What It's Like to Travel Around New Zealand With an Infant
That’s under normal circumstances. The odds multiply by a factor of 10 (100?) if you throw in the obstacle of traveling with a 4-month-old.
Still, in late January, we decided to embrace those who told us we were brave and ignore those who told us we were foolish, and boarded the 20-hour plane ride from Chicago for a 16-day, three island trip around the land of the kiwi. Never staying in one place for more than two days, we bounced around by plane, boat, car, and foot exploring the empty beaches, the pristine sounds, the immaculate vineyards, and the misty roads.
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Before asking how we enjoyed our trip, many have asked how was Bernard. Mostly the question is about the daunting plane ride. It either comes from parents who’ve been on a plane with infants and can’t imagine such a long trip, or those without kids who hear screaming babies interrupting their sleep. The plane rides were much easier than anticipated as our strategy of timing sleep with the time zone of our destination paid off. Bernard slept 10 of the 12 hours of the longest leg in both directions.
The rest was a bit more touch and go. We’re first-time parents and, when we booked the trip, he was just weeks old and spent his time sleeping or eating. By the time we traveled, though, he was a busy body, craving new experiences every few minutes. Toys that are all the rage one moment get discarded the next. While this period can be fascinating to witness as he learns about the world around him, it’s trying during three-hour hikes, boat rides into remote parts of the world, long car rides, and any attempt to eat at a restaurant.
He sadly won’t remember it when he gets older, but we’ll never forget the adventures that took us to incredible places. And despite the challenges, we can’t wait for the next trip with him and are glad to have set the tone for future explorations.
After a couple days in Auckland, we took a 30-minute ferry to Waiheke, an island known for its vineyards and beaches. We stayed in a remote chalet overlooking a small beach, where Bernard dipped his toes in the ocean for the first time. The experience wiped him out, and he fell asleep while playing on the bed.
Pizza at The Cow, Queenstown
Our first day on the South Island started with a plane landing in Queenstown that was so treacherous that the pilot announced he would have had to fly us back to Auckland if the third attempt to land wasn’t possible. After settling into our Airbnb, we trekked the 60-degree decline into town and stopped at The Cow, a 40-year-old pizza and pasta joint named because it was once a milking shed. We struck up conversations with several travelers, including one who had the same grade school teachers as Julie in a small Catholic school outside Chicago.
Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
Sitting along the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown attracts those looking for an adrenaline rush. In the winter, it’s a ski town on par with Aspen or Park City, and in the summer, it’s paragliding, white-water rafting, and bungee jumping. The secret is out, and tourists from all over the world surrounded us wherever we went. So did the stunning mountains and turquoise water of the lake.
The iconic vista in New Zealand is Milford Sound, a stunning opening at the end of a winding road that snakes through the end of the Southern Alps. We left early in the morning from Te Anau, the nearest town, to get ahead of the tour buses. As described, the views were indescribable. Julie took this one while we waited to go through the one lane Homer Tunnel.
Glendhu Trail, Wanaka
Commonly referred to as Queenstown’s sister town, Wanaka sits at the foot of Lake Wanaka. We had hoped to hike through nearby Mt. Aspiring National Park, but heavy rains closed the trails and some of the roads. So we settled for a sunny walk on the Glendhu Trail along the lake. Not a bad consolation prize!
Our second attempt to hike Mt. Aspiring was as unsuccessful as the first, so we took a leisurely hike around the southern tip of Lake Hawea, which was a 20-minute drive from Wanaka. The quiet town sits on the shores of the stunning lake. There wasn’t much to do there other than hike, but that was fine with us.
Hooker Valley Trail, Mt. Cook
After a night in Twizel, we headed to the foot of Mt. Cook, that tallest mountain in New Zealand. The crowded parking lot at the beginning of the 3-hour Hooker Valley Trail (where Bernard finished a nap and had a snack in Julie’s arm in the back of the car) worried us, but the crowds were much less noticeable once we got going and the stunning views were worth it.
Suspension Bridge, Hooker Valley Trail
One of three suspension bridges along the Hooker Valley Trail with a looming Mt. Cook just ahead. The hike was the longest one we tried with Bernard and, while some of the others were cut short by a needed feeding, the Hooker Valley hike went perfectly.
On the way to the Hooker Valley Trail, we passed a lavender farm and promised to stop over as we headed back to Twizel after the hike. The flowers weren’t totally in bloom, but the lavender-flavored ice cream was!
Just outside Wanaka is Rippon Vineyard, where we tried a selection of their wines. The rows of vines on the hill leading to the shores of Lake Wanaka provided views that rivaled any others that we saw on the entire trip.
Tobins Track, Arrowtown
On our first hike, an experiment that was largely successful and had us optimistic for future treks, we went up Tobins Track in Arrowtown, an old gold-mining town north of Queenstown. It led to incredible views of the basin below, and left Bernard with quite an appetite that was later satiated at Halo Forbidden Bite in Queenstown.
On our last night, we joined the memorable Pohatu Penguin Tour, which started with a 20-minute drive from Akaroa to a private farm whose inhabitants have dedicated their lives to conserving the land they live on. Once we arrived, we fed eager sheep before meeting the world’s smallest penguins.
Pohatu Penguin Tour
On the aforementioned Pohatu penguin tour where a recuperated penguin was released back into the harbor. Meanwhile the tour group strapped on binoculars and came to watch as members of the colony made their way back to shore after a day of fishing.
Le Bons Bay
We spent the last two nights of our trip in Le Bons Bay, a tiny town on Banks Peninsula, which is a two-hour drive from Christchurch. This was the view from the top of the volcanic peninsula looking at the harbor that ends at the town of Akaroa. We had a small cabin, just minutes from a beach that was empty when we went but for a fur seal bathing in the sun. It was the ideal end to a trip filled with constant movement. We made a fire, cooked, listened to music, and read.