where you’ll stop. It avoids a lot of “are we there yet?”. 
  • Stop at new and interesting places. We stopped lakeside near Turangi to skim a few pebbles into the morning lake (pictured above). We ended up having unexpected entertainment: a local boatie totally buggered his boat while launching it down the ramp too fast. A bit of a laugh for all (except him, of course). 

Happy travels,

Pamela McIntosh
Editor, Tots To Teens

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